An epidemic of bullets and death is gripping the volatile North Caucasus region of Daghestan. And it’s an epidemic Khadizhat Nasibova knows better than most.
In late August, the 54-year-old Nasibova set out from her home in the village of Kirovaul with her husband, sister, and a daughter. The family was on its way to Daghestan’s capital, Makhachkala, to give their condolences to a relative whose son had recently been shot dead.
Just as they left the village, their car was stopped by a group of masked men. Nasibova’s husband, 58-year-old Saidakhmed, was ushered out of the car and shot without warning.
“His blood was everywhere. When I got to him he couldn’t speak. His mouth moved a little. A puddle of blood was forming under his body. After my husband fell following the first two shots, they fired an entire clip into him,” Nasibova recalls.
“I put his head on my knee and began to pray. The man who shot him stood by and watched me through the holes in his mask.”
Without a word, the killers got into a car and drove off.
It was just one in a series of killings that has recently plagued Khadizhat Nasibova’s family. In just two years, six of her male relatives met violent deaths. In July 2010, her 21-year-old son and a nephew were gunned down. And within months after her husband’s death, two more of her nephews and a male cousin were shot dead as well.
Independent human rights organizations estimate that about 800 men between the ages of 18 and 40 have been killed in Daghestan so far this year in the insurgency, official reprisals, and sectarian and other violence.
Spirals Of Violence And Death
Local Sunni historian Magomed Nugayev sees the roots of the unending spirals of death in the conflict between Sufi Islam, which is traditional in Daghestan, and Salafism, which was imported from the Arab world after the collapse of the Soviet Union and which advocates the establishment of Shari’a-based states. Salafism has been declared extremist by the Russian authorities and its followers subjected to crackdowns that are often brutal.
He says the state’s reaction to Salafism is “unnecessarily violent” and that each new act of violence creates sympathy for extremists and insurgents.
The Nasibov family is Salafite. Nasibova’s brother-in-law, Abdulazim, agrees that the actions of the authorities are the root cause of the violence engulfing Daghestan.
“In our village there are no disagreements based on religion. Sufis go to their mosque and we go to ours. My uncle and cousins go to a different mosque than I do. If we had disagreements there would be a war. Then the Russians would have grounds to step in. But we are not killing one another.”
Nasibova’s husband, Saidakhmed, was not involved in politics or sectarian conflicts. He’d worked as a driver on a farm until he retired after being diagnosed with cancer. But he had attracted the attention of the authorities by petitioning the police to investigate the July 2010 killing of his son, Magomed.
Magomed was a promising athlete, a champion in the Russian martial art of sambo. His mother recalls the night he died.
“I was waiting for my son, who had moved to Makhachkala. The next day he was supposed to leave for a sambo tournament. While he was studying in Makhachkala, he’d won at tournaments in Moscow, Kyiv, and other places. He had a big future in the sport,” she says.
“But that night, gunfire suddenly broke out outside my house. By the time I ran outside it had stopped. I found my son and my nephew in their car, their heads slumped down on their chests.”
Witnesses say the gunfire came from masked gunmen in a military truck that pulled up alongside the car. Magomed had 153 bullet wounds; his cousin had 76.
Local media later quoted officials as saying the men had been killed “by mistake.” No one has been arrested or charged.
After Saidakhmed Nasibov filed a complaint urging the authorities to investigate, he was repeatedly summoned by the police, his widow says. He was ordered to withdraw his petition and was threatened. Police searched their house repeatedly. The family is convinced Saidakhmed’s killing was connected to these incidents.
‘All The Men Are Dead’
There are rows of bare, fresh graves in the cemetery in Kirovaul. Abdulazim, Nasibova’s brother-in-law, showed Saidakhmed’s grave to RFE/RL’s North Caucasus Service.
The cemetery where Khadizhat Nasibova’s relatives are buried in Kirovaul.
Nearby were the graves of Magomed and Abdulazim’s three sons — two of whom were shot to death along with two other relatives while en route to a wedding less than a month after Saidakhmed was slain.
Their burned-out car and corpses were found along the highway. Abdulazim says he believes his sons were killed by the security forces as a “preemptive measure” to keep them from taking revenge for the deaths of other family members.
But even that was not the end of the Nasibov family’s grief. A short while later, an unknown gunman killed Khadizhat Nasibova’s cousin, 30-year-old Magomed Khaidarov, shooting him through the window of his father’s house as he sat with his wife and five children. The authorities have no leads in that killing.
Just a couple of weeks ago, dozens of police vehicles surrounded Nasibova’s home and searched it again. “They turned everything inside out and didn’t find a thing,” she says. “What do they want from us? What can some defenseless women do?”
During that incident, Abdulazim says he was taken to the police station. “They said that they’d seen me pick up an insurgent in my car and take him there. Then they brought some sort of pipe, some wires, a bottle. They put some bones or something on the table, trying to frighten me with the threat of torture,” he says. “I told them that I am old and am not afraid of being tortured. I said: ‘You put me in handcuffs. Take them off and I’ll show you that I am not afraid.'”
Nasibova says she is worn down by grief and suffering. She is left with only her five daughters. There are no men in her family left to demand investigations and justice. She asks for no more than to finally be left alone. She doesn’t even talk to human rights workers.
She says that everything is now in Allah’s hands.