Ayhal Ammosov: “Yakutian Punk Against War”

Ayhal Ammosov standing in front of a funeral bureau holding a placard that reads, “The groom has arrived.”  Photo courtesy of Mediazona via Aikhal Ammosov

The Free Yakutia Foundation has published a letter from Ayhal Ammosov, an anti-war activist who disappeared last week. The letter is dated November 22.

Ammosov, who faces criminal charges stemming from his public activism, has not been in touch with friends and family since December 11. They suggest that law enforcement agencies may be involved in his disappearance, Sibir.Realii reports.

In the published letter, the activist writes: “If you are reading this letter, it means that something has happened to me, something really serious. I can’t sit here right now and wonder what could have happened to me in the future, but I think that either I’m missing or I’ve been killed. This was to be expected, because they would not have given me a quiet life, especially in the republic.”

Ammosov goes on to note that he was not going to “stop” in his struggle, and that he has numerous plans.

“They are trying to intimidate us, to shut our mouths. They are trying to break us, but we will not give up, we will endure everything — all these trials, all the persecution, all the tortures and beatings. I believe in myself and in my supporters. I had to do this and I will go all the way to the end,” he writes.

In late August, it was reported that criminal charges had been filed against grassroots activist and leader of the punk band Crispy Newspaper Ayhal Ammosov for publicly discrediting the actions of the Russian army. OVD Info wrote that the charges stemmed from a banner, emblazoned with the slogan “Yakutian punk against war” (in English), which Ammosov attempted to hang on a building in downtown Yakutsk on August 13 — the same day that Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin arrived in the city. The musician was also sentenced to fifteen days of administrative arrest for his protest.

On December 13, according to friends of the activist, Ammosov did not appear in the Yakutsk City Court for a hearing in his criminal trial on charges of discrediting the army. In addition, according to the Free Yakutia Foundation, persons unknown had recently been following Ammosov.

Source: “Letter by missing Yakut activist published,” Radio Svoboda, 22 December 2022


Musician and artist Ayhal Ammosov, who was known in Yakutsk before the war as the leader of the punk band Crispy Newspaper, began to regularly stage anti-war protests after Ukraine was invaded. For a few months he managed to hide from the police and Center “E” [the Russian Interior Ministry’s “anti-extremism” police] but ultimately his activism ended with a pile of administrative charges of “discrediting” of the Russian army — and one criminal charge for the selfsame “discrediting.” Mediazona recounts here how concert performances gave way, in Ammosov’s life, first to anti-war leaflets and graffiti and a semi-clandestine existence, and then to endless games of “crabs” in jail and the threat of hard time in prison.

Punk rock has always been marked by its anti-war stance, and the Yakutsk punk scene, one of the most distinctive in Russia, was no exception. In early 2018, the band Crispy Newspaper performed at a concert organized by the label Youth of the North. After taking the stage, a young man with a microphone began to do the pogo while two guitarists, a bassist and a drummer churned out aggressively rhythmic music. When the band stopped playing, the young man made a short introductory speech: “Every day is a war, a war with the society that gave birth to us. We are descendants of slaves, sons of the proletariat, children of incomplete families, freaks, outcasts and rebels. And if we are here, then we have something to say, and if I am destined to drop dead today, I would like to say only one thing: if we’re going to die, let’s do it with music!”

The young man was Ayhal Ammosov: the name in his passport is Igor Ivanov, but he plans to make the pseudonym his official name. Four years later, when Russia launched an invasion of Ukraine, this thirty-year-old punk, poet, musician and artist would prove to be one of Yakutia’s most consistent anti-war activists.

Before February 24, he almost never engaged in political activism, except for putting up leaflets criticizing the head of Yakutia, Yegor Borisov and his henchmen, but Ammosov himself recalls those protests as not particularly interesting. His friend Mikhail Pogosov (his name has been changed to protect his identity), who has now left Yakutia, recalls that some time before the invasion they wagered whether there would be a war or not. Ammosov was sure that there would be a war — and won two pizzas.

“People wrote: ‘You can come to my place for the night, then leave in the morning.’ So that’s what I did.”

Ammosov recalls that after the war began, he warned a comrade that he was going to protest, and he replied, “If you can combine it with work, do it.” At the time, Ayhal worked as a barista in a coffee shop.

Crispy Newspaper broke up back in January, so that Ammosov could focus on anti-war activism. His most active period was during the first two months of the war. For example, Ammosov was photographed outside a funeral services bureau holding a placard that read, “The groom has arrived.” (This phrase is uttered by the policeman in Alexei Balabanov’s film Cargo 200 as he dumps the corpse of a soldier who was killed in Afghanistan into a bed to which his fiancee is handcuffed.)

Photo courtesy of Mediazona via Ayhal Ammosov’s Instagram page

On another occasion, the activist, who then appeared on Instagram only in a mask covering his face, posed with a placard that read, Kun kihite komuskes. Ayyy kihite ahynygas.

“It means, ‘The man of light is compassionate, merciful. The man of the sun is a defender, a helper.’ The Ayyy are the supreme gods, the light for the Sakha people,” Ammosov explains. “I wanted to remind my people who they are. They should not attack and kill other people or attack foreign countries. The strong must protect the weak.”

Ammosov soon learned from friends that the security forces were looking for him. For example, the police paid a visit to a former Crispy Newspaper guitarist at his workplace, the House of Musicians. The guitarist later told a friend that he was taken to the police department and even threatened with death: the police demanded that he give them Ayhal’s address, phone number or other leads. The young man did not tell them anything — the artist says that they were not in close touch. Besides, Ammosov had already switched to a semi-clandestine existence by that time: he often changed cell phones and slept at the homes of friends or the coffee shop. Later, he would only work one-day temp jobs, for example, clearing roofs of snow.

At night, the activist continued going out to put up leaflets and draw graffiti. Back in March, Center “E” became concerned (as follows from Ammosov’s criminal case file) about the local artist’s anti-war activism, which he talked about on his publicly accessible Instagram page.

As his friend Mikhail recalls, at that time Ayhal was interested in everyone who opposed the Russian government — for example, he was interested in a video featuring [Chechen independence leader] Dzhokhar Dudayev. Mikhail himself also went out at night several times with his friend to put up leaflets.

According to Ammosov, at that time he did not trust close relatives and friends: he was afraid that the security forces could find him. He would only briefly inform his mother that everything was fine.

“Many people in Yakutsk knew me, so I had support: if anything happened, I could turn to them. But it was dangerous, of course,” recalls Ammosov. “I didn’t know whether they would turn me in or set me up. People wrote: ‘You can come to my place, spend the night, have breakfast, and then go [in the morning].’ So that’s what I did.”

“Ayhal led a kind of anonymous lifestyle. No one knew where he worked or lived. He would only mention the district [where he was at the time],” confirms Mikhail.

This went on for about two months. In late April, Ammosov was finally detained while leaving a grocery store.

“Yakutian punk against war” — a raft of administrative charges and one criminal case

Ammosov was held at a police department for “almost a week.” According to the musician, he was threatened while he was in a cell. The police tried to force him to record an apology on video, and did not give him water.

His friend Mikhail adds: “The police in Yakutsk are not particularly fussy. I have been beaten when I was drunk and beaten when I was sober. It’s true, however, that I like to talk about the rights of policemen. They hate everyone equally, locals and nonresidents alike.”

For leafleting, graffiti, and posting photos of [anti-war] placards on Instagram, Ammosov was charged several times with administrative offenses — minor disorderly conduct (Administrative Offenses Code Article 20.1.1) and “discrediting” the Russian army (Administrative Offenses Code Article 20.3.3.1).

A series of court hearings ensued. On April 27, two administrative cases against Ayhal were tried in the Yakutsk City Court, and three more were tried a day later. For example, the court ruled that a graffito written on a wall, Suoh buollun serii, constituted “discrediting” the army. It translates as “Let there be no war”, and is a line from a song.

“They used to sing it in schools, everyone knows it,” Ammosov explains, perplexed.

By late May, the trials were over. The punk was found guilty on all the charges, and he was fined a little more than 90 thousand rubles. The summer passed relatively calmly. Ammosov tried to earn money to pay off the fines, but he was unsuccessful, managing to amass only half of the amount needed.

For a period of time, Ammosov, along with other concerned residents of Yakutia, helped build a house for Anatoly Chomchoyev, a local nuclear physicist who in May was shot with a trauma pistol and stabbed by men driving a vehicle marked “Russian National Guard.” The Interior Ministry, reporting on the arrest of two suspects, claimed that the men, who were intoxicated, had tried to drive through private land fenced off with a barrier. Chomchoyev had refused to let them through and was assaulted. The ministry did not mention the suspects’ place of work in its press release.

In August, the artist had the idea for the protest of which he is most proud. Later, when interrogated by a police investigator, Ammosov said that he had borrowed a bicycle from a friend to ride around Yakutsk when he noticed the Nugget swimming pool, in the very center of town. He took down an advertising banner he found on the street, and on August 12 asked his girlfriend to videotape him writing the slogan Yakutian punk against war on the back of the banner.

On August 13, two days before Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin’s arrival in Yakutsk, the punk climbed onto the roof of the swimming pool building. A friend filmed the protest, standing on the opposite side of Taloye, the small lake on whose shore stands the swimming pool building. After hanging the banner, the musician raised his arm in a clenched fist salute and descended the outdoor fire escape. None of the photos or video of the protest has been preserved: the security forces were already waiting for Ammosov and his girlfriend at the bottom of the fire escape and immediately confiscated their phones.

Ammosov was later charged with the criminal offense of repeat “discrediting” of the Russian army (per Article 280.3.1 of the Criminal Code, which states that criminal charges can be filed if a person already has already been charged administratively once in the past year for the same violation.) Ammosov faces up to three years in prison or a fine of 100 to 300 thousand rubles if convicted.

Police investigators examined not only the protest involving the banner at the pool, but Ammosov’s previous anti-war protests as well. The police forensic experts predictably found signs of “discrediting” the army in fairly innocent statements. For example, analyzing the placard featuring the Yakut proverb “the man of the sun is a defender,” the forensic experts concluded that the statement recognizes that “showing pity for Ukrainians suffering onslaught, attack, and encroachment by the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, and protecting them from the actions of the latter, is true and correct.”

The experts appointed by the investigators also analyzed Ayhal’s gesture at the pool: his right arm raised with his fist clenched. “The Rotfront salute is a call to unite in the fight against fascism, by which the actions of the Russian authorities are meant as the addressee,” they write.

Discussing the phrases “Long live peace” or “No war”, these experts note: “They were often used in Soviet times, but in a different socio-cultural situation.”

Aikhal Ammosov outside the Yakutsk City Court. Photo courtesy of Mediazona via Aikhal Ammosov

However, the forensic experts based their assessment of Ammosov’s slogans and gestures not only on those statements themselves, but also on the report of the musician’s interrogation. On the day of his arrest, Ammosov told an investigator outright that he believed that Russia had invaded Ukraine, that there was not a “special military operation” going on there, but a real war, and that he had wanted to draw people’s attention to this.

A day later, during another interrogation, Ammosov nevertheless noted that the slogan on the banner implied that he was opposed to war in general, not specifically the war in Ukraine. He now admits that he resorted to this trick hoping that he would not be sent to remand prison and would be able to find a lawyer and brainstorm some options for his defense.

A month in jail with “crabs” and men back from Ukraine

Ammosov says that he spent several days in police stations and was transported from one to another. Formally, the activist had been released on his own recognizance, but he was not actually released — the musician was sent to jail for twenty-four hours several times in a row. On August 17, the court jailed him for fifteen days for minor disorderly conduct, followed by two more jail sentences — on September 2, for seven days, and on September 9, for another fifteen days — both times for failing to pay in a timely manner the fines imposed on him (per Administrative Offenses Code Article 20.25) after he was convicted on administrative charges of “discrediting” the army.

Consequently, Ammosov spent over a month under administrative arrest. After being released, Ayhal shared two main impressions that had nothing to do with the disgusting food and the conditions of detention.

First, he was sentenced to his first fifteen days in jail for, allegedly, pasting a “Banned in Sakha” sticker under the picture of a former Crispy Newspaper guitarist on the honor board at the municipal water and sanitation authority, where the musician is now employed. (“Banned in Sakha” is a paraphrase of the title of the song “Banned in D.C.,” by the hardcore punk band Bad Brains.) The police and the court claimed that this was done on August 14, although Ammosov had by that time already been detained for the protest at the swimming pool. The investigator took advantage of this circumstance: while the artist was serving his jail sentence, the investigator petitioned the court to send Ammosov to the pretrial detention center for violating the terms of his release on his own recognizance. The court sided with the activist, who insisted that he could not have pasted the sticker after his arrest. (The court also sided with the girlfriend, with whom, according to the police, Ammosov had pasted the sticker. Although the police asked the Yakutsk City Court to jail her for fifteen days too, the judge only fined her a thousand rubles.)

Second, two men who had been involved in combat in Ukraine were among the anti-war activist’s cellmates. One was an ethnic Russian with the call sign “Temple,” who had served with the Wagner Group. He said that he had been wounded but had not received compensation. The second was an Evenk whose call sign was “Evenk.” He was a veteran of the first Chechen war and a sniper.

“They didn’t say anything bad to me,” Ammosov recalls. “They said, Well, if you’ve done so much for all this, for your beliefs, you’re sitting here in jail, and you haven’t been broken yet, then you rock, man! You just have to understand that Russia is going to win, we’re going to beat the crap out of everyone. This, they said, is a fact. So the fact that you are doing some kind of anti-war shit… there will be wars anyway.”

Ammosov spent his days reading books and playing “crabs” [mandavoshka] — a prison game in which the players roll dice and move figurines around a map. The dice and figurines are fashioned from bread and toothpaste, while the map is drawn on a piece of paper or carved on a table. Care packages were regularly delivered by friends, so Ammosov had instant noodles, fruit and cigarettes, which he would give to his cellmates.

The musician recalls that when he was detained he was wearing shorts, but when he was released, on the morning of September 24, it was snowing, although the snow soon melted. By this time, mobilization for the war with Ukraine had already been announced in Russia.

“I just wanted to speak out, I wanted to do something”

Yakutsk, about which Ammosov had once proudly said that it was a young people’s city with a diverse music scene, seemed deserted to him: “Only old men, young women and ‘Zeders’ are left.” The musician recalls the raids on shopping malls and mentions that his cousin was mobilized.

“I remember that, in the spring, most musicians stopped communicating with me. They were afraid that the FSB and Center ‘E’ guys would try to catch them too. And then, when the mobilization began, they all left for Kazakhstan and from Kazakhstan they began writing fiercely to me and supporting me, as if they had always supported me. I thought, Well, what the fuck,” the Yakut punk says ironically.

Ayhal is no longer involved in anti-war activism. He got a job as an orderly in a care home where he takes care of the elderly and disabled. Only once, according to him, a prosecutor visited him at work to warn him about the inadmissibility of violating the laws on extremism, before taking him to a separate room and advising him “not to get cocky.” Meanwhile, the activist is preparing for his criminal trial, which was supposed to start on November 23 in the Yakutsk City Court, but has been postponed to December 13. He is not planning to plead guilty, but he hopes that he won’t be sent to a penal colony. And he has no regrets.

“I just wanted to speak out, I wanted to do something,” the musician explains. “Well, at the beginning, when the war started, and when I had the court hearings in the spring, people didn’t understand why I was doing it. There was no mobilization back then. But when the mobilization started, everyone was like, ‘Fuck, he was right, we should have done something earlier.'”

Source: Dima Shvets, “Yakutian punk against war: the man behind the placard ‘The groom has arrived’ tried on criminal charges of ‘discrediting’ the army,”Mediazona, 23 November 2022


Dude… this is frickin’ amazing… roaring out of Asia’s northernmost punk scene, Yakutsk (Russia), this phenomenal 70’s/80’s inspired punk band Crispy Newspaper have released a brand new album of solid gold material! You HAVE to check out this band…

Further below check out what the band is like live.

Stay in touch at this link with Youth of North who seem to be a collective/label that releases music from the scene from here.

Source: “Yakutsk Punk Band Crispy Newspaper Release PHENOMENAL Album [Russia],”Unite Asia, 17 October 2020. Thanks to Comrade Koganzon for inspiring this entire post by sending me the links to all the articles translated and/or reposted here. This post is dedicated to my little sister K., whose birthday is today. ||| TRR

_________

UPDATE, 9 JANUARY 2022. Various Russian-language media outlets have reported today that Ayhal Ammosov is now safe and sound in Kazakhstan. ||| TRR

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