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Last Updated: Friday, 18 March 2005, 16:16 GMT
An angry photographer in Chechnya
By Neil Arun
BBC News

A lone figure runs through a field under the threshing blades of a Russian helicopter. A beautiful young woman in a headscarf cradles a Kalashnikov.

(Picture: Stanley Greene/Trolley Books)

Stanley Greene points to another image from the Chechen conflict - his black-and-white photograph of a gaunt, bright-eyed man.

"He fought the Russians and ended up in a mental hospital, chained to the wall," he says. "Every time the bombing started, he would go wild."

Greene's photographs from Chechnya are a window on to a conflict increasingly overlooked by the western media.

A former fashion photographer, his images of rebels, refugees and Russian soldiers are artful and disturbing.

Describing his visits to the dangerous region, he brims with anger: "Why do I do it? Why put your head in a noose?"

"The world only pays attention to the Chechens when something atrocious happens, like Beslan," he says, referring to the rebels' armed occupation of a Russian school last year, starting a siege that ended in the deaths of hundreds of children.

Relying on Russians

The risk of death or abduction has forced most foreign reporters out of the region.

"Chechnya has become an information black hole from which, occasionally, something horrible emerges," Tom de Waal of the London-based Institute of War and Peace Reporting told the BBC News website.

(Picture: Stanley Greene/Trolley Books)
Greene's portrait of a Russian soldier at a Chechen checkpoint

It was not always so. Reporters who covered the Chechen rebels' first war against Moscow recall that they were relatively free to operate.

Conditions for correspondents worsened markedly during the second war over the breakaway republic - launched in 1999 by Vladimir Putin when he was prime minister of Russia.

According to Greene, Russians and rebels became increasingly wary of reporters, regarding them as enemies or at best, potential hostages.

He recalls a Russian commander telling him journalists are no different to spies - both gather information for their bosses.

Reporters who enter the region now usually rely on the Russian authorities for protection.

'Sordid conflict'

According to Tom de Waal, the near-total absence of any foreign media has worked mostly to Moscow's benefit.

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"There are insufficient alternative sources to challenge the Kremlin's argument that the war in Chechnya is part of the global 'war on terror'", he says.

Greene says that what he saw in Chechnya turned him into a supporter of the separatist struggle and a fierce critic of Moscow's policy.

"Chechnya is a dirty little conflict, so sordid, so primeval in its brutality that it leaves journalists and aid workers who have trodden this land permanently stained."

His photographs have failed, he says, if they do not anger the audience over "the pointless vats of blood shed by Chechens and Russians alike".

Road to war

More than a year has passed since Greene was last in Chechnya. New risks lie in wait if he returns.

Right now, many Chechens feel they need Basayev
Stanley Greene
"A lot of the old commanders have been killed. They can no longer vouch for me," he says.

He fears for the future after Aslan Maskhadov, a man widely regarded as a moderate among Chechen rebel leaders, was killed this month in a Russian raid.

Shamil Basayev, a warlord linked to the Beslan siege, is the new rebel figurehead, according to Greene.

"Right now, many Chechens feel they need Basayev. He is seen as someone who takes it to the Russians and walks away from it," he says.

Greene has plans to go back to the Caucasus region but cannot say if he will return to Chechnya specifically.

"Who knows," he says. "There is an old proverb in the Caucasus - every road leads to a war."

An exhibition of Stanley Greene's photographs, Open Wound: Chechnya 1994 to 2003, is showing at the Trolley Gallery in London until 27 March.




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