Chechnya Rebuilds Amid Atmosphere of Fear
After more than a decade of destruction, the Russian region of Chechnya is now being rebuilt. The new signs of stability are welcome to most Chechens, but human rights groups say the region's pro-Moscow government is using fear and corruption to govern a traumatized population.
There's construction almost everywhere in Chechnya, which was torn apart by fighting over the region's independence. Heavy machinery clears rubble from demolished apartment blocks. Building facades in central Grozny have been rebuilt and whitewashed. Most of the city remains in ruins, but cafes and shops are opening.
And despite the many soldiers and police with Kalashnikov rifles, some semblance of normal street life is returning to the dusty, subtropical capital city of Grozny.
Another common sight are ubiquitous posters of the man credited for the dramatic turnaround: the pro-Moscow prime minister, Ramzan Kadyrov, who runs the region with an iron fist.
One of them, Grosny resident Ibragim Abdulayev says thanks to Kadyrov, life has improved dramatically over the last three years.
"Just look at our children playing nearby," Abdulayev says. "On weekends, we can take them to walk in the park, to go on fairground rides. We didn't have anything like that before."
Kadyrov took over real control of Chechnya after his father, President Akhmad Kadyrov, was assassinated in 2004. Ramzan ran his father's paramilitary guards and is said to have been a ruthless commander who personally tortured prisoners.
The Kremlin, citing Kadyrov's reconstruction, says its war in Chechnya is now over.
But life in the region is far from normal. The physical reconstruction can't hide the massive psychological scars of more than a decade of ruthless violence. Everyone has relatives or friends who've been killed, injured, tortured or otherwise brutalized.
Fatima Iskayeva and her family are rebuilding their house in the Grozny suburbs. She says the most important thing for her is peace.
"All we've known is woe," Iskayeva says. "I can't tell you anything else. God help us have peace and friendship and for our troubles to go away."
Kadyrov may be the Kremlin's man in Chechnya, but he presents himself as the true protector of the population's interests. He says Moscow is contributing almost nothing to the reconstruction effort and claims rebuilding is being financed by a charitable foundation named after his father.
Critics have a different story. Shamil Tangiyev of the Memorial human rights group says Chechens are bullied into paying so-called "voluntary contributions" each month.
Tangiyev says the Kremlin's policy of so-called Chechenization -- giving control to the pro-Moscow Chechen government -- isn't really solving the region's problems.
"Fear has grown here, especially after the Chechenization of the conflict began. Because it's become personalized. Everyone knows one another, and if someone publicly criticizes Ramzan Kadyrov, he can suffer negative consequences."
Kadyrov often accuses opponents of being members of the fundamentalist Islamist Wahhabi sect.
Twenty-six year-old Magomed Gazayev, who lives outside Grozny, says he was abducted by Russian-speaking Chechens wearing masks and was beaten and tortured in the basement of a police station. He says he was targeted because he's an observant Muslim who attends prayers at a mosque several times a week.
But even Gazayev praises the prime minister for bringing order. Gazayev says he's sure if Kadyrov had known about his abduction, he would not have allowed it.
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