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Cossacks Seek To Take Over Most Of North Caucasus

The return of the Cossacks?
The return of the Cossacks?
Meeting on July 7 in Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia, the leaders of the Terek Cossacks reached agreement on drafting a formal request to the Russian State Duma to revive the 19th-century Terek Oblast.

Doing so would require amending the current territorial-administrative structure of the Russian Federation to abolish five existing national republics: Terek Cossack Ataman Mikhail Inkavtsov told that the planned Terek Oblast would encompass Kabardino-Balkaria, Chechnya, Ingushetia, North Ossetia, Daghestan, and part of Stavropol Krai.

The republics of Adygeya and Karachayevo-Cherkessia, he added, are considered part of Kuban. (The Kuban Cossacks have not yet made any analogous territorial claim on those republics.)

The Terek Cossacks' rationale, as outlined by Inkavtsov, was that in the 19th century the region was wealthy "before the Bolsheviks came to power and ruined it." Today, the North Caucasus republics are without exception heavily dependent on subsidies from the federal budget, and should, Inkavtsov argued, be declared bankrupt.

Moreover, Inkavtsov continued, the upsurge of local nationalism and concurrent economic decline since the collapse of the Soviet Union has led to the mass exodus of the Russian population from the region.

Subsuming Nationalities

In addition, according to Inkavtsov, subsuming the various North Caucasus republics into a single territorial entity would render irrelevant the claims they have on each other's territory. And the politically loaded designations "titular and non-titular nationality" would become obsolete.

The possibility of merging the various North Caucasus republics into a single territorial entity as a way to resolve the social, ethnic, and economic problems that currently plague them has been raised in the past. But most of the small nations that would be directly affected oppose any such move.

Retired Army General Supyan Beppayev, a Balkar who now heads a pro-Moscow NGO, told that while it may be appropriate to merge regions in Russia's Far East, doing so in the North Caucasus would require "extreme caution," and should be the subject of a referendum among the populations of the republics in question.

Mukhammed Khafitse, who heads the Kabardian chapter of the pan-Circassian organization Adyghe Khase (Circassian Council), categorically rejected the Cossacks' proposal as "impossible."

By contrast, Ruslan Babayev, one of the leaders of the Council of Elders of the Balkar People, which is fighting perceived discrimination against the Balkar minority in Kabardino-Balkaria, said that "we would vote with both hands for" the creation of the Terek Cossack Oblast.

There has been no reaction to date from Chechnya to the Cossack initiative. The Chechen Interior Ministry categorically rejected in late April as unnecessary an offer of "help" from the Terek Cossacks in maintaining order in Chechnya following the formal end of the counterterror operation there.

Commenting in April 2008 on an article by Ruslan Gorevoy in the Russian weekly "Versiya," Ingush activist Magomet Barakhoyev denounced Moscow's imputed plans to merge the North Caucasus republics into a "Cossack Krai."

Writing on the independent website, Barakhoyev recalled the punitive actions of the Cossacks in the North Caucasus in the 19th century, and warned that the creation of a Cossack Krai would inevitably lead to the loss of national identity of the various peoples of the North Caucasus and the extinction of their languages.

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.


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