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Circassian Political Dynasties Cross Swords In Karachayevo-Cherkessia

Rashid Temrezov during his inauguration as head of the Karachayevo-Cherkessia Republic in March last year.
Rashid Temrezov during his inauguration as head of the Karachayevo-Cherkessia Republic in March last year.
Just 13 months after his appointment as head of the Karachayevo-Cherkessia Republic (KChR), Rashid Temrezov is facing his first major domestic political challenge in the form of a standoff between the heads of two of the republic’s most powerful Circassian families.

They are Vyacheslav Derev, whom Temrezov named in April 2011 as one of the republic’s representatives on the Federation Council, and businessman Raul Arashukov, who is close to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.

Arashukov’s supporters are demanding Derev’s recall as senator because of comments made by Derev about Arashukov and his son Rauf that they consider derogatory and insulting.

Although a planned demonstration in Cherkessk on March 30 to back up that demand was called off, the contretemps has underscored the tensions and rivalries among the Cherkess, who account for just 11.3 percent of the republic’s population of 427,500. The largest ethnic group comprises the Karachais (38 percent), followed by the Russians (33 percent). Temrezov is a Karachai.

Crackdown On Corruption

In an interview in February with “Rossiiskaya gazeta,” Derev implied that the recent dismissal of the "all-powerful" Raul Arashukov as head of the regional subsidiary of the gas giant Gazprom was occasioned by a crackdown on corruption.

Derev hinted that earlier efforts to fire Arashukov had failed because he enjoyed high-level protection. He also stressed what he called Arashukov’s "more than dubious" past, including two convictions for embezzlement.

In addition to this, Derev commented scathingly on the meteoric career of Arashukov’s son Rauf, who at the age of 24 has already served as a Stavropol city councilor, KChR minister of labor and social development, and first deputy prime minister under Temrezov’s predecessor as the leader of the republic, Boris Ebzeyev.

The unofficial Council of Elders of the Cherkess People and the local councils of two predominantly Circassian-populated municipalities responded by staging protests to demand Derev’s recall.

In a letter addressed to Temrezov, Federation Council chairwoman Valentina Matviyenko and presidential envoy to the North Caucasus Federal District Aleksandr Khloponin, they accused Derev of seeking to undermine both Arashukov’s authority and political stability throughout the republic.

But a second Cherkess organization, the Adyghe Khase (Circassian Council), sided with Derev.

Adyghe Khase leader Mukhamed Cherkesov argued that the present members of the Council of Elders lack legitimacy, and thus had no right to demand Derev’s recall in the name of their ethnic brethren.

Popular Anger

Derev for his part professed to be nonplussed by the negative and hostile reaction to his interview. He told the Kavkaz-Uzel website that "I didn’t say anything that isn’t already common knowledge."

Derev further attributed the campaign against him to popular anger at the authorities' failure to solve the murders in 2010 of two Circassians, Adyghe Khase youth wing leader Aslan Zhukov and Fral Shebzukhov, whom Ebzeyev had nominated as premier in response to an ultimatum from Khloponin to dismiss Prime Minister Vladimir Kayshev, a Greek, and replace him with a Circassian.

A suspect who had confessed to Zhukov’s killing was acquitted last week for lack of evidence.

The standoff between Derev and Arashukov reflects the long-standing divisions and rivalries within the Cherkess minority, which is politically engaged to a far greater degree than the republic’s other ethnic groups, but at the same time prone to endless conspiracies and backbiting.

Tensions On The Rise

The Adyghe Khase itself split in 2006 into two factions, one of which backed the Derev clan. (Vyacheslav Derev’s brother Stanislav, a former mayor of Cherkessk, lost to Vladimir Kokov in the 1999 presidential runoff and died prematurely in July 2006, leaving to his family the Mercury holding that controls up to 10 percent of the entire Russian market in mineral water).

The other faction backed the KChR’s third prominent Circassian family, the Khapsirokovs.

An attempt in late 2006 to overcome their mutual differences failed. The two factions closed ranks only in late 2008, outraged by Ebzeyev’s appointment of the Greek Kayshev to the post of KChR prime minister, which was traditionally the preserve of a Circassian.

At an unofficial congress of the Circassian people in November 2008, they also demanded the revision of the existing borders between the North Caucasus republics to create a separate Circassian republic.

With tensions reportedly on the rise, Temrezov has not yet commented on the controversy surrounding Derev. On the one hand, Derev was Temrezov’s choice as senator. Therefore, ceding to demands for his replacement could be construed as an admission of poor judgment on Temrezov’s part.

On the other hand, insofar as Temrezov too is reported to be close to Kadyrov, he might yield to pressure from Kadyrov and sacrifice Derev.

One can only guess whether the decision by the Council of Elders of the Cherkess People to abandon plans for the March 30 protest meeting was the result of a promise by Kadyrov to Arashukov to exert such pressure.

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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