This blog has noted before that, in some respects, the Karachayevo-Cherkessia Republic (KChR) can claim to be the poster child for the North Caucasus republics.
But the stability it has enjoyed for the past few years is currently endangered by a campaign to undermine republic head Rashid Temrezov, 39, whose term in office expires in early 2016. Temrezov was appointed to that post in March 2011 after incumbent Boris Ebzeyev resigned prematurely after just 2 1/2 years in office, complaining that his initiatives were consistently blocked by powerful unnamed rivals.
The division of top political posts among the KChR leadership is regulated by an unwritten rule based on the size of the republic's various ethnic groups, of which the Karachais are the largest, accounting for approximately 41 percent of the total 460,000 population, followed by Russians and Circassians. Accordingly, the republic head (formerly the president) is a Karachai, while the Circassians -- as the second titular nationality -- supply the prime minister, and the post of parliament speaker is reserved for a Russian.
The current campaign to undermine Temrezov is believed to have been launched by Ebzeyev's predecessor, Mustafa Batdyyev, who served as republican president from 1999-2009, and Batdyyev's son-in-law Aliy Kaitov, an influential and wealthy businessman who was released from jail a year ago after serving eight years for the murder in 2004 of seven business rivals.
Although Batdyyev had helped and encouraged Temrezov during the early stages of his career, and Temrezov had been a close friend of Kaitov, Temrezov has since moved to sideline relatives of both men. Batdyyev himself was constrained to step down early this year from the post of head of the KChR branch of the federal Pension Fund.
Batdyyev is similarly perceived as having been behind public criticism of Temrezov expressed earlier this year by representatives of the Circassian minority. At a congress in June, prominent Circassians accused the republic's leadership of ignoring the needs of the Circassian community, unwillingness to embark on a dialogue with its representatives, and harassing Circassian businessmen. Several prominent Circassian entrepreneurs had aligned in April in a new organization, Delovaya Cherkessia, with the aim of extending mutual help and support and creating new jobs.
Among those attending the June congress were two of the region's most prominent Circassian politicians/business figures, Stanislav Derev and Rauf Arashukov. In April, the two had publicly announced their reconciliation following a feud that lasted several years.
It may have been to counter the combined influence within the Circassian community of Derev and Arashukov that, in early September, Temrezov named as prime minister Ruslan Kazanokov, whom Azamat Tlisov of the federal Public Chamber characterizes as both influential and a capable economic manager.
The anti-Temrezov faction is believed to be responsible for a slew of recent publications criticizing Temrezov's track record and highlighting dubious episodes from his past. Rosbalt, for example, recently quoted unnamed "experts" as claiming no fewer than six criminal cases have been brought against him, all of which were subsequently shelved, and that he has managed to alienate most of the republic's most influential political figures, including his erstwhile patron, Batdyyev.
On November 13, several Karachai public organizations, including the Union of Karachai Youth, convened a so-called Congress of the Karachai People at which speakers criticized high-level corruption and the domination of local politics by politicians related to or closely aligned with Temrezov.
They further complained about the lack of investment in agriculture in a predominantly rural region, the resulting high unemployment, and the lack of basic amenities in many Karachai-populated villages, failings they say contribute to the emigration of some 500 Karachais from their home republic every year.
Attendance at the congress was just 200 people, although its organizer, Union of Karachai Youth Chairman Vladimir Bidzhiyev, said he had invited all towns and villages to send five or six delegates and hoped that 300 would show up.
Bidzhiyev also sent invitations to several senior officials, including the republic's prime minister (a Circassian) and Interior Minister Kazimir Botashev (a Karachai), but none of them deigned to attend.
In fact, the authorities did everything they could to prevent the congress from taking place, denying access at the last minute to the original venue, and organizing a countermeasure the same day, attended by some 700 people, at which representatives of two "official" Karachai organizations lauded Temrezov and denounced Bidzhiyev's "congress" as lacking legitimacy and not empowered to speak on behalf of the Karachai people.
Speakers at the "public assembly" to demonstrate support for Temrezov admitted that the grievances enumerated by his critics were not unfounded. At the same time, they denounced the "congress" as orchestrated by "a group of people who seek to disorient the younger generation" in order to further their own personal goals.
Interestingly, coverage of the contretemps in the KChR state media did not mention one of the key demands that the organizers of the "Congress of the Karachai People" planned to raise, namely reverting to direct elections for the post of republic head. Granted, the possibility of that happening is so low as to be virtually nonexistent. But in the unlikely event of a direct ballot, it is not clear whom the anti-Temrezov faction would field as its candidate: in all the media discussion of the bid to prevent Temrezov serving a second term, no rival Karachai politician has been clearly identified as a possible alternative.
Until two years ago, popular former Karachayevsk Mayor Soltan Semyonov was regarded as heading the domestic opposition to Temrezov, but he was forced to step down and eventually made his peace with Temrezov. A second possible candidate is Semyonov's former deputy, Eduard Marshankulov, but his political affiliation with the Communists of Russia Party could deter Batdyyev from openly backing him.
Some observers have even suggested that Arashukov, although a Circassian, might harbor ambitions to head the republic, especially in light of his close ties with Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov, but Arashukov himself has repeatedly denied this.
Arashukov may, however, be well-placed to succeed Kazanokov as prime minister should Moscow ultimately decide against allowing Temrezov to serve a second term.