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Duma Deputies Withdraw Support For Embattled Balkar Colleague

  • Liz Fuller

KBR President Arsen Kanokov only met with Balkar gropus after three years in office.

KBR President Arsen Kanokov only met with Balkar gropus after three years in office.

In late December, 47 Russian State Duma deputies added their signatures to an appeal by their fellow deputy, Academician Mikhail Zalikhanov, to the Constitutional Court and the Prosecutor-General's Office arguing that recent legislation on land enacted by the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic parliament is unconstitutional and violates the rights of the Balkar people.

Thirty-three of the signatories have since withdrawn their support, and 11 public organizations in the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic (KBR) on January 14 addressed their own appeal to Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov to strip Zalikhanov, who is himself a Balkar, of his deputy's mandate for activities allegedly aimed at "undermining peace and harmony" in the KBR.

They also asked Gryzlov to demand Zalikhanov's expulsion from the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party for "promoting interethnic hatred," and to launch a probe into the circumstances in which the 47 Duma deputies, apparently "duped" by Zalikhanov's arguments, co-signed his appeal.

Zalikhanov's appeal of December 22 pointed out that the KBR legislation redelineating the boundaries between the republic's municipalities deprives Balkar-populated villages of 80 percent of the land the Balkars traditionally used as grazing grounds for their sheep. It also subsumed into the Nalchik municipality four Balkar-populated settlements on the southwestern and western outskirts of the capital that had hitherto had their own mayors and local councils.

Zalikhanov argued the legislation contravened federal laws of 2003 and 2004 and discriminates against Balkars, effectively depriving them of the status of a co-titular nationality within the KBR by abolishing the independent municipal status of the districts where they live and downgrading those districts to "enclaves." He warned that only swift intervention on the part of the federal Prosecutor-General's Office can avert "total conflict" between the Kabardians, who account for 55 percent of the republic's estimated 901,000 population, and the Turkic-speaking Balkars, who are the third-largest ethnic group after Russians (27 percent and 11 percent, respectively).

Kabardian-Balkar Tensions

The Kabardian-led riposte, the full text of which was posted on January 21 on sk-news.ru, dismissed Zalikhanov's appeal as "not containing a single word of truth." Specifically, it rejected out of hand the historical arguments he adduced to substantiate the Balkars' territorial claims. It recalled that despite earlier, unspecified "serious errors" in his approach to interethnic relations, Zalikhanov was reelected to the State Duma in December 2007 on the Unified Russia ticket, with the full support of the KBR leadership.

Since then, however, the response continued, he has failed to fulfill voters' expectations and shown no interest in the social and economic problems the republic faces. Instead, he has aligned himself with, and serves as spokesman for, the Council of Elders of the Balkar People (SSBN) public organization, which the response described as an "extremist organization" that "seeks to destabilize the political situation" in the KBR. The KBR Supreme Court called a year ago for the dissolution of the SSBN on precisely those grounds, but the Russian Supreme Court annulled that decision two months later.

The response specifically denounced the role of the SSBN in seeking in September 2008 to thwart a horseback trek by Kabardians across the North Caucasus to mark the 300th anniversary of a local battle in which, according to Kabardian historians, Kabardian forces defeated those of the Crimean Tatar Khan. (There is no mention of such a battle in general histories of the Crimea.)

In the wake of the September standoff between Kabardians and Balkars, KBR President Arsen Kanokov met for the first time since his appointment in October 2005 with Balkar representatives, but the talks failed to temper mutual rancor or to address the Balkars' long-standing grievances.

The diatribe went on to accuse Zalikhanov and the SSBN of seeking to "appropriate lands that are historically Kabardian" with the ultimate aim of uniting with their Karachai ethnic kin as part of "a Great Turan" state in line with pan-Turkic ideology. It further demanded that Zalikhanov be required to answer in court for allegedly engaging in "overt political terrorism," a term chillingly reminiscent of the Stalinist show trials of the 1930s.

Just as ominously, the denunciation is co-signed by the heads of organizations representing not only the Kabardian majority, but also the local Russian, Adyg, and Cossack communities. That suggests the KBR's overwhelmingly Kabardian leadership has co-opted the republic's other ethnic minorities in its ongoing campaign to sideline and silence the Balkars.

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