Settling into a new club is second nature to Chelsea's Nicholas Anelka these days, but how will he cope if he moves to Terek Grozny, a unique football club with a uniquely terrifying chairman...
The first Chechen war was nearing a bloody conclusion in August of 1996, with the Battle of Grozny signalling the end of almost two years of intense fighting between Russia and the Chechen militants.
As the capital rocked and burned from a tirade of Russian artillery, estimates for the cost of the conflict ran into thousands of both military and civilian lives, with many more left homeless as a result of the hostilities.
15 years later and at the centre of the rebuilt city is Terek Grozny, a football club who are trying to tempt Nicholas Anelka away from his plush surroundings at Chelsea.
Perennially unsettled, Anelka is looking to leave the London club when his contract expires in June and if he does indeed choose Grozny over other potential suitors in Turkey and the MLS, he will have to learn to live with the club Chairman, controversial Chechen President, Ramzan Kadyrov. A man who makes Roman Abramovich's shady past seem squeaky clean, in comparison.
Kadyrov walks in the footsteps of his late father, Akhmad, the inaugural President of Chechnya, and the victim of an assassination bombing at Grozny stadium during Soviet Victory Day celebrations in May 2004.
Remarkably, during the Chechen conflict in the mid-nineties, a teenage Ramzan and his father fought as rebel separatists in the war against the Russians. Akhmad eventually defected to the Russian federal forces in 1999 and, after serving three years in the role of acting Head of the Administration following the establishment of Russia’s direct rule of Chechnya in May 2000, was appointed President in October 2003. He held the role for little more than six months.
It is rumoured that the Kadyrovtsy unit were less than accommodating with suspected rebels and their relatives, with widespread allegations of kidnapping and torture made against the group.
During Akhmad’s reign as President, Ramzan, a devout Muslim, was head of the “Presidential Security Service”, his father’s personal security service informally referred to as the “Kadyrovtsy”. It is rumoured that the Kadyrovtsy unit were less than accommodating with suspected rebels and their relatives, with widespread allegations of kidnapping and torture made against the group.
Following his father’s demise, Ramzan was handed the role of Prime Minister and eventually succeeded Alu Alkhanov as Chechen President in February 2007; controversy has never ventured too far from the door of Grozny’s Presidential Palace in the following years.
Supported by the Kremlin in his role as Prime Minister, Kadyrov was able to flex his not inconsiderable muscles without fear of repercussion; as such his political power grew exponentially. Following his elevation to President, Kadyrov held court throughout Chechnya and, answerable to no one, continued to rule with an iron fist.
Human rights groups began to publish details of a large number of supposed indiscretions by associates carrying out Kadyrov’s commands.
He became embroiled in several cases of disappearance and execution, though he has always proclaimed his innocence and even following a number of victims testimonies implicating him personally, Kadyrov’s alleged involvement in the following cases has never been proven:
In October 2006, Anna Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist and Human Rights activist was shot dead in the lift of her Moscow apartment. She was best known for her work reporting on conditions in Chechnya, and it is suspected that at the time of her murder, she was preparing to publish a story surrounding torture practices employed by the Chechen authorities.
Around six weeks after Politkovskaya’s execution, Movladi Baisarov, a fellow Chechen warlord and former commander of the Kadyrovtsy was gunned down in Moscow after fleeing Chechnya following a war-of-words with Kadyrov.
In September 2008, Ruslan Yamadayev, a former Russian MP who had, along with his brother Sulim, become entangled in a bitter feud with Kadyrov, was shot ten times whilst sat in a car awaiting a red-light in Moscow. His brother claimed that Kadyrov was behind the murder and promised retribution; six months later he was assassinated in Dubai. Authorities in the Middle East named Adam Delimkhanov, a cousin of Kadyrov, as the man behind the assassination, though he strongly denied any wrongdoing and instructed his lawyers to proceed with a libel case against the Dubai Police force.
Delimkhanov is also alleged to have been involved in the killing of Umar Israilov, a former separatist rebel, murdered in Vienna in January 2009. According to sources, Israilov and his father Sharpuddi had both filed cases against the Russian and Chechen governments at the European Court of Human Rights in the months leading up to Umar’s death. The reports contained accusations of extreme torture, including electric shock treatment and sodomy at the hands of Kadyrov’s men.
In the days following Israilov’s murder, Kadyrov released a statement to the press citing a “massive campaign” in the media “aimed at discrediting the government and the President of the Chechen Republic.”
Kadyrov denies any involvement in the above cases, though police in Austria remain keen to discuss the details of Israilov’s assassination with the Chechen leader.
Amidst the chagrin, many Chechens laud Kadyrov as a figure of hope and a saviour of the people.
Lavish investment has transformed the Grozny skyline from an image of war to one of high-rise apartments and offices, a city where big-name international retailers don the streets. An extravagant three-storey museum was built in honour of his father, and the enormous “Heart of Chechnya” mosque, reportedly the largest in Europe, was completed in 2008.
However, Human rights organisations have again raised concerns regarding the apparent “forced islamisation” of the region and in particular the “hijab” dress code mandate introduced informally in 2007, and strictly enforced since January 2011.
This enforcement of “Shari’a” law opposes the traditional, more liberal way of Chechen life, and is widely seen as a violation of basic Russian Laws.
A report published in March 2011 by Human Rights Watch condemned the campaign as “gender-based discrimination prohibited under international treaties to which Russia is a party,” and provided details of terrifying paintball attacks on anybody refusing to obey the imposed dress code, with threats of “more persuasive measures” appearing on leaflets around the countries capital.
If Anelka chooses to move to Grozny this summer, he will be hoping to fare better than another Chelsea legend Ruud Gullit, who's 5 month reign as manager was brought to an abrupt halt earlier this year...
The 40-page report was dedicated to Natalia Estemirova, a former colleague of Anna Politkovskaya and researcher at the Memorial Human Rights centre in Chechnya. Estemirova condemned the hijab headscarf policy during a television interview broadcast in 2008. In 2009, she was kidnapped leaving her Grozny residence and her bullet-riddled body was later found in neighbouring Ingushetia.
Kadyrov was later awarded a public apology and over $2000 in libel damages for comments made by Oleg Orlov, the head of Memorial, connecting Kadyrov with the murder of Estemirova. A Moscow court ruled that there was insufficient evidence to support Orlov’s claims of Kadyrov’s involvement.
Despite the constant storm of controversy surrounding him, Kadyrov manages to find time for rest and relaxation, indulging in his many hobbies in the manner of any other thirty-something male.
In addition to a multi-million dollar array of supercars and the aforementioned Terek Grozny football team, Kadyrov has invested in a notable string of thoroughbred racehorses. A squad recently buoyed by the purchase of ex-American Kentucky Derby candidate Sweet Ducky, along with the reported $4million purchase of British-bred Gitano Hernando, a standing dish in the world’s richest races and a winner at the highest level in 2009.
In May of this year, Kadyrov will open a new 30,000-seater stadium in the Capital, hopeful that the authorities will allow Grozny to host a match at the 2018 World Cup Finals to be held in Russia.
If Anelka chooses to move to Grozny this summer, he will be hoping to fare better than another Chelsea legend Ruud Gullit, who's 5 month reign as manager was brought to an abrupt halt earlier this year, Kadyrov claiming that the dutchman was more interested in 'bars and discotheques' than managing the football team.
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