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Caucasus Report: September 9, 2004

9 September 2004, Volume 7, Number 35

BESLAN FUELS ANTIPATHY BETWEEN OSSETIANS, INGUSH. Initial reports on 1 and 2 September that the militants who seized over 1,000 hostages in the North Ossetian town of Beslan included Chechens and Ingush immediately sparked concern that the incident could trigger major clashes between the Ossetians and Ingush. While reports of Ossetian reprisals against Ingush in North Ossetia have so far proven false, both ethnic groups fear that tensions could erupt into violence at any time.

Animosity has existed for decades between the Christian Ossetians, whose leaders voluntarily petitioned Tsarist Russia in 1774 to incorporate the region into the Russian Empire, and the Ingush. The Ingush, together with the Chechens, were deported to Central Asia in February1944 on orders from Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, who suspected them of collusion with Nazi Germany. The Checheno-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR) was abolished, and its westernmost district, Prigorodnyi Raion, was incorporated into North Ossetia.

In 1957, following Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev's "Secret Speech" the previous year to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the green light was given for the repatriation of the deported peoples and the restoration of the Checheno-Ingush ASSR, albeit within different borders: Prigorodnyi Raion remained part of North Ossetia.

The return of the deported Ingush to Prigorodnyi Raion inevitably created tensions between the Ossetians and the repatriates, many of whose homes had been occupied by settlers from elsewhere in the North Caucasus. The Ingush claim that they were routinely subjected to discrimination on ethnic grounds. But with the exception of fighting in the North Ossetian capital in late1981, tensions did not escalate into violence.

In the late 1980s, then CPSU General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of glasnost created the illusion that the Soviet leadership was prepared to redress the most egregious injustices inflicted by Stalin on the non-Russian peoples. Beginning in 1991, the Ingush staged repeated demonstrations to demand that Checheno-Ingushetia again be divided into its two constituent parts and Prigorodnyi Raion returned to Ingushetia. (In March 1991, Boris Yeltsin, then chairman of the RSFSR Supreme Soviet, endorsed the first of those Ingush demands.) The population of North Ossetia, for their part, rallied to protest the proposal to hand over the raion to Ingushetia. In April 1991, the RSFSR Supreme Soviet adopted a law on the rehabilitation of repressed peoples that implicitly promised territorial reparations, thereby fueling Ingush hopes. But the Ossetians succeeded in pressuring Moscow to impose a five-year moratorium on implementing the legislation. Checheno-Ingushetia was finally divided into two republics in July 1992.

Several months later, in late October 1992, the accumulated tensions erupted into fighting in Prigorodnyi Raion between Ingush informal militias and North Ossetian security forces backed by Russian Interior Ministry and Army troops. In six days of violence, up to 700 people were killed, hundreds of hostages taken by both sides, and thousands of homes (mostly belonging to Ingush families) destroyed, according to a Human Rights Watch study published in 1996. Almost the entire Ingush population of the district (estimates range from 34,000 to 64,000 people) was forced to flee.

The Russian leadership responded by imposing a state of emergency in Prigorodnyi Raion and adjacent areas of both North Ossetia and Ingushetia, which remained in force until February 1995. Sporadic clashes have occurred since then, necessitating Moscow's intervention on several occasions. In July 1997, then Russian President Boris Yeltsin rejected as "unconstitutional" an appeal by the presidents of North Ossetia and Ingushetia, Akhsarbek Galazov and Ruslan Aushev, respectively, to reimpose presidential rule. Instead he promised increased funding to rebuild destroyed homes and create new jobs for those Ingush who wished to return to Prigorodnyi Raion.

The Russian government, however, apparently failed to make good on Yeltsin's promise of increased aid. Two years later, in July 1999, Aushev threatened to suspend all talks with North Ossetia until earlier agreements on measures to defuse tensions were implemented. In April 2001, between 5,000-10,000 Ingush staged a rally in the Ingush capital, Nazran, to demand that President Vladimir Putin take steps to facilitate their return home, including declaring presidential rule in both Vladikavkaz and Prigorodnyi Raion.

Aushev, however, alienated Putin by his support for Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov after Russia launched a new war against Chechnya in the fall of 1999, and in December 2001 he announced his resignation (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 3 January 2002). Aushev's successor, former Federal Security Service (FSB) General Murat Zyazikov, has been less vocal in lobbying the interests of the Ingush displaced persons. True, in October 2002 Zyazikov and North Ossetian President Aleksandr Dzasokhov signed a major "Agreement on the Development of Cooperation and Good-Neighborly Relations" intended to "mark the beginning of a new stage" in bilateral relations. That document obliged both sides to take the necessary measures to eliminate the consequences of the 1992 clashes, including expediting the repatriation of Ingush fugitives; preventing the creation of illegal armed or separatist groups; and establishing mechanisms for consultations to prevent the emergence and escalation of new tensions, according to It also stressed the commitment of both republics to peace throughout the North Caucasus and to preserving the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.

Yet, despite that top-level affirmation of goodwill (according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 3 February 2003, it was the 160th document signed between representatives of the two republics over a period of 10 years), thousands of Ingush fugitives are still unable or unwilling to return to North Ossetia. The precise number is unclear. In an interview on 7 September with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov's representative Akhmed Zakaev said that up to 40,000 Ingush fugitives from Prigorodnyi Raion still live in tent camps and trailers in Ingushetia. A whole generation of Ingush children has grown up in appalling conditions, Zakaev continued, implying that such young men are ripe for recruitment by the militant wing of the Chechen resistance. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" estimated in February 2003 that some 28,000 Ingush still have not returned to their abandoned homes. By contrast, Russian presidential envoy to the South Russia Federal District Vladimir Yakovlev announced three months ago that some 80 percent of the Ingush displaced persons have returned to North Ossetia, according to Interfax on 17 June.

One major obstacle appears to be that the Ingush insist on returning to their old homes, many of which have since been taken over by Ossetian refugees from Georgia, while the North Ossetian authorities are eager to persuade them to move to new housing in other districts of the republic. Nor is it clear precisely how much new housing has been made available, and whether federal funds earmarked for that purpose are being embezzled in North Ossetia as they are in Chechnya. (Liz Fuller)

RUSSIAN EXPERTS ASK WHY BASAEV IS STILL AT LIBERTY. In the aftermath of the Beslan hostage crisis, at least two prominent former Russian military or intelligence officials have questioned how Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov and radical field commander Shamil Basaev have managed to evade capture for a period of five years. In a commentary published in the 3 September issue (No. 34) of "Rodnaya gazeta," Igor Rodionov, who served as Russian defense minister from July 1996-May 1997, questioned why, despite Russian President Vladimir Putin's frequent exhortations to "wipe out" the Russian resistance, both Maskhadov and Basaev are still at liberty. "Aslan Maskhadov and Shamil Basaev would have been delivered to Moscow in body bags long ago if the political will to do so had existed," Rodionov affirmed.

In an interview published in the same issue of "Rodnaya gazeta," retired Colonel Robert Ivon, the former commander of the Alfa special forces, which are subordinate to the Federal Security Service (FSB, the direct successor to the late Soviet-era KGB) deplored the fact that in recent years numerous qualified specialists have been fired from both the FSB and the Interior Ministry, thereby reducing the effectiveness of both services. In that context, he poses the rhetorical question: "I'd like to put a question to my fellow officers at the FSB: why haven't you tracked down and destroyed that scum yet -- Shamil Basaev, Aslan Maskhadov, and the rest of the bandits? Is this any way to fight terrorism?"

Russian ethnographer Sergei Arutiunov has suggested an explanation for the failure to apprehend Maskhadov and Basaev. In an interview published in "Russkii kurer" on 7 September, he suggests that "perhaps there is some sort of group in the special services working to obstruct" Basaev's arrest.

On 8 September, the FSB announced a reward of 300 million rubles ($10 million) for information leading to the arrest of Maskhadov or Basaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 September 2004). (Liz Fuller)

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT HOLDS OUT OLIVE BRANCH TO OPPOSITION. Ten months after the disputed ballot that formalized his succession to the presidency, Ilham Aliyev has appealed to Azerbaijan's opposition parties to embark on a dialogue aimed at national reconciliation, reported on 4 September. Leading members of at least three opposition parties, however, have reacted with caution and skepticism, arguing that the president should take specific actions to demonstrate his good faith.

Azerbaijan National Independence Party Chairman Etibar Mammedov, who according to official returns polled fourth of eight candidates in the 15 October ballot with just 2.9 percent of the vote, pointed out that he had made a similar call for dialogue and reconciliation immediately after the disputed election. While positively assessing the presidential initiative, Mammedov suggested that Aliyev should demonstrate his sincerity by ceasing to pressure the opposition.

Ali Kerimli, chairman of the reformist wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP), argued that the current standoff between the authorities and the opposition is the direct consequence of official actions, including the violation of fundamental freedoms and rights, the falsification of the elections, the use of torture against political prisoners, including seven opposition activists currently on trial for their alleged role in the violent clashes in Baku on 15-16 October between police and supporters of defeated opposition presidential challenger Isa Qambar. "I think that if the authorities create all the conditions for a revival of democracy and give [us] the possibility to hold just elections, then relations between the political camps will become civilized as they are in democratic countries," Kerimli said.

Aydin Guliev, ideological secretary of the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (DPA), similarly said that as long as political prisoners are jailed and there is pressure on the opposition, no changes in relations between the authorities and opposition can be anticipated. DPA Secretary-General Sardar Djalaloglu is one of the seven oppositionists currently on trial. The DPA, which is still headed by self-exiled former parliament speaker Rasul Guliev, is currently rent by a struggle for power between acting Secretary-General Akif Shahbazov, whom describes as "loyal" to the present Azerbaijani leadership, and Djalaloglu's close relative Gurban Mamedov. Shahbazov has expelled from the DPA seven of its members who for political reasons are currently living outside Azerbaijan. The tensions within the DPA have impelled one of its most prominent members, Nureddin Mamedli, who as chairman of the DPA board was third in the party hierarchy, to defect last month to Kerimli's wing of the AHCP. Mamedli told in an interview on 27 August that he thinks the DPA has no future.

The seven Azerbaijani oppositionists currently on trial responded on 6 September to President Aliyev's initiative with a statement listing proposals they consider essential for national reconciliation, Turan reported. Those proposals include a broad amnesty for persons imprisoned on political grounds; the return to Azerbaijan of political exiles, including former President Ayaz Mutalibov and former parliament speaker Guliev; measures to democratize the political process, including the annulment of the constitutional amendment approved in 2002 that abolished the use of the proportional system in parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 1 July 2002 and "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 August 2002); and the inclusion in election commissions of representatives of all political forces. The seven also advocated the creation of a consultative board to promote national reconciliation, on which the opposition and respected public figures would be represented.

The cautious reaction of the opposition party leaders, on the one hand, and the sweeping demands by the seven trial defendants, on the other, suggests that little will come of President Aliyev's initiative. Aliyev himself apparently anticipated as much, affirming that if the opposition fails to respond positively, it will be to blame for the ongoing standoff.

There is, however, one man who would welcome an overture from the Azerbaijani leadership, and that is Mutalibov, who has lived in exile in Moscow for the past 12 years. Mutalibov told the Russian-language daily "Ekho" in an interview published on 2 September that a decision by the Azerbaijani authorities to permit him to return to Baku would be in line with their professed commitment to democratic development and would contribute to national reconciliation and the consolidation of society. He argued that at present there is no democratic mechanism that would deter the authorities from trampling on the rights of the opposition, and the opposition from trying to oust the authorities.

In a second interview carried a week earlier by, Mutalibov similarly argued that his return from exile would contribute to the consolidation of Azerbaijani society, and that by preventing his return, the authorities are infringing on the rights of members of the small Azerbaijan Social-Democratic Party of which he is co-chairman. Mutalibov stressed that the opposition should be "relatively cohesive," with a clear conceptual program. At the same time, he denied that he is engaged in any talks with the Azerbaijani authorities about the conditions for his return to Azerbaijan. (Liz Fuller)

QUOTATIONS OF THE WEEK. "I just pray to God no one ever has to see something like this again." -- Bus driver Slavik Torchinov, of the devastated school building in Beslan. Quoted by "The Washington Post" on 6 September.

"You must agree that the elimination of one-fourth of the population [of Chechnya] is not the struggle against terrorism." -- Chechen Foreign Minister Ilyas Akhmadov, quoted by "The New York Times" on 6 September.

"[Former Georgian President Eduard] Shevardnadze keeps telling everyone that he is writing his memoirs. But people in the know say that he will not write anything -- he knows too much and wants to die in his own bed." -- Former Georgian Defense Minister Tengiz Kitovani, in an interview published in "Trud" on 4 September. It was Kitovani who, with Djaba Ioseliani, commander of the Mkhedrioni paramilitary formation, persuaded Shevardnadze to return to Georgia from Moscow in March 1992, two months after they ousted President Zviad Gamsakhurdia.