Speaking of scourge: the Kushchevskaya massacre

Don’t read this if you don’t think you ought to.

At the grave of Yelena Ametova and daughter Amira. Photo: Alexander Lomakin.

In case you haven’t heard about it – and if you’re not in Russia, you probably haven’t – twelve people were massacred in the village of Kushchevskaya on November 4th, during a holiday weekend. Most of the victims, who had gathered to celebrate November 4th (Day of National Unity, as it’s called nowadays), were knifed to death. Not even children were spared. A nine-month-old baby girl was choked to death.

Only the dog was treated humanely – like something out of “Lethal Weapon 3” – the killers neutralized it by injecting it with a tranquilizer, and it’s reportedly alive and well today.

The massacre caused such an uproar that First Deputy Prosecutor General Alexander Bastrykin flew in to oversee the investigation. So far, four people have been detained in connection to the killings – the youngest is 16, the eldest is 24. Journalists who were able to get a brief look-in described one of them as a “little wolf”.

It should go without saying that massacres of this scale are almost always “ordered”. So far, the tabloids are pointing to some rich guy who’s currently “at his villa in Italy – or Spain”. Is there hope that the people who financed one of the most horrifying mass murders in recent memory will be brought to justice? I don’t know.

I know what it’s like to be targeted by criminals and to constantly be on the look-out. I experienced this as a child. I can well imagine the horror the children in Kushchevskaya went through before they were murdered. If there’s anything that I have learned about these kinds of situations – anything that the 1990’s taught me – is that at least some of the children were probably killed first, so that the parents could watch.

These types of killings serve a dual purpose – eliminating “inconvenient” people and, also, terrorizing the countryside. The massacre was meant to send a message – “This is what will happen to you and your family if you cross us – big important people.” The message is also – “The police can’t save you. The government is not in charge here. We are. We get to decide who lives and who dies.”

Now, as I mentioned earlier, I am glad that there is a moratorium on the death penalty in Russia. At the same time, I think it’s important to point out that the people who order such killings and the people who participate them usually cannot be rehabilitated. They are nothing. They have forfeited their right to be considered members of humanity. Although, as a religious person, I believe in redemption, I believe such redemption can only happen between an individual and God. The individual and society, on the other hand, should call it quits permanently when something of this magnitude occurs.

Is it not also society that allows these killings to take place? To an extent, yes. We live within a caste system in which some people have long since decided that they are above all laws – human and spiritual. And then there are also those who desperately want to join them in their places of power. The Kushchevskaya killers were professionally prepared for the task at hand. Why? Because it’s a career thing.

Unlike their victims, the boys with the knives had no interest in being mere farmers – even well-to-do farmers. They want success and they want it fast – they want the luxury of utilizing the services of upscale prostitutes, they want that flat-screen TV, the nice car. If I know anything about what makes these boys act the way they do, it is this: they’re well aware of the fact that you can’t have a decent life via decent means. If a bunch of people need to die in order for them to achieve higher status, then yeah, those people will die.

Jamil, the son of the man whose house was targeted, lost his father, mother, wife and baby daughter. Jamil’s father was Muslim, his mom was an Orthodox Christian. A local Orthodox priest allowed the mother to be buried next to her husband at the Muslim cemetery following an Orthodox Christian ceremony. “This land is one land,” the priest was quoted as saying. Jamil’s wife, Yelena, was 19 years old. So far, investigators are saying that she was already dead by the time the killers got around to killing her baby. Which is, I suppose, a good thing when you think about it – although the word “good” doesn’t feel right.

“Little wolf” is an astute characterization, by the way – although it is massively unfair to wolves.

17 thoughts on “Speaking of scourge: the Kushchevskaya massacre

  1. Have you ever heard the expression, “no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole” scary? A massacre isn’t the appropriate setting to criticize others’ religious views. Thread hijacking is annoying enough when the thread is about something that will have only mild impact on our lives.

    These people and THIS BABY!! were viciously murdered. STABBED!! Have you ever felt that kind of pain, scary?

    I’m not a religious person, either. But there’s a little thing called courtesy. If you’re NOT religious, then you don’t believe in an afterlife and you should be all the more horrified by this crime.

    Personally, I think a Muslim and an Orthodox Christian being so close, even in death, sends a much more powerful message to the world than their murder did. We should honour that accomplishment, that harmony, by putting our own religious differences aside.

    Let the survivors deal with their trauma in whatever ways best ease their grief. I hope they find peace again someday.

  2. Xena,

    I have learned something new today, the expression “thread hijacking”! Never heard it before.

    You are right, sorry, it was maybe a bad moment to mention religion, but it is just exactly where I first time found out about Natalia’s position on it; and my initial, natural reaction was a surprise. I did not mean to hijack the depressing mood of the story itself. I was- without any doubt!- totally horrified by it. Neither did I critisize it as such. It was just my personal feeling. I just did not expect it from her, that’s all.

  3. I’m fairly open about my religious views, and religious iconography and references regularly make their way into my posts. I can’t say that I seek anyone’s approval on this – it’s just a part of who I am.

  4. Ok, scary. I hope I didn’t sound too preachy. Er, I just reread that. Yeah, I sounded preachy. I’m sorry too. This is just SO awful.

    Religious or not, the subject of justice is such a difficult one to discuss. I don’t know much about crime syndicates like the vory v zakone, except what I gleaned from action movies. Who knows how reliable that info is? Other than that, all I have are a couple of autobiographies documenting the most extreme examples of kontraktniki behaviour, ranging from good and poignant to rotten to the core, as the Chechen Wars made survivors or monsters of people. Hardly a representative sample of politics, crime and justice in that part of the world.

    But I agree that the people who ordered the hit should be executed, put out of the people’s misery. So should the 24 year old assassin.

    Ethnocentricity is probably dangerously clouding my perceptions of the younger “wolves”. Do you really think the sixteen year old can’t be rehabilitated, Natalia?

  5. Natalia, it was in the news here, NPR, I think. Maybe it was BBC…which I guess isn’t really *here*, but I did hear of it, so perhaps it was. I don’t know. It is an awful, awful event. You know my religious views, but I wonder if it even matters and why people are making a big deal of it right now. It was a horrible thing that happened, no matter what anyone believes or doesn’t believe.

  6. I hadn’t heard about it, and it is disgusting. I agree with you that most of these horrors don’t come about because the killers felt driven to do it by the desperation of their position, or because they were motivated by other than calculation. How could anyone feel good about themself if their accession to leadership or political gain came about by such means?

    Unfortunately, those who traffic in the currency of force and coercion respect nothing less than force. Only public execution would have a deterrent value, and compassion and forgiveness would bring only contempt. Even if the killers were eventually released after a lengthy incarceration, and never killed again, they would have learned nothing. More importantly, neither would anyone watching, except that violent murder is an acceptable risk because even if you’re caught, your punishment will be comparatively mild. Punishment is supposed to be an example, not a negotiation.

  7. @marknesop — “Only public execution would have a deterrent value …”

    At least in the U.S., the possibility of execution does not appear to have a deterrent effect on those planning to commit murder.

    According to studies conducted in the U.S. state of Georgia (where I live), in interviews of those convicted of capital crimes, the majority of those interviewed said that the prospect of execution did not deter them because, in planning and carrying out the crime, they:
    (1) Expected to avoid being personally identified by police;
    (2) If identified by police, they expected to avoid being physically apprehended;
    (3) If physically apprehended and tried, they expected to avoid being convicted and sentenced to death.

    Note that I do not recall whether the interviewees included contract killers — even though contract killers would likely be even more calculating in their plans to escape law enforcement.

    Although the ‘predictive’ process described above sounds like neurotic denial, it is actually not that unreasonable. At least in the U.S., evidence collection and witness testimony for capital crimes can be so flawed that it might be impossible to get a conviction based on evidence and testimony alone.

    That’s why, in the U.S., prosecutors seeking a capital conviction prefer a defendant who has previously been convicted of a violent felony, which would, in the eyes of a U.S. jury, make the defendant seem more likely to have committed the capital offense, regardless of flaws in evidence and testimony.

    Such prosecutorial strategy is the reason why my late father, a prosecuting attorney in Appalachian Ohio, opposed the death penalty despite his social/political conservatism, because in actual trials, capital defendants were not really proven guilty of the specific capital charge, but only of having previously committed a violent offense. In other words, capital defendants were usually railroaded to execution. I think this argument could also apply to Russia.

    Regarding Mark Nesop’s argument for exemplary punishment: Exemplary punishment deters only those who are already law-abiding. That’s because law-abiding people obey the law, at least in part, because they firmly expect to be punished for transgressions.

    But we now know that hardened/experienced criminals, because of their preliminary confidence that they’ll escape the hands of the law, are not deterred by public executions or the like.

    This is not to dismiss the outrage expressed in this post/comment thread. But executions themselves haven’t proven to be a deterrent, at least not in the U.S.

  8. I agree that execution doesn’t deter others from killing. But in cases where there’s irrefutable evidence, and little or no question that that particular killer will kill again, it prevents that particular killer from ever committing another crime.

    It also costs less than feeding, clothing, housing and supervising a violent murdering waste of human flesh.

  9. You probably have a point there, although I’d bet many of those surveyed in the study you mentioned were perpetrators of crimes of passion, such as blowing away the boss or a co-worker, or a family member, in a fit of rage. Those people never expect to get caught, and they always make dopey mistakes which ensure they do. Somebody besides cop shows should point out to them that they are almost always going to be high on the list of suspects, and the only reliable way to get away with murder is not to be on that list at all, while not making any dopey mistakes.

    In the case of contract killers – which these individuals sort of are – there’s even greater reason to execute them. Even if it has no deterrent value (and I argue it has, even if it’s only to suggest you will get caught), at least it will assure the surviving victims that justice was done.

    The death penalty was abolished in many countries because execution of an innocent person was at the same time too horrifying and too possible. Indeed, it happened more than once. It might even be the case here, although they sound pretty certain they have the right guys.

  10. One of the reasons why I’m against the death penalty has to do with the fact that I think it brutalizes a brutal society even further. It brutalizes the people who must carry it out, the people involved in the judicial process leading up to it, and even observers in general – because if we say that killing is wrong, then claim “but it’s OK, the state can still kill”, for a lot of people, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

    At the same time, I believe that the wishes of survivors are also important here. I’m not really sure how to reconcile them with the law.

    I also think that when it comes to killers like the Kushchevskaya killers – it seems to me that they will enjoy authority and respect in prison. People will fear them, and their brutality will probably be a kind of badge of honour. I’m not implying that Russian prisons are a picnic for anyone – but I think these guys will do just fine in the system. Their brutality sort of matches its brutality, no?

    So as glad as I am for the moratorium on the death penalty in Russia, I also don’t know how it is that these individuals will actually *pay* for these crimes – and if it’s even possible to make them pay. The guy who ordered these killings will pay if we goes to prison (he’s in custody, btw) – if only because he’s most likely used to a pretty good lifestyle. But the rest of them? I just don’t know.

    When it’s a crime of this magnitude, it’s hard to figure out how to respond, to be honest.

  11. Agreed. It provokes the kind of revulsion you feel all the way down in the pit of your stomach – the kind that inspires reckless reactions like, “everything we have done to this point to introduce, refine and develop law and order has been a waste of time. Let’s just kill these pigs, because nothing else will satisfy me”.

    That’s the kind of unfocused loathing that makes the judicial system make mistakes – although, as I said, it doesn’t sound like there’s much doubt of someone being framed here. Good to hear the contractor is in custody, and I hope he doesn’t slip through their fingers.

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