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Are Chechen Officials Playing Up Summer Camp Contretemps To Score Political Points?

Some of those injured in the "Don" summer camp violence, on July 27.

Some of those injured in the "Don" summer camp violence, on July 27.

Senior Chechen officials and Russian law enforcement bodies are on collision course over a recent incident at a summer camp in Krasnodar Krai in which Chechen teenagers and local Russians clashed in circumstances that remain unclear. The two sides have offered widely diverging accounts of what happened and who is to blame.

The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office has endorsed the version provided by local police. It is not clear whether Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, to whom civil-society activists recently appealed to provide human rights activists with protection against threats from Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov, will take sides in the dispute or maintain a discreet silence.

The initial account of the incident was circulated on July 26 by Chechen human rights ombudsman Nurdi Nukhadjiyev, who is a close associate of Kadyrov. Nukhadjiyev claimed that the "Don" camp's deputy director, a Russian who had served in the Russian army in Chechnya, spontaneously attacked three of the approximately 300 Chechen children at the camp late on July 24. An older Chechen sportsman accompanying the children intervened and halted the fight. The camp director (the deputy director's father) and the Chechen supervisor agreed to regard the incident closed. But later the same evening the camp director returned with a group of 300-400 local men armed with iron bars and began systematically to hunt down and attack the Chechen children, who used their mobile phones to call their parents and appeal for help. Local police simply stood by and failed to intervene.

Nukhadjiyev said an unspecified number of Chechen children were hospitalized, seven of whom sustained serious injuries. The Chechen authorities sent buses to bring the remaining children back to Chechnya on July 27.

Chechen Republic head Kadyrov condemned the incident on July 26 as "an attempt to undermine ethnic unity" in Russia and as such a threat to stability.

Krasnodar Krai police, however, gave a different account. They said the incident was triggered when three Chechen teenage boys tried to chat up a Russian girl who rebuffed them. The camp deputy director reprimanded the young Chechens and a fistfight erupted in which some 10-15 "local residents" intervened in support of the camp officials, while approximately the same number of Chechens came to the aid of their co-ethnics.

The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office has endorsed that latter version of what happened. Seven suspects were arrested on July 27.

Local media have published additional firsthand accounts by the camp director, his son, and the teenage Russian girl. According to the camp director, after the initial scuffle he summoned the Chechen teenagers and their supervisor to his office and they agreed to regard honor as satisfied. The camp director and the Chechen supervisor then agreed to regard the issue as closed. Later that evening, however, local police phoned the director to warn him that some 50 local residents, both Russians and Armenians, were trying to force their way into the camp, and a second fight ensued between the intruders and the young Chechens during which the director himself was injured.

Nukhadjiyev, for his part, rejected the police version of events as an attempt to cover up their failure to intervene. He called on July 27 for a formal investigation into the incident, and warned that he "might" address an open letter to President Medvedev highlighting the urgent need to put an end to endemic human rights violations in Krasnodar Krai, for which he implicitly held Governor Aleksandr Tkachev responsible.

Also on July 27, Nukhadjiyev issued a separate statement in which he rejected as unfounded a recent appeal to President Medvedev by the presidential Council for the Development of Civil Society to take measures to protect human rights activists in Chechnya in light of Kadyrov's denunciation of the human rights watchdog Memorial on July 3 as "enemies of the people, of the law, and of the state." Kadyrov subsequently implicitly retracted that threat, affirming that "no one has threatened human rights organizations in Chechnya." Nukhadjiyev on July 27 said Kadyrov's comments did not constitute either a threat or an attempt at intimidation, but were simply "his personal opinion."

This is not the first time that Chechen officials have reacted to statements that reflect poorly on Kadyrov by playing up alleged attempts to victimize or malign either individual Chechens or the entire nation. Medvedev's response to Nukhadjiyev -- if the latter does follow through with his formal complaint about the Krasnodar Krai leadership -- may provide an indication of whether that tactic cuts any ice in the Kremlin.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.