Chechen refugee came to Finland via Baku and Istanbul
Islam Tumsoev wants a good education and a job
By Kristiina Markkanen
He goes by the name of Islam Tumsoev - not to hide his real identity in Finland, but rather so that he will not be recognised in Turkey, Russia, Chechnya, or somewhere else where he has relatives who could end up in trouble because of him.
“I am studying Finnish”, he says in Finnish, almost without an accent, after just a few weeks of lessons.
Tumsoev is one of the 15 Chechens who were brought by human rights activist Mikael Storsjö from Turkey to Finland. The Finnish Border Guard said on Thursday that it believes that the actions constitute aggravated arranging illegal entry into the country.
Tumsoev, a 30-year-old engineering student, is a long way from Chechnya now, and is visibly relieved.
A couple of years before the beginning of the second Chechen war he left Russia to go to Chechnya to work for an international telecommunications company. His studies were interrupted, and he wants to complete them.
He says that during the war he helped with the radio communications of Chechen soldiers. In 2000 his relatives decided to send him out of the area, and he flew via Moscow to Baku in Azerbaijan.
“My parents still lived in Russia, and they were facing pressures there. The security service, the FSB, even drilled a hole in our cellar and set up a camera there. My father found it. Finally they were forced to leave Russia.”
From Baku, Tumsoev’s travels continued to Istanbul, where he lived with relatives, and worked as a computer wizard for Kavkaz Center. This was how he got to know Storsjö, who allowed Tumsoev to set up a website on his own computer.
Life in Turkey was more or less satisfactory, but it lacked hope for the future. Tumsoev planned to return to Chechnya some day, but when his uncle was kidnapped, and was not heard from again, Tumsoev stayed in Turkey.
About 100,000 Chechens live in Turkey, as refugees from the various wars in the region. The most recent arrivals came in 2002.
“We lived on aid from an Islamic aid organisation. Life was uncertain. Those without papers were imprisoned if they were caught. On the other hand, people constantly hope that they might be able to go back home. That is why they stay so close to the area.”
Tumsoev says that the idea of work and a place to study weighed heavily on him all the time, as did the idea of going back to Chechnya. “I have land there, only the house needs to be rebuilt. A person cannot live without his own land.”
He says that it would have been possible to stay illegally in Turkey for as much as 50 years, but that “it would not have been a life”. Three Chechen activists whom he knew personally had been murdered in Istanbul. He wanted to get out.
“It was frightening to think that agents of Ramzan Kadyrov are in Turkey looking for Chechens.
Tumsoev’s parents gave their blessing to his plan to go to Finland.
“Everything happened very quickly. I even accidentally left my glasses in Turkey.”
He says that he travelled to Finland with Storsjö and a certain family. The tickets were all the way to St. Petersburg. During the whole trip, he was frightened that he would end up in Russia for some reason.
“At night we arrived at a nearly abandoned airport and we reported to the border guards. They were friendly and said that we need not fear. ‘You haven’t committed any crimes’, they said.”
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 6.6.2009
Previously in HS International Edition:
Helsinki entrepreneur says “humanitarian reasons" prompted him to organise illegal entry of Chechens (5.6.2009)
Interview with Mikael Storsjö (SixDegrees) in 2005
KRISTIINA MARKKANEN / Helsingin Sanomat