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Chechen Singer Seeks Asylum in Finland

The Finnish-Russian Civic Forum (FINROSFORUM) promotes cooperation between the peoples of Finland and Russia by supporting civic initiatives for democracy, human rights, and free speech.



Video: Pertti Nykänen.

The famous Chechen singer and song-maker, Liza Umarova, has applied for asylum in Finland. Recently, she appeared at a concert organised by the Finnish Peace Committee, where she sang anti-war songs. “Three days ago, when I arrived in Finland, for the first time in a long time, I felt free in my heart. I was happy. I never had such a feeling in my life,” Ms Umarova told her audience. “My songs are dedicated to freedom and to the pain that my people is suffering.”

Liza Umarova is a Chechen bard and actress. She is one of the most popular contemporary Chechen singers today. Ms Umarova spent her childhood in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Her parents had been removed from their native village of Katyr-Yurt, Chechnya, in February 1944 as a result of the forced deportations of most Chechens to Central Asia. In 1982, her father decided to move the family back to Chechnya, and they settled in the republic’s capital, Grozny.

Ms Umarova attended the Yaroslavl State Drama Institute. After graduation, she decided not to pursue a career in music, but got married and had three children. In 1994, the family moved to Moscow after their house was bombed during the First Chechen War. In 1998, Ms Umarova made her first recording with the song “Motherland”, which set words about Chechnya to the tune of the Italian pop hit, “Libertá.” Her hit songs include “Rise Up, Russia!” and “Grozny, Hero City.”

Ms Umarova says she sings because “music has always affected me emotionally, calmed me, and given me hope. People came up to me when I performed in Chechnya, in Grozny, and said that my songs were healing. Although they are tragic, in the end there is always something positive — hope for a good life.” Ms Umarova is not a Chechen nationalist and said she was ashamed for her country, Russia, over its bigotry against the Chechens and the continuing brutal war.

Liza Umarova says of her decision to apply for asylum in Finland:

In 1999, when the Second Chechen War began, our house in Grozny was completely destroyed in Russian aerial bombings. I decided to flee to Moscow in order to save my three little children. At pains, we settled in an unfamiliar apartment and began to build a new life in Moscow.

However, one ill-fated day, skinheads attacked me and my son, yelling “Russia for Russians! Get out of our country!” In court, the young skinheads apologised and repented, and we forgave them, thinking that the Russian prison system did not heal but crippled people. Nevertheless, the leading Russian neo-Nazi, Dmitry Dyomushkin, continued to threaten me on Russia’s central TV channels, calling on people to persecute and eliminate me and my children.

In my songs, I call on all nations to embrace peace and unity, mutual understanding, and to stop all wars on earth. However, no one wants to hear my words in the Kremlin. My phone was tapped, my email, social networking accounts, and personal website were hacked repeatedly. My children were humiliated and harassed in school and on the street. In 2010, my brother, who had arrived from Siberia, was brutally gunned down outside our home.

Today, life in Russia is worse than ever. After the last elections, repression of Chechens, Ingushetians, and Muslims in general has increased. Police is planting evidence quite openly on Caucasians, who are then arrested and criminal cases fabricated against them. The famous journalists, Anna Politkovskaya and Natalia Estemirova, stood against this violence, defending the innocent and exposing the criminals. Yet for their efforts they were brutally killed.

I am afraid for my children and myself. I am afraid to live in a country where the state fails to protect us, where masked men can storm your home and take away my son or myself, where I have no right to defend my opinion, where there is no freedom of speech, and where Caucasians and Muslims are being persecuted and killed. I am a mother of three children, and I have no strength left to stand against the system. Therefore I decided to apply for asylum in Finland.


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