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Chechnya: Gawza says she is all cried out

04-04-2008 Feature

In January 2008 the ICRC embarked on a programme designed to assess the legal, administrative, psychological and psycho-social needs of people who have a loved one missing. Virginie, a psychologist, and Aïna – both working for the ICRC in Grozny – visited Gawza, whose son is missing.

Gawza welcomes us into the living room of her home in the village of Solkushina in northern Chechnya. The furniture is rudimentary: two sofas, a bit of crockery in a sideboard and a photo of Mecca with a few suras from the Koran. She welcomes us before she has even found out why we are here. The gas stove makes the room stiflingly hot. 

  ©ICRC/M.S. Desjonquères / ru-e-00549    
Gawza holding a photo of her son Khassan, who went missing in 2005. 
    Virginie explains to Gawza that the ICRC regularly visits people with one or more relatives missing in order to assess their needs and bring them whatever comfort it can. They soon enter into a discussion. Aïna translates for Gawza, who, once she has started talking, cannot stop. She has so much to say. She wipes her tired eyes, but no tears flow.
Gawza’s son Khassan, 37, has been missing since 2005. This desperate mother has already lost another son, found dead and decapitated a few weeks after he went missing. Gawza says she is all cried out.

Since Khassan’s disappearance, she has been haunted by certain thoughts: when she eats, she wonders whether her son is eating; when she goes to bed, she wonders where her son’s bed is. She sleeps badly, she lives alone, she is so tired. But she prays a lot, she says, and it helps.


 Keeping on living  

Gawza thinks her son is still alive. She’s sure of it, she can sense it. What’s more, a fortune-teller told her that her son was somewhere very far away. And then she’s heard the story of a man who came back – several years after going missing – from a secret detention centre a long way away. She hopes her son is there too, or elsewhere.
To keep from thinking too much, she walks around the village when the weather allows. She talks to people. She doesn’t want to know about the ICRC’s efforts to locate her son, or to go and talk to associations for the families of missing persons. It wouldn’t help. She wants to hold on to comfortin g stories and pieces of news.
Her face lights up a little when Virginie asks her whether she sees her grandchildren. She has seven, and likes playing with the one who most resembles Khassan. It makes her feel better, allowing her to flee the present and escape into her memories.

She also says she sometimes wants to stop living. When Virginie repeats this back to her, she answers with a smile: “No, really, I don’t think about it that often.”
Gawza dreams about her son. He talks to her from where he is, telling her he’s alive. Virginie and Aïna speak softly: " Try to imagine what your son would want if he knew you were thinking about him all the time, to the extent that it stops you from living. What would he say to you?”
" Yes, I’ll try,” she says, “maybe”.
She talks about her other, dead son. “At least I know where he is, and I’ve been able to mourn”. She adjusts her veil and looks at Aïna and Virginie: " Thank you. I really need to talk. "