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Caucasus Report: November 3, 1998


3 November 1998, Volume 1, Number 36

Disillusion In Nazran... The day after Ruslan Aushev was reelected president of Ingushetia in March 1998, he affirmed that Ingushetia will never seek to secede from the Russian Federation, even if neighboring Chechnya is internationally recognized as an independent state. But in an indication of just how rapidly Moscow's authority in the North Caucasus is eroding, Aushev warned in an interview with "Vremya-MN" last week that if the Russian government continues with what he termed its imperialist "divide and rule" policy towards the North Caucasus, Ingushetia would quit the federation which, he predicted gloomily, would in any event collapse as a result of that misguided policy.

Although Aushev did not spell out his precise grievances against the federal center, he made it clear that he resents Moscow's inclination to classify the peoples of the North Caucasus as either "reliable" or "unreliable." The former category includes the Ossetians, and the latter -- those ethnic groups (including the Chechens and Ingush) who were deported to Central Asia on Stalin's orders in 1944. "We shouldn't," Aushev said, "be a deported nation indefinitely."

The repercussions of the 1944 deportation continue to poison Ingushetia's relations with the neighboring Republic of North Ossetia - Alania. After the deportation of the Ingush, the Prigorodnyi district of what was then the Chechen-Ingush ASSR was transferred to North Ossetia. When the deported Ingush were allowed to return in the late 1950s, they were subjected to discrimination and hostility by the Ossetians. That mutual enmity erupted into violence sporadically, most spectacularly in October 1992, when up to 700 people were killed in six days of fighting between Ingush informal militias and North Ossetian security forces backed by Russian Interior Ministry and army troops. Hundreds of hostages were taken by both sides, and thousands of homes, mostly belonging to Ingush families, were destroyed. Almost the entire Ingush population of the district (estimates range from 34,000 to 64,000 people) were forced to flee. The Russian government's repeated pledges of financial help for those fugitives have remained on paper: only approximately 2,000 of them have returned to their homes in Prigorodnyi raion. Thousands still live in temporary trailer accomodation in Ingushetia. Some observers have suggested that the cost over the past six years of the Russian government's so-called Temporary State Committee for the resolution of the North-Ossetian-Ingush Conflict, which comprises several hundred staff, would have been more than adequate to finance new accomodation for the Ingush displaced persons.

Aushev implied in his interview that the "reliable" nations receive an unfair advantage in the allocation of limited funds from the central budget. He also criticized as shortsighted the Russian government's 1997 decision to abolish the "offshore economic zone" in Ingushetia and its concomitant refusal to compensate for the resulting loss of income by increasing subsidies from the federal budget. (It must be admitted, though, that better use could probably have been found for at least part of the income generated by the offshore zone than building Magas, the grandiose new capital that Aushev unveiled last weekend.) Adding insult to injury, Moscow is now considering creating such a free economic zone on the border between North and South Ossetia. Aushev's overall conclusion: "It's better today to be an English [sic] colony than a subject of the Russian Federation." (Liz Fuller)

... And Realism In Sukhumi? Nor is Aushev the only Caucasian leader who appears to be reassessing relations between his republic and Russia. In an interview published in "Nezavisimaya gazeta/CIS" last week, Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba observed that "in closing its frontiers and building a fence to keep us out, Russia is gradually losing the ability to influence the process of mediating a solution to the conflict, and its influence in the Transcaucasus in general." At the same time, Ardzinba gave a positive assessment of the UN- mediated talks between Georgian and Abkhaz delegations near Athens in mid-October.

Taken at face value, Ardzinba's statements represent a clear shift in the Abkhaz position: for years, and especially following the appointment as Russian foreign minister of Yevgenii Primakov (Ardzinba's former boss in the early 1980s when both men worked at Moscow's Oriental Institute), Sukhumi had been guided by Moscow, relying on the Russian leadership to protect its interests during negotiations on a political solution to the conflict. The perception that Russia favored Abkhazia had, in turn, impelled the Georgian leadership to appeal to the UN to play a more active mediation role.

Ardzinba may well have concluded that the Russian financial crisis is of such magnitude that it is unrealistic to expect any economic aid from Moscow in the foreseeable future. That assumption may in turn have impelled him to make substantial concessions over the conditions under which Georgian displaced persons may return to Abkhazia. (Until very recently, Ardzinba had insisted that the repatriation process should be contingent on large-scale Georgian financial aid towards rebuilding Abkhazia's war-shattered infrastructure.) Provisional agreement on those conditions was reached during talks in Tbilisi on 29-30 October between Arzdinba's personal envoy Anri Djergenia and the Georgian leadership, and a formal document on repatriation is to be signed at a meeting between Ardzinba and Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze during the first half of November. (Liz Fuller)

Azerbaijani Judge Says Judicial Reform Crucial. Speaking at a press briefing at RFE/RL's Washington office on 30 October, Khanlar Khadjiyev, chairman of Azerbaijan's constitutional court, said judicial reform in his country is a top priority. But he conceded that undertaking judicial reform in Azerbaijan is proving to be difficult because many officials currently have certain rights and privileges that they do not want taken away.

But Khadjiyev said judicial reform is of the utmost importance to the nation for a number of reasons, including greater compliance with international human rights standards -- one prerequisite for full membership in the Council of Europe, which he termed an important goal for Azerbaijan. Among the steps already taken towards improving the country's judicial system, Khadjiyev singled out the creation in July 1998 of the Constitutional Court. Currently that court has nine justices, all of whom are appointed by President Heidar Aliyev and must be approved by the parliament.

Khadjiyev said that he does not think the independence of Azerbaijan's constitutional court is compromised because the justices are appointed by the president and not elected. He argued that "Independence is something that either starts or doesn't start after a judge is appointed or elected. It depends on whether the whole social system and judicial system allows you to be independent."

Another important step in judicial reform in the country, said Khadjiyev, was the transfer in 1992 of control over prisons from the Ministry of the Interior to the Ministry of Justice. Additionally, he said, draft laws governing the police are now under review in the parliament. He said one piece of legislation calls for removing the power of sanctioning searches and detentions from the Attorney General's office ("prokuratura") and giving it to the courts.

Khadjiyev said the Attorney General's office remains a "huge problem" to the process of judicial reform, given that its sweeping powers -- a carryover from the Soviet period when it served as one of the main elements of power -- are so broad and far-reaching that it is unclear even how to begin the reform process within the organization.

Khadjiyev observed that some foreign officials who visit Azerbaijan do not understand the position and function of the Attorney General's office in the post- Soviet republics -- whether it be Russia, Ukraine, or Azerbaijan -- are quite different than what they are accustomed to in civilized Western European countries and the United States. Said Khadjiyev: "The Attorney General's office has a huge amount of power concentrated in its hands. For example, they supervise the implementation of laws to a certain degree, they also supervise the investigation, and the court hearings, which by the way, at the same time they act within that same hearing as one of the sides. Then they also supervise the implementation of the decisions of the court."

Moreover, Khadjiyev said when ordinary citizens have complaints, they have to take them to the Attorney General's office and not to the courts."I think that in a civilized society, a legal society, when a human being has a complaint, he should have the right to address the court -- not the Attorney General's office," he said.

Khadjiyev called upon the international community to provide more financial assistance to Azerbaijan to help accelerate the process of judicial reform. (Julie Moffett)

Observations Of The Week. "Anyone who believes that one can reach agreement with Heidar Aliyev is seriously mistaken ... Those who will conduct negotiations with him will be deceived at best and annihilated at worst. This man will not allow the existence of any real opposition and will try to annihilate it by all possible methods." -- Makhir Javadov, one of the former commanders of the Special Police Department (OPON), whose brother Rovshan was shot dead during the alleged coup attempt in March 1995. (Turan, 21 October 1998).

"Our authorities call everyone who criticizes them a Zviadist. But it's not necessary to be a Zviadist to see that the policy of the present president is not conducive to Georgia becoming a truly independent state." -- Irakli Gotsiridze, editor of "Iberia-spektr," quoted in "Vremya - MN," 27 October 1998.

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