Kushchevskaya massacre: why it happened

I’ve avoided this topic in the last few weeks, while the reports of the utter lawlessness and horror out of Kushchevskaya and the surrounding region kept coming. The almost total power of the criminals operating there is startling, the details are like something out of good movie combined with a bad dream: how breaking down doors at the local medical college and raping female students became a norm, how the graves of murdered people were desecrated over and over again as a means of “discouraging” their relatives from so much as moving on with their lives and starting over, how one of the few people who tried to defy the gang in spite of local government and police collusion was first imprisoned then literally driven insane, how one gang member actually bragged about the 11 rape complains filed against him within 24 hours… Is it at all surprising that finally, a massacre of this magnitude happened here?

Olga Bogacheva was one of the few people to speak with Russkiy Reporter on record – she did so because she has nothing to lose. A few years ago, the gang, headed by Nikolai and then Sergei Tsapok, murdered her husband and son. Now, Bogacheva has lost her sister and nephew in the massacre. A former successful businesswoman, she works as a sales clerk at a store – the gang took away her business, along with the people she loved, long ago.

At first, the journalists arriving in Kushchevskaya kept asking the same question – how could Sergei Tsapok be so stupid? Didn’t he realize that massacring 12 people, destroying three families, may cause a national uproar?

Bogacheva explained Tsapok’s actions when she spoke with Dmitry Sokolov-Mitrich for Russkiy Reporter (translation mine):

“You have to understand – impunity is not just an advantage over others, it’s also a progressive disease. A person who is in no way limited by others very soon reaches a state of utter idiocy. These are lawless people for whom lawlessness has become an ideology. We’re tsars, we’re members of a supreme race – everyone else is redneck scum. They liked this feeling, they didn’t want to have to stop feeling this way. They simply lost the ability to live or to think differently. These people have grown so stupid, that they were not able to realize that sooner or later, lawlessness will devour the very people who perpetrate it.”

I have no words as to the suffering this woman has endured. The fact that she spoke to a journalist about this is a testament to her strength and courage. This gang, aided by corrupt officials and policemen, took away everything from her (need I even point out the fact that the murders of her son and husband were never actually solved?), but didn’t break her.

In his piece, Dmitry Sokolov-Mitrich pointed out that although the Krasnodar krai (or region), where Kuschevskaya is located, has enjoyed growing prosperity, it did so at the expense of social institutions, of freedom of the press, of public conscience. The local paper in Kushchevskaya, Vpered (meaning, ironically enough, “Forward”) DIDN’T WRITE A SINGLE REPORT about the November 4th massacre. Today, Vpered mostly publishes statements by public officials condemning the way in which the village and the region have been “tarnished” by other media outlets.

When you consider the fact that the editor-in-chief was forced to leave Kuschevskaya when she dared publish damning reports about the mass rapes and other crimes committed by the Tsapok gang a few years ago, at a time when the governor had made a solemn promise to crack down on the gang (similar solemn promises have been made following the events of November 4th, of course), and was then “forgiven” and allowed to come back for as long as she played nice – the situation ceases to be remotely surprising, and starts to feel downright hopeless.

Novaya Gazeta reports that from 1998 to 2002 the Tsapok gang was most active in forcibly taking away land from farmers. Boris Moskvich became the head of the Kushchevskaya region around this time. His official slogan was “We won’t give the criminals an inch of land.” Moskvich was murdered in 2002. Naturally, despite a whole lot of rhetoric from Krasnodar governor, Alexander Tkachyov, his murder has remained unsolved, though it’s pretty obvious who killed him.

For women, even as much as walking down the street in Kushchevskaya could be a problem. Want to walk to the store alone? A gang member could drive up next to you, drag you into his car, kidnap you, rape you, and get clean away with it. In fact, according to some Novaya Gazeta sources, it was exactly these mass rapes that eventually lead to the assassination of Sergei Tsapok’s vicious older brother Nikolai, at which point Sergei headed the gang alongside his mother, a Lady Macbeth-type figure whom locals refer to as “Tsapchikha.”

Zhenia Gurov, one of the first men to be arrested in connection with the Kushchevskaya massacre, was apparently especially beloved in the upper echelons of the gang. Zhenia was not only a brutal rapist – he enjoyed beating his victims within an inch of their lives. If you sit around long enough on various Kuban and Krasnodar forums, you’ll see his girlfriend come up – apparently, she’s a 17-year-old who knew about the things that Gurov has done, and has given statements to the police. Locals claim that this girl started dating Gurov because by the time she realized he liked her, she had already heard about the various gang rapes he and his friends were responsible for, and was too scared to reject him.

Under Sergei’s leadership, rapes became no less common, but the criminals were less blatant about it. For example, instead of kicking down dormitory doors, they’d just snatch up girls at the entrance of the medical college. After all, Sergei was more commercially minded than his beast of an older brother, and wanted to bring a touch of class to his gang.

Oh, and need we even mention the fact that Sergei was, naturally, a member of the regional government for a while – before being replaced by a friend and “business associate”? Sergei even bragged about having been at the inauguration of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev back in 2008.

Ingeniously, the Tsapok gang recruited members at the local secondary school, filled to the brim with abandoned and orphaned children. They were taken care of, encouraged to take up sports, trained, discouraged from alcoholism. The government doesn’t know what to do with these children, but criminals are often more resourceful in that regard. Yelena Kostyuchenko and Anna Artemyeva, writing from Kushchevskaya for Novaya Gazeta, point out that young orphans remain loyal to the Tsapok gang, and incredulous at the very idea that the gang would be responsible for raping girls or knifing children.

Of course they are. The Tsapok gang is probably the only real authority they have ever known.

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.

Steven Hayes: is the “I’m against the death penalty, but…” discussion appropriate here?

I shouldn’t be in any condition to write anything about the Petit family massacre. But I am. I’m working on a new play, a tragedy, and I have found that my mind has begun working in completely new ways. I think about evil – banal evil, sophisticated evil – and I let it in as close to me as it can go. Evil is like a dog sidling up next to me, asking to be petted.

So.

A few days ago, Steven Hayes, one of the perpetrators of a home invasion that turned into a massacre in Cheshire, Connecticut, was sentenced to death. One of the jurors on the case spoke at length about how he personally doesn’t believe that the death penalty works – but that the law was applied justly in the case of Hayes.

It’s a horrifying story, either way you look at it. It was a situation in which nobody had to die – and yet a mother and her two daughters perished, having first gone through extreme terror and suffering. The father, the sole survivor among the victims, lost the people closest to him in the course of a single day. And for what? Fifteen grand? A few strings of pearls? The mind boggles.

I like how after the jury handed down their recommendation of a death sentence, Dr. William Petit talked about how there could be no “closure” in a situation like this. I suppose people do find ways of functioning when dealing with such grief – but the word “closure” may not necessarily apply. The destruction that Steven Hayes and Joshua Komisarjevsky visited upon the Petit family is so inhuman as to make most words ring hollow after a while. A verbal response to this tragedy feels lacking.

So all of this brings me to other responses to such tragedy, namely to the death penalty. Continue reading “Steven Hayes: is the “I’m against the death penalty, but…” discussion appropriate here?”

Oscar, Louisa, and More: When the Guns Go Off…

I’m not a PUMA sympathizer, but I think this woman’s rage needs to be heard. Her daughter, Louisa, was shot by her other daughter’s ex. She is in a coma and not expected to make it. Her other daughter is battling cancer. In 2009, it looks like this woman, Betty Jean, may lose two daughters. In a particularly horrifying twist, the man who shot her daughter is now claiming that Betty Jean was his intended target.

Betty Jean and her commenters talk a lot about advertising that celebrates violence against women – although I am as appalled by it as anyone else is, I think it’s a symptom, not the cause. Violence against women has existed for millennia, it won’t go away if we make disturbing Dolce & Gabbana ads go away, although this may be a good start.

Neither do I think that banning porn and refusing to wear tight blouses, or whatever, as some commenter suggested, is going to prevent women like Louisa to become the hapless victims of assholes armed with guns. I think this violence is much more primal and horrible than that.

I was reading horrific news concerning another shooting (this one of an unarmed, restrained black man) on Feministe yesterday (check out RaceWire too, please) – and I wondered about how people, men in particular, are encouraged to view violence as a great way to solve a problem – be it financial, emotional, work-related, etc. Continue reading “Oscar, Louisa, and More: When the Guns Go Off…”

The Mumbai Murderers

I’m not a fan of mosque-culture by a long shot (neither am I fan of church-culture, and I’m a Christian too, so go ahead and save your “OMIGOD INTOLERANCE” rants for another day, peoples), but I was somewhat encouraged by Friday prayers today.

We live fairly close to a mosque, and today in particular you could hear the local imam specifically talking about how what happened in India this week is a horrible atrocity.

It made me think about religion and how it simultaneously encourages the best and the absolute worst in most believers on this planet – how organic this mixture is to human nature.