About Alexander Cherkasov
Alexander Cherkasov, a leading expert on Russia’s turbulent north Caucasus region, chairs the ‘Memorial’ Human Rights Centre. Well known for its courageous thorough reporting from Russia’s hot spots, ‘Memorial’ has been documenting human rights abuses in Chechnya and providing assistance to victims since the start of the armed conflict in Chechnya in 1994 and extended its work to the neighbouring republics as human rights abuses spilled out to the broader north Caucasus region.
Articles by Alexander Cherkasov
During the short time that he has been in power, Yevkurov has completely changed course and shown a desire for change. Firstly, the government's style and methods for dealing with the armed underworld are different. The Ingush authorities have made serious efforts to stamp out abuses in infringements of the law during the course of ‘counter-terrorist operations'. Secondly, Yevkurov has tried to be guided by society, including the human rights organisations. Finally, he has declared war on corruption.
This is very different from neighbouring Dagestan. Ingushetia is between two sources of violence, power and terror, but has the chance to put an end to the stalemate.
Clearly Yunus-Bek Yevkurov is not to everyone's taste. His attempt to work with society has deprived the armed underworld of its basis for mobilisation and is no less acceptable to the corrupt representatives of the government and the security services.
We wish the President of Ingushetia a speedy recovery and shall look forward to him returning to his burdensome duties.
There were several attempts on Zyazikov's life, including a car full of explosives being driven into his motorcade. The car blew up at the side of the road leaving an enormous the crater. After that when Zyazikov was due to drive by, a large section of the ‘Caucasus' highway was closed to all traffic.
In Moscow the close Kutuzov Prospect when the president and prime minister are driven along it. In Ingushetia a whole section of the federal highway from the village of Barsuki to Magas, the capital of the republic, was completely closed to traffic. The government also tightened the screws: if before Zyazikov had tried to ignore what was going on. After that, every attempt on his family was taken as an attack on him personally and many of his policies were driven by personal revenge.
We are unlikely to see a repeat of this. Yevkurov is, after all, not a ‘drawing room secret service man', but a seasoned soldier with experience of commanding large numbers of people and taking responsibility for them. He has already demonstrated this. It was known that attempts on his life had been planned. Unlike Zyazikov, Yevkurov's previous job also exposed him to the gravest danger, so we hope that he will be able to return and carry on his work.
The Kremlin's policies are another matter. When Medvedev came to Makhachkala after the murder of Adilgibrei Magomedtagirov, he gave out conflicting signals: he talked about corrupt clans and of the need for tougher opposition to the Wahhabis. What good will that do ? Methods used in Dagestan have only encouraged the underworld over a period of at least 10 years.
Of course it is a natural reaction to respond in kind. The stronger the provocation, the more violent the reaction and violence breeds violence. Government is always tempted to behave as harshly as possible, as if it is justified in responding to terrorist action.
At this point I can't help being reminded of the famous episode of the Spartans and Emperor Darius. When the Persian envoys came to the Spartans to demand ‘land and water', i.e submission, the Spartans, being men of few words, threw them into a well: ‘You want land and water - well, here you are!' We all know this story. What is less well known is that those laconic Spartans then sent their envoys to Emperor Darius as if to say ‘we've destroyed your envoys, now you can destroy ours'. How did Darius respond? He declared ‘I shall not kill the envoys, because by so doing I should become like the Spartans and lose my right to judge them.'
The temptation to behave like the terrorists is always very strong. But in doing so one oversteps the mark, thus denying both moral rights and the law. When government puts itself above the law, it loses the moral right to judge the bandits. It descends to their level, making it difficult to understand who is who. This is the principle underlying the humane practice of law and everything that mankind has devised to stop the escalation of violence, to prevent it becoming an end in itself, rather than a (sometimes essential) means.
In my view that Yevkurov has already shown that he understands what's what. I hope he will hold fast to his chosen course and find the appropriate means for dealing with the situation, without yielding to the temptation of simple solutions for complicated problems.
Time passes by without your noticing.
It's 40 days since they died.
At first it didn't seem possible. Stas and death - somehow they didn't connect. He was far too alive...
Now it's time to sum things up. Old friends were reminiscing -amazingly they'd known each other for more than 15 years. These memories leave a strange feeling - pity, rather than regret. Because if you look back on the life of Stas Markelov, you see quite how much he achieved.
In this new perspective Stas takes his place in the ranks of the Russian liberation and Soviet democratic movement. 15 years of active participation in public life - his predecessors didn't get that chance. They also left the scene when they were young - some to labour camps, others emigrated. But Markelov found professional fulfillment as a barrister. He took on cases A leading light of Memorial celebrates his friend Stas Markelov, the human rights lawyer gunned down in the centre of Moscow on 19 January that matched his convictions, which were essentially antifascist. A new feeling and a new understanding have emerged over the past few weeks.
Suddenly it turned out that my friends and acquaintances who belonged to seemingly quite different circles had met Stas - and not just socially, but to discuss serious matters.
One of my friends is an elderly Ossetian who has fought in many wars, and knows the price of life and death. Last August, he defended his city, as he had to. Then at the first opportunity he put down his weapons, and began to help the living - Ossetians, Georgians, it didn't matter... In September he went to a forum in Malmo - his friends from the "left" invited him. On 21 January - the third day! - Timur Ivanovich rang me. "Sasha," he said, "I was supposed to meet Stas today. He and I spent a week together - we went to various places together and became friends... He suggested that I organize a human rights centre, and we had agreed to meet today. I didn't know anything. I arrived in Moscow, opened the newspaper - and what did I see!..."
Viktor Shenderovich, who was "far from Moscow" in January, replied to the text message with the tragic news in bewilderment: "How can that be?" Just the day before they had talked on the telephone and agreed that Stas would defend him in court...
Another journalist from among his friends said that Stas figured in almost every issue of their newspaper for some reason or another. He was always being asked for information and comments. He was happy to help, and didn't just deal with his own cases. His comments were always informative: he never just gave any old answer. This openness was not at all characteristic of the barristers' world, the journalist said.
But that's just it - Stanislav Markelov was not "typical".
He didn't become (didn't even try!) a "fashionable" lawyer, the glamorous host of a TV show, or as the crown of his career, a member of the Public Chamber. Though Stas Markelov looked good on court programmes, for example one about Colonel Budanov on TV-Centre... But neither the topic nor his position during this trial helped him towards a glamorous TV career. Sergei Pashin didn't make it on TV. He wasn't a judge for long either. Neither of these men, Markelov and Pashin, were able to (wanted to, tried to) become part of the special "legal community, the "corporation", where you have to behave like "part of the family". Where to succeed you need an uncle as a prosecutor, a mother-in-law as a judge, and a nephew as an investigator.
But this feature of Russian life should probably not be considered the norm. There have been other pages, other traditions, in the history of Russian advocacy...
At first glance, you get the feeling that he was "unique", a one- off who did not fit into the system. Then this apology can be turned into an invective: there simply were no other lawyers like him. Markelov took on such different cases only because people had no one else to go to. Just as there were no journalists apart from Anna Politkovskaya who were prepared to write about dangerous topics...
This impression is not quite fair. There were and are other journalists - although not many of them. And there are still brave lawyers, although only a few - in both Moscow and the Caucasus.
It's just that it's hard for the man in the street to hang onto more than one name at a time. For poets, it's Pushkin...
Turning someone into a hero saves people from looking at them seriously. I think that Stanislav Markelov was exceptional and untypical.
Markelov was successful as a lawyer. But as I said above, he was not a typical lawyer, he was a "human rights lawyer". Stas represented the interests of injured parties - journalists, ecologists, anti-fascists, working activists, victims of terrorist acts and war crimes...
He continued the tradition of Russian advocacy, both pre-revolutionary and Soviet.
Markelov was a noted figure in the field of human rights - although here too he was not typical. Not only because he was a lawyer, i.e. a professional among "amateurs" - people recruited into public life from other professions. It was no less important that Stas tried to combine "human rights" with "social justice", an idea which is not particularly popular in this circle.
Finally, he kept up his connections with the "left", "informal" environment - old anarchists and new anti-fascists. But in this too Stas was not like others. He made fun of the glorification of legal ignorance which his regular clients raised to the level of a principle. If the anarchists were being screwed, who would go to the cops? Markelov, who else... As a lawyer, he knew how to deal with the cops...
This was probably the essence of Stanislav's "non-typical and exceptional" nature: he belonged to different circles, and linked communities which would normally have had nothing in common
Stanislav Markelov came from the "left", "informal" environment of the 1990s. Did he leave - or keep his links to these circles?
In 2007 Stas went to Pryamukhino, to Bakunin's estate, where new Russian anarchists have been working as restoration volunteers for more than 10 years. Every summer they'd go there to work. They started with cleaning the pond, and took it from there...
Besides working, they also hold "readings" - lectures and debates. Stas took part in these discussions quite seriously, not just out of habit.
Stanislav Markelov's interest in Russian history was not just idle curiosity. He quite consciously aligned himself with the tradition of the Russian liberation movement.
Last summer, one of my friends (or one of our mutual friends) who at one time was a serious student of 19th century populism, pointed out an interesting feature of the populists. Many, though not all, did not fit the label of "fiery revolutionary".
Could there be anything drier and more lifeless than a name and bibliographical index in a biographical reference to a historical figure? Not at all! One look at these references tells you a lot about a person, about his activity, interests, and also his personality. But if we compile references about our contemporary human rights advocates, won't the name indexes be short and repetitive? (See highlights of Markelov's biography below - Ed).
"Every age is an age of iron" - the same can be said of many Soviet dissidents. Andrei Sakharov, Sergei Kovalyov or Kronid Lyubarksy lived several "lives", fulfilling themselves in each one.
"He was our common denominator, our common multiplier! It's just a shame that we only notice this when he's already outside the brackets..." the sad sage Felix Krivin said many years ago.
Anyone who stands above the crowd in the most varied circumstances and societies is to be envied.
This is what we can say about Stanislav Markelov on the 40th day after his death.
Highlights of a life given to human rights
1997- the first lawyer to take on people accused of acts of terrorism (explosions and attempted explosions in central Moscow and in Krasnodar Kray). All defendants were cleared
1997- Defence of those accused of taking part in mass uprisings in Belarus
1997 Defended environmental protesters at Rostov atomic power station
1999 Defended Ufa's Radio Titan after it cited articles in Moscow press about corruption of head of Bashkortostan Republic.
1999 Defended workers who resisted privatisation of Vyborg pulp factory
2000 Defended Novaya Gazeta after it published the story of a soldier who uncovered FSB involvement in bombings in Ryazan in 1999
2001 Defence lawyer for family of Elza Kungaeva, raped and killed by Colonel Budanov. Budanov was accused of committing grave crimes against civilians in the Chechen Republic. He was the only lawyer not living in the Chechen Republic to have an ongoing commitment to the defence of civilians there.
2002 Defence lawyer for several people falsely accused of cooperation with the Chechen terrorists who beseiged a Moscow theatre in mid-performance
2004 Defended victims in a criminal case against the police in Blagoveshchensk following a ‘crime prevention' attack which left 342 people injured
2005 in Grozny he led the successful criminal prosecution of OMON (special police unit) officer S.V.Lapin, who had committed a series of atrocities on civilians. This was the first such successful prosecution in Chechnya. Lapin was sentenced to 11 years.
-2006 Until her death, he handled every case re Chechnya opened as a result of Anna Politkovskaya's investigations of abuses
2008 Handled case of Mikhail Beketov, editor of Khimkinskaya Pravda and tireless critic of the corrupt local authorities, who was attacked and left for dead.