Children don’t lie. For Chechen journalist Zara Imaeva, children were the best chroniclers of the realities of war in Chechnya in her documentary “No Children’s Story.”
With the international spotlight focused on Iraq, Imaeva has come to Japan to raise awareness on the desperate situation in war-ravaged Chechnya.
She is seeking humanitarian aid and international pressure to bring an end to the four-year conflict.
“I want the world to pay attention to Chechnya,” Imaeva, 42, told Kyodo News in a recent interview in Tokyo. “Without pressure from international political institutions, such as economic sanctions, the war will not end.”
Imaeva and her son, 17-year-old Timur, were among those who fled Grozny to escape the bloodshed. They now live in Baku, Azerbaijan.
An estimated 80,000 displaced Chechens still live outside Chechnya, mostly in neighboring Ingushetia, as a result of the first war, from 1994 to 1996, and the current fighting between Russian troops and separatists that began in 1999. Others have fled to Georgia and other nearby countries.
“Even if the Russians withdraw now, Chechens will still be dying because the environment is destroyed,” Imaeva said. “There are several thousand orphans and we need humanitarian aid, especially in psychological support and education for the children.”
Imaeva and her son were invited to Japan by the human rights group Amnesty International Japan on a six-week speaking tour, which started Saturday and runs until Dec. 3. The tour will take them to Tokyo, Osaka, Sapporo, Hiroshima, Kagoshima and other cities.
Her documentary, made in 2000 after hostilities erupted for a second time, features testimony from 14 Chechen children, most under 10 years old, on what they saw and experienced before fleeing to Azerbaijan.
“I don’t understand why the Russians destroy our homes,” a 5-year-old girl says in the video. “It seems like they don’t like us living in tents, but we are here because there are no houses left where we can live.”
“All children hate wars, but it seems that adults like wars. I wonder if they don’t like children?” another child asks. “War kills people.”
Meanwhile, Imaeva declared: “This is not an ethnic war; this is a ridiculous war. The children are suffering from it.”
A young boy’s remark in the documentary illustrates the impact the war has had on children. When asked about the things he dislikes, he said, “I don’t like Russian children because they grow up, they kill people. They pick fights and come attack us in planes. Those Russian children should be killed.”
Imaeva’s son was 13 when he and his father fled to Ingushetia. He and his mother were separated for more than six months. Imaeva said she was hiding on a mountain in Chechnya but could not escape because all the roads were closed off by the Russian military.
“I can only say that war is a very terrible thing,” Timur said. “All we can do is to flee from our homeland when we are young.”
He is slated to meet with Japanese junior high and high school students in Kumamoto this month.
“The exchange among the children is very important because when they grow up in the future, they will be concerned about the Chechen situation,” Imaeva said.
Asked to comment on the recent election of new Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov, whom Moscow appointed as Chechnya’s top civilian official in 2000, Imaeva said: “I wonder if there is any meaning in the election. I think it was just a way (for Russia) to make itself look good to Western countries.”
Though Moscow has promoted the election as an important step toward stabilizing the republic, many critics and Chechens are skeptical, believing the Kremlin manipulated the election to ensure Kadyrov’s victory.
“I don’t think he was elected in unity as president,” Imaeva said.
“Chechens know the Russian language, culture and history. However, Russians do not try to understand Chechen and other minorities in Russia.”
In the documentary, the 5-year-old girl says: “I don’t like TV news because they say the Russians do not kill anyone and that they love everyone. That’s all lies.”
She also told Imaeva, “I am not afraid of dying. I didn’t do anything bad.”
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