Author and presenter of Namedny (The other day) program Leonid Parfenov
Photo: Valery Melnikov
"It Was a Request We Couldn't Refuse"
// NTV's Interview with Zelimkhan Yandarbiev's Widow Cut
Yesterday on the instructions of NTV's acting general manager, Aleksandr Gerasimov, the topic Married to Zelimkhan, aired earlier in the Asiatic part of Russia, was cut from the program Namedni (The Other Day) in the European part of the country. It dealt with the circumstances of the trial of the Russian special service officers whom Qatari law enforcement agencies suspect of the murder of Chechen separatist leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiev. The main theme was an exclusive interview with Mr. Yandarbiev's widow Malika. Namedni's host, Leonid Parfenov, told Kommersant that Mr. Gerasimov had banned the airing of the topic at the request of Russian special service officials.
As Leonid Parfenov told Kommersant yesterday, most of the 5 minutes and 30 seconds of the item by journalist Elena Samoilova was taken up by an interview with Malika Yandarbiev. According to Mr. Parfenov, the piece was shot during the May holidays and ready for airing even before the program's most recent edition. “Then the company's management (and they were not the only ones) asked us not to show the item,” he explained. “They told us we had to postpone the showing because it was about people's fate (the trial of the Russians accused of murdering Zelimkhan Yandarbiev is still in progress – Kommersant). I went along with it after deciding that nothing would change in a week.” A week passed, and yesterday the piece was shown on Orbit TV: because of the time differences, all political summary programs on NTV, like those on the other two national channels, are first shown during the day in the Far East, Siberia, and the Urals and then aired again in the evening in the European part of the country. By tradition, the channels' managers arrive to watch the daytime showings (programming, content, or political corrections may be made to the programs by evening).
Yesterday, instead of NTV's general manager, Nikolai Senkevich, who is at the film market in Los Angeles and will not be back in Moscow until early this week, his deputy, Aleksandr Gerasimov, who is responsible for news and political broadcasting, turned up for the daytime airing of Namedni. “After the broadcast, there was a really long discussion,” Mr. Parfenov admitted to Kommersant. “Gerasimov insisted there was a request from the special services not to show anything about the trial in Qatar until the defendants' case was settled. But my position was that I had to show it: we were trying to do something exclusive, and as far as I knew, this was the first interview with Malika Yandarbiev, and I couldn't agree that it was unprofessional.”
However, according to Mr. Parfenov, it was made clear to him that, “it wasn't a matter of the topic's contents but that it shouldn't have been done at all”. “Gerasimov agreed with my retort that the special services have their job and I have mine, but he categorically prohibited us from showing the item. After that, in order to disclaim all responsibility for attempted censorship, I demanded a written order to delete the material from the air.” According to Mr. Parfenov, Mr. Gerasimov told him he was assuming all responsibility.
Aleksandr Gerasimov was not available for comment yesterday. Both of his cell phones were switched over to reception. His secretary said her boss had left Ostankino and switched his cell phones over to reception.
When Kommersant asked Mr. Parfenov who had requested Mr. Gerasimov not to show Married to Zelimkhan, he replied, “I don't know what level the instruction came from, but I can tell you it was a request we couldn't refuse.” The host of Namedni asserted that he couldn't remember when anything on TV had been prohibited in writing since the time Vzglyad (Outlook) was shut down. Even last fall, when Nikolai Senkevich demanded the removal of a piece devoted to journalist Elena Tregubova's sensational book Tales of a Kremlin Digger, which like Married to Zelimkhan, was banned from the air after it was shown on Orbit, it was in the form of a verbal order.
Text of Aleksandr Gerasimov's order:
To: L.G. Parfenov,
Author and host of the program Namedni
The item Interview with the Widow of Zelimkhan Yandarbiev by Elena Samoilova shall be removed from the program of May 30, 2004.
Deputy General Manager of NTV
for News Broadcasting
(signed) A.G. Gerasimov
“Married to Zelimkhan”
Subject Matter Taken from a Broadcast of the Program Namedni
Reporter off-camera: This is the last snapshot from the Yandarbievs' home archives. Zelimkhan spent the day before his murder in the garden. His wife Malika had developed a passion for gardening. As a Chechen villager, she found the sands of Qatar cheerless. She wanted their new home to look like their homeland before the war, before green trees meant army-style executions.
Now she rarely leaves the house. Malika Yandarbieva has been in mourning for three months and covers her face with a hijab.
The song “Not Gonna Get Us” by t.A.T.u. blasts out in English in the disco. After their tours, the girl group is as well known in Qatar as the Russian male duet accused of Yandarbiev's murder. They are always shown from the back in TV courtroom reports; Malika went to the courtroom in order to see their faces.
Malika Yandarbieva, widow of Zelimkhan Yandarbiev: The one with light hair. The tall one. That's Anatoly Yablokov. This Anatolik was offended because they compared him to a Filipino. But he looks something like a Filipino. Short, chubby. He looks like he's put on weight. They've obviously fattened him up in prison.
Reporter off-camera: The district where the Yandarbievs' house is located is something like Embassy Villagea diplomatic quarter. Zelimkhan's murder provoked its own desert storm here. They didn't simply murder the president of Chechnya as they called him here, but the emir's personal guest.
Malika Yandarbieva: Emir Hamad Al Thani and his wife Moza, Sheikha Moza, are very sensitive, good people, very understanding. They came to visit us after the murder; they were with my son. They said there wouldn't be any problems. Sheikha Moza said: “Malika, know that your children are my children.”
Reporter off-camera: The family of Husein Nimai lives not far from the mosque where Zelimkhan was praying with his son Daud that day. After prayers, they got into their jeep, but didn't get very far. An explosion tore through the car. The father died on the spot; the son was taken to emergency.
Husein Nimai: Yes, I heard; there was an explosion. The president of Chechnya was killed. I think Russians or someone from another country did it. Some sort of settling of scores.
Reporter on-camera: Qatar is to the Persian Gulf what Monaco is to the Cote d'Azur. One of the richest and most peace-loving countries of the Arabian Peninsula. It's equally comfortable for both Qatari nationals and foreigners, who outnumber native residents by more than two to one.
Reporter off-camera: Russian tourists fell in love with Qatar at first sight: luxurious hotels with unlimited alcohol and souvenir boutiques where you can buy Armani veils. The Ministry of Tourism's advertising clip lures thrill-seekers to the country: pearl fishing, falconry, and extreme safaris in jeeps, which now sounds a little terrifying.
Yandarbiev did not hide in the forests to avoid being killed, like Basaev and Maskhadov. He fought in the hinterland.
Malika Yandarbieva: He wanted to die at home. He didn't want to leave and die of old age somewhere far away. But in fact he died at the hands of the enemy in a foreign country.
Reporter off-camera: When they first met, Malika was working as a librarian and novice poet Zelim worked at the Grozny newspaper Leninist Path (Leninsky put). Then Yandarbiev set off on his own path but continued to write only lyric poetry.
When you put out all the lights,
Knowing that fate has cheated you.
Empty days and empty nights,
And only solitude with you (Cries.).
Then sometimes you will vow (cries) to,
Drive away all thoughts of me.
Reporter off-camera: The Yandarbievs' family album. Their older son Beshto was hit by a car several years ago. Their adopted son Abdusalam was killed during a cleanup in Chechnya. Twelve-year-old Daud is recovering after the murder attempt. And there is eight-year-old Aminat.
Malika Yandarbieva: I'm not bloodthirsty (laughs). It will be as Allah commands. The most important thing for me is that the children get over this stress. That my son regains the health he lost so early (cries). Such is life.
All the Article in Russian as of May 31, 2004