MOSCOW, March 14 (JTA) — A Jewish hostage was beaten to death by his Chechen captors several days ago in the latest report of brutality against kidnap victims in the North Caucasus.
Vyacheslav Izmailov, a retired Russian major who has arranged the release of dozens of hostages in Chechnya, told JTA he had recently tried to rescue Michail Kurnosov, 36, the son of a prominent Russian nuclear researcher. Kurnosov was kidnapped in January 1999 from a ski resort in the North Caucasus and held for ransom in Chechnya.
The Chechen guerrillas who have been fighting the Russian army for nearly a year are eager to get rid of their hostages, including several Jewish hostages.
Anti-Semitism has been a feature throughout the Muslim fighters’ campaign to break away from Russia.
“We are going to help the people of Dagestan overthrow the pro-Zionist Moscow regime,” said one of the top Chechen warlords, Shamil Basayev, last August.
The same anti-Zionist rhetoric was used by Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov in speeches last summer in the Chechen capital of Grozny.
Last summer was marked, according to the Moscow office of the Anti- Defamation League, by intensified anti-Semitic propaganda in Chechnya, including the mass distribution of leaflets and booklets such as the notorious tract “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”
The materials were reportedly edited and printed in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan.
In recent weeks, Russian Federal Security Bureau squads have been freeing more and more hostages, who are reporting the anti-Jewish bias of their Chechen captors.
“They treat Federal Security Service people and Jews the worst,” said Alisher Orzaliyev, 22, an ethnic Khazakh from Central Asia, at a news conference in Moscow. Orzaliyev was held hostage for nearly a year in the basement of a house in the Chechen town of Urus-Martan.
In the same basement with Orzaliyev lived 15 prisoners from a variety of national and religious backgrounds, including two Polish female biologists, Zofia Fischer-Malanovska and Ewa Marchwinska-Wyrwal, who were kidnapped in Dagestan while observing rare species of mountain goats. The Poles were later transferred by the rebels to the town of Shatoy, where they were eventually freed later last month.
Oleg Yemelyantsev, 42, an Israeli citizen, was recently freed as well.
Yemelyantsev, who came from Israel to sell his apartment, was kidnapped in April 1998 in southern Russia while driving his car. He was brought to the Chechen mountains, transferred from one gang to another and periodically beaten.
At least four armed gangs fought over him because Israeli hostages are expected to bring a hefty ransom.
“The treatment was very cruel and humiliating,” said Yemelyantsev. “Once I was badly beaten on my back with sticks” and “my leg became paralyzed.”
He added that a young Russian intelligence officer who stabbed one of the gang members during a mock funeral “was stretched between the trees and had his head sawn off while alive. His head was then hoisted on a pole. We had to watch all that.”
Yemelyantsev said this particular gang acts with extreme cruelty toward Jews. They’re affiliated with the Wahabbites, a militant, Saudi-based Islamic sect active in Chechnya.
He considers himself relatively lucky. He only lost one finger, which was chopped off last August. The footage of the “operation” was sent to his wife in Israel to support the ransom demands.
As Russian troops neared, the rebels collected their hostages and drove them deeper into the mountains.
“We had to walk in a canyon along a narrow path over a mountain river. Sometimes heavily loaded people slipped off and fell into the river and had to swim and walk in the ice-cold water. But we didn’t want to die,” said
Even hostages who are freed can run into problems.
Roman Ashurov, 61, a Mountain Jew from the city of Nalchik, was released recently after having spent a year in captivity.
Weak and sick after being cruelly tortured by his captors, Ashurov was slowly making his way to Nalchik when he was detained by the Russian security officers and taken to the notorious detention camp of Chernokozovo.
There he met Andrei Babitsky, the journalist for the U.S.-funded Radio Liberty who was arrested in January by Russian troops — and disappeared for three weeks in a mysterious prisoner swap.
After learning about Ashurov’s case, the journalist talked to the prison authorities. Only then was Ashurov released from the detention camp and allowed to return home.
Izmailov, who brokered Ashurov’s release, said there are more than 800 hostages, including several dozen Jews, still held in captivity in Chechnya.
“I don’t think the kidnappings will stop soon. It has become too profitable of a business in Chechnya, and many police officers across Caucasus cooperate with the kidnappers,” he says.
Ishaya Abramov, a leader of the Russian Jewish Congress, says the kidnappings “will not stop until all Jews leave” the Caucasus.
And the case of a Jewish businessman Savi Azaryev, who spent some time in the same basement with Oleg Yemelyantsev, shows that the plague of kidnappings is spreading outside the Caucasus and into other parts of Russia.
Azaryev was kidnapped in the city of Volgograd, several hundreds of miles away from the Caucasus and brought to Chechnya.
His brothers recently paid his ransom after receiving footage of two of his fingers being cut off.