On 22 March, the story of a unique person was released on Russian television. Yuri Tarkhanov, a former soldier of special forces, challenges criminals who are destroying Lake Baikal. The multi-episode TV series is set in the local national park, where Tarkhanov fights criminals on the ground and on water. They fight to the last drop of blood.
I heard an announcement of this story on the NTV channel quite by chance. Suddenly, it hit me. I knew the prototype of the main character!
A few years ago, I was lucky to meet Arthur Murzakhanov. Our first meeting took place on social media. Murzakhanov surprised me daily with short but succinct posts, comments with philosophical implications, as well as unique photographs of the animal world. The extraordinary personality of this man was very visible through every post on Facebook, VK and LiveJournal.
Then we met in the flesh in Moscow after a conference at the Ministry of Natural Resources, where Arthur was invited to share his experience of fighting against poachers. He told long and touching stories about himself and his family, about “the universities of nature” and the fight against the fishing mafia.
Arthur Murzakhanov was lucky to have been born into an ethnic Tatar family in the remote, but picturesque taiga village of Ashevany in the Omsk region. His family was simple but with a big princely surname. Murza means "prince" in Turkic languages, and Khan means "ruler". Murzakhanov’s mom was in charge of a medical and obstetrical station. It should be said that Rakhimzhan, the father of this "aristocratic" family, had known poverty from an early age. He lost a leg as a child. All his life he has been proving his usefulness to himself and to the people around. He was a hunter, worked as a fitter and gas and electric welder, and learned to be a radio operator. In a nutshell, Arthur always had a role model of this dad as a child.
One may ask me, why one can be lucky to be born in a remote Siberian village? The answer is simple. Arthur's first book was about the protected areas of his home area. From childhood, he began to learn everything about nature. Animal tracks, birds' nests, and the work of water and wind aroused genuine interest young Arthur. He was learning to read the living “book” of forests and rivers, admiring their unique beauty. It was very painful for him to see “pages” of this wise book of life polluted by people – felled trees, garbage dumps, and maimed animals. In short, nature and family laid the moral foundation of his extraordinary personality and played its role in the formation of Arthur Murzakhanov’s character. A character as uncompromising and hard as Siberian cedar.
"After finishing school I had a choice between a military college and the faculty of hunting science. My father really wanted me to become a military officer," Artur says. “He spared no efforts to persuade me to do so. One day, as if by chance, the local military commissar and a huntsman came to visit us. The military man told us how good it was to be military, and the huntsman spoke about how bad it was to serve as a huntsman.”
Artur Murzakhanov graduated with honours from a military academy. He was appointed commander of a platoon of cadets in the walls of his native college. Then he commanded a sports company. Military service was quite successful. However, everything came to an end in the 1990s. Murzakhanov flatly refused to take part in disintegration of the army as it contradicted his principles. He submitted his resignation and retired. No, it was not the end of his career at all. In fact, life finally gave him a chance to realize his cherished dream.
"Barguzin" Task Force is on Duty
Artur Murzakhanov's career in nature protection began in the Baikal National Park on Olkhon Island. He fell in love with local nature at first sight. There were emerald carpets of motley grass, age-old larches and pines, proud rocky cliffs and soft golden sand dunes.
The only trouble was that in the 1990s, the market was powerless, and the problems on the shores of the sacred Lake Baikal began to snowball at a terrifying speed. Rare species of plants, birds and animals were disappearing from the island surrounded with ancient legends and myths, due to the fault of "homo sapiens." Illegally built shacks, herds of unorganized tourists cars and mounds of rubbish could be seen on the protected land.
Conservation of the unique landscape, monuments of ancient history, and protection from poachers demanded extraordinary measures from the management. As a proactive person, Yury Zakharov, the head of the national park, formed a task force of nature protectors. As a result, a record saying ‘state inspector of the Pribaikalsky National Park’ appeared in Arthur Murzakhanov’s work record book. Then he worked for the Kronotsky Nature Reserve in Kamchatka and once again on Lake Baikal, at the Zapovednoe Podlemorye Federal State Budgetary Institution.
During the Soviet era, there was a poster saying "Happiness is in struggle!” It was a quote from a questionnaire-confession of Karl Marx.
I also asked Artur Murzakhanov to answer this questionnaire. I should say at once that my hero is not happy about fighting. However, when asked "What is your favourite saying?" he replied “à la guerre comme à la guerre.” This saying is the best way to describe the personality of a nature protector.
"Despite the status of a specially protected natural area, environmental issues and criminal skirmishes also happened there. Poachers especially rampaged in Baikal water area. There are a lot of unique places. For instance, the Chivyrkuisky bay. For about 8 months a year with short breaks, the valuable species of fish such as grayling, omul, and whitefish spawn in the bay. Just imagine what free illegal fishermen felt there! Our "patients," as I call them, for many years were the masters of life here. Particularly “adventurous” ones earned handsome profits through criminal fishing, which had become almost industrial in nature.
“The authorities then set us the task of bringing order to Zapovednoe Podlemorye. We declared war on poachers of all stripes and established the "reserve special forces." So, our Barguzin task group was nicknamed later by your colleagues in the media," Arthur Murzakhanov says.
At first, the "fishing gangs" tried to bribe the inspectors but failed. Then they used threats. After that, they switched to actions – raids by criminals, provocations, and boats rammed. All attempts to defeat the reserve special forces have failed. In one of the reports of that time I read that the Barguzin task group had reduced the illegal fishing to a minimum. During a year and a half, a total of 26 criminal cases were initiated, 106 administrative reports were filed and 52 decisions were taken, more than 60 km of nets and 6 tonnes of fish were seized.
Instead of Afterword
Today, Arthur Murzakhanov, the assistant director of Zapovednoe Pribaikalye, still works in his favorite position. As before, he defends the idea of an uncompromising fight against poachers. I made a call to Irkutsk and congratulated Arthur on the release of the TV serious about him and his reserve special forces. In reply I heard "Let's better help Sergei Krasikov, a state inspector at Baikal Nature Reserve. Probably, you have heard already that he caught five poachers red-handed, suffered a hit-and-run, and became the subject of a criminal case himself. He was charged with abuse of power. I know Sergei personally, and he is an honest and dedicated inspector. These people are very rare in the system.”
As Wek.ru has found out, the story of Krasikov has already been taken under special control by Yuri Trutnev, the Russian President’s plenipotentiary representative in the Far Eastern Federal District, and Alexander Bastrykin, the chairman of Russia's Investigative Committee.
Photo from Murzakhanov's archive