Hidden Scars

Hidden Scars

Stanley Greene, 2013 Winner

Conflict photographer Stanley Greene returned to the Caucasus - a region he had covered as a war photographer - to explore the question “Can one rebuild the soul of a people the same way way one can rebuild a country?”  

Maryam, the only young girl living on Chechen Island. Her mother, Patimat, is the island’s nurse. Her father was killed at sea, while drunk, and she lost her two brothers to cancer. She stays on the island because of her mother. Chechen Island, Dagestan, November 2013.

An abandoned house, Chechen Island, Dagestan, November 2013.

A retired policeman looks out the window of a semi-abandoned house on the island. What brought him here is something he keeps to himself. The island holds many mysteries and secrets, especially the origin of its name, which is in heavy dispute. Chechen Island, Dagestan, November 2013.

Chechen Island is a coastal island in the Caspian Sea. It is located 20 kilometers east of Krainovka, right off a headland on the western shore of the Caspian. The island is 19 kilometers long and 9 kilometers wide, at its widest part. The sea around Chechen Island usually freezes between January and March. And leaving the island is next to impossible. Chechen Island, Dagestan, November 2013.

The island’s Orthodox cemetery. There are no Muslims buried on the island. Chechen Island, Dagestan, November 2013.

Patimat and Maryam, mother and daughter, sit in their home, under a picture of their relative, Magomed Tagir, who was ordered by Imam Shamil to write about the Holy War against the Russian empire. Chechen Island, Dagestan, November 2013.

On the morning of September 5, 199, a month after invading Dagestan, Chechen rebels launched a second invasion into the lowland Novolakskoye region, this time with a larger force. The rebels came within five kilometers of the major city of Khasavyurt. The second invasion at the height of the hostilities came as an unpleasant surprise to Moscow and Makhachkala. Shamil Basayev, the late leader of the Chechen rebel movement, said the purpose of the second invasion was to distract federal forces attacking Karamakhi and Chabanmakhi. Intensive fighting continued until September 12, when federal forces supported by local volunteers finally forces the Islamists back to Chechnya, even though sporadic armed clashes continued for some time. The lowland Novolakskoye region of Dagestan, 2013.

Botlikh village, high in the Caucasus mountains of Dagestan, on Russia’s southern fringe, is in the throes of an Islamic revival. Botlikh, Dagestan, 2013.

Yusuf, 43, is an Islamic fundamentalist. Dagestan has become a fertile ground for a strain of fundamentalist Islam known as Salafism in recent years. Shootings, bomb blasts and other acts of violence have become frequent. The Dagestani and Russian governments are putting substantial resources into counter-insurgency operations, while the violence continues. Although most of the Dagestani populations is traditionally Sufi, Salafism – a puritanical form of Islam found mainly in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and United Arab Emirates – has begun to make inroads. Makhachkala, Dagestan, 2013.

Upper Botlikh Village, Dagestan, 2013.

An abandoned lab inside the Grozny Petroleum Institute. There are toxic materials everywhere, the place is a death trap. A strip of film that shows some kind of life in the past. The ruins stand on the edge of Grozny, the capital. During the first Chechen war, Boris Yeltsin, then the president of the Russian Federation, was unable to completely destroy Chechen industry, which began to rebuild after the war. But during the second war, President Vladimir Putin was determined to crush Chechnya’s economic infrastructure, including complexes built by the Russian Federation, such as the Grozny Petroleum Institute. Grozny, Chechnya, 2013.

A portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin hangs at a Lada car dealership in the Oktyabrsky district. Grozny, Chechnya, 2013.

Tamara, a young Chechen artist and photographer, sits in a modern café in Grozny. She fears for her future if she stays in Chechnya, and wnts to immigrate to France, where she says she will have more freedom to live her life. In Chechnya, women are being forced more and more to wear the hijab while in public, and it is suggested that even when not in public they also wear it. Tamara feels this is a restrictive and authoritarian attitude, and refuses to comply. Grozny, Chechnya, 2013.

On the grounds of the Grozny Petroleum Institute, which was once a battlefield, bullets, old rockets, and pieces of clothing still lie scattered in the dirt. Grozny, Chechnya, 2013.

Volnaya Street, #6. On the spot where this mother and her children are walking, a man was killed and lost his legs during the war. I was there at the time, and made a photograph of him which was later published in my book, “Open Wound.” Grozny, Chechnya, 2013.

At the National Theater in Grozny, young Chechen women dancers practice their movements in front of the very watchful eyes of the portraits above, including Akmad Kadyrov, who was the Mufti of Chechnya in the 1990s during the first and second wars. A rebel commander, he later betrayed his people and switched his allegiance to the Russians, after which President Vladimir Putin appointed him President of Chechnya on October 5, 2003. Chechen rebels swore they would kill Kadyrov, which they did on May 9, 2004, when they blew up the VIP section of the Grozny Dynamo football stadium, where Kadyrov was sitting. Putin was supposed to sitting with him, but cancelled at the last minute. Kadyrov’s son, Ramzan, also a former Chechen rebel, was named by Putin as his father’s successor. Grozny, Chechnya, 2013.

A refugee camp built as temporary housing for victims of the war. They have lived here since 2004. Mata Torzaeva, 6, lives here in the House of Children. There are 197 famlies living in the camp, a total of almost 1,000 people. Grozny, Chechnya, 2013.

A scarecrow and his guard dog watch over the village of Bamut, which was always a rebel stronghold, and was the last village to fall to Russian forces. The entire village was leveled by the Russian military. Bamut is near the Chechen border with neighboring Ingushetia, which lies to the west of Chechnya. In April, 2014, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov sent forces on a cross-border raid into Ingushetia. A few years previously, he sent forces on a similar raid into Dagestan, to the east. Kadyrov’s pan-Caucasus ambitions are making his neighbors uneasy. Bamut, Chechnya, 2013.

The sister of Esina Lechaevny Ibragmova and Hava Ramzanovny, who were abducted on September 2, 2009, form their home in the Goiti Urus-Martan district. During the abduction, the sister (who does not want her name to be used) was beaten with a rifle butt and knocked to the ground and left for dead. As she sits in the window and remembers that day, she blames herself for letting her sisters be taken. The reasons for the abduction are unclear, but it is suspected it was because Esina’s husband was believed to be a rebel. After failing to capture him, government forces abducted Esina and her sister Hava, thinking this would draw him out of hiding. It is believed they were tortured for information of his whereabouts; he was later killed in a special operation by Russian security forces. The fate of the two sisters remains unknown to this day, but the Kadyrov government claims that the two sisters are alive and are members of the illegal armed group, the “Black Widows.” Grozny, Chechnya, 2013.

Dead fish stacked at a roadside fish market. Grozny, Chechnya, 2013.

The village of Samashki, where Russian paramilitary troops massacred more than 100 people on April 7-8, 1995. I photographed the fighting here, in 1995, and nearly twnetey years later, I find kids playing fighters, in front of a bullet-hole-scarred fence. They are still trying to kill Russians, even if it is in make believe. Samashki, Chechnya, 2013.

Photographer's Statement: 

This journey took me from Syria to Dagestan, Ingushetia and finally, Chechnya. Searching for a period of four-and-a-half months. Searching for clues of what happened to the Chechens, it became a photographic investigative journey and a personal one also, where I reopened my own scars from the war.

Chechnya today shows that more than ten years after the end of the war, the country has risen from the ashes but that behind the facade lays a different reality. This collection of photographs casts a depressingly small light on the magnitude of sorrow associated with the Chechen conflicts, of the pointless vasts of blood shed by Chechens and Russians alike. My photographs are not about technique or “art”; they’re about pure gut feel and an attempt to discover hidden scars. At first, war photography seemed like a way to test myself, to exist on a knife-edge where there’s constant proof of being alive. Today covering conflicts is a very personal form of protest.  Having witnessed many of them, I can honestly say that the evil of the Chechnya situation has born few comparisons in an arena thriving with competition. . . .

Time has moved on but humans continue to act like barbarians with nauseating ease. They commit unspeakable acts of violence simply because they’re arrogant enough to view differences within the family of man as flaws or afflictions needing correction. Chechens look like us, they laugh and breathe like us, they marry and have families like us.  But they don’t die like us.  What everyone seems to forget is that when you misunderstand your neighbor, you’ve lost all ability to be able to predict what he or she will do back to you.  Think like this  and you’ll soon feel the same angst I do about the lasting future of this region. The deep sense of desperation, stifled by their inability to seek alternative outlets or to gain the ears of the international community. It’s a fact that prolonged war creates unfairness on both sides. Sooner or later, as people forget why it originally started, the lines separating victim and perpetrator become blurred. And when things get this bad you can no longer ‘reward’ good behavior, since reward to you is a matter of complete and utter indifference to them.

At risk of being labeled indulgent by colleagues, I have tried to give you the human story.  Because of the blurriness of the situation in Chechnya and the aftermath of the wars there,  finding the ground where you try to flesh out the reality, find out what is fact and fiction – and attempting to do this in a place that has left scars on you -- can be a major undertaking. Yet photographs are beyond politics. In fact they're graphic reminders of how politics fail. The dead show the limit between actions and morality, making these failings impossible to ignore.  Our laissez faire attitude as individuals, in spite of the ongoing evidence, has to make us fearful that we'll never reach a future worth having. In all war, especially in bestial ones like Chechnya, it remains essential for journalists to scour the ground, unimpeded, using the only weapons we know. Our cameras, notebooks and voices make us the unwelcome pests of aggressors around the world. Witnesses are inconvenient. Yet as most of my colleagues will agree, regions such as this are becoming harder to cover. In the world of spot news, publications don't want to pay for long engagements in complicated zones because it’s getting much harder to afford it. Authorities block access. And the lack of access, infrastructure and personal security makes logistics a nightmare.

Despite the odds, sometimes the effort can make a difference, and those rare moments never cease to satisfy in a profession that is otherwise lonely, demanding and thankless. Journalism rewards you with long days and even longer nights. There is no such thing as taking pictures from a place of safety, and you often pack your feelings in a suitcase until you can return to “reality.” You perfect what is known as the hundred-yard stare. Freshly home from some pit, confronted by languid ignorance in every corner, it's hard not to play the provocateur. You want to remind the apathetic that the sharp noises of a bustling city are actually replaced by indiscriminate missile attacks in hellholes only plane-hours away. Some colleagues living in this perpetual emotional yo-yo are able to maintain a relationship, dollars in the bank, and perhaps even their sanity. If you're like the rest of us, you weren't born under that star, though one never stops trying to find it.  

Yes, today, for me covering conflicts is quite simply a very personal form of protest. . . .

The images that I made of today’s Chechnya reflect the mood of the time, and a bit of the past. Everything there seems to be lost in time, in one way or another. . . . I felt it as I looked out windows, literally seeing the past at times – an old woman washing her plastic windows; an old man, with his daughters and granddaughters, in his 90s, a survivor of many wars, now battling time and age. . . .

And I was overwhelmed by it when I found a building I once sought refuge in during the war, with my cameras. At the time I had no idea how badly it was bombed, even now it is hard to imagine the destruction that rained down. Thinking of these images of yesterday, they reflect what I am trying to capture in my return to Chechnya. 

Stanley Greene
Stanley Greene's picture

For the last 25 years, Stanley Greene (New York, 1949) bore witness to births of new dawns, rising and falling empires, invasions of countries, liberations of others, mass migrations, deportations, displacements, famines, conflicts, wars and destructions. He worked on the five continents trying to document the human condition.

Stanley continues to cover important world events and recently followed the trail of electronic waste to Nigeria, India, China and Pakistan; a project realized with the support of the Getty Images Grants for Editorial Photography, GEO France and exhibited at the international photojournalism festival Visa pour l'Image 2012.

Hidden Scars Lesson Plan

Hidden Scars

In this suite of lessons students will explore this question by studying photographs taken by Stanley Greene from one of the most volatile states within this region-Chechnya. In building background knowledge and expanding their skills in visual analysis students will:

  • • explore the idea of visual echoes in photographs from war and its aftermath;
  • • develop and practice visual analysis and interpretive skills with visual echoes;
  • • explore how context and perspective of the conflict photographer inform our understanding of  their images 
© 2013 Stanley Greene



Grozny, November 1995. The presidential Palace served for many years as the nerve centre of the Chechen resistance. Pdt Dudayev used it as his head-quarters during the defence of Grozny owing to its extensive, well-protected bunkers.



Grozny, July 1996. Markha Mutapiloum, 3, lost both her legs - her mother was killed as she triedto shield Markha during a rocket attack. Today Markha lives in Grozny with her father and sister.



Sergenyurt, july 1996. Belita holds a picture of her parents, both of whom died en route to Kazakhstan during Stalin's mass deportation of February 23-29, 1944. Nearly half a million people were gone, and Chechen-Ingushetia region suddenly ceased to exist. In 1994, on the 50th anniversary of Stalin's mass deportation, General Dudayev cited the event as proof of why Russia can never be trusted. He ominously stated: "Over the past two or three hundred years we have always acted on the assumption that Russia wishes to occupy Chechnya and expel the Chechen people from its territory. This factor is always present, consciously or unconsciously."



Grozny, August 1996. A woman comes out after the bombing. The hands on the door are a traditional muslim symbol of protection.



Grozny, May 2000. Presidential palace reduced to rubble. Even in ruins the palace remained a powerful symbol of the Chechen fight for independence.



Chechnya, Grozny, young woman looking out of window.



Grozny. January 1995. A Russian Sukhoi roars out of nowhere. A Russian civilian lies dying, his legs blown off. There is no help, only journalists who are survivors, trying to records what happened, helpless to do anything else. The Russian military killed more Russian civilians than Chechen fighters during the battle for Grozny. The shelling of Grozny in the first few months of 1995 was both futile and ironic. The city was largely deserted with the exception of elderly Russian civilians numbering in the tens of thousands. These pensioners had been physically unable to escape in previous months while the city was being surrounded. In a perverse twist, Yeltsin?s Sukhoi jets were bombing Russian grandmothers and grandfathers whose only protection was a handful of Chechen rebels.