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Caucasus Report: June 24, 2002

24 June 2002, Volume 1, Number 1

Welcome to the first issue of the "RFE/RL North Caucasus Report," which is issued twice a month and seeks to inform about local developments in one of the most diverse areas of the Russian Federation. The report is compiled by our Regional Analysis team from RFE/RL's daily broadcasts to the region in Avar, Chechen, Circassian, and Russian. The primary focus of the "North Caucasus Report" reflects coverage from RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service but is expected to highlight issues of particular significance to the broadcast audience throughout the region. If you would like to receive the "RFE/RL North Caucasus Report" regularly by e-mail or fax, please send an e-mail to
AVAR LANGUAGE FACES MARGINALIZATION IN DAGHESTAN. The development of native languages faces major obstacles in the Republic of Daghestan. Scarce attention is paid to native languages, including Avar, either within the education system or at home. Even in Avar villages, the language goes largely untaught in a formal sense. Classroom hours prescribed for Avar are usually added to those assigned for psychology, sociology, and other newly emerging subjects. In many schools, Avar is taught by history teachers, librarians, recent graduates, and even by those who simply failed their university entrance examinations. Teachers prefer to find better-paid jobs rather than add more work by teaching Avar, and they often leave the field of education altogether.

In urban environments, while there are teachers of Avar, children do not appear eager to learn it. Some even feel ashamed to speak it and continue to harbor stereotypes and misconceptions about the Avar-speaking population. Other children claim they already know Avar, since they speak it at home. However, most are children who speak in a regional dialect and whose parents and relatives do not always recognize the difference between the dialect and the Avar language. Khadijat Bechedova, a teacher in Kaspiisk, told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service that parents often complain to her that, because of Avar classes, their children frequently arrive late for mosque prayers and sports activities. The fact is that neither the population as a whole nor many officials consider developing their own language a priority, and they often speak Russian.

Another reason children are unfamiliar with their native language lies in the lack of textbooks. Both in cities and villages, teachers often must rely on 20-year-old books -- when they can find them at all. Daghestan has few funds to publish textbooks. Some have been written by nonacademics and sponsored by wealthy Daghestani citizens, but they are often published without prior consultation with the Daghestan Pedagogical Institute. The same situation prevails with Avar-Russian dictionaries, which have not been printed for decades. In order to promote such publications and similar initiatives, some foundations and institutions have been created, but they are not always efficient. And Avar journalists and academics have launched several ad hoc initiatives. But, without state-initiated and large-scale reforms, the Avar language will not be able to develop in the Republic of Daghestan.

'DAGHESTAN' ENCYCLOPEDIA PROJECT HOBBLED BY LACK OF RESOURCES. Professor Umakusum Nabieva, editor in chief of the encyclopedia "Daghestan," talked about preserving the republic's assets, language, and culture for future generations for RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service.

Despite what he describes as a serious lack of financial and material resources, Nabieva has collaborated on an encyclopedia on Daghestan with the help of scholars specializing in the republic's cultural heritage. The book describes common and distinct features of the culture of each ethnic group in Daghestan.

Nabieva has worked on the book for 20 years, including studying the works of other Daghestani scholars and historians. He has also obtained rare volumes written by prominent Daghestani scholars, and he has researched the biographies of many of them. The book includes a comparative analysis and seeks to describe life in Daghestan within a global context, including pursuits like science, culture, and scholarly discourse.

The work explores ancient caves and inscriptions in stone, and guides readers through writings since the 13th century. The publication also highlights religious influences on Daghestan, including when and how religions were brought to the area. It shows how Zoroastrianism arrived in Daghestan from Iran and shows how Christianity entered Daghestan with the peoples of Caucasian Albania, spread from Byzantium and subsequently from Georgia and Syria, and finally from Russia. The encyclopedia also chronicles the arrival of Islam to Daghestan and tracks Islam's rise to become the republic's most widely practiced religion, showing how Islam affected culture and spiritual values and how it transformed daily life.

INTERVIEW: TRANSLATING THE KORAN INTO RUSSIAN. RFE/RL North Caucasus Service's Murtazali Dugrichilov recently interviewed academician Magomed-Nuri Osmanov, who is a translator of the Koran into Russian:

RFE/RL: Your interpretation of the Koran has received universal acclaim from Russian scholars as the most successful of all existing interpretations of the [Koran] in Russian. Could you tell us about the work you put into the interpretation and translation of this book?

Magomed-Nuri Osmanov: Academician [and former Russian Prime Minister] Yevgenii Primakov invited me and said, "I have received permission to translate the Koran; you may start interpreting it." And I started working. As I had been studying the Koran for 20 years, gathering materials and commentaries, I completed the first edition within five years and it was published in 1995. Then I issued a second edition with many corrections. I am currently working on the third edition, in which I have achieved a clear concept of the philosophical issues of Islam. At the same time, I am compiling a glossary of difficult words and expressions found in the Koran which should bring new insight. Aside from that, I have been working on a two-volume, full-sized dictionary of Sufic terms by Abdurazak Rashami. [Editor's note: Sufism is a sect of Islamic mysticism dating from the 8th century.] Rashami was a Sufi, a follower of ibn-Arabi, and his dictionary of Sufic terms was published recently. If Allah gives me some time, I want to translate it as well. But considering my age, it is hard to predict anything, as I am 78 already. But I still want to keep working.

RFE/RL: Today, the issue of Islam's rehabilitation as a component of the world's spiritual culture is an urgent issue, both in the international arena and in Daghestan. What is your opinion on this issue? How do you think one can resolve this problem?

Magomed-Nuri Osmanov: Some media have turned Islam into a bogeyman. One should remember, first of all, that there are different streams in Islam and, second, that there are terrorists not only in Islam. There are terrorists among other religious convictions as well. Only a small minority of Muslims are terrorists. True, they are quite active. Personally, I reject with all my heart all acts of terrorism -- be it Muslim, or Christian, or Jewish -- because, in the first place, the power of the word is much stronger than that of bombs and guns. Bombs and guns can never solve any ideological problems. The Communists tried to do it, and we can see what a mess our country found itself in when ideology was forced on people through the power of the gun. It is not necessary to cut throats and shoot people because of ideological discrepancies.

DAGHESTAN'S LIST OF ENVIRONMENTAL WOES. The Republic of Daghestan's most pressing environmental issue is the gradual desertification of the Nogaj Steppe, according to Professor Eldarom Eldarov, head of Daghestan's Center for Social and Demographic Research. A territory of 9,500 square kilometers, he says, the structure of Nogaj Steppe soil has dramatically changed and its fertility fallen.

The causes are manifold, he says. One is the deforestation that has cleared the steppe of wooded areas that once preserved fertile areas from cattle that now move freely and take their toll on the precious soil. Oil extraction has brought accompanying environmental problems to the area. Other forms of industrial pollution have also been blamed for polluting topsoil and underground rivers, including the dumping of raw hazardous waste directly onto the ground. Such problems arise frequently in the regions of Juzhno-Suhokumsk and Terekli-Mekteb, for instance.

Eldarov also places the creeping waters of the Caspian Sea among the republic's biggest dilemmas, despoiling the fertile coastal regions of Tarumovskiy and Kizljarskom in particular. Rivers, both underground and on the surface, have become conduits of waste and contributed an estimated 95,000 square kilometers of drainage. Some 300,000 hectares of land along the Sulak River is plagued by these waters, though the heaviest pollution lies in the territory of Temirhan-Shura. Those source rivers are expected to dry up eventually even before they reach the sea, tapped by the population and turned into dumps for solid and liquid waste.

Eldarov also draws attention to the fact that before the Caucasian War led by Imam Shamil -- who in the 19th century resisted Russian incursions in the North Caucasus for a generation before his surrender in 1859 -- Daghestan possessed magnificent forests. By 1920, he says, as much as two-thirds of the area's woodlands had been cut. The lumber industry has also consumed a steady diet of trees from Daghestan's mountainous regions: Tlaratinskiy, Sumadinskiy, and Tsuntinskom. While the issue has come before the republican and Russian Federation governments, little has been done to stop the trend.

The environmental damage has been exacerbated by frequent landslides as hillsides deprived of vegetation collapse under heavy rainfall and bring heavy losses to the local inhabitants.

INDEPENDENT COMMISSION REPORTS ON HUMAN RIGHTS IN CHECHNYA. An independent public commission on Chechnya on 3 April released a report based on two years of work in the North Caucasus. The commission was co-founded and led by the head of the State Duma's Committee on National Rights and former Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov. Work on the project was also initiated by Russia's minister without portfolio for nationalities policy, Vladimir Zorin; and the head of the Za Grazhdanskoe Dostoinstvo organization, Ella Pamfilova. The aim was to investigate possible human rights violations in North Caucasus, to assess the situation in the North Caucasus, to make recommendations to the Russian leadership, and to pave the way for peace in the Republic of Chechnya and the region.

The commission opened more than a dozen centers staffed and led by lawyers in Ingushetia, Chechnya, and Moscow. In 2001, more than 2,000 people turned to these centers with requests related to possible human rights abuses.

"We do our best to help these people, but we cannot say that everything goes as smoothly as we'd like," Krasheninnikov said.

Commission members may forward requests to military courts, but in most cases, they complain, such courts have failed to respond.

Generally, the report contends that the human rights situation in Chechnya has become increasingly threatening. As people no longer believe the government will protect their rights, the commission says, the number of requests sent to the centers has declined. In some places, people are afraid to appeal for help at all.

Krasheninnikov's commission paid considerable attention to refugees from Chechnya, though requests from Ingushetia say a great deal about refugees' daily concerns and the hardships of living there. And while the Chechen administration is trying to facilitate refugees' journeys home, people are still afraid that federal authorities might behave arbitrarily. The authors of the report suggest that such fears are well-grounded.

Public appeals have mounted with the Chechen Military Prosecutor's Office. On 27 March, the commander in chief of Russian troops, Lieutenant General Vladimir Moltenskoi, issued a decree in which he prohibited all sweep operations unless he has authorized them.

Much of the focus has been on alleged rights abuses by federal troops in Chechnya. The residents of Samashki in the Kurchaloi District, Starye Atagi, and other villages insist that such incidents have taken place. The federal bodies occupied with defending human rights, the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office, and international human rights organizations have received hundreds of appeals charging violations against Chechen civilians. Reports of torture are especially numerous following "security sweep" operations.

There are reports of federal troops covering the license plates of their cars and armored personnel carriers in order to make it impossible to identify them or their origin as they take away items -- and individuals -- from people's homes. Incidents of apparent abuses of power, particularly given unclear authorities under the law, are endurable. But cases in which young men have reportedly been detained during sweep operations -- only to disappear -- have kept the fear level high.

There are signs of frustration with the federal government, including from Lieutenant General Moltenskoi and the Chechen Republic's former prosecutor-general, Vsevolod Chernov. Chernov recently said on Russian television that finding individuals who disappeared during sweeps carried out using armored personnel carriers without numbers and by unknown troops, and closing court cases are difficult tasks for prosecutors.

Measures aimed at preventing such abuses in the future have been spelled out. The Chechen public welcomed the March decree from Lieutenant General Moltenskoi that forbids cleansing and other operations without his authorization. If the decree is respected, troops will also be forced to put an end to the helter-skelter use of military equipment and unidentifiable armored personnel carriers. The commander made it clear that automobiles and armored equipment entering inhabited areas must have visible identification numbers.

Lieutenant General Moltenskoi further ordered that officers in command introduce themselves (including by name and rank) before entering houses during cleansing operations. There is hope that if all goes as planned, the situation could be normalized, the lost sense of justice might be restored, and human rights violations could be reduced. That would likely reduce the ranks of those dissatisfied with the state so far, and Chechnya's political atmosphere could then be more or less re-established. That, in turn, would allow for a return to normal economic and social life -- something that both the Chechen people and the federal government now need most of all.

TEN THOUSAND REFUGEES FILL INGUSHETIA'S 'SPUTNIK' CAMP. Housing 10,000 refugees just six kilometers from the Chechen border, the "Sputnik" encampment is the biggest refugee camp in Ingushetia. Although the refugees are near their homeland and suffer under unsanitary conditions, most remain unwilling to return to Chechnya.

Salman Sadaev and his family were among the first to arrive at the camp. Sadaev had held out hope there would be no second Chechen conflict and sent his immediate family to live with relatives outside Grozny. "I stayed at home because I didn't want to leave the house and the yard," he told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service. "But the war started, and missiles [destroyed] the house. Then I accepted [an invitation] to come to Sleptsovsk with my brother's family." At the time, Sadaev said, 13 people were living in a tent designed for 10. Within two months, his mother had died.

Feeling a duty to protect his family from conflict that many feared would reach Ingushetia -- including his sons, who were 20, 18, 15, and 12 and whom federal authorities might view as potential rebels -- he asked his oldest son and daughter to suspend their studies at Grozny University. Today, Sadaev and his four sons are construction workers in Ingushetia.

"I would like to go back [to Grozny] if there was freedom there," Sadaev told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service. "On the eve of [Muslim holiday] Gurban Bairam, our neighbor went home and was detained. His relatives paid a lot of money to get him back. But he was tortured before being released.... I, too, have been home on several occasions, but I've always come back to Ingushetia after seeing how bad the situation is."

Chechen officials make frequent trips to Sleptsovsk to try and convince refugees to return to Chechnya. They promise them security, but have met with limited success as people file back to Sleptsovsk.

Parliamentary hearings in early April were aimed at exploring avenues to reform the federation's migration system, and participants included State Duma deputies, representatives from the Russian Migration Service, and refugees and immigrants from abroad.

One of the many Chechen citizens at the meeting was Nadezhda Kurbanova, an ethnic Russian who traveled from Stavropolskii Krai to attend. Her family has been spared any loss of life from the conflict, but not the hardship that has accompanied it. Her Chechen husband died two decades ago, she said, leaving her alone with three children. Ten years ago, as Chechnya was wracked by political change, Nadezhda says her family was threatened and warned to leave their house in Grozny. The house was destroyed once the war broke out, and the family moved to Stavropolskii Krai. But she says her family's Chechen ethnicity has presented problems. Nadezhda's daughter has been seeking a job for several years, something she blames on hostility toward her father's ethnicity. Soon after her daughter found a position as a teacher, Nadezhda says, she was fired for no apparent reason. Her son holds a university-level degree, yet he cannot find a job either.

"In some ways, we are in better conditions than [those for] the thousands of those suffering," says Nadezhda. Nadezhda says she thinks all refugees from Chechnya -- whether they are Chechen, Russian, or any other ethnicity -- are facing similar hardship, stemming from the fact that they are not granted official refugee status. They thus go unregistered in their new dwellings, which leads to their being deprived of the opportunity to work or study. Nadezhda attended the hearings because she believes migration reform can lead to real change.

The newly appointed head of the Russian Migration Service, Yurii Chernenko, holds the key, according to Nadezhda: "It will take time to see how the [authorities at the Ministry of Interior] resolve the problems of those who abandoned their homes and their homeland." But she adds that "with the new reforms," the Migration Service's staff should include about 3,000 civil servants. "I do not know where we will be if so many people involved in the refugees issues don't improve the situation," Nadezhda says.