The bodies of militants killed on 19 December, during an attack on Chechen law enforcement officers, have been buried in unmarked graves in Chechnya, their relatives claim. The burial ground is likely located near the prison in the village of Chernokozovo, in the Naursky District of northern Chechnya.
Relatives of the slain militants did not consider protesting the decision, as it’s enshrined in Russian law. In March 2003, the State Duma adopted a law to withhold the bodies of terrorists from their relatives. The attackers’ declared allegiance to the Islamic State qualify them under this law.
For much of Chechen society, not returning the body a slain foe is almost unheard of. However, the authorities have been doing everything in their power to establish the practice. Bodies of known militants almost never receive proper burials. Anzor Maskhadov, son of President of the separatist Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, Aslan Maskhadov, is still contesting the decision of the Russian authorities to bury his father’s body in an unmarked grave, and has demanded it be buried according to Islamic tradition. However, the Kremlin has refused.
In 2012, the press started to circulate rumours that the law could be reversed, for not having sufficient legal basis.
‘The fact is, that after the death of the accused, criminal proceedings against him become terminated. That is, a person can’t be declared a criminal without the decision of the court. And a dead person can’t be judged. Not giving bodies to relatives is a grave violation of the law, which clearly says that every citizen is entitled to a burial by their loved ones in accordance with their traditions and customs’, said lawyer Ali Isayev.
One of the most notorious of such cases was that of Chechen field commander Ruslan Gelayev. He died of his wounds in the mountains of Daghestan in February 2004. His body was taken under heavy guard to the morgue in Daghestan’s capital, Makhachkala. Relatives were notified that the body would be returned to them. During the mourning period, during preparation of the grave, several people went to Makhachkala to retrieve the body. However, after verifying Gelayev’s identification, they were informed that body was already set to leave for Chechnya, and the authorities reversed their decision, deferring to Moscow.
Failure to release the bodies of dead militants creates public hostility towards the authorities, according to many Chechens.
‘In our history, there have been murder cases committed on different grounds. Yet, Chechens never fought with bodies of those who were killed. There have been cases of warring families personally returning bodies of dead militants to their relatives in order to stop a blood feud. Nowadays, everything is being done to turn everyone against each other. It’s not going to end well’, says one resident of Grozny named Yusha.