Caucasus https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/18605/all cached version 08/02/2019 17:50:32 en In Russia’s North Caucasus, an unprecedented, peaceful protest https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/ingushetia-land-protest-chechnya <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In Ingushetia, people have come out to protest land transfer to neighbouring Chechya. For now, the Kremlin is listening.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/IMG_5880.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/IMG_5880.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Magas, Ingushetia. Image: Tanya Lokshina. </span></span></span>As the call to prayer rolls over of Magas, the capital of Ingushetia, Russia’s smallest North Caucasus republic, hundreds of men busily unroll plastic mats, turning the central square into an open-air prayer ground. “Allahu Akbar!” The men kneel, get up, and kneel again — a sea of kneeling men stretching out in front of me. Done with the prayer, they roll back the mats. Then they continue with the rally that has gathered them here out on the square. to call for the annulment of a recent agreement on the demarcation of Ingushetia’s administrative border with neighboring Chechnya that will see Ingushetia lose territory.</p> <p class="western" lang="ru-RU"> Estimates vary on how much territory would be lost to Chechnya. Official estimates <span><a href="https://echo.msk.ru/news/2293088-echo.html?utm_source=vk.com&amp;utm_medium=social&amp;utm_campaign=pochti-7-territorii-ingushetii-perehodit">put it at five per cent</a> of</span> Ingushetia’s entire current territory, totaling 1,240 square miles. <span><a href="https://echo.msk.ru/news/2293088-echo.html?utm_source=vk.com&amp;utm_medium=social&amp;utm_campaign=pochti-7-territorii-ingushetii-perehodit">Independent experts estimate seven per cent</a></span>, and some of the protest organisers say the loss is up to 10 percent. </p> <p class="western" lang="ru-RU"> During the Soviet era, Chechnya and Ingushetia were one republic. An interim agreement on the border reached in the early 1990s, after Chechnya sought independence from Russia while Ingushetia chose in a referendum to remain in Russia, was revised on several occasions, but the demarcation was never finalised.</p> <p class="western" lang="ru-RU"> As many as <span><a href="https://www.bbc.com/russian/features-45764266">10,000 people</a></span> have joined the rally on some days. This is unprecedented for Ingushetia, with its population of <span><a href="http://www.statdata.ru/naselenie/respubliki-ingushetiya">just over 450,000</a></span>.</p> <p class="western" lang="ru-RU"> Why such great numbers? People in Ingushetia generally <span><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDyH9e8KaWI">view the land as sacred</a></span> and the loss of every square inch is painful. Particularly so because Ingushetia<span><a href="https://theins.ru/opinions/121410"> lost</a></span> land after the trauma of deportation of the Ingush during the Stalin era and the brief but fierce armed conflict with the neighbouring region of Ossetia in the early 1990s. </p> <p class="western" lang="ru-RU"> However, Ingushetia’s leadership did not inform the public that the negotiations were taking place until the outcome was already a done deal. The protest, which has been on-going for close to two weeks, was largely triggered by this stark lack of transparency in decision-making on an issue of great public importance. </p> <p class="western" lang="ru-RU"> As I walk through the protest site talking to people at random, this is precisely what I hear being repeated, passionately. “They decided on our behalf without even letting us know!” – “No one bothered asking our opinion!” – “It is as if we did not exist.” – “We are here to show them that our voices matter!” </p> <p class="western" lang="ru-RU"> The words I heard are strikingly similar to what I heard in Moscow in autumn 2011 when mass peaceful protests broke out after then-prime minister Vladimir Putin announced that he and then- president Dmitry Medvedev <span><a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2011/12/13/era-apathy-russia-post-election-protests">had decided “several years ago”</a></span> that they would swap places in the next presidential election. </p> <p class="western" lang="ru-RU"> Thousands of people have come together in Ingushetia to make their voices heard. While the older people, in full accordance with local traditions, are given the place of honour and priority at the microphone, the younger ones are handling all the logistics. The square is meticulously clean, a small field kitchen operates in the back, with food, water and hot drinks available to everyone. Local Red Cross volunteers are at the ready with medical assistance. With official media either ignoring the protest or attempting to smear the organizers, volunteer cameramen work around the clock, posting their videos online. Mobile internet was <span><a href="https://meduza.io/feature/2018/10/07/eto-ne-mozhet-ostatsya-beznakazannym">cut off in Magas</a></span> at the start of the protest, as the local authorities strove to limit social media coverage in real time, but the younger bloggers have long found ways to get around it.</p><p class="western" lang="ru-RU"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/IMG_5875.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Magas, Ingushetia. Image: Tanya Lokshina. </span></span></span>Students, academics, public servants, members of Ingushetia’s parliament, civic activists, opposition politicians, members of the council of the elders, and local religious leaders have united to make clear to federal authorities that the people of Ingushetia want the agreement suspended and expect to be part of the decision-making processes. Local police join the protesters for regular prayers and say quietly that they won’t use force against the demonstrators even if ordered to.</p> <p class="western" lang="ru-RU"> On 6 October, the third day of the rally, with thousands of people already protesting, men who claimed they were security officials <span><a href="https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/10/russia-amnesty-researcher-abducted-and-subjected-to-mock-executions-in-ingushetia/">kidnapped a researcher from Amnesty International</a></span> who was in Ingushetia to monitor the protest. They drove him to a deserted area, beat him, forced him to strip, subjected him to mock executions, and finally released him late at night, telling him “never come back, and don’t write filth about Ingushetia.” Most likely, the kidnappers intended to use his example to discourage other “outsiders” from traveling to Ingushetia and reporting on the rally, but their depraved intimidation tactics have not seemed to work. Interest in the dramatic developments in Magas is rising, and an increasing number of journalists and other observers are coming to report on the protest.</p> <p class="western" lang="ru-RU"> Whatever the outcome, the protesters clearly made federal authorities pay attention. This week, <a href="http://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/326531/"><span>the organi</span><span>s</span><span>ers will have their second meeting</span></a> with President Putin’s emissary in the North Caucasus federal district. <span><a href="https://meduza.io/news/2018/10/14/s-lyudmi-nado-metodami-yazyka-demokratii-evkurov-rasskazal-o-rekomendatsiyah-putina-po-obscheniyu-s-protestuyuschimi">Putin also spoke to Ingushetia’s governor</a></span>, Yunusbek Evkurov, stressing that no force should be used against the protesters and the government should be talking to them. The protest now continues with official authorization. </p> <p class="western" lang="ru-RU"> The scale of this protracted protest is unprecedented for Ingushetia, but also striking for contemporary Russia, where peaceful protests are routinely dispersed. In that context, Putin’s advice to Evkurov to “talk to people” and to use “methods… of democracy” comes across as quite ironic. </p> <p class="western" lang="ru-RU"> One thing is clear. The Kremlin is surprised by this popular movement. It has taken a pause and for once, at least for now, it’s listening.</p><p class="western" lang="ru-RU">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/yegor-skovoroda-sergei-smirnov/inside-ingushetia-anti-extremism-torture-extortion">Inside Ingushetia’s anti-extremism centre: torture, extortion, murder</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maria-klimova-egor-skovoroda/how-ingushetia-got-rid-of-its-independent-media">How Ingushetia&#039;s independent media and opposition were harassed, exiled and murdered out of existence</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/fatima-chumakova/five-bloody-days-in-north-ossetia">Five bloody days in North Ossetia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/denis-sokolov/will-the-war-in-russias-north-caucasus-ever-end">Will the war in Russia’s North Caucasus ever end?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/how-real-urban-planning-could-address-the-demographic-challenge">How real urban planning could address the demographic challenge in Russia’s North Caucasus</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tanya Lokshina Ingushetia Caucasus Tue, 16 Oct 2018 13:24:15 +0000 Tanya Lokshina 120123 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Will the war in Russia’s North Caucasus ever end? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/denis-sokolov/will-the-war-in-russias-north-caucasus-ever-end <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Over the past 200 years, war and colonisation has defined Russia’s North Caucasus. But in a period of relative calm, significant changes are still underway. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/denis-sokolov/severniy-kavkaz-buduschee-frontira" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Bildschirmfoto 2018-08-24 um 14.44.36_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Bildschirmfoto 2018-08-24 um 14.44.36_0.png" alt="" title="" width="452" height="293" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Grandparents and grandchildren in a mountain village, Dagestan. Photo by CC-by-NC-2.0: Dagestan Mountains and People Partnership / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>On 4 August 2018, tens of thousands of mourners <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/caucasus-temerkhanov-convicted-killing-budyanov-russian-colonel-buried-chechnya/29412668.html">gathered in the Chechen village of Geldagen</a> to bury Yusup Temerkhanov. Thousands more sent their condolences via WhatsApp. Temerkhanov died in a Siberian prison hospital during a 15-year sentence for the murder of Yuri Budanov. A Russian army colonel, Budanov had been convicted in 2003 for the kidnapping and murder of Elza Kungayeva, a Chechen woman, during the Second Chechen War. He was released on parole in 2009 – and shot dead in Moscow two years later. </p><p dir="ltr">Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who was present at the funeral, said in his eulogy that Temerkhanov’s guilt hadn’t been proven and that he had been unjustly convicted. But the crowd of people in Geldagen had gathered to honour the memory of the man who had become the embodiment of a nation’s revenge for the rape and murder of a young Chechen woman by a Russian war criminal. </p><p dir="ltr">For one part of the Russian Federation, General Alexey Yermolov, the man who conquered the Caucasus in the 19th century, and Colonel Yuri Budanov are the heroes. For the other, it’s Imam Shamil, the man who led the resistance to Russia’s designs on the Caucasus, and Yusup Temerkhanov who are the good guys. In 200 years of Russian conquest in the Caucasus, let alone the 25 years of post-Soviet history, this frontier has always been there. </p><p dir="ltr">This is the first part of a series of articles on the unfinished war in the North Caucasus today. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Two centuries of co-existence</h2><p dir="ltr">Administratively, the North Caucasus (officially, the Northern-Caucasus Federal Okrug – SKFO) consists of six national republics of the Russian Federation, each named after its majority ethnic group, along with Stavropol Krai. It has a combined population of nearly 10 million people representing several dozen ethnicities. The largest of these, according to the <a href="http://www.gks.ru/free_doc/new_site/perepis2010/croc/perepis_itogi1612.htm">2010 census</a>, are Chechens (1,335,857), Avars (865,348), Circassians (Kabardians and Circassians – 564,226), Dargins (541,552), Ossetins (481,492), Kumyks (466,769), Ingush (418,996) and Lezgins (396,408). Of these, only Chechnya, where ethnic Chechens make up 93.5% of the population and Ingushetia (with 94.1% Ingush) can be considered mono-ethnic. The most mixed region is Dagestan, with members of more than 30 peoples and ethnic groups represented in the population. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-small'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Tindi,_Daghestan_(M._de_Déchy,_late_1890s).jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Tindi,_Daghestan_(M._de_Déchy,_late_1890s).jpg" alt="" title="" width="160" height="220" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_small" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The village of Tindi, in Daghestan, in the late 1890s. Photo: Moriz von Déchy (1851-1917). Source: Wiki Commons.</span></span></span>The North Caucasus is also home to a quarter of Russia’s Muslims, with a high proportion of Muslims concentrated in the eastern part of the region – in the republics of Dagestan (96% Muslim), Chechnya (97% Muslim) and Ingushetia (99% Muslim). In the western part of the region, thanks to a considerable ethnic Russian minority, as well as Ossetians, many of whom have adopted Christianity, and Christian Armenians and Greeks, there is a lower proportion of ethnic Muslims. In Kabardino-Balkaria they make up 71.5% of the population; in Karachay-Cherkessia 64%; in North Ossetia just 15% and in the Stavropol Krai a mere 4.5% – and the proportion of practising Muslims is correspondingly smaller. </p><p dir="ltr">When people talk about the North Caucasus, they also often refer to Krasnodar Krai and Adygea, which are outside the SKFO. In the 19th-20th centuries, these areas were, like Stavropol Krai, almost completely colonised by settlers from other parts of what was first the Russian Empire and then the Soviet Union. Out of the original indigenous North Caucasus ethnic groups, only Circassians (officially divided into Adygeans, Circassians, Kabardinians and Shapsugs), Abazins and Nogai remain in those parts of the Russian Federation. <br class="kix-line-break" /></p><p dir="ltr">The conquest of the North Caucasus by Russia has been going on for over two centuries, beginning in the 19th century with the Caucasian War of 1817-1864. This period saw the practical disappearance of the Adygean (Circassian) military aristocracy, with hundreds of thousands of Circassians deported to the Ottoman Empire. </p><p dir="ltr">In Chechnya and Dagestan, resistance to Russian colonisation was organised by members of the Murid Islamic religious order, the Naqshbandi Tariqa, whose Sheikh, and spiritual leader of the famous Imam Shamil, was the no less famous and respected Muhammad Yaragsky. After the end of the Caucasus War, Russia put down several bloody uprisings.</p><p dir="ltr">After the Civil War (1917 -1923), in which Caucasus people fought for both the Reds and the Whites, the Soviets began a systematic extermination of the regional intelligentsia, Islamic clergy and wealthy families as part of the repressions and collectivisation of the 1920s and 1930s. These actions by the Soviet authorities were accompanied by firstly, organised uprisings and later, sporadic action by small partisan groups whose resistance continued right up to the Second World War and was gradually replaced by robbing the local population and state establishments.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Chechens_AukhYurt_1957_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Chechens deported from the village of Aukh-Yurt, Dagestan (now Kalinin-Aul) at a railway station in Soviet Central Asia in 1957, after being permitted to make the long journey back to their homeland. CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved. </span></span></span>The Second World War carried off half the male population of some mountain villages, most of whom were called up and dispatched to the front. In 1944, Chechens, Ingush, Balkars and Karachay, most of them women, children and the elderly, were deported to Central Asia; they were only able to return in 1957. In the second half of the 1940s and the 1950s, it was generally women who restored life to village communities which had almost disappeared. After a preliminary annihilation of the military, intellectual and economic elite and the clergy, the industrialisation of agriculture and an invasion of Russian school teachers was supposed to finally turn traditional mountain villages into collective farms and their residents into ordinary Soviet farm workers.</p><p dir="ltr">It seemed as though after two post-war Soviet generations, the plan had worked. But by the end of the 1980s, national movements of the indigenous peoples of the North Caucasian republics started making their presence felt. Local activists, inspired by the end of the ban on free discussion, the partial acknowledgement of Russian and Soviet repressive rule in the region and the exit of some Union Republics from the USSR held meetings and rallies at which they expressed their lack of trust in the Soviet party-economic nomenclature and started discussing self-determination and independence within the USSR, RSFSR or a new mountain republic. </p><h2 dir="ltr">The internal decolonisation of the North Caucasus</h2><p dir="ltr">The 1970s saw the beginnings of ethnic Russian emigration from Cossack villages in Stavropol Krai, Rostov region, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, Checheno-Ingushetia and Ossetia and from Russian villages in the Kizlyar and Tarumovsky districts of Dagestan: young people went off to university in the cities and didn’t return. The settler population of the North Caucasus was rapidly growing old. </p><p dir="ltr">The first contested elections brought members of local ethnic elites to power almost everywhere. Without the support of the government, Russians, Ukrainians and members of other groups whose forefathers had either been resettled in the Caucasus five or six generations earlier or who had moved there quite recently at the time of Soviet manufacturing and agricultural industrialisation quickly lost their means of upward social mobility and political status. The more aggressively-minded members of local communities plastered the fences and walls of Grozny and Nalchik with messages such as “Russians go home!” </p><p dir="ltr">It was not just Russians, of course, who were leaving north Caucasian cities. Local members of the scientific and technical intelligentsia, Soviet white collar and skilled blue collar workers were also abandoning the region, either to increase their earning power or to permanently settle in Russia’s “inner” regions – Moscow, St Petersburg, Rostov-on-Don or north-west Siberia. But the settler population of the North Caucasus had an almost zero birth-rate (Armenian, Meskhetian Turk and Greek populations were another story, but one I will touch on here).</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/5532383968_8e09455a92_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Buses leaving for Moscow from Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan. CC BY 2.0 Un Bolshakov / Flickr. Some rights reserved. </span></span></span>In the 1990s, the population balance of the eastern North Caucasus republics changed by several dozen percent, and the population drain in the western part is still continuing, even in Stavropol Krai, where of the peoples living in the region before the Russian conquest only 22,000 members of the Nogai people and two Kabardian villages remain. The central point of ethnic Russian occupation moves 10 kilometres to the north west every year, and settlers from Dagestan, Chechnya, Karachayevo-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria are moving in to replace them.</p><p dir="ltr">Soviet and now Russian census figures show that the highest rate of Russification in the North Caucasus took place in the late 1950s and early 1960s, before a gradual outflow of settler population groups that turned into a veritable exodus of Russians, Ukrainians and Jews (and in some areas Armenians) in the 1990s and 2000s. </p><p dir="ltr">In 1926, 12.5% of the population of Dagestan was Russian and 17.6% was Avar (the largest indigenous population group). By 1959, 20% was Russian and 22.5% Avar, but then the trend changed: in 1979 only 11% of the population was Russian and 25% Avar; in 1989 the figures were respectively 9% and 27.5%; in 2002 they were 4.7% and 29.4% and in 2010, 3.57% Russian and 29.2% Avar. </p><p dir="ltr">In Stavropol Krai in 1959, 91.3% of the population was Russian and only 0.05% Dargin (members of this ethnic group had just begun to migrate). In 2010 Russians still made up 80% of the population, and Dargins 1.77% according to official figures (experts put the figure at twice that). In 1979, 20 years after the Chechens returned from deportation, 30% of their republic’s population was Russian and 60% Chechen: the figures for 1989 were respectively 24.8% and 66% and in 2010, according to the last census, 95.8% of the population was Chechen and only 1.92% Russian. Finally, the population of Kabardino-Balkaria in 1959 was 45.3% Kabardian, 8.11% Balkar and 38.7% Russian, whilst in 2010, 57% was Kabardian, 22.5% Russian and 12.6% Balkar.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Russia's southern Caucasus frontier is nevertheless not only not dissolving due to urbanisation, the global market and the power vertical, but is, on the contrary, becoming ever more substantial and profound</p><p dir="ltr">At the start of the 1990s, the North Caucasus republics were governed by two types of leader. The first included Djokhar Dudayev in Chechnya and Ruslan Aushev in Ingushetia, both Soviet Army generals who turned to politics on the wave of national movements, a repudiation of the Soviet nomenklatura system and a tendency among participants of national movements towards militarisation.</p><p dir="ltr">The second type comprised representatives of ethnic nomenklatura groups who managed to hang on to power. They included Magomedali Magomedov, head of the Presidium of Dagestan’s Supreme Soviet; Valery Kokov, who fulfilled the same function in Kabardino-Balkaria; Aleksandr Galazov, First Secretary of the regional committee of the North Ossetian Communist Party and Vladimir Khubiyev, President of the Karachayev-Cherkessian Republic. Former Soviet officials had to take account of local ethnocentric movements and learn, in the end, how to control them. </p><p dir="ltr">In Moscow, meanwhile, a cut-throat battle for power was raging, and in October 1993 it descended into armed conflict in the centre of the capital. And the North Caucasus would have remained on the periphery of the political agenda had it not been for the outbreak of war in Chechnya in 1994. The years that followed saw the North Caucasus become the epicentre of politically motivated armed conflict in Russia: as well as the Chechen Wars of 1994-1996 and 1999-2009, there was the Ossetian-Ingush conflict in North Ossetia’s Prigorod district in 1992 and the attack on Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, in October 2005. In addition, there were almost 20 years of underground armed Islamic activity and a spate of terrorist attacks both inside then region and elsewhere – in Moscow, Volgodonsk, Volgograd and St Petersburg. <br class="kix-line-break" /></p><h2 dir="ltr">The Caucasus frontier: the calm before the storm? </h2><p dir="ltr">Today, the North Caucasus is relatively quiet. The Caucasus Emirate, a militant Jihadist organisation active between 2007 and 2015, has been <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/regis-gente/is-this-end-of-caucasus-emirate">defeated</a>; thousands of Islamic dissidents have been killed in special operations or are behind bars and tens of thousands of jihadis have left the country. Several thousand Caucasus residents fought for ISIS at its peak of activity, but it is now moribund, and only concerned with returning the wives and children of dead mujahedeen to their homes. </p><p dir="ltr">Chechnya is headed by Ramzan Kadyrov, who calls himself “Putin’s Infantryman”; Dagestan is under external management by Russian Internal Ministry General Vladimir Vasiliyev, who has now turned to politics; and Yuri Kokov, another general and the former head of the Internal Ministry’s anti-extremism directorate, is in charge of Kabardino-Balkaria. Other republics are in the hands of experienced Moscow bureaucrats. The regional FSB, meanwhile looks after the financial side of things, elections and the appointment of heads of areas of financial or political importance. </p><p dir="ltr">Objectively speaking, no North Caucasus republic has any human, organisational, intellectual or financial resources that would allow it to successfully implement any national sovereignty project. Russia's southern Caucasus frontier is nevertheless not only not dissolving due to urbanisation, the global market and the power vertical, but is, on the contrary, becoming ever more substantial and profound. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">No North Caucasus republic has any human, organisational, intellectual or financial resources that would allow it to successfully implement any national sovereignty project</p><p dir="ltr">The Caucasus has a long memory: it doesn’t just remember the Chechen wars of 15 years ago. Every year, on 21 May, thousands of Circassians gather in Nalchik, Cherkessk, Istanbul, Berlin and New York to commemorate the 19th century Caucasian War, and the Kabardino-Balkarian regional authorities don’t openly obstruct this action. </p><p dir="ltr">More than 25 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, the North Caucasus has not only not dissolved in Russia’s post-Soviet urban environment, but has, with unexpected help from today’s means of communication, revitalised its religious and ethnic identity. Young Circassians in Moscow or Turkey may not be able to speak their mother tongue, but they can write in Circassian because they “meet up” in Circassian social network groups. Caucasians travel all over the world, but modern means of communication allow them to create and maintain trans-ethnic networks in the form of village societies, religious communities and ethnic groups. <br class="kix-line-break" />People from the North Caucasus are much less trusting of the Russian judicial system than most other Russians and so often attempt to resolve conflicts among themselves, de facto refusing to recognise the Russian legal system’s monopoly on violence. </p><p dir="ltr">The hermetic nature of Caucasus communities leads to the legal side of life in village society being governed by common or Shariat law and implemented collectively. This can mean factional fights using knives or guns. In city, migrant or business networks “professionals” – guerrilla leaders, private army warlords or criminal bosses – are brought in to act as muscle.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/9598298812_5a3fe713b4_z_1_0_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>July 2013: the house of the third wife of underground leader Magomed Suleimanov is destroyed by Russian security forces. CС Varvara Pakhomenko/International Crisis Group/Flickr. Some rights reserved. </span></span></span>This way of doing things has serious consequences. Russian law enforcement agencies, employers, bureaucrats and even ordinary citizens renting out accommodation in the big cities mistrust and fear people from the North Caucasus, regarding them as alien outsiders. And this mistrust, mutual dislike and fear, stoked from time to time by the Russian media as they both report the real presence of Muslims in the war in Syria and terrorist attacks around the world and at the same time take advantage of the collective reputation of Muslims and Caucasians to inflate any minor offence, is not only not on the wane, but is growing in strength.</p><p dir="ltr">This only too perceptible frontier between Russia and the North Caucasus works like a fully-fledged institution that accumulates mutual claims on social, political, religious, legal, economic and quasi-criminal levels on a daily basis. Every time the Russian authorities lose control of the regional elites or FSB, a new armed conflict breaks out from nowhere. The threat of armed violence and terrorist attacks will only disappear when the frontier is either abandoned completely or turned into an official administrative or state border.</p><p dir="ltr">And this is all under the control of the “unseen hand of the political market”, where the law enforcement bodies can take on the function of a protection racket (and warlords like Makhachkala’s former mayor Said Amirov maintain security service officers as their private army), or, on the other hand, turn back into a protection racket (when, for example, officers of the Kabardino-Balkaria anti-extremism department try to provide “protection” for a construction company or an illegal distillery). <br class="kix-line-break" /></p><p dir="ltr">Acquiring sovereignty is a two-stage process. You first have to create and consolidate sub-elites, on both sides of the frontier, who are looking for political independence and so aspire to a monopoly on protection income. As the experience of the Chechen conflict and the Caucasian Emirate has shown, this income needn’t necessarily come from your own territory: what is important is that governmental or quasi-governmental institutions will allow you to receive it. For the thing to work, your sovereign elites will need their own legal system and means of withdrawing income (money, a tariff policy and fiscal services) in large enough quantities to maintain independence and public safety. There are already societies in the North Caucasus <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/gubden-dagestan-where-radicals-police-themselves">with their own judicial system and social infrastructure</a>, but there are no elites interested in sovereignty: the Russian exchequer pays more and hands out cash more freely. </p><p dir="ltr">The second stage is armed conflict. An external conflict turns a protection racket into an army, an internal one into a police force and a terrorist war into a hit squad. The quarter century of post-Soviet Caucasus history is the history of a fight for income aided by internal and external conflicts. An absence of social mobility for the young, radical ethnic and religious ideologies, a conflict of generations, urbanisation – these are all well-known factors that, like dry sticks, burn well in the flames of political struggle. </p><p dir="ltr">While rents from land and infrastructure bring in less income than corruption and funding from the state, Russia’s Caucasus frontier will remain a subject for anthropological research. When this relationship changes, it will turn into either a frontline of battle or a state border. </p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/abdul-itslayev/soviet-deportation-chechnya-akhmed-tsebiyev">One Chechen man’s quest for a real education</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/varvara-pakhomenko/russia-s-north-caucasus-lesson-in-history">Between dialogue and violence: the North Caucasus&#039;s bloody legacy</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/abdul-itslaev/the-second-chechen-war">The Second Chechen War: Testimony of an Eyewitness</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/federal-control-in-the-north-caucasus">How the Kremlin’s anti-corruption agenda masks federal control in the North Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus">On 25 years of postmodernity in the South Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mikail-kaplan/pressure-on-regional-languages-is-sparking-civic-activism-in-the-north-caucasus">How Russian state pressure on regional languages is sparking civic activism in the North Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/mikhail-kaplan/kumyk-people-are-still-fighting-territorial-claims">Seventy years on, the Kumyk people in Dagestan are still fighting territorial claims</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/how-real-urban-planning-could-address-the-demographic-challenge">How real urban planning could address the demographic challenge in Russia’s North Caucasus</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Denis Sokolov Russia Caucasus Tue, 28 Aug 2018 19:26:59 +0000 Denis Sokolov 119433 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The Second Chechen War: Testimony of an Eyewitness https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/abdul-itslaev/the-second-chechen-war <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Chechen journalist Abdul Itslayev lived out the Second Chechen War in his native village. Against a backdrop of rocket attacks, murder and robbery, he tried to piece together what, in fact, was happening.&nbsp;<em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/abdul-itslaev/vyzhit-v-goiskom" target="_self">RU</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 11.22.14_1.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 11.22.14_1.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="322" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Illustration by Polina Zaslavskaya. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr"><em>Note from the editors: In August 1999, Russian forces started a brutal air campaign against Chechnya, killing and forcing tens of thousands to flee. Weeks later, after a series of apartment block bombings in Russia, President Putin declared the Chechen President and parliament illegitimate, and ordered a ground invasion.</em> </p><p dir="ltr"><em>Abdul Itslayev experienced this conflict in his home village of Goiskoe, located in the Urus-Martan district, south-west of Grozny, the capital. Here we publish an excerpt of his forthcoming memoirs.&nbsp;</em></p><p dir="ltr">The second war arrived in my native village of Goiskoye on Friday 10 September, 1999. </p><p dir="ltr">There were two rounds of aerial bombing, the first at 11.30, the second at 13.30. Their targets: a television relay station and a bridge spanning the Goitinka River. Residential houses were destroyed as well. Flying fragments injured Akho Bakayev and killed old Zelimkhan Ibiyev on the spot. </p><p dir="ltr">On a road not for from the bridge, a car carrying my neighbour and teacher Mansur Eskiev and his wife and children was riddled with holes. On the second morning they all set off for Georgia, and from there to Europe.</p><p dir="ltr">My own house didn’t escape unscathed. A dozen fragments struck the roof and another flew in through a window and lodged itself in the wall. I’d built my two-room khibara (hut) the year before using materials salvaged from the ruins of my parents’ house, destroyed during the first war. My hut may have resembled a barn more than anything else, but I delighted in it as if it were a palace. Having a roof over your head is any refugee’s dream. And that’s what I was, having spent over two years homeless. </p><p dir="ltr">Fifty metres from there, on the site of the destroyed house, stood my mother’s home. Built out of used brick, it boasted a slate roof and a basement – the only one in the whole area. Neighbours would take refuge there during air raids and shelling. My mother lived with my sister and four brothers. We built this house between June and December 1996, coming in to do so from Urus-Martan, where we spent over a year living in the partially constructed house of a friend after our village was destroyed. </p><p dir="ltr">The air strikes shredded the power lines. The pumping station ceased to function in the absence of energy. We got water from the river. After it rained, the water was a mixture of sand and clay - and the sediment would fill half a bucket. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">No outsiders set foot in the village. This, everyone had decided, was Goiskoye’s fate: to be crushed by war for a second time</p><p dir="ltr">Our only connection with the outside world was an old transistor radio. Commenting on the movements of the army in Chechnya, General Manilov, representative of the Russian General Staff, would often mention Goiskoye. The strikes, he said, were being conducted against militant targets, even though there were absolutely nowhere to hide in the places he was talking about. Everything had been obliterated and bombed out back in 1996. </p><p dir="ltr">No outsiders set foot in the village. This, everyone had decided, was Goiskoye’s fate: to be crushed by war for a second time. Those who’d stayed put in the settlement numbered some four dozen people. </p><p dir="ltr">In early December, the shelling began to intensify. Military forces massed in the immediate vicinity of Urus-Martan.</p><p dir="ltr">They had missiles that detonated just above the ground, and they proved to be terrible weapons. Buildings ended up riddled top to bottom with fragments. Remaining in the village was no longer possible. Taking advantage of a window between raids, we relocated to my cousin’s place in neighbouring Alkhazurovo. Eight families holed up in the same house. Under a canopy in the yard was a dugout shelter for children and women. </p><p dir="ltr">The war, meanwhile, was following close on our heels. On the approach to Alkharzurovo, aerial strikes destroyed a Moskvich car and a motorbike being used by Salambek Soslambekov and Mumaid Gabzayev to transport some household things. Both Soslambekov and Gabzayev perished; Lom-Ali Ingayev sustained a knee injury. </p><h2 dir="ltr">The first sweeps</h2><p dir="ltr">That morning, all Alkhazurovo was talking about a column of militants.</p><p dir="ltr">Leaving Urus-Martan, they’d retreated to the Argun River gorge via Martan-chu, Goy-chu and Alkhazurovo. There were no Russian planes in the air while the column was on the move. The artillery remained silent the whole night through. We were far from the “big road” and neither heard nor saw the militants. The next morning brought more news: <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akhmed_Zakayev">Akhmed Zakayev</a> had stopped here for the night but left in the small hours and said that he’d be relocating to Georgia. </p><p dir="ltr">In the evening, a car pulled up by the gates. I came out to the car and saw Adam Gatsayev. Around three years younger than me, he’d once been my student. The period between the two wars saw him working for the village administration. He had news, and a question to ask me:</p><p dir="ltr">“Military forces have entered Urus-Martan. Representatives from three villages – Alkhazurovo, Goy-chu and Goiskoye – have been summoned there by Shamanov. Delegations will be travelling over from the first two, but we’ve no one to send. Yunus did promise but he’s old and sick. Come tomorrow he might not even be able to get up – or he might change his mind. Maybe your brother could make the journey with me?”</p><p dir="ltr">“That’s no place for my brother to be. If Yunus can’t or won’t go, I’ll go myself.”</p><p dir="ltr">After returning from Urus-Martan, Adam waited for me on the outskirts of Alkhazurovo. I squeezed my body, heavy with fatigue, into the Zhiguli. Adam told me what had happened en route: </p><p dir="ltr">“People had gathered from all over the district. Shamanov welcomed them in person. All the military men were seriously well oiled and there was a whole sea of vodka waiting to be drunk. And all this in the t mosque the Wahhabists built in the central square. Shamanov made a speech. He said that Goiskoye had given him a massive headache during the first war as well, and that now his intelligence operatives had been taken out there.”</p><p dir="ltr">“What operatives? I’ve not heard anything about this…” </p><p dir="ltr">“I understand that a Russian reconnaissance group encountered a group of militants who’d retreated from Urus-Martan. They took out an armoured personnel carrier... Shamanov promised to be in Goiskoye tomorrow at noon. The sweep will follow, whereupon the population will be able to return. That’s what Shamanov said.”</p><p dir="ltr">Vladimir Shamanov was the general who destroyed Goyskoye. Back in 1996, he’d also summoned village elders for negotiations outside Alkhazurovo and set them conditions that couldn’t be fulfilled. Then he summoned the helicopters. “At least allow the women and children to be evacuated!” they implored him. “No!” he replied.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The column was crawling along. Yards and houses were searched from top to bottom, basements and attics included. Anything that aroused the slightest suspicion was subjected to a microscopic examination</p><p dir="ltr">We, Adam and I, decided: Shamanov wouldn’t be coming tomorrow, and the sweep would commence in the morning. We needed to arrive in the village before the soldiers.</p><p dir="ltr">On the way to Goiskoye, Adam told me more about the previous day’s meeting. The district now had leaders chosen or appointed by God knows who. We too had just a single card to play: if anyone asked, we’d say we were local officials. The village streets were absolutely deserted. Adam parked the Zhiguli in my mother’s yard. Shana spent five minutes telling us about the events of the previous night– but then armoured vehicles materialised at the far end of the street, along with soldiers inching along fences.</p><p dir="ltr">We headed towards them, keeping strictly to the middle of the road. No words, no unnecessary movements. Like tin soldiers. The APCs stopped. Someone dropped to one knee and took aim at us. The butts of automatic rifles were poked into our napes, backs and stomachs: </p><p dir="ltr">“Who’re you?”</p><p dir="ltr">“Local officials. Tell your commander we’re here.” </p><p dir="ltr">Someone spoke into a walkie-talkie behind us. We were nudged onward: “Go! The commander’s at the end of the column.” The column was a good kilometre long. Before we reached the end we were stopped another dozen times, prodded with automatics, showered with profanities and sniffed by Alsatians. </p><p dir="ltr">Finally, we came upon a middle-aged military man wearing an astrakhan hat. </p><p dir="ltr">“I’m the commander of the internal troop brigade,” he said. “What did you want?”</p><p dir="ltr">“This is the first sweep. You ought to warn people, calm them down. We were expecting you at noon.”</p><p dir="ltr">“You have half an hour. Tell everyone: don’t lay a finger on my guys and I won’t lay a finger on you. I give you my word.” </p><p dir="ltr">Who had stayed put in the village? On what streets? Did they have documents or didn’t they? We were two ordinary guys, just like everyone else, we enjoyed no authority. But there was no doubt about it: people would listen to us. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 11.23.31_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 11.23.31_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="325" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Illustration by Polina Zaslavskaya. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Half an hour later we were back at the end of column. The colonel addressed us brusquely:</p><p dir="ltr">“Come with me. You’ll leave once the sweep is over. Yesterday,” he added, “they finished their inspection of Urus-Martan. 27 residents in the whole town. Would you believe it!” </p><p dir="ltr">The column was crawling along. Yards and houses were searched from top to bottom, basements and attics included. Anything that aroused the slightest suspicion was subjected to a microscopic examination. Reports and orders sounded over the walkie-talkie. Trailing two steps behind the officer, we heard someone exclaim in surprise: “Dirt-poor village, this is!” </p><p dir="ltr">The colonel glanced over at us: had we made out these words?</p><p dir="ltr">“Two years ago all this was just ruins,” said Adam. “At least there’s something here now.” </p><p dir="ltr">Another report over the radio:</p><p dir="ltr">“We’re here in the southern zone, we’ve just stopped a Moskvich with three people inside and a bloody axe and knives under the seat. We’ve roughed them up a bit…”</p><p dir="ltr">I guessed who “they” were:</p><p dir="ltr">“They’re from Urus-Martan, butcher’s sons. They’ve holed up at their uncle’s, relocated to Alkhazurovo together with us. Order them not to be beaten.”</p><p dir="ltr">“Don’t touch them until I arrive,” ordered the colonel. </p><p dir="ltr">All three were stood by the flung-open doors of the Moskvich, muddied, bruised, one of them with blood on his face. Recognising me, they addressed me by name, and I by theirs. </p><p dir="ltr">“Let them go on their way,” said the commander.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 11.24.21_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 11.24.21_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="309" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Illustration by Polina Zaslavskaya. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>This was the first and last sweep to have involved next to no bloodshed. All the subsequent ones – and, in the first year of the counter-terrorism operation, they were conducted at least two or three times monthly – featured arrests, beatings, zindans (underground prisons), fingerprinting, widespread looting.</p><p dir="ltr">The second sweep followed a different playbook. The village was blocked off to the world before sunrise: no exit, no entry. The two generals in charge of the special op – Yakov Nedobitko and Viktor Medveditskov – stationed themselves on the village’s southern outskirts, near a roadblock. Close by was the filtropunkt (“filtration point”) to which all male residents aged 12 to 65 were being herded. Later, an old quarry in the north-eastern outskirts was transformed into a filtropunkt (and fingerprinting facility) as well.</p><p dir="ltr">If the first sweep didn’t fray people’s nerves, all restraints were now cast aside: rudeness, boorishness, high-handedness... Complaints from all sides: “They confiscated this, took away that, stole this, made off with that.” </p><p dir="ltr">Even my hut was picked clean. The items taken included old notebooks, a camera, a Dictaphone, a couple of t-shirts, and a honey harvesting tent. The hives themselves weren’t touched.</p><p dir="ltr">We now faced our first “official” ransom demand: one ram. </p><p dir="ltr">A relative fleeing Chechnya had left a Mercedes in Uvais Kayev’s yard. As for the documentation and keys, he either took them with him or left them in someone’s keeping. Whose? This remained a mystery. Some military men smashed one of the windows, opened the door, combed the interior of the car. The trunk wouldn’t open, not even with the help of a crowbar. So the officer laid down a condition: “Either you cough up a ram or the car gets towed!” </p><p dir="ltr">“The old master of the house has no sheep.”</p><p dir="ltr">“There’s sheep in the village. He can buy one.” </p><p dir="ltr">Long story short: a ram took a ride in the last car involved in the special operation.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Death squads come to Urus-Martan</h2><p dir="ltr">The “federals” reported the coordinates of the mass grave site in the old quarry. Close by stood the 245th Motorised Rifle Regiment (notorious for its atrocities) and a regiment under the command of <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuri_Budanov">Colonel Yuri Budanov</a>. Even before his arrest and trial, Budanov was, how to put it, a familiar face to everyone. Everyone knew about his conflict with Khavazhi Dzhambulatov, the administration chief of the village of Tangi-chu. The colonel fought him and was beaten on more than one occasion.</p><p dir="ltr">Flash-forward to a courtroom in Rostov-on-Don in 2003. Budanov glanced at the next witness, Dzhambulatov, and asked, his voice full of anxiety: “How did you get here?” </p><p dir="ltr">“You and I are both here on your account…”</p><p dir="ltr">But this was still yet to come. Back in the present, people were angry after the bodies of 69 people had been uncovered, near Urus-Martan at the start of 2000. The anger and indignation could lead pretty much anywhere, and so the “federals” refused to honour their promise – to show people another three burial pits. </p><p dir="ltr">Most of the corpses in the mass grave had been laid out in a row, face up, and covered with tarpaulin and earth. Bodies in another mass grave discovered north-east of the village of Novye Varandy, on the banks of the Argun, had been “committed to the ground” in identical fashion. This area was within the responsibility zone of regiments stationed outside Tangi-chu. Later, corpses of residents detained in villages on the banks of the Argun were found scattered in Tangi-chu cemetery.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">In the evenings, the curfew forced the town’s denizens into their homes. The streets became the domain of forces what were soon dubbed “death squads” by local residents</p><p dir="ltr">People returned to Urus-Martan; public transport started working again, as did the market. In the afternoons, the centre was completely full. But the town was buzzing like a hive about to disgorge a swarm of bees. Not a day passed without someone being killed or kidnapped...</p><p dir="ltr">In the evenings, the curfew forced the town’s denizens into their homes. The streets became the domain of forces what were soon dubbed “death squads” by local residents. They freely bypassed roadblocks and initially didn’t even cover up the side numbers of armoured personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles or the registration marks of UAZs and Zhigulis.</p><p dir="ltr">When the victim count rose into the hundreds, the town authorities were finally able to secure the consent of the military commandant’s office to nightly patrols by (unarmed) local residents. These patrols took control of key intersections and streets, documenting and suppressing any unauthorised movements. The murders and kidnappings stopped. A week later, however, the patrol parties formed by the locals began to come under fire. They ought to have been reinforced, made capable of striking back. The military, however, had decided otherwise – and banned the townspeople from going on patrol… </p><p dir="ltr">The death squads once again became the sovereign masters of Urus-Martan after dark. Among their victims were two imams from the congregational mosque (Umar Idrisov and Hasmagomed Umalatov), officials from local government agencies and security services, old people and young people. </p><p dir="ltr">The majority of the people who were kidnapped were unaccounted for. Some were found killed, tortured to death. Their remains were most often discovered in orchards outside Urus-Martan which had gone wild in the course of two wars. </p><p dir="ltr">There were two kidnappings in Goiskoye. Abducted directly from his house, Movldi Umayev struggled free and fled… only to be struck down by machine-gun fire. Aindi Dudurkayev, too, was dragged from his home at night by unknown individuals. Is he still alive? What fate befell him after his abduction, and where did it befall him? There’s no answer. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Without light or kerosene</h2><p dir="ltr">A different situation was developing in neighbouring Goy-chu. There was a roadblock manned by Rybinsk OMON personnel on the main road to the north of the village. A motorised rifle regiment was stationed in the south, at the foot of the mountains. Meanwhile, the authorities were also putting the heat on the populace: “Your sympathies are with militants and you’re helping them out.” How exactly they were doing so remained unclear. Forget about a human slipping through the regiment’s lines – a woodland creature hadn’t a hope in hell of doing it. </p><p dir="ltr">In late February-early March, however, the bulwark was found to have a breach through which a small group of militants had made their way into the village. The group surrendered, and the military summoned the village residents to a meeting. The generals threatened to wipe the settlement from the face of the earth. But the village’s military commandant – a captain everyone knew (Volodya) – asked the generals not to call in the planes: “I have to live with these people, I have to work with them…”</p><p dir="ltr">A day or two later, people started talking about a second group of militants who’d managed to make it through the cordons. The voices of those who’d suddenly discovered a conspiracy between the military and the militants now began to make themselves heard. Quiet at first, these voices grew ever louder; the military had allegedly provided a corridor for the militants, and the latter, a detachment led by <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arbi_Barayev">Arbi Barayev</a>, advanced through it, proceeding via Goy-chu and Goiskoye. It immediately turned out that this occurred on a day when Goiskoye was subjected to yet another sweep. Having mentally reviewed its entire course, we suddenly discovered that a single empty farmstead had remained “unswept” in the village.</p><p dir="ltr">We drove down there and took a look. Footsteps from the gate led not to the house but to a cellar off to the side of it. The floor was thick with dirt left there by dozens of pairs of shoes. Who’d been hanging about here for so long – the “Barayevites” or the “sweepers”? </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 11.25.14_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/Screen Shot 2018-08-27 at 11.25.14_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="318" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Illustration by Polina Zaslavskaya. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>There was still no light, and kerosene for lamps wasn’t available. Your eyes quickly get tired in the candlelight. You could find yourself some transistor radio batteries at the Urus-Martan market and spend whole nights listening to news broadcasts on various frequencies. It was as though broadcasts out of Chechnya and about Chechnya weren’t about us at all. You sometimes heard something akin to the truth from Radio Svoboda and other foreign “voices”. </p><p dir="ltr">As for the reports on the new radio station Chechnya Svobodnaya (Free Chechnya), they were just pure fiction. Listening to them, you’d have thought we Chechens had one foot in a bright future and another in veritable ocean of bliss. According to Chechnya Svobodnaya, it was only yesterday that our children did no studying and had only ever held machine guns in their hands; and as for today, well… </p><p dir="ltr">My daughter entered Year 1 in September 1998. In September 1999, she ran home from school in tears as bombs and rockets rained down on us. Her school was housed in a prefabricated panel house allocated for that purpose by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees following the destruction of Goiskoye – and, specifically, the school – in the spring of 1996. Windows covered with polyethylene film. No light (nor would there be for another ten months). No heat (no gas, no wood, no coal). Roadside orchards and strips of forest cut down for firewood. Desks, tables, chairs all ramshackle. Teachers were mostly in Ingushetia, as refugees. Some were already in Europe...</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, Russia’s presidential elections were scheduled for 26 March 2000. The bullet-riddled school was to be used as a polling station serving the settlements of Goiskoye and Michurina, with voter lists already being compiled. </p><p dir="ltr">How to make all of this out from Moscow, to say nothing of the provinces?</p><h2 dir="ltr">Massacre in Goy-chu</h2><p dir="ltr">Daybreak brought the sounds of combat from Goy-chu.</p><p dir="ltr">The first news came a couple of hours later: something odd was happening, people were leaving their houses… </p><p dir="ltr">You could see from the Y-junction, from the roadblock that soldiers had formed a semi-circle around those people who’d managed to escape. According to two women who’d forced their way through the semi-circle, residents were cajoled and threatened back into their homes. </p><p dir="ltr">Towards evening, the denizens of Goy-chu had been convinced that the group of militants who had forced their way into the village were now neutralised and the village itself swept clean. No need to worry: federal forces were in control of the situation. The road to the village was completely blocked off. Neither Adam nor myself – nor, indeed, anyone desperate to know if their relatives were still alive – were allowed access to the settlement. </p><p dir="ltr">The din of the approaching battle floated in from Goy-chu throughout the night. Now, with the coming of morning, the village was being pounded by aerial and artillery strikes. Columns of military equipment were advancing through Goiskoye on their way to Goy-chu. At the crossroads between Alkhazurovo and Goy-chu, the carnage taking place in the latter was clearly visible: shells and rockets were tearing houses to shreds and sending plumes of smoke and fire into the sky.</p><p dir="ltr">Half a kilometre from the intersection, on the outskirts of the village, a vast crowd of men, women and children had amassed in a field. They had been encircled, and no one was allowed to leave the encirclement or to approach it. Here, at the fork in the road, the “operation’s” HQ had been set up in the military-occupied house of Visayev. Communicating through “intermediary” officers, residents of neighbouring settlements attempted to persuade the generals to release women and children from the encirclement. The generals, though, had other ideas…</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The slaughter went on for over two weeks. Abating at night, the intensity of the battles would reach a peak by noon</p><p dir="ltr">Towards lunchtime, we learned the names of dozens of Goy-chu residents who’d failed to flee the village before the aerial and artillery strikes began. Then, after lunch, information filtered through that there was neither food nor warm clothing within the encirclement. People started putting together food packages in Goiskoye and Alkhazurovo and bread was brought over from Urus-Martan.</p><p dir="ltr">In a field next to the roadblock stood a battery of regimental mortars as well as Buratino rocket launchers. They were firing over the heads of the thousands of Goy-chu residents taken hostage by the military. These people’s houses, all their possessions, the village itself – it was being destroyed before their very eyes.</p><p dir="ltr">The slaughter went on for over two weeks. Abating at night, the intensity of the battles would reach a peak by noon. Having forced their way into the village from the south via the Goitinka River gorge, the militants reached the northern outskirts almost immediately. They were negotiated with, and then, after a turning point in the situation, methodically finished off – alongside local residents who hadn’t managed to flee the village in time.</p><p dir="ltr">Corpses... There were many of them. So many, in fact, that even six months, even a year later they wouldn’t let me sleep. Images of wounds, faces, clothing kept flickering before my eyes… They were brought in, freshly searched, either by military personnel conducting a post-battle sweep or else by the funeral team of the Ministry of Emergency Situations. Clothes unbuttoned, pockets turned out, often shoeless...</p><p dir="ltr">Each corpse was photographed and filmed. Dress, appearance, approximate age, possessions – all this was recorded. Their official papers rarely turned up, and these records were supposed to help identify them. And so it frequently proved: over half of the individuals committed nameless to the ground went on to acquire names. Some were identified immediately, and relatives would either take away the corpse or bury it here, alongside the others.</p><p dir="ltr">It wasn’t only Chechens from settlements near and far who were searching for “their own” among the dead. One day a Russian general arrived:</p><p dir="ltr">“My intelligence operatives never left this village. I was informed that the corpses of some non-Muslims with wire-bound hands were brought here yesterday...”</p><p dir="ltr">“There were no such corpses here.”</p><p dir="ltr">“I’d like my guys to take a look at yesterday’s corpses.”</p><p dir="ltr">They left their weapons in the vehicle, inspected a long row of dead bodies in the cemetery – and recognised not a single one. Nor would it have been easy to do so: identifying familiar features on mutilated bodies crushed by rubble or lying for weeks under the open sky isn’t a straightforward matter. Some, the charred ones, were completely unidentifiable. A bloody mess where the face should be. Noses and ears cut off, throats slashed. There wasn’t a single elderly face.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/marina-starodubtseva/the-chechen-watcher%20">The Chechen watcher</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/abdul-itslayev/soviet-deportation-chechnya-akhmed-tsebiyev">One Chechen man’s quest for a real education</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dominik-k-cagara/chechnya-dead-europeans-are-only-news-sometimes">Chechnya: dead Europeans are only sometimes news</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/varvara-pakhomenko/russia-s-north-caucasus-lesson-in-history">Between dialogue and violence: the North Caucasus&#039;s bloody legacy</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Abdul Itslayev Russia Caucasus Tue, 28 Aug 2018 13:13:34 +0000 Abdul Itslayev 119445 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Hidden motivations: a brutal attack on a Russian Orthodox Church in Chechnya leaves questions unanswered https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/katerina-nerozhikova/hidden-motivations <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Allegations of a cover-up and improper qualification of an organised assault on an Orthodox Church in May this year have left space for conspiracy and intrigue.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-07-31 at 23.45.34.png" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="311" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Source: kavkazr.com. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Earlier this summer, the capital of Chechnya <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/19/world/europe/chechnya-church-attack-grozny.html">witnessed an attack on a Russian Orthodox Church</a>. Young gunmen entered the Grozny’s Archangel Michael Church, killing two military personnel and one worshipper while also injuring another. </p><p dir="ltr">Many theories have emerged as to what happened. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, for his part, is convinced that these “rootless scumbags” acted on “instructions issued by one of the western countries”. Many local residents, meanwhile, believe that the attack was carried out in accordance with a security services “directive”, with the attackers’ corpses planted at the scene. So-called Islamic State entered the fray as well, immediately <a href="https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-russia-chechnya-church-attack/islamic-state-claims-responsibility-for-church-attack-in-chechnya-idUKKCN1IL0NX">claiming responsibility</a> for the atrocity. </p><p dir="ltr">But while the Chechen authorities <a href="http://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/322446/">now wish to build a new Orthodox Church in Grozny</a>, no one wants to give serious consideration to another version of events: that the murders were motivated by religious and national hatred.</p><h2 dir="ltr">An unqualified attack</h2><p dir="ltr">On 19 May, four young men, armed with firearms and bladed weapons, entered the church grounds while the evening service was underway. There were around 15 people in the church and four military personnel on duty around the grounds. The wife and children of church rector Father Sergiy were also in attendance. The attackers neutralised two of the military personnel on duty at the church entrance, removing their weapons. The attack was repelled by the other two military personnel following an exchange of gunfire that continued for around 20 minutes.</p><p dir="ltr">The four attackers – twin brothers Ali and Amir Yunusov, 19, Mikail Elisultanov, also 19, and Ahmet Tsechoev, 18 – were killed during the shootout. So too were Russian military personnel Kairat Rakhmetov and Vladimir Gorskov.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-07-31 at 23.34.35.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-07-31 at 23.34.35.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="335" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Images of Russian military personnel Kairat Rakhmetov and Vladimir Gorskov, who were killed in the attack, at the main entrance to the church in Grozny. Source: kavkazr.com. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>The attack also claimed the life of one worshipper. Artyom Vshikov, who entered the church grounds a couple of minutes before the attack commenced, died of gunshot and stab wounds. The attackers also managed to injure Vshikov’s fellow worshipper Fyodor Napolnikov, a paediatric surgeon. Napolnikov and Father Sergiy kept the church door closed and prevented the attackers from getting inside. But they couldn’t prevent bullets from penetrating the walls, one wounding Napolnikov, the others damaging icons and furnishings.</p><p dir="ltr">The other worshippers – mostly elderly women – suffered no injuries but were traumatised psychologically, none more so than Galina, Father Sergiy’s wife: on hearing the gunshots, she dashed to the rescue of her children and found herself in the attackers’ sights. She managed to hide from the bullets in the basement of the church refectory.</p><p dir="ltr">Despite the fact that the attack was referred to as a terrorist attack in the press, legal proceedings were initiated only under the following two articles of the Russian Criminal Code: Article 317 (encroachment on the lives of law enforcement officers) and paragraph two of Article 105 (the murder of two or more persons). </p><h2 dir="ltr">Breaking the peace </h2><p dir="ltr">The Archangel Michael Church in Grozny is surrounded by a high unbroken fence. The entrance to the grounds looks out onto a flower park opened in honour of Chechen Women’s Day. The city centre boasts few spots suitable for a stroll – there’s Putin Avenue, there’s the square near the central mosque, and there’s the just-mentioned flower park, which teems with people (mothers with kids, school children, young people) throughout the day. </p><p dir="ltr">Chechens tend to stroll in groups – young men often walk the streets in threes or fours. So a group of inconspicuously dressed guys carrying a guitar case wouldn’t have aroused anyone’s suspicions. </p><p dir="ltr">It is understood that the attackers drove most of the way to the church in a taxi, emerging from the vehicle either at the intersection or slightly further down the road, and proceeded on foot through the flower park. The park would have been less busy than usual that lunchtime: the holy month of Ramadan had just begun and many people don’t leave their homes till evening.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/ezgif-2-a5db568bf4.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Source: kavkazr.com. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The church is a stone’s throw away from the park, with a single pedestrian crossing en route. Planters with palm trees – a big hit among tourists – line both sides of the road. </p><p dir="ltr">A two-minute walk brings you to the church grounds entrance, where you’re greeted by two green sculptures – one of a great she-bear, the other of a little bear cub. Sculptures of this ilk have recently been springing up in Moscow, and the trend quickly spread to Grozny. The bears, too, have proved popular among the city’s tourists.</p><p dir="ltr">Chechen police officers now keep watch by the entrance while others shelter from the heat in civilian cars parked nearby. Six seconded military personnel patrol the grounds, weapons at the ready. Prior to the attack, two military men usually stood outside the gate, with several others scattered throughout the grounds. They’re used to the fact that the main guests here are tourists and worshippers: older Russian women, military personnel from Khankala air base and gypsies. Locals occasionally drop by the gate as well. On a couple of occasions under Father Sergiy they entered the church itself to find out for themselves whether the interior is covered in gold. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Chechen police officers now keep watch by the entrance while others shelter from the heat in civilian cars parked nearby</p><p dir="ltr">On entering the grounds, you see the large wooden door to the church immediately in front of you. Usually this door is closed: the main entrance is on your left, just around the corner. It’s through this entrance that worshippers and tourists enter the building. The door, kept closed by Father Sergiy and paediatric surgeon Fyodor Napolnikov, saved worshippers’ lives on 19 May.</p><p dir="ltr">Going left round the church, you’ll see a small utility room in front of you. There, behind several plastic brown doors, assorted scrap materials are stored. There’s also a toilet with a washbasin and a small room for security staff. </p><p dir="ltr">Adjoining this structure is the site where the seconded military personnel are housed. Two of them died on 19 May, while two others miraculously survived.</p><p dir="ltr">Before the main entrance to the church is a small courtyard. Pheasants once lived here, and it remains home to several chickens, cats, rabbits and a dog. Sergiy and Galina’s kids often frolic here. Sergiy and Galina recently had their third child – he’s still very young and hasn’t learned to sit up on his own yet. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-07-31 at 23.28.02.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen Shot 2018-07-31 at 23.28.02.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="375" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The grave of the parishioner Artyom Vshikov, who died in the attack. Source: kavkazr.com. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>To the left of the main entrance is the refectory, its glassed section seriously damaged by bullets. Below is a basement where Galina hid from the attackers. The worshipper Artyom Vshikov could also have taken refuge there – but he dashed in the opposite direction and attempted to conceal himself between an unfinished building (abandoned after the departure of the previous priest) and the house where the church staff live. It was there that he met his end. Now he is buried to the right of the refectory. The grave was dug in the garden, just behind a sprawling fruit tree.</p><p dir="ltr">The church is absolutely riddled with bullet holes. Icons have been damaged, windows broken, the holy water tank ruptured. One bullet hit the church shop. Georgy Petrovich, who was manning the shop at the time, thankfully escaped unharmed: he was laying the wounded Fyodor Napolnikov on the ground when the bullet struck. Some of the damage has already been covered up with whitewash.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Kadyrov’s leading role </h2><p dir="ltr">Chechnya’s human rights ombudsman Nurdi Nukhazhiyev dubbed the attack on the Michael Archangel church “blasphemous, treacherous and unprecedented”. Nukhazhiyev also stressed the importance of the work of the security services, who, he claimed, arrived at the church in good time. Some of the ombudsman’s arguments are highly debatable. This attack on an Orthodox church is by no means unprecedented for the North Caucasus: only a few months ago, in mid-February, 22-year-old Khalil Khalilov <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-43105171">shot dead five worshippers</a> – all of them women – in the Church of Saint George the Victorious in Kizlyar, Dagestan.</p><p dir="ltr">So-called Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for that shooting, has declared that it carried out the Grozny attack as well. That the atrocity really was the handiwork of IS doesn’t seem likely to anyone&nbsp;– not even Ramzan Kadyrov. IS, he quipped, “has orchestrated absolutely everything that’s happening in the world, including low egg production at some random poultry farm.”</p><p dir="ltr">Kadyrov has his own version of events: in the immediate aftermath of the attack, he asserted that the militants had “received an order from one of the western countries”. Kadyrov also claims that the security services were in possession of intelligence regarding an impending attack on an important protected site. The veracity of these assertions is difficult to ascertain. But if this is indeed the case, it ought to be asked why security in and around the church was not increased.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Kadyrov also claims that the security services were in possession of intelligence regarding an impending attack on an important protected site</p><p dir="ltr">After the Kizlyar attack, unknown individuals spread rumours that the next atrocity would take place in Grozny, potentially at Easter. On the night of 8-9 April, the Archangel Michael Church held its Easter service – the congregation, as always, was vast. Not everyone can make it out to church at night, however, so the church arranged a daytime service as well, the latter even better attended than the former. &nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr">The day dawned sunny and warm. The table in the churchyard was absolutely heaped with kulichi (Orthodox Easter breads) and eggs, so much so that late arrivals had to put their baskets full of traditional festive dishes on the ground instead. Father Sergiy was in a genial mood and even gave people the chance to go up to the top of the bell tower and ring the bells.</p><p dir="ltr">Security was high indeed: the approach to the church was completely blocked off, with an initial cordon set up directly on Kadyrov Avenue. Bags and pockets were systematically searched. A second security check, no less thorough than first, was performed at the entrance to the church grounds.</p><p dir="ltr">The day passed without a single incident. If someone puts their minds to guarding a building in Chechnya, not even a fly will get in. </p><p dir="ltr">On 19 May, however, a semblance of this level of protection was created only ex post facto. “Special groups of law enforcers,” who, according to Nukhazhiyev, “prevented the armed men from entering the building,” arrived on the scene when the surviving security staff had already done their job and eliminated the assailants.</p><p dir="ltr">To document yet another “successful” special operation, the siloviki had to block off all nearby streets for several hours. Civilians were not allowed through the cordon under any pretext, and anyone caught taking pictures had their phones seized, whereupon any photographs were promptly deleted.</p><iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/-NSpvypvCes" frameborder="0" allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" allowfullscreen></iframe><p dir="ltr">The result was a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-NSpvypvCes">perfectly watchable movie</a> made in the spirit of Indian action films. Leading man Ramzan Kadyrov takes charge of a special operation to rescue the believers. Under his sensitive guidance, military men surround the church and force their way in to rescue women and children. It’s not for nothing that the first film the young Ramzan Kadyrov ever saw at the cinema was an Indian one.</p><p dir="ltr">“They just couldn’t decide what door to open for them. Eventually they opened the one that’s always locked,” says Georgy Petrovich. Fully outfitted military men were screaming “Hands up!” despite the fact that there was no one in the church but the worshippers. Because the streets were all blocked off, it was a long time before the heavy bleeding Fyodor Napolnikov could be taken away. “‘He’s dying here!’ I tell them. ‘Can’t go outside yet,’ they reply. It was God who saved him,” says Georgy Petrovich.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Another Chechnya</h2><p dir="ltr">Chechen officials of all stripes like to declare that the republic has long fostered peace and mutual understanding between representatives of all nationalities and religions.</p><p dir="ltr">The national and religious composition of Chechnya is currently rather homogeneous. In 2010, the republic’s population was over 95% ethnically Chechen, with 17 nationalities making up the remainder (ethnic Russians comprise under two percent).</p><p dir="ltr">Things were very different back in 1989, when over 25% of the population was Russian. The older generation remembers Grozny as a multinational city home to large numbers of Russians, Armenians and Jews. But they began leaving in droves in the early nineties – an outflow of people triggered by the mass ethnic cleansing practiced under President Dudayev. Chechnya’s Russian-speaking population even sent President Yeltsin a letter about the pogroms and ethnically motivated attacks going on in the region. The facts of the unfolding inter-ethnic conflicts were also documented by human rights activists from the Memorial human rights association.</p><p dir="ltr">There are currently almost no indigenous Russians living in Chechnya today. Though you might encounter a few Russians on the streets of Grozny, these are most likely to be visiting tourists or seconded military personnel stationed with their families at the military base in Khankala. The so-called Russian stanitsas (villages) of Chechnya – Naurskaya, Chervlenaya, Shelkovskaya, Assinovskaya – are populated mainly by Chechens. A total of eight churches and two chapels are registered in Chechnya. Their congregations consist of military personnel and a few Russian oldsters who had nowhere to hide from war and ethnic cleansing.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">There are currently almost no indigenous Russians living in Chechnya today</p><p dir="ltr">Irina Vasilievna (name changed) and I say our hellos in Chechen. Irina came to Grozny as a young woman. She worked at a factory not far from her house, close to the bus station. She had a husband and two sons. All three died.</p><p dir="ltr">Irina Vasilievna nearly perished herself on several occasions. One time a bomb fell in the immediate vicinity of her house, bursting a major gas pipe. Miraculously enough, there was no fire. She spent some time in a village where she was taken by a Chechen neighbour. A young Russian soldier holed up in her house for several months: some Chechens found him hiding in the forest and delivered him into the “safekeeping” of the only Russian woman they knew.</p><p dir="ltr">Several times a year, Irina Vasilievna and a small group of Russians head to the graveyard near the old cannery. More Russians can be encountered here than anywhere else: a large swathe of land very much akin to a forest accommodates some 300 Christian graves.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/IMG_2303.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Source: Ekaterina Neroznikova. </span></span></span>The group tidies up the graves of relatives and acquaintances. Their efforts, though, are a drop in the ocean. The cemetery is in a terrible state: tombstones wrecked by vandals, fences dismantled for scrap metal, wooden crosses rotting and metal ones rusting away. Visible traces of the war remain, too: surviving monuments are riddled with bullet holes and some graves are still torn up by bombs.</p><p dir="ltr">The cemetery once served as a dividing line between the militants and the Russian military. Now it’s a quiet place: ivy curls around the trees, birds tweet somewhere. The bomb craters are overgrown with weeds and filled with garbage (how it got here is anyone’s guess). There’s almost never anyone around. </p><p dir="ltr">“Well, where else would we Russians meet if not here?” Irina Vasilievna laughs when we come across her and several other Russian women on the way back from the cemetery. The women had been clearing up, and now they were walking together to the bus stop. Having recently celebrated Easter, they were discussing how this year’s service had gone. The militants’ attack on the church was still a month and a half off.</p><p dir="ltr">“What’s really scary is not so much that they’ve already attacked us as the fact that they might come back,” says Georgy Petrovich from the church shop. The Archangel Michael Church of Michael, the principal gathering spot for Grozny’s Russians, is becoming more and more like a fortified stronghold.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dominik-k-cagara/chechnya-dead-europeans-are-only-news-sometimes">Chechnya: dead Europeans are only sometimes news</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mikhail-kaplan/kumyk-people-are-still-fighting-territorial-claims">Seventy years on, the Kumyk people in Dagestan are still fighting territorial claims</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/brothers-be-careful-don-t-meet-up-with-anyone-in-grozny">“Brothers, be careful. Don’t meet up in Grozny”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/marina-starodubtseva/the-chechen-watcher%20">The Chechen watcher</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Ekaterina Neroznikova Russia Caucasus Thu, 02 Aug 2018 04:23:39 +0000 Ekaterina Neroznikova 119076 at https://www.opendemocracy.net A war for hearts and minds: how Georgian civil society is putting Abkhazia and South Ossetia back on the agenda https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/a-war-for-hearts-and-minds <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Almost 10 years on from the 2008 war, Georgian civil society – both informal and formal – is increasingly engaging in the country’s breakaway territories. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tetiana-kozak/konflikt-tleet-idet-voyna-za-umy" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/ на трассе 2_0.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Protest against Russian occupation of South Ossetia. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>There are no longer any military clashes along the demarcation lines between Georgia and Abkhazia and South Ossetia – there are now more or less established processes for crossing them, although <a href="http://agenda.ge/news/102574/eng">dozens of people are arrested on them every year</a>. Georgia’s internal problems have relegated these conflicts to the back burner. The Abkhazian issue is now 25 years old; the South Ossetian – 10 years. But when Abkhazian border guards shot and killed Giga Otkhozoriya, a citizen of Georgia, at the Khurcha-Nabakevi checkpoint in May 2016, the incident opened old wounds.</p><p dir="ltr">According to eyewitnesses, an argument developed between the 30-year old refugee from Abkhazia and the border patrol. As a result, a guard started chasing Otkhozoriya and started shooting at him by the time he was on the Georgian-controlled side of the border. The guard’s name is known, but for two years now the Georgian government has been unable to negotiate the handover of Rashid Kandji-Ogly, despite the issue having been frequently discussed in Gali, on the Abkhazian side of the unrecognised border, and during discussions in Geneva. Thus, Kandji-Ogly was eventually tried in Georgia in absentia and condemned to 14 years in prison. The Georgian authorities have also issued an international arrest warrant through Interpol. The Abkhazian de facto government initially claimed that Kandji-Ogly was being held under house arrest, but the case against him was closed in April 2017.</p><p dir="ltr">A similar tragedy took place two years later, but in another breakaway republic. In February 2018, police in the border district of Akhalgori in South Ossetia (where the district is known as Leningor) arrested Archil Tatunashvili, a Georgian citizen, for spying. He was taken to Tskhinvali (Tskhinval in South Ossetia), and a day later the authorities announced that he had died in custody. The dead man’s body was not immediately released to the Georgian authorities, and the cause of his death has never been established. The South Ossetians claim that he died of acute heart failure, but the Georgians claimed that he had been tortured and brought an in absentia charge against two South Ossetian police officers.</p><p dir="ltr">In amidst these tragedies, civil society groups are trying to put Georgia’s relationship with South Ossetia and Abkhazia at the top of the agenda.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Citizen patrols</h2><p dir="ltr">Several times a week, a dozen activists from the Georgian Strength in Unity movement drive along the country’s main motorway, displaying photos of Tatunashvili and Otkhozoriya. At the point in the road where the demarcation line with South Ossetia is just 400 metres away, they line up along the hard shoulder and unfurl Georgian flags and posters reading, “I remember August 2008” and “Russian Occupiers”, while trucks and cars honk their horns in support.</p><p dir="ltr">After last July, when South Ossetian border guards once again moved the demarcation line in the village of Berusheti in the Gori district, taking about 10 hectares away from the local residents and leaving part of the Baku-Supsa oil pipeline on the South Ossetian side, Georgian activists decided to start monitoring the situation along the whole border.</p><p dir="ltr">The de facto authorities in Tskhinvali denied seizing the land, insisting that the border signs had been installed according to the official map and that they had notified the Georgians and the OSCE about it in advance.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Граница_с_Южной_Осетией_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Граница_с_Южной_Осетией_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The border with South Ossetia. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“The patrols will be constant – this isn’t a one-off or one-week action”, David Katsarava, a well known sportsman who heads both Georgia’s National Rafting Federation and the Strength in Unity initiative said at the time. “The aim is to find Russian border guards and groups of engineers before something happens, so we can inform the international public”. As for concerns voiced in Tskhinvali about possible “acts of provocation” on the border, the movement promised that all actions would be agreed with the Interior Ministry.</p><p dir="ltr">The activists have now encountered an extra problem: the regular arrests of Georgian citizens living in the area of the demarcation line. This April, for example, Strength in Unity organised a blockade of Russian trucks and cars with Russian number plates after a local resident, 65-year-old Akakii Misireli was detained in the village of Kere, on the border with South Ossetia. Misireli was handed back to the Georgian police after paying a fine.</p><p dir="ltr">“People in border villages are just scared: they feel like they’re all alone,” Ana Sino, a student and member of Strength in Unity tells me. “‘We’re the little people: the journalists come and go but we have to live here’ – that’s what they think. We want to show and tell them that they are not alone. We come here from Tbilisi every day and talk to them.”</p><p dir="ltr">In Tbilisi, activists have also set up an “anti-occupation taxi” where customers, as well as being taken to wherever they want to go, are told about the August 2008 war. The car is also covered in barbed wire stickers, symbolising the breakaway territories, and passengers can watch videos showing the armed conflict of 2008 and speeches by Vladimir Putin.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Деоккупационное_такси_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Деоккупационное_такси_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>An “anti-occupation taxi”. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“The Russian threats shown on the videos haven’t gone away,” says Lasha Berulava, an activist and journalist.</p><p dir="ltr">“We want to bring the subject of occupation back into the headlines,” says Ana, “this is a war for hearts and minds.”</p><p dir="ltr">Activists feel that in this war, the Georgian authorities are playing into the hands of the Russian government, parroting its propaganda slogans.</p><p dir="ltr">“Our government doesn’t want to provide the public with information,” Ana tells me. “They don’t want to annoy Russia. ‘We’re just a small country,’ they say. And they don’t want to frighten the public. But people need information.”</p><p dir="ltr">Despite the supposed “normalisation of relations with Russia” announced by the ruling Georgian Dream Party, there has been no breakthrough in the rapprochement between the two countries, and diplomatic relations have still not been re-established. Georgia’s Law on Occupied Territories describes Russia as a country engaged in military occupation, and Russia’s calls to repeal the law are so far unsuccessful.</p><p dir="ltr">Ordinary Georgian citizens aren’t particularly enthusiastic about the idea of rapprochement with Russia, as is clear from recent research by the<a href="http://www.iri.org/"> International Republican Institute (IRI)</a>. In 2012, when Georgian Dream came to power, the idea of a dialogue with Russia had the fully support of 83% of the population and partial support by 11%, but this year, full support had dropped to 46% and disapproval had risen to 12%. The number of respondents who didn’t know if they supported dialogue had also increased in number, to 30% of the population.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Let’s talk</h2><p dir="ltr">Georgian civil society, as well as several politicians, are worried about Russian propaganda being spread through media and social networks. In 2016, for example, the Georgian government approved a broadcast license for Russian international channel<a href="https://www.broadbandtvnews.com/2018/04/10/ntv-plus-expand-to-georgia-as-ott-service-booms/"> NTV-PLUS</a> to operate in the country. Two years on, though, the licence was revoked after protests from opposition and civil society campaigners.</p><p dir="ltr">In Zugdidi, on the Georgian border with Abkhazia, people feel the increase in Russian propaganda very keenly. “We have Russian TV channels, and even my mother watches them,” cries Maya Pipiya, a journalist and presenter at the Atinati radio station, which promotes peace in the Zugdidi and Abkhazia. “The propaganda is directed at convincing us that Russia is our guarantor of security, although I can barely remember any stage when even good relations with Russia brought us any notable successes.”</p><p dir="ltr">On Atinati, Maya presents a Russian-language radio programme called “Points of Contact”, in which she talks about areas for concern for people on both sides of the demarcation lines. For example, farming problems – both Zugdidi and Gali depend on agriculture. The programme doesn’t cover hard politics, but engages with social issues and talks about general cultural contexts. The station also works with journalists from Sukhumi, the capital of Abkhazia, who regularly send Pipiya programmes. There are frequent disagreements over language – it’s not easy to find ways to talk about things in a way that is acceptable to listeners on both sides of the demarcation line.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Радио_Атинати_в_студии_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Радио_Атинати_в_студии_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>In the studio of Atinati radio station. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Maya has been involved in dialogue issues for a long time. Her first attempt to find common ground took place in 2009, when she created a programme called “Let’s Talk”.</p><p dir="ltr">“I wanted to know about the rising generation – how they think, how they see us. And it turns out that we can talk to one another,” says Maya, who is herself a refugee from Sukhumi. “The more time that passes, the less sensitive the new generation is about the conflict.”</p><p dir="ltr">Before 2008, Zugdidi was just a small town, but now it has the highest number of immigrants after Tbilisi. Many of them still have no home of their own and are still living in collective accommodation built by the state. At the market, there’s brisk trade between Abkhaz and the locals.</p><p dir="ltr">Anna Kochua provides aid to both refugees and other vulnerable groups. “I’m still as close to it all as I was in the first days of the war. I’m not a refugee myself, but I find it difficult to see how displaced people live. Our country has got a lot of things wrong, but Georgia wasn’t a proper country then. During the fighting, the Georgian government was in the hands of bandits,” says Kochua, who was actively involved in Georgian-Abkhazian dialogue in her student years.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“The more time passes, the less sensitive the new generation is about the conflict”</p><p dir="ltr">“The Abkhaz who were students back then are now responsible for decision-making in Abkhazia: they work in various ministries and there are ambassadors and people taking part the Geneva talks among them. They are the younger generation – they speak European languages and can express their views very easily and convincingly. I am proud of them and value them: they are people you can talk to, sit down at a table with. But I’d rather not have Russia involved. We have such a lot in common as it is, without Russia,” says Anna.</p><p dir="ltr">“But unfortunately, Russia will always be there – we couldn’t choose our geographic situation,” she adds.</p><p dir="ltr">Giga Otkhozoriya, who was killed at the Khurcha checkpoint in May 2016, was a classmate of Anna’s at school.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Bedbugs, horses and people</h2><p dir="ltr">“Both here and there – they’re all business people, not a government,” our taxi driver David complains as he drives us along the demarcation line with Abkhazia. David is also a refugee, from the Gali area, and now lives in Zugdidi. His family didn’t manage to get state housing – you need connections to get a flat quickly, he says. He spent 15 years working as a labourer on building sites in Moscow, but when he came back home, to his family, he got work as a taxi driver to make ends meet.</p><p dir="ltr">“But now there’s a bridge – (Eduard) Shevardnadze built it after the war,” David tells us, referring to Georgia’s second president. The bridge spans the Inguri River on the way to Pakhulani, the village where one of the checkpoints is between Abkhazia and the area under Georgian rule. “There used to be a pedestrian rope bridge – it was used by refugees. A lot of looting went on – people had gold and money in their pockets and they would take it. Our lot as well as the Abkhazians.</p><p dir="ltr">“I remember lots of good times, but you never forget the bad ones,” adds David, who also crossed that bridge.</p><p dir="ltr">David’s eldest daughter died in the war. There was no money for medicines – and no medicines either, for that matter. He now has just two sons, one aged 24, the other 19.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_1Хурча_закрытый_переход_где_убили_Отхозория_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_1Хурча_закрытый_переход_где_убили_Отхозория_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The closed border crossing where Gigu Otkhozoria was killed. Photo: Anastasia Magazova. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“My son is training as a professional soldier,” he tells us. “What can you do? Say there’s a war between Abkhazia and Georgia, anything could happen, a military man is better prepared. You need to know everything, if you want to go on living,” says the taxi driver.</p><p dir="ltr">We drive past a tea processing factory, in ruins since the 1990s. The economic situation was so bad then that it was taken down for its metal parts and building materials. There are hardly any tea plantations left in the region. They grow walnuts here now instead.</p><p dir="ltr">“There’s no work now,” says Tinatin Rogava, a young woman from the border village of Rukhi. “They planted nut trees instead of tea. But the nuts won’t grow, because of the beatles. We should have stuck with the tea. Life’s very hard.”</p><p dir="ltr">This is then second year that Tinatin’s family, her parents and brothers, who live in the neighbouring village of Rikhi, have had no harvest, income or work. Neither the Zugdidi nor the Gali district has been able to rid itself of the<a href="https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&amp;sl=ru&amp;u=https://taraklop.ru/klopy/mramornyj-klop/&amp;prev=search"> marble bug</a>, an infestation of which wipes out the citrus and hazelnut harvests. The bug is becoming a problem on a national scale, discussed at Georgian-Abkhazian meetings in Gali.</p><p dir="ltr">And bugs are not the only issue discussed in Gali. A few months ago, one of the main talking points was the release of Archiko and Paata Rogava, father and son. In early 2017, 59-year-old Archiko and 25-year-old Paatа were detained by Russian border guards beside the Inguri River, where they were searching for their lost horse.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Арчико_и_Паата_Рогава_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Арчико_и_Паата_Рогава_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Archiko and Paata Rogava. Photo: Anastasia Magazova. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The horse, the reason for the ten-month detention of Paata and eight-month detention of his father, is hidden in the walnut grove beside the Rogavas’ house. Their plot is the last one before the border with Abkhazia. The only thing stopping the horse escaping is a wide stream, which it can easily cross in dry weather. But now the horse’s legs are hobbled and it tramps disgruntedly on the spot.</p><p dir="ltr">The men were accused of crossing the border illegally. But the Rogavas claimed that it was not they, but the guards, who crossed the border. Paata also told the court that he was beaten and had dogs set on him during the arrest. But the Abkhazian Security Service claimed that he had “physically insulted” a guard.</p><p dir="ltr">Sitting round the big table in their modest, but hospitable home, Archiko and Paata tell us about their imprisonment. They don’t speak Russian well, so Tinatin helps with the interpreting.</p><p dir="ltr">“We had very good relations with the prison staff,” says Archiko. “The guards were all Abhaz, so there were no problems with them. They believed us when we said we hadn’t crossed the border. But the Russians didn’t believe us. I met an Abkhazian guy who had fought in 2008. He didn’t say anything bad about us. Now people in Abkhazia are saying that the war was all the fault of Shevardnadze and Gorbachev.”</p><p dir="ltr">“Abkhazians can’t do anything when there is Russia over there,” Tinatin adds.</p><p dir="ltr">“If Putin doesn’t get out of Abkhazia, there’ll soon be a war, and Abkhazia will be on our side,” says her father.</p><p dir="ltr">To release her father and brother, Tinatin planned an action on the Inguri River bridge linking Abkhazia to the area ruled by Georgia. The Rogava family organised four protests – a chain of people closed the bridge to traffic and lay down on the roadway. At the last protest, Tinatin’s sister Daredjan was arrested for resisting a police officer by knocking his cap off. Daredjan didn’t have the money to pay the fine of 250 Lari, so she spent several days in detention.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Тинатин_Рогава_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Тинатин_Рогава_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Tinatin Rogava. Photo: Anastasia Magazova. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“We did it all ourselves,” Tinatin says. “No one helps.” The men were released when the family paid a 100,000 rouble fine: all their friends and relatives helped collect the money.</p><p dir="ltr">“Because my father and brother are good people. Everybody knows and respects them. And they’re still the same,” she tells us.</p><p dir="ltr">“Now they are heroes!” I say.</p><p dir="ltr">“Well, I don’t know about that. I wouldn’t use the word ‘hero’. But fame hasn’t gone to their heads,” says Tinatin modestly.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Taking responsibility</h2><p dir="ltr">The cafe-bar beside the Khurcha-Nabakevi checkpoint is empty. The road to Abkazia is blocked by a metal mesh fence, although the buildings on the other side are visible despite the mesh and thick vegetation.</p><p dir="ltr">Irina, who works in a café in the village centre, tells me that everything has been “calm and boring” since the Abkhaz side closed the checkpoint in March 2017. Another one further down the Inguri, between the villages of Orsantiya and Otobaya, was also closed at the same time.</p><p dir="ltr">These checkpoints used to be used by the residents of Abkhazian border villages. Children crossed them to go to school; adults to buy groceries and other essentials, as well as accessing medical services. Now they have to make a 10km detour via the Inguri Bridge for everything.</p><p dir="ltr">The closure of three out of four of the checkpoints on the demarcation line between Abkhazia and Georgia was one of the election promises made by Abkhazia’s president Raul Khajimba in 2014. Residents in the Gali district protested, but the Abkhazian government claimed that the protesters were people involved in “illegal business activities” and “smugglers”, and that the checkpoints had been closed at the request of the “overwhelming majority” of the population.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Ануна_Букия_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Ануна_Букия_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="333" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Anuna Bukiya. Photo: Anastasia Magazova. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>So hundreds of people – both Gali district residents and ethnic Georgians – are now forced to cross the border by illegal means. Many of them don’t have the right papers, including Abkhazian passports, as they don’t want to lose their Georgian citizenship. Others are refugees who still have houses and agricultural land on the Abkhazian side.</p><p dir="ltr">An elderly woman leaning on sticks struggles at a barbed wire barrier; a few men help her through, pick her up in their arms and run. A young lad rolls up his trousers, a girl climbs on his back and the two wade across the river. Men and women run, one by one, across an open space towards a strip of wood – the Abkhazian border guards send a rocket flare into the sky. These are all shots from<a href="http://net.adjara.com/Movie/main?id=22652&amp;lang=0"> “I Swam across the Inguri”</a>, a documentary made by Anuna Bukiya about this unofficial to-ing and fro-ing across the demarcation line.</p><p dir="ltr">The filmmaker made this journey herself, from Georgia to Abkhazia: Bukiya wanted to go to Sukhumi to have a look at her house, which she was forced to leave at the age of four. She had a shock at the sight of her childhood home, she tells me – she was overcome by all sorts of emotions. And making the film was really important – an expression of her civil rights, a kind of activism.</p><p dir="ltr">“I wanted people from both sides to see what was actually going on,” says Anuna. She feels that people who have been involved in the peace process for so long, on both the Georgian and Abkhazian sides, have monopolised the right to information about the conflict and don’t talk about the real problems at the demarcation line.</p><p dir="ltr">The most difficult thing for Bukiya was to show her documentary on TV – she was worried about how it would be received, and what effect this would have on the people whose story it was.</p><p dir="ltr">“I realised that I needed to take responsibility for it. Otherwise things would just go on as they had done over the last 25 years,” she says. “Because nothing can get any worse than it has been and still is. The worst thing is just waiting for something unfathomable to happen, be it war or peace.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">25 years of being apart</h2><p dir="ltr">“The fact that Georgian and Abkhaz society has been living apart for too long is a very big problem,” Olesya Vartanyan, an analyst at the<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Crisis_Group"> International Crisis Group’s</a> Tbilisi office tells me. In 2008, Vartanyan covered the conflict from Tskhinvali, the capital of the breakaway Republic of South Ossetia, and her reports were published by the international press. But then she dropped journalism for peacemaking. “I’m more comfortable with myself in this role,” she says. “I can do something to change things.”.</p><p dir="ltr">According to Vartanyan, the subject of the unrecognised territories is no longer a priority for Georgia. It only makes the headlines when a serious incident occurs, such as the killings of Giga Otkhozoriya and Archil Tatunashvili. And peacemaking efforts on the Georgian side are not always welcome in Abkhazia: it was not particularly happy, for example, when in spring 2017 the EU lifted visa formalities for Georgian citizens travelling to Europe.</p><p dir="ltr">“This is definitely a new attempt by Tbilisi to entice our citizens into Georgia,” announced the Abkhazian government at the time, “and like all previous attempts it is doomed to failure. If Georgia’s leaders are genuinely concerned about Abkhazian citizens’ freedom of movement, they should abandon their policy of isolating our citizens, who are denied entry to EU countries thanks to Tbilisi’s stance.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Мост_через_Ингури_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_Мост_через_Ингури_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Bridge across the Inguri. Photo: Anastasia Magazova. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“In Tbilisi, there’s not always an idea of what is actually going on in the breakaway regions,” says Olesya Vartanyan. “For example, how much they need what is being offered here, and whether this is creating excuses that might be used by local nationalists to, for instance, close the border or put pressure on the people who are beginning to cooperate with the Georgian side.” This, Vartanyan considers, is the fundamental issue in relations between Georgia and the breakaway territories.</p><p dir="ltr">“These communities live their separate lives, and have no contact with one another,” is Vartanyan’s analysis of the situation. “After 25 years, that’s where we are.”</p><p dir="ltr"><a href="https://www.crisisgroup.org/europe-central-asia/caucasus/georgia/249-abkhazia-and-south-ossetia-time-talk-trade">A recent International Crisis Group</a> report states that although no political compromise is in sight, informal trade between Georgia and South Ossetia and Abkhazia is growing. And discussion of mutually beneficial commerce “might open up long since blocked channels of communication” between the two sides.</p><p dir="ltr">In April, the then acting Georgian PM Giorgi Kvirikashvili announced a new initiative – “A Step towards a Better Future” – designed to improve the humanitarian and socio-economic situation of people in Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region. The Tbilisi government declared that it wanted to reduce all procedures involving trade along the demarcation lines to a minimum, as well as opening education to people both within Georgia and outside its borders and giving them access to the benefits that Georgian citizens have received thanks to close relations with the EU.</p><p dir="ltr">In Sukhumi and Tskhinvali this peace initiative has been dismissed as a “PR offensive” and “a semblance of friendship”.</p><p dir="ltr">“The only step towards a better future would be for Georgia to recognise the independence of the Republic of Abkhazia and enter a real intergovernmental dialogue between our countries for the sake of stability and the prosperity of future generations,” says Abkhazia’s de facto Minister of Foreign Affairs Daur Kove. “There is no alternative to this process.”</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, in the Georgian border village of Rukhi, the shopping centre and market built in 2016 for traders from Abkhazia both stand deserted.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><em>This text is part of the Unrecognised Stories project, supported by crowdfunding platform <a href="https://www.pressstart.org/funding_sessions/10">PressStart</a>.</em></p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/neither-here-nor-there-georgian-refugees-from-abkhazia">Neither here, nor there: Georgian refugees from Abkhazia </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/turkeys-fight-against-gulen-in-south-caucasus">Turkey’s fight against Gülen in the South Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/jason-strakes/georgia-s-russian-cipher">Georgia’s Russian cipher </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mari-nikuradze/georgia-exiles-election">Georgia: the exiles’ election</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/ossetians-in-georgia-with-their-backs-to-mountains">Ossetians in Georgia, with their backs to the mountains</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Tetiana Kozak Georgia Caucasus Tue, 03 Jul 2018 08:14:22 +0000 Tetiana Kozak 118657 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Meet Atsamaz Khadikov, the man leading North Ossetia's quiet struggle for a non-toxic environment https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/the-hills-are-alive-with-the-sound-of-heavy-metal-processing <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Russia's North Caucasus region is famed for its landscapes and nature. But as this local doctor and activist tells me, there's a lot more going on behind the scenes.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-06-11_at_14.43.18_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-06-11_at_14.43.18_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="338" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Kavzinc, 1921. Source: OAO Electrozinc.</span></span></span>The story of Vladikavkaz’s Electrozinc plant goes back to the Russian Empire. It was the first place in Russia to produce electro-plated zinc on an industrial scale, and later it became the flagship of the USSR’s mining and metallurgy sector.</p><p dir="ltr">But large scale production in Vladikavkaz has inevitably been <a href="http://oc-media.org/north-ossetias-toxic-choice/">accompanied by toxic emissions</a>. Ecologists started to raise alarms in the late 1990s: a combination of clapped out equipment and obsolete technology threatened to turn not just North Ossetia into a chemical waste dump, but neighbouring republics in the North Caucasus as well. </p><p dir="ltr">Despite the fact that toxic atmospheric emissions have been documented on many occasions, and the protests that have arisen around them, the plant is still in operation. It took until 2016 for the plant’s management to announce it was closing down its zinc production and clearing the accumulated industrial waste for the first time in 70 years. As Alina Bigayeva <a href="http://oc-media.org/north-ossetias-toxic-choice/">points out</a>, Electrozinc is also North Ossetia’s largest taxpayer and investor, contributing around $5.4m to the republic’s budget in 2017.</p><p dir="ltr">I spoke to Atsamaz Khadikov, one of the leading activists in the fight for environmental protection in North Ossetia, about the prospects for the region’s ecology. A doctor by profession, Khadikov took part in a Prosecutor-General’s Office inspection of the plant in 2005. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How long has this plant been in operation?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Electrozinc has been operating under its present name since 1934. It was previously known as Kavzinc and used local raw materials, but in 1934 it began to use imported raw materials from 40 countries. It is still doing this, although they don’t admit it and insist that their raw materials are all mined locally. “Elektrocadmium” would now be a much more appropriate name.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Are the plant’s operations ever inspected?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">In April 2017, the plant’s management refused entry to its premises to the well-known environment expert Alexey Kiselev and Sergey Tsiplenkov, the head of Russian Greenpeace. They were instead shown an exhibition on the history of the Gulag and then taken to a regional government meeting about unsafe housing stock. Tsiplenkov himself told me that they only managed to request that documents relating to the plant be sent to them in Moscow. </p><p dir="ltr">It took a month and a half for anything to arrive, and another two months before we could talk about them. I asked what raw materials were being used at the plant, and it turned out that for the last few years they have been reprocessing radioactive concentrates from South Africa. </p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-06-11_at_14.40.05_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-06-11_at_14.40.05_0.png" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="332" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Atsamaz Khadikov. Source: Facebook.</span></span></span>We reported this to Mikhail Fedotov, who heads the Presidential Council for Human Rights and the Development of Civil Society, and he was supposed to pass the information on to President Putin. But back in 2010, in a conversation with the then head of North Ossetia Teymuraz Mamsurov, Putin asked whether the Ural Mining and Metallurgical Company (Electroczinc’s mother company) would be coming into operation? What could Mamsurov answer? Of course he said yes. We were protesting actively back then.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>The plant’s management insists that the waste issue is under control. What’s the real situation? </strong></p><p dir="ltr">At the end of last year, an air quality monitoring system called “SKAT” was installed in Vladikavkaz. I, along with other people involved in environmental and consumer rights organisations, was invited to the opening ceremony, which was recorded on video and by the local TV channel. I also spoke for some time, and asked, among other things, why the air monitoring instruments weren’t the same as those in operation in Moscow.</p><p dir="ltr">Boris Revich, a world-class environmental specialist from Russia’s Academy of Sciences, <a href="http://rusrep.ru/article/2014/06/10/nikel/">explained</a> that the local instruments weren’t up to scratch, especially for a city with such serious environmental pollution issues. The equipment used in Moscow is a western import that has passed “Eurotest” system scrutiny and other checks. But Vladikavkaz nonetheless decided to install the “SKAT” system, despite Revich’s advice to the contrary.</p><p dir="ltr">Over the last few years we in North Ossetia have had regular visits from various medical specialists – cardiologists, neurologists, endocrinologists – but none from toxicologists. And for some reason doctors don’t ever admit that the symptoms displayed by the local population look like the results of poisoning. Why has the Russian Ministry of Health’s chief toxicology specialist never visited us? It seems rather odd.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How has pollution from the plant changed over the recent years in terms of its effect on people’s health? </strong></p><p dir="ltr">In 2007, Electrozinc commissioned specialists to collect blood samples from children living in North Ossetia, but the results were hushed up to avoid compromising the plant’s owners. They wanted to shrink the controlled access area around the plant to a radius of 300 metres, although most similar installations have a controlled radius of one kilometre, and 15-20 years ago it was two kilometres. </p><p dir="ltr">A few years ago the plant’s laboratory decided to recultivate the ground around nursery schools. They began looking for suitably safe soil all over the republic, and indeed didn’t find any that wasn’t polluted by heavy metals. This served as the basis for an announcement by the planet’s CEO that what we had was a high background pollution level. He didn’t, however, mention the fact that the highest levels of pollution were next to the plant and the mining and enrichment works. </p><p dir="ltr">But they were working without observing hygiene and environmental norms. The whole world brought us their waste for years, and now they put everything down to “high background pollution”. That is a flagrant lie. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-06-11_at_14.44.40_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-06-11_at_14.44.40_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="326" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Installation on Nikolaev St., Vladikavkaz. Source: OAO Electrozinc.</span></span></span>There’s can’t be any objective figures for Electrozinc because there is practically no environmental monitoring service. There are structures that carry out management instructions to hide everything that has to be hidden and tart up everything else. I think the people who work in these structures get extra benefits on top of their salaries.</p><p dir="ltr">Local doctors, unfortunately, keep their mouths shut, because they can lose their jobs. And they’re not the only people reliant on the plant. If you wanted to appoint staff who would be independent of management, you would have to fire the chiefs of every public body.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What can you say about <a href="http://electrozinc.ugmk.com/ru/press/news/Since-2004%2C-the-%22Electrozinc%22-has-reduced-emissions-by-85%25/">recent announcements</a> about an alleged drop of 80% in toxic discharges over the last 13 years? </strong></p><p dir="ltr">In October 2016, the plant management <a href="http://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/290397/">announced</a> that, in the interests of environmental improvements, they had closed down the most toxic process – lead production. But at the same time they have increased production of zinc. </p><p dir="ltr">Besides producing 80% of Russia’s lead, Electrozinc also produced 40% of its cadmium, although this is more than 60 times more toxic than lead. We have more of it in our bodies and our environment here than anywhere else in Russia, and it is considered even more toxic than mercury – in other words, it is the most toxic metal of them all. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>How can you find out whether someone has been poisoned by toxic waste? </strong></p><p dir="ltr">Many people imagine that I’m an ecologist, but in fact I’m a doctor, so my main concern is the symptoms that people have. Even in people with other serious conditions, the first thing I notice is chronic cadmium and arsenic poisoning. In international classification, arsenic is considered a Group 1 carcinogen that is particularly dangerous to skin and lungs. And cadmium carries the same classification for its effect on the kidneys and prostate gland. There are also figures to show that higher cadmium content in the body increases the risk of mammary gland disorders by 21%. </p><p dir="ltr">In the 1980s, most complaints were about throat infections – a sign of sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere. Now the symptoms are different: a metallic taste in the mouth, a drying out of the mucous lining in the nose. And this suggests an increase in arsenic levels. </p><p dir="ltr">These metals all have a cumulative effect – their effect on the body increases with time. So symptoms of poisoning can develop even 30 years after a person has worked with these metals. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What medical conditions are most common in North Ossetia now?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Skin cancer. Our oncology clinic is always full to overflowing. Its director once gave an interview, and you know what she said? Our people, she claimed, spend too much time in tanning salons. I have never met anyone, woman or man, who was diagnosed with skin cancer after using a sun bed. The late ecologist Alexey Yablokov used to say that the North Caucasus had the highest incidence of cancer in the whole of Russia, and North Ossetia had the highest incidence of six kinds of cancer. He, by the way, referred to Electrozinc as a cadmium factory, after its main toxic waste product. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>What generalisations can you make on the basis of these discharges of toxic waste products into the environment and their effect on people’s health?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">There are figures that show that in 1985 there were 67.5 tonnes of toxic waste discharged, and in 2005 only 2.5 tonnes – 27 times less waste for the same level of production. Fantastic, eh? And now they tell us that waste levels are down to 800 tonnes. Well, for that, every worker, as well as the CEO, should be awarded the Nobel Prize and have gold monuments erected to them. </p><p dir="ltr">Seven or eight years ago we asked the Ministry of Health for information on the incidence of various conditions (and sometimes I could get hold of figures through unofficial channels). And here in North Ossetia, the incidence of respiratory conditions is statistically 20 times higher than the Russian average. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/38_big_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/38_big_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Embankment of the Terek. Source: Wikimapia.</span></span></span>Two years ago, three people died of flu and 13 of complications from it. Neither antiviral nor antibiotic medicines helped. And it was only in Ossetia that people died. Why did no one die anywhere else? What is this flu that only kills residents of North Ossetia? </p><p dir="ltr">We have a sick joke that’s been doing the rounds for a while: “You’ve got a gas chamber in a concentration camp. They carry one lot out, dead, then another lot. But there are four inmates still sitting inside, playing cards. Somebody asks them: ‘Where are you from? How come you’re not dead?’ And they reply, ‘We’re from Electrozinc, we’re used to it.’” That joke is 40 years old. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Does the plant’s work affect neighbouring republics? </strong></p><p dir="ltr">Of course. The rivers flow down from here. A few years ago we had a flood, and that got the ecologists from our neighbours, Chechnya and Ingushetia, worried. They could see the effects – the fish started dying off and cattle were falling sick. And even they could tell us that it was because of so-called tailing ponds – places where several million tonnes of waste from mining and enrichment works would accumulate. </p><p dir="ltr">We poison people in Ingushetia through both air and water. There’s a small river there, the Kambileyevka (a tributary of the Terek) that is considered the “deadliest” river in Russia. In May 2006, the zinc content was recorded as 898 times the normal level and the copper, 71 times the norm. In September of the same year, however, zinc levels were recorded as only 12 times the norm, which was odd, but production levels at the plant hadn’t changed over that period. In other words, staff were told to record a much lower figure. </p><p dir="ltr">A friend of mine who lives there says that nothing will grow near that river. The number of cattle has also fallen – they drink the river water. And locals are often diagnosed with cancer.</p><p dir="ltr">In Dagestan there is a professor called <a href="https://www.zin.ru/Animalia/Coleoptera/rus/abdurahm.htm">Gayirbek Abdurakhmanov</a>. He wrote in 2013 that there had been a 2000-fold increase in the zinc ion content of the waters of the Terek River in Dagestan. I was a conference in Makhachkala (the capital of Dagestan) two years ago, and asked whether there had been any improvement. What percentage of Dagestan is washed by the waters of the Terek, I asked, and was told that it was 30% of the whole republic. They hadn’t, however, measured the quality of the water. </p><p dir="ltr">There is an <a href="http://www.iwp.ru/">Institute of Water Problems</a>, which looks after the Volga. But no one is taking any notice of the Terek, although it is 600 kilometres long. </p><p dir="ltr">We have two mining and enrichment works, neither of which is operational now. But when there was a flood in the Phiagdon Gorge five years ago, something was washed down with the water and all the fish died. And these dead fish were carried downstream as far as Chechnya. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>You’re very informed about what’s happening at Electrozinc, you often organise protest action. But there doesn’t seem to be any mass movement against the plant. Why do you think this is?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">I inspected the plant for a month and a half in June 2005, and really got involved in it. I live just a kilometre from the place. When I go out onto my balcony at night I can hear it working. </p><p dir="ltr">I don’t understand why people here are so passive. In Sochi, environmentalists are campaigning around forests and dead trees. But here there are people dying, and nobody is doing anything about it.</p><p dir="ltr">A lot of people don’t realise how harmful it all is. People get the idea that everything is fine, even though many of them have cancer or diabetes. And they start believing, like people back in the superstitious Middle Ages, that it’s all a kind of voodoo, the evil eye and so on. Some of them are even well educated. </p><p dir="ltr">Residents of North Ossetia live under the weight of years-long disinformation. They look at the government, which tells them that everything is just fine. They have TV, which from time to time shows them positive stories about various ways of avoiding illness, about healthy environments… The mountains of Ossetia are beautiful to look at – that’s true. But their beauty is deceptive. The whole republic was full of factories – there were more than in any Russian city. That had to have consequences. Our generally low level of environmental awareness is a result of our being told for decades that everything was safe. </p><p dir="ltr">People in Vladikavkaz go for walks to the banks of the Terek. There is a park there, and a funfair. But everyone knows that most of the waste from the plant settles on the riverbank (a result of differences in temperature). It was always thought that living beside the river was an elite kind of thing to, and the flats are more expensive there. But the reality is the opposite. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>At the same time, we associate the Caucasus with pure mountain air, and open air leisure is being actively promoted. So are you saying that it’s not such a healthy environment as people think? </strong></p><p dir="ltr">Yes, people always associate the Caucasus with mountains, green grass and clean rivers. But none of that applies to Ossetia, Ingushetia or Chechnya. There might be a few unpolluted spots somewhere, in a more remote area, but in general everything is seriously poisoned. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>But surely some government figures are talking about the harm caused by industry?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Well, yes, occasionally Duma deputies show some signs of activity and talk about the harm caused by Electrozinc – usually before some election or other – or someone who’s had a family member die of cancer will speak out. But nothing ever changes – this activity seems to be just an act. </p><p dir="ltr">The last time the parliamentarians of North Ossetia paid any attention to the Electrozinc problem was at the beginning of this year. A committee, headed by well known local politician Djambolat Tedeyev, was set up to assess the environmental health of Vladikavkaz. So far, there has been no news of any progress. </p><p>Meanwhile, there was <a href="http://metalinfo.ru/ru/news/102254">news</a> at the end of May that the reconstruction of the plant’s sulphuric acid facility, built in the 1980s and long past its sell-by date, is almost complete. The part of the plant responsible for the highest level of air pollution will soon be back in operation.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-shevchenko/protecting-the-environment-is-becoming-a-deadly-occupation">Protecting the environment is becoming a deadly occupation in Russia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ivan-chesnokov/no-future-in-karabash">No future in Karabash, one of Russia’s most polluted towns </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia-andrei-talevlin/stop-gok-chelyabinsk-copper-enrichment-tomino">Stop GOK: how residents of Chelyabinsk are resisting plans for a new copper plant</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/russia-s-eco-activists-not-out-of-woods-yet">Russia’s eco-activists: not out of the woods yet</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-yarovaya/karelia-mining-conflict-russia">Extremists by any another name: how Karelian pensioners fought against a mining company – and won</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Ekaterina Neroznikova Green Eurasia Caucasus Mon, 25 Jun 2018 05:38:05 +0000 Ekaterina Neroznikova 118524 at https://www.opendemocracy.net How real urban planning could address the demographic challenge in Russia’s North Caucasus https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/how-real-urban-planning-could-address-the-demographic-challenge <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>As new data shows, birth rates, migration and urban planning in Russia’s North Caucasus affect the region’s politics. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/severokavkazkie-goroga-ne-gotovy-k-rostu-naseleniya" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/HqCFcLGQBAk_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/HqCFcLGQBAk_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Aleksandr Panin. Source: Vkontakte.</span></span></span>Kartfond’s recent series of maps “Demographic Trends in the North Caucasus” show that in the east of the region – Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan – the birth rate is higher and the death rate lower than average. Is this connected with local traditions, or do state programmes to stimulate childbirth work better in republics with a high unemployment rate? Does this dynamic lead to mass migration to other areas and, as a consequence, interethnic tension in the region?</p><p dir="ltr">I talked about this to Aleksandr Panin, a senior research fellow at Moscow State University’s Faculty of Geography and a managing partner of <a href="https://vk.com/kartfond">Kartfond</a>. Here, Panin analyses new maps of the region, published in February, and explains that the North Caucasus republics actually have an increasingly aging population. If the authorities are going to halt the process of youth migration, creating a more pleasant and comfortable environment in urban centres will be key.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>We are looking at charts of birth rates, death rates and the natural growth of the population in this region. How important are they?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">What you see on the table is only a small sample of our maps. But even they can show how the regions of the Caucasus vary and how difficult it is to develop a single spatial development strategy for all its different areas. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Can we trust the figures that the research is based on? Rosstat, Russia’s Statistics Agency, has often been criticised for the lack of objectivity in its published figures.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">We base our maps on municipal statistics. The demographics are accurate in terms of births and deaths, as these require the issue of official certificates. But there are a lot of questions around other figures. </p><p dir="ltr">In the first place, Rosstat took a long time to perfect its data collection processes. The agency is still a “Soviet Mammoth”, unable to adapt to reality and implement the up to date methodology we need to measure our population. Secondly, Rosstat first forgot how to count accurately and then eliminated whole categories of indicators, which are essential for managing a multiethnic region. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/_прирост_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/_прирост_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="266" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Map of natural population growth in the North Caucasus. Source: Kartfond / Facebook. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In 2001, for example, the agency stopped registering ethnicity in natural population movement. And in 2007 Rosstat lost the figures on the nationalities of people migrating. And that year was the last time that we compiled maps of ethnic-based migration: maps telling us, for example, how many ethnic Russians were leaving eastern Stavropol and what the city’s ethnic mix should look like ten years later. Now we don’t have these figures and we – researchers, experts – have to look for other sources of information: rural household registers, social networks, BigData and so on. I’ve no idea if this a good thing or not.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Can we talk about the influence of ethnic specifics on childbirth? Do areas with a population increase tend to be mono-ethnic or poly-ethnic?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">In terms of demography, the Caucasus can be divided into the wealthy east, which is multi-ethnic, and the poor west, which has a larger Russian population. But the frontier between the two is in constant movement – by 10 kilometres a year in a north-western direction, according to our calculations. Over the last 20 years we have seen a gradual change in the ethnic composition of the population. It has happened in stages. We’ve already mentioned the eastern districts of Stavropol. Now we’re looking at the large cities of the North Caucasus (including their suburbs) – Krasnodar, Stavropol and the Caucasian Mineral Spring towns. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Does this mean an increased risk of inter-ethnic conflicts? </strong></p><p dir="ltr">Of course. And no one knows how to avoid it. There’s nothing wrong with the ethnic composition of the population changing – it’s a normal process. The problem is that our local authorities are unwilling to work with people who migrate. The worst place in that regard is the east of Stavropol, but now cities in the Caucasus Mineral Spring area are also affected, especially Pyatigorsk. </p><p dir="ltr">It’s worth saying that the roots of conflict aren’t, of course always ethnic. Questions of land use in the Caucasus, for example, are <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/burning-lands-leninaul-dagestan">very badly regulated</a>, and there is hardly any transparency there. Pasture boundaries often get extended to the detriment of neighbouring landowners, for example, which can spark conflicts. So in practice they are economic clashes, not inter-ethnic ones. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/jpg_1..jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/jpg_1..jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="266" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Chart of birth rates in the North Caucasus. Source: Kartfond / Facebook. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The authorities try to stand back from the problems, sending the Cossacks in to fix them, for example. But we need to take a close look at the system of measuring migration, and develop a strategy to include migrants in urban life, to take a variety of approaches to the issue. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Is a high birth rate connected to any ethnic factors? Or do social initiatives stimulate an increase in fertility? I’m referring to “maternal capital”, the scheme to subsidise young families with one or two children. </strong></p><p dir="ltr">Ethnic reproductive traditions and government efforts over the last few years are, of course, having a positive effect on natural population movement. But we must remember that at the point when “maternal capital” kicked in (the early 2010s), people born in the 1980s, a decade with a high childbirth rate, were entering their childbearing years. And we also mustn’t forget that, in the North Caucasus, a high birth rate in the past has produced one of the highest percentages of young people in the whole of Russia. Many of them are keen to have second and third children, and this also raises the demographic figures of their home cities. </p><p dir="ltr">The demographic potential of the North Caucasus is nonetheless in decline. And it can’t go on forever supplying labour for other Russian regions, as it has done in the past. </p><p dir="ltr">We see today a totally predictable decline in the birth rate across Russia, including the North Caucasus. Each year, fewer and fewer couples choose to have a large family. The lower birth rate is already visible in North Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachayevo-Cherkessia, and there is no doubt that it will start falling in other parts of the North Caucasus. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>It is often said that an increase in prosperity is needed to improve Russia’s demographic situation. But judging by your maps, a high birth rate coincides with areas of poverty and high unemployment.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Increasing the living standards of Russians is a priority, irrespective of what demographic or other maps tell us. And that would of course have an immediate positive effect on life expectancy, the death rate and so on. But where childbearing is concerned, global, and now also Russian figures show that there is no clear correlation between income levels and birth rates. The most economically developed cities in Kuban, for example, are located in a depopulated area, as can be seen from the gradations of blue on the map below. </p><p dir="ltr">If we look at regions in Central Russia, we see a similar picture. Take the highly developed Kaluga and Belgorod regions, for example: the trends are the same. They have strong government and excellent social policies, but their population is declining before our very eyes. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Is the opposite also true – do rising living standards lead to a lower birth rate?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">There is a similar situation in Europe, where birth rates among the indigenous populations are falling like mad. But the main reason behind this is the changing role of women, a change that is also affecting us in the North Caucasus. Nowadays it’s very difficult to persuade young couples to have three or four children. And it’s not a question of benefits or lack of them, but the fact that women want to have a life outside their husband’s flat. These changes can also be seen in the eastern part of the North Caucasus – in Dagestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Can we call this process “Europeanisation”?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Yes, that demographic process is well documented. Social structures and behavioural stereotypes are changing.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Can the state do anything to halt the depopulation of the region?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">I feel that the state has a lot of room here for work and creativity. There’s nothing to stop it creating interesting new work opportunities and the user-friendly innovative environment that our young people need so badly. And wherever you get lots of young people, the marriage statistics inevitably rise – look at Krasnodar, for example. </p><p dir="ltr">We’re now at the stage where the large cities and their suburbs are madly sucking rural communities into their spheres of influence. The main beneficiaries of this are low-cost housing developers. “Urbanist ghettos” have sprung up in most flourishing cities in southern Russia – these places could be cited in architectural textbooks as good examples of how not to build houses. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/jpg_2..jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/jpg_2..jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="268" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Chart of death rates in the North Caucasus. Source: Kartfond / Facebook. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The cities of the Caucasus are still not prepared for the scale of this population migration in terms of either infrastructure or institutions. As a result, instead of gradually developing a pleasant urban environment while aiming for high standards in public services and amenities, the local authorities have surrendered to the developers (Makhachkala is a prime example). So what we get are hideous high rise housing estates that often don’t just contravene planning regulations but fly in the face of common sense. For the record: for the last 40 years, in European countries, residential buildings usually haven’t been more than seven stories high, and most development conforms to a gridiron pattern, rather than tower blocks in a park-style layout. </p><p dir="ltr">Here, it’s just the opposite. The builders have dug out extravagant blueprints conceived by Soviet architects, modified them to reduce the cost to as little as possible and are now attempting to shoehorn them into a modern cityscape. </p><p dir="ltr">But one of the functions of the Soviet city was to breed a Soviet citizen: a person who lived in one place (a dormitory suburb), worked in another (usually in an industrial zone) and took their leisure somewhere else again. Buildings were planned at a distance from one another, so that Soviet cities rarely had any mixed-use development. As a result, a Soviet citizen usually had to expend considerable time and energy on his or her commute to work, and had no decent services within walking distance from their home. The surroundings of these dormitory zones are usually ugly, unattractive, and inconvenient. And most crucially, residents can’t feel that their open space belongs to them. </p><p dir="ltr">So our cities have become inconvenient places to live: inconvenient for work, rest and play. But it’s even worse in rural areas, so even an “inconvenient city” is a magnet for the rural migrant. Although, this too loses its attraction after a time.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Do people from the Caucasus move still further away?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Yes, migration is a gradual process. People move from a village to a district centre, then to a larger town, then to their republic’s capital and eventually to Moscow, St Petersburg and so on. People living in villages and small towns lack services, both in terms of their basic needs – accessible health services, schools, shops, roads and so on – and more evolved facilities such as coffee shops, hairdressers, petrol stations etc. Everything that makes life more comfortable. Young Dagestanis can’t find these in Kizlyar, for example, so they move to Makhachkala. And if Makhachkala doesn’t have the amenities they need, they’re off to Moscow. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">It’s not yet very obvious on the maps, but the demographic situation in Dagestan is worsening</p><p dir="ltr">It’s not enough to build a factory or holiday resort and wait for the area around it to come to life on its own. You need some town planning. But the people in charge in the North Caucasus still haven’t grasped that. It’s not yet very obvious on the maps, but the demographic situation in Dagestan is worsening. The birth rate is falling and outward migration is growing, so the population’s age structure is changing. Young people are leaving. If the regional government is really worried about an aging population and demographic decline, the urban environment issue has to have the highest priority.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>There are now debates taking place over what should be developed – towns or villages. What would be better for the demographic situation?</strong></p><p dir="ltr">President Putin recently <a href="https://www.vedomosti.ru/politics/articles/2018/04/27/768170-putin-goroda">put an end</a> to all the bureaucratic wrangling over strategies for spatial development. He said: “One view is that we should develop large agglomerations, but a more appropriate approach would be to ensure that spatial development is seen in the context of transport and other infrastructure between population centres.” </p><p dir="ltr">There is in fact no contradiction between these two approaches: we need both. But we need to realise that people want to live where there is movement and scope for development. Dagestan’s mountain villages have excellent tourist potential, for instance. But the question is, how many do we develop, and which ones? There is no one to provide a considered answer. </p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Every year projects to develop the mountain areas are announced, but we haven’t noticed anything happening.</strong></p><p dir="ltr">Many investment projects initiated in the Caucasus quote grandiose figures – great statistics – but provide work for only a small number of people, and most of these have specific skills and experience. They also come from other regions, since none of the locals have the appropriate specialisations. So you end up with just a few dozen local people getting work. </p><p dir="ltr">The problem is that these cornerstone investment projects turn out in practice to be not so cornerstone as all that and have no multiplicative effect: they don’t, in other words, provide a trigger for complementary sectors. All these large projects work in a highly specific way that excludes the local populace. They are not even mentioned in the master-plans for these projects. </p><p dir="ltr">In France, for example, there are no projects for the development of ski resorts. There is, instead, a programme for mountain areas, including both villages and small towns, which are ripe for tourist development. This approach could also work for the Caucasus: first we develop the area, then the big projects will come to us. There is already a certain movement in this direction: over the last few years the North Caucasus has been improving its roads and general transport infrastructure. And it would be logical to assume that this will trigger new business opportunities. </p><p dir="ltr">In economic and investment terms, the North Caucasus is still insufficiently studied and understood, and needs the development of complex programmes to open up its potential. The Russian government is still just getting its head round the socio-economic specifics of the region and still hasn’t grasped the multiplicity of its character. For a long time, it seemed as though all the issues could be resolved via economic means – you build the factories and resorts, and everything will burst into life. But that approach failed: the problems of the North Caucasus need a much more complex solution. </p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus">On 25 years of postmodernity in the South Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/islam-tekushev/unlikely-home">An unlikely home</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/mikail-kaplan/pressure-on-regional-languages-is-sparking-civic-activism-in-the-north-caucasus">How Russian state pressure on regional languages is sparking civic activism in the North Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/svetlana-anokhina/womens-rights-in-the-north-caucasus">Women’s rights in Russia&#039;s North Caucasus: between “national traditions” and “ordinary” murders</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Ekaterina Neroznikova Cities in motion Caucasus Wed, 20 Jun 2018 12:58:25 +0000 Ekaterina Neroznikova 118452 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The media who cried wolf: how Eurasia’s autocracies use media for crisis management https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tamara-grigoryeva-and-ismail-djalilov/the-media-who-cried-wolf <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Eurasian governments’ use of journalism for crisis agenda management erodes trust in media.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/PA-35712120.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/PA-35712120.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Kemerovo's Winter Cherry shopping centre, which caught fire on 25 March, killing 64 people. Photo: Kommersant Photo Agency/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>When the Winter Cherry shopping mall in Kemerovo, Russia caught on fire on 25 March 2018, Russia’s citizens found themselves glued to televisions anxious for updates.</p><p dir="ltr">With 60 dead, among them 41 children, the fire was classified as the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/editors-of-republic/in-russia-safety-comes-cheap">second largest in Russia in recent years</a>. However, what the Russian public saw on TV wasn’t so much news updates about the conditions of the victims or condolences from president Vladimir Putin, or news of a thorough investigation into what caused the tragedy. Instead, anchormen and women, their suits pressed, their most serious masks on and hair conservatively styled, dove into demagogic tirades, highlighting the importance of national unity at a time of crisis in the face of an ephemeral enemy. “It doesn’t necessarily have to be an external enemy,” says Russian journalist Alexandrina Elagina, speaking in the aftermath of the tragedy in Kemerovo. “These could be terrorists, or ‘western partners’, or enemies of the people and the fifth column. This is where the shenanigans begin,” she adds, speaking of the punishment of the low-level officials that usually comes next, while top-tier management is left untouched.</p><p dir="ltr">But Russia’s state and pro-government media, the principle news sources available to Russian citizens across the entire country, continued their deceitful harangue on why this fire was an attack on president Putin and why the people should unite with the government against western threats, instead of questioning the authorities and expressing discontent over the handling of this crisis.</p><p dir="ltr">That the media take cues from state authorities in the immediate aftermath of a serious event or a disaster is nothing new. As Maria Tomak of the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/MediaInitiativeForHumanRights/">Media Initiative for Human Rights</a> in Kyiv recalls, one of the oldest examples, as well as the most tragic, is the Chernobyl nuclear reactor meltdown in the waning days of the Soviet Union in 1986. For days the Soviet media refused to report on the incident until after the international broadcasters broke the story.</p><p dir="ltr">Disasters, be it natural or man-made that result in loss of human life on a mass scale can cause spontaneous mass outrage and, eventually, unrest. As such, Maria Tomak says, the Chernobyl catastrophe, according to some, was one of the reasons behind the collapse of the USSR. Aware of such contingencies and seeing them as a threat to their authority, governments in Eurasia seek to prevent escalation and do so by attempting to manage media coverage in the crisis situations.&nbsp; The authorities divert public attention and anger from the real events to manufactured ones, as well as using media to divide the agenda and&nbsp;minimise the scale of the event. If that fails, the next step seems to be to blame the event on an artificially created enemy&nbsp;– be it internal (terrorism, civil war) or external (an unfriendly&nbsp;neighbour or the west.)</p><h2>The winds of negligence</h2><p dir="ltr">Media practitioners across Eurasia interviewed for this article agree that the underlying problem is often government negligence. When it results in mass catastrophes, authoritarian governments do their best to shift the blame and make sure they are in control of public reactions. In doing so, they attempt to distract the public and divert its attention from its own complicity in the unfolding events.</p><p dir="ltr">Alasgar Mammadli, a media rights lawyer from Azerbaijan, cites a few examples of clear mismanagement in this South Caucasus state, such as the deaths of more than <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-35016461">30 oil rig workers</a> due to high winds in the Caspian sea, and a&nbsp;<a href="https://www.rt.com/news/260125-azerbaijan-building-fire-fatal/">fire in a high rise</a> in Baku because of fake decorative panels that turned out to be highly flammable in 2015, the burning down of an in-patient <a href="https://tribune.com.pk/story/1649275/3-fire-kills-25-drug-treatment-centre-azerbaijan/">drug treatment facility</a> that resulted in three dozen deaths, as well as the deaths in the <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/02/conflict-erupts-between-azerbaijani-and-armenian-forces">April 2016</a>&nbsp;flare up of the ongoing conflict with Armenia. In all of these cases&nbsp;the Azerbaijani authorities first attempted to minimise the tragedy and then divert the focus to other news, which seems to be the usual modus operandi.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/get_img.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/get_img.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="258" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>At 5:40 pm on 4 December 2015, a heavy storm and high waves swept through an underwater gas pipeline on the Guneshli 10 oil platform. Photo: Meydan TV. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Lobar Islamova, editor of <a href="https://anhor.uz/">Anhor.uz</a> news site in Uzbekistan, says autocratic governments seek to portray themselves as faultless, whereas they are quite often the ones at fault. Citing the <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/uzbekistan-andijon-what-happened-and-why/27012137.html">Andijon tragedy</a>, when Uzbek security forces fatally fired on protesters in 2005, Islamova says there’s a litany of serious and uncomfortable questions regarding the government’s failure to prevent a peaceful resolution of this conflict, and in order to conceal information, autocratic governments are forced to initiate mass repressions, as it happened after the Andijon events.</p><p dir="ltr">In the immediate aftermath, the Uzbek authorities limited media access to the city, and let only those local and international (mostly, Russian pro-government) media that would support their narrative: that the crackdown was an anti-terrorism operation. To ensure the victims of the Andijon crackdown didn’t talk to independent media and reveal the truth, the authorities arrested them, and also threatened their families. “People were thrown in jail on hastily put together charges with little regard for the authenticity of the evidence… while their relatives were threatened not to disclose the arbitrary jailings to the public to avoid bringing more harm upon their arrested family members,” Islamova adds.</p><p dir="ltr">What often follows after tragedies like Andijon is an attempt to downplay the tragedy through mass media. “We see it in a systemic fashion, as the media are directly controlled by the government or the people connected to it, so the first effort is to minimise the scale of the event, to move it to the backburner to the extent possible, and switch the agenda,” says Alasgar Mammadli.</p><p dir="ltr">Mammadli notes that these attempts usually unfold on TV because these channels are precisely the ones under control. “They bring completely (irrelevant) people into the agenda,” he says, describing a notorious case when a TV host on Azerbaijan’s ATV channel, <a href="https://youtu.be/FGtqqPQc2hk">Matanat Aliverdiyeva</a>, seemed to call people not to blow the 2015 Baku apartment block fire – which resulted multiple deaths, including children – out of proportion. “This was just like the wind that’d blown over us, as if we’d watched a horror movie,” Aliverdiyeva said on her live show, pointing to the fact that the tragedy was done and over with, seemingly urging people to move on. These comments enraged a huge chunk of the Azerbaijani public, many of whom called for her dismissal.</p><p dir="ltr">Mammadli says in these situations the goal is to prevent the unifying of mass protest and directing it towards a singular&nbsp;target, and, instead, to create a number of smaller alternative targets and direct the attention there. He calls it a purposefully done, controlled process. “It’s not just a statement by someone who misspoke or said something ignorant. This is something that was planned consciously because everybody knows that at the end of the day, be it a social issue or a natural disaster, behind all of them there is either an element of corruption, or bad governance, if you look deep enough. And the protests, as the result, will be directed at the government,” he adds.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/PA-33043767.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/PA-33043767.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="310" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>After ammunition depots in Vinnytsia region catch fire, people wait near a security forces check point to be allowed to take some their belongings from abandoned homes. September 2017. Photo: NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In cases when minimising the problem doesn’t work, there’s always an internal or external enemy that could come handy. Zebo Tajibayeva, editor of the <a href="https://news.tj/">Asia Plus</a> news agency in Dushanbe, says in Tajikistan there’s a popular pro-government narrative that states that anything is better than the 1992-1997 <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/bakhtiyor-sobiri/long-echo-of-tajikistan-s-civil-war">civil war</a>. At different times, the Tajik state, and media close to it, create false narratives of neighbouring Uzbekistan as an exterior enemy, as well as painting the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-edwards/meet-tajikistan-s-embattled-islamists">Islamic Renaissance Party</a> and the former United Tajik Opposition members-turned-militants as internal enemies.</p><p dir="ltr">Maria Tomak echoes this sentiment, saying that this kind of “enemy manufacturing” narrative is well-known even in seemingly pluralistic countries like Ukraine. She cites an example of a <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-ukraine-explosions/ukraine-says-ammo-depot-explosions-huge-blow-to-combat-capability-idUSKCN1C316Z">series of explosions at military ammunition warehouses in central Ukraine</a> last year which were blamed on the Russian Federal Security Service without hesitation, while it might have been a simple result of negligence on the Ukrainian side.</p><h2>The false estate</h2><p dir="ltr">But when the media as a source of news and facts is reduced to nothing more than a trumpeter of government propaganda in former Soviet republics, their citizens no longer view these outlets and journalism as the fourth estate – one that would inform them of the true dealings of the government.</p><p dir="ltr">Zebo Tajibayeva says that in rural areas in Tajikistan, where <a href="http://www.pressreference.com/Sw-Ur/Tajikistan.html">state media are often the only sources of news</a>, there is still some trust towards them. However, she adds, in areas where populations have access to more media and alternative sources of information and fact-checking, propaganda media outlets – and the media in general – often lose their credibility.</p><p dir="ltr">Lobar Islamova says even in Uzbekistan, where access to information has for years been severely restricted, government media are treated with a grain of salt. “For years people have been calling the <a href="http://www.portalostranah.ru/view.php?id=308">Akhrobot</a>, (state TV news) program ‘News from Heaven’. But nobody believed or paid attention to them. All these state newspapers and media were able to sustain themselves till now only due to government subsidies,” she adds.</p><p dir="ltr">Tomak says that a similar trend can be observed even in a country like Ukraine, where the media scene is rather vibrant, and freedom of expression does exist. “The largest channels in terms of ratings and audience in Ukraine belong to oligarchs and industrial groups, and, therefore, we can’t talk of healthy pluralism. And while, on one hand, the media is often seen as an instrument of upholding the law, there is also apprehension that they are lying,” she says.</p><p dir="ltr">Mammadli says that in a society like his native Azerbaijan, the people “normally don’t trust the media. They know that the media do not cover its problems or realities, and instead are engaged in propaganda. In this regard, we shouldn’t lose sight of one aspect: in the modern times, social media are more effective.”</p><h2>Stop being the megaphone</h2><p>The growing appeal of social media – which are key channels in a crisis – as an alternative source of information in countries where the traditional media are regarded with mistrust or ridicule often means that the former play the role of not only preserving the “real” agenda, but also pushing it on the government-controlled media, says Mammadli. “The agenda in Azerbaijan is being set by social media, its agenda seeps into the official media one way or the other, even in counter-effective ways. For instance, in the case of a big event and its discussion in the social media, it becomes necessary (for the state) to use the traditional media in order to either to deny, condemn or ridicule it.”</p><p dir="ltr">Islamova comments that the secret of gaining back the public trust is pretty simple: “The authorities must make their work transparent, verifiable and open. The media must report the facts without the fear of persecution and being judged with extreme bias. An important factor is the money, as businesses are afraid to (advertise) in the brave media who criticize officials and the authorities.”</p><p dir="ltr">“First of all, they have to stop acting like a megaphone for the authorities,” is Tajibayeva’s solution. “The media have to learn how to make money, and their financial independence will afford them independence in other aspects, as well.”</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/gabriel-levy/break-silence-on-azerbaijan-oil-workers-deaths">Break the silence on Azerbaijan oil workers’ deaths</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/natalia-shkurenok/after-bomb-crisis-management-petersburg-style">After the bomb: crisis management in Petersburg</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-republic/in-russia-safety-comes-cheap">In Russia, safety comes cheap</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/luca-anceschi/end-of-nazarbayev-dream">The end of the Nazarbayev dream </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Ismail Djalilov Tamara Grigoryeva Ukraine Russia Caucasus Tue, 12 Jun 2018 09:35:40 +0000 Tamara Grigoryeva and Ismail Djalilov 118353 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Women’s rights in Russia's North Caucasus: between “national traditions” and “ordinary” murders https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/svetlana-anokhina/womens-rights-in-the-north-caucasus <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>How the Russian state authorities supports “national traditions” that infringe on the rights of women in the Caucasus. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/svetlana-anohina/prava-zhenzhin-na-kavkaze" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/RIAN_01277904.LR_.ru_-1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/RIAN_01277904.LR_.ru_-1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Women in Grozny, 2012. Photo: Ramil Sitdikov / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Every time the issue of women’s rights rears its head in Russia’s North Caucasus, defenders of tradition – religious and lay figures alike – solemnly declare that nowhere do women enjoy the kind of protections and respect they receive as they do here. But their slogans in no way coincide with reality, in which monstrous crimes are committed with the tacit consent of society. </p><p dir="ltr">Moreover, young people are becoming ever more conservative in their attitudes to women’s rights. And these attitudes are being endorsed by the state authorities – not only at the level of the North Caucasus republics, but at the state level as well. </p><h2 dir="ltr">“Ordinary” murders</h2><p dir="ltr">In February 2018, the European Court of Human Rights <a href="https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng#%7B%22itemid%22:[%22001-180849%22]%7D">awarded €20,000 in compensation to Khava Bopkhoyeva</a> from the village of Galashki in Ingushetia. Her daughter Zaira was 19 when she was taken to hospital and diagnosed as having been poisoned by “unknown substances”. The girl fell into a coma as a result of impaired oxygen flow to the brain. </p><p dir="ltr">A couple of months previously, Zaira had been bride-kidnapped on her way home from college. Though bride-kidnapping is banned – at least on paper – in Chechnya, it is still practised in Ingushetia and North Ossetia. The kidnapper’s mother was unhappy with her son’s choice (“But she’s divorced!”) and Zaira was returned home on the following day. Still, she ended up being married to the man who’d kidnapped her. Zaira didn’t see her husband again, however: he promptly left town, leaving Zaira with his mother and sister. The short period Zaira spent with her new family was punctuated by several trips to hospital: a previously healthy young woman, she experienced poisoning symptoms and suffered from epilepsy-like seizures. Two months later, an ambulance finally removed Zaira from her mother-in-law’s house.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-small'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/3_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="160" height="212" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_small" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Zaira Bopkhoyeva. Source: Bopkhoyev Family / Pravovoye sodeistvie - Astreya. </span></span></span>There’s a lot of unpleasant details in Zaira Bopkhoyeva’s case. Khava Bopkhoyeva, Zaira’s mother, was prevented from initiating criminal proceedings on eight occasions. Zaira herself, meanwhile, remained utterly powerless throughout: kept in her husband’s house as a prisoner, she wasn’t allowed to contact her mother and had her phone confiscated. But perhaps the most appalling detail of all is the role played by Zaira’s relatives on her late father’s side. </p><p dir="ltr">Having learnt of her abduction, seven men – individuals on whose help and support the girl could ostensibly rely – lured her out of her home and took her to a forest. </p><p dir="ltr">Subjecting Zaira to an hours-long beating, they interrogated her as to whether she and her kidnapper had been physically intimate, and eventually came to a decision: Zaira would return to the man who’d kidnapped her and become his wife. They would play no further part in her fate. Zaira is now 27. She still hasn’t come out of her coma, and no one’s been punished for what was done to her – a perfect illustration, but far from the only one, of the “respect” and “protections” accorded to women in the North Caucasus.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-small'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/_opt.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="160" height="210" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_small" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Maryam Magomedova. Source: The New Times / Magomedov Family. </span></span></span>Divorced and living with her mother in Moscow, Maryam Magomedova was lured back to her home village of Nechaevka in Dagestan on the pretext of attending her cousin’s wedding. Kusum Magomedova <a href="https://www.srji.org/news/2014/10/kizilyurtovskiy-rayonnyy-sud-dagestana-vynes-obvinitelnyy-prigovor-po-delu-ob-ubiystve-chesti-/">found her daughter’s body in a freshly dug grave</a> in the village cemetery. Maryam was killed by relatives on her father’s side. As in Zaira’s case, everyone around knew what was going on, but Maryam would have vanished without a trace had it not been for her mother’s tenacity. Violating an unspoken social contract that required her, at the very least, to remain silent, Kusum brought the matter to court.</p><p dir="ltr">Doing so, however, is often only half the battle. Lawyers representing defendants in trials on so-called <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maria-klimova-yulia-sugueva/honour-killings-in-russia-s-north-caucasus">“honour killings”</a> have begun deploying a remarkable new rhetorical strategy. The fact that their client is sitting in the dock instead of accepting congratulations merely points, they claim, to the inadequacy of the law. Consider, for example, a <a href="https://memohrc.org/ru/news/chechnya-preniya-i-prigovor-na-sude-po-ubiystvu-chesti">speech made by lawyer Ilyas Timishev</a> at the trial of Sultan Daurbekov, who confessed to murdering his daughter in 2015. Timishev wasted no time in denying the guilt of his client. Summoning the full force of his eloquence, Timishev explained that such murders are actually “a good custom”, and one “designed to protect the woman’s honour and dignity”. It’s all done for the victim’s benefit, you see: “He didn’t kill her,” said Timishev. “We ought to put it like this: he removed her from life so she wouldn’t bring shame on herself, on her father and on all her close relatives. That would be more accurate.” </p><p dir="ltr">There’s little novelty in Timishev’s arguments; the only novelty is that they’re being made by a lawyer during a criminal trial. But the general idea has long been entrenched in the public consciousness: “Woman! If you’re killed, you’ll have only yourself to blame, unmindful as you’ve been of the fact that every aspect of your existence is determined by your relatives – first by your father, your brothers, your uncles, and subsequently by your husband or even your son. You are their chattel.” And what rights are accorded to items of chattel? None: not over their own lives, nor their own bodies. </p><p dir="ltr">A few years ago, a court in Dagestan <a href="https://newtimes.ru/articles/detail/88126/">examined</a> a murder case in which the victim was a 14-year-old girl. After a days-long search, some relatives found the girl’s corpse near her home. The deceased’s father, who played an active role in the search, went to the police that same day and confessed that he’d killed the girl in a fit of anger on discovering that she was “sleeping around”. Some time later, however, new evidence emerged, and the picture completely changed. This morally upstanding father, it turned out, had raped his child over a period of two years. And when the girl finally resisted and threatened to expose his misdeeds, he grew fearful that she’d go through with her threat –&nbsp;and strangled her to death. </p><p dir="ltr">Intra-familial sexual violence is a taboo topic. And perhaps Timishev would fail to see a direct link between the existence of a “good custom that protects a woman’s honour” and incest. But once the “right to take life” and the “right to inflict violence”, physical and psychological alike, are effectively enshrined in law, the “right over a woman’s body” is very quick to materialise as well. </p><h2 dir="ltr">“National traditions”</h2><p dir="ltr">Honour killings are not a ubiquitous phenomenon, of course. But they do exist, and they’re justified on the basis of tradition, which renders any discussion around women’s rights absurd. Furthermore, there has been a recent tendency to make allowances for “national traditions” even in court, especially when it comes to post-divorce custody decisions. We’ve witnessed many cases of Ingush and Chechen women being forcibly separated from their children. So many, in fact, that one is tempted simply to focus on those where everything ended happily. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-small'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/N4XFgFixoBiLfC7rD.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="160" height="160" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_small" style=""/> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Elita Magomadova. Source: Instagram. </span></span></span>Having reviewed Elita Magomadova’s appeal, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in April 2018 that her right to family life had been violated and awarded her €15,000 in compensation for moral damages. This marks the first time that a case concerning familial relations in Chechnya has been resolved in such a senior court.</p><p dir="ltr">Elita’s son was returned to her only in 2016, three years after the boy was kidnapped and relocated from Moscow to Chechnya by her ex-husband. </p><p dir="ltr">Elita did her best to put up a fight. But the Russian court ruled again and again that the child would remain with his father. Even after the latter was killed in a road accident, his relatives still refused to give the child back to her mother. Though Elita managed to win the case following numerous legal proceedings, the court bailiffs spread their arms in a gesture of helplessness: we cannot find the child! Desperate now, Elita appealed to the ECHR, which sent an inquiry to Russia. As was to be expected, however, our country failed to recognise that any rights violation had taken place. The court’s decision not to return the kidnapped child to her mother and leave him in the care of his father’s family was explained with reference to “the national idiosyncrasies of child-rearing in Chechen families”.</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">“He didn’t kill her, we ought to put it like this: he removed her from life so she wouldn’t bring shame on herself”</p><p dir="ltr">People wishing to join the battle against “immorality”, whatever the meaning of that word, are a dime a dozen. But sometimes the participants in this battle go beyond the usual teenager users of Youtube and social media groups and include state officials. For instance, in 2016, Gadzhimet Safaraliev, the then head of the State Duma Committee for Nationality Affairs, <a href="https://regnum.ru/news/2117837.html">recommended</a> that one participant should never reveal that she was, in fact, from there. Why? Because Albina Ildarova had posed for swimsuit photos, as per the contest’s requirements. </p><p dir="ltr">“Patriarchal paradigms manifest themselves more strongly in the Caucasus than elsewhere in Russia,” Irina Kosterina, sociologist and coordinator of the Henrich Böll Foundation’s Gender Democracy initiative, explains. </p><p dir="ltr">“In certain republics, gender relations are strongly influenced by local traditions and customs that regulate social distance, interaction rituals and sometimes also people’s behaviour and appearance. Local researchers and journalists may enjoy writing about the ‘special role of women in society in the North Caucasus’, but they certainly don’t enjoy writing about the problematic side of things: washing your dirty linen in public, they believe, is a definite no-no. Men in the North Caucasus are particularly averse to the topic, regarding the slightest reference to women’s rights infringements as a potshot aimed in their collective direction and serving to undermine their reputations.” </p><h2 dir="ltr">A new generation chooses</h2><p dir="ltr">Two years ago, a group of researchers from the Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy <a href="https://etokavkaz.ru/obshchestvo/izmerit-musulmanina">conducted</a> a study of the values held by Dagestani Muslims. Troubled though Dagestan might be, 60% of respondents felt “secure”, while 85% declared themselves to be “happy” or “relatively happy”. The questionnaire also featured questions about family and relationships with children. Older people, as it turned out, were generally in favour of the idea of working women, with 90% asserting that women could work as long as they had someone to leave the children with. The equivalent percentage among the younger generation was far lower – a mere 64% – and dropped to 59% among adherents of “non-traditional Islam” (so-called Salafis). But the latter group also proved more tolerant to the idea of women taking the initiative in the search for a husband, with 33% in favour (as compared to a mere nine percent among “secularised Muslims”). </p><p dir="ltr">Respondents were also presented with a hypothetical scenario featuring a ne’er-do-well son, a straight-A daughter and a paterfamilias who can afford to educate only one of his two children. 59% of all respondents suggested that he should accord this privilege to the daughter, but only 49% of younger respondents agreed. 40% said that the daughter should be given her own say in the matter, while 19% maintained that she be married off. </p><p><iframe allow="autoplay; encrypted-media" frameborder="0" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/1sTDA9Y1Lwk" height="259" width="460"></iframe><em>In this 2016 talk show broadcast in Dagestan, young men and women voice their concerns about "women's behaviour".</em></p><p dir="ltr">That young people hold conservative attitudes towards women’s rights was also evidenced during <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1sTDA9Y1Lwk&amp;t=109s">a Dagestani talk show on the subject</a> at the time. The talk show’s interactive audience was made up of law school students, and only two of them answered in the affirmative to the question of whether “women in Dagestan have problems”. As it turned out, one of the two had misunderstood the question, while the second proved more unwavering and dug in his heels: “Yes, they do! Many girls don’t dress properly!”</p><p dir="ltr" class="mag-quote-center">On the talkshow, not a single girl answered that she’d stand up for her herself and assert her right to have her own plans and forge her own way in life</p><p dir="ltr">The discussion eventually segued into a family-versus-career debate. The girls among the student audience were asked the following question: what would you do if your other half refused to allow you to continue your studies or go into work after graduating from law school? Not a single girl answered that she’d stand up for her herself and assert her right to have her own plans and forge her own way in life. They were then asked if the very wording of the question didn’t trouble and disconcert them. Did they really believe that anyone, no matter how beloved, had the right to give them – grown adults now – consent to do anything, or to withhold that consent? Cue an awkward silence in the studio – a silence interrupted by a sonorous, girlish voice: “Yes!” “Why?” “He’s responsible for me!”</p><p dir="ltr">But “responsibility”, as men in the North Caucasus understand it, isn’t about ensuring that women feel happy and protected. It’s about ensuring that they don’t step out of line. Which entails keeping them under control. A control that can be all-encompassing. A colleague of mine – a woman who’d been working in Chechnya for a couple of months – once made an obscure quip: if a young Chechen hasn’t checked his iPhone for an hour, his sister must be married! No one got what she meant. “Well,” she explained, “if his sister’s married, it’s up to the husband to make sure she’s kept in check. But if she isn’t, any ‘upstanding’ Chechen brother will monitor her every move through her phone’s GPS.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">“A different purpose”</h2><p dir="ltr">Discussions around gender inequality tend to focus on the male-female wage gap, on “glass ceilings”, on the fact that a woman stands less chance of getting a job than a man with the same level of qualifications, and on the list of occupations from which women are legislatively barred. But in the Caucasus, this list is much broader than elsewhere, and people become acquainted with it long before they actively consider potential employment avenues. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” a five-year-old girl is asked. She answers – and confronts the reality of her world for the first time.</p><p dir="ltr">Zarina Beksalova, a teacher from Ingushetia whom I contacted for comment on this matter, didn’t confine herself to a two-sentence response. She sent me an extensive letter, and a very bitter and acerbic one. If we weren’t acquainted, I would never have believed that this young woman, who wears a hijab, could have written something of this kind. I’ll end by quoting two excerpts from Zarina’s letter, followed by her title. She insisted that I don’t omit the latter.</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">In my conversations with my students, I often tell them about the diversity of professions in the world: there are people who pick up penguins in the Arctic, marine biologists, archaeologists, animators, freelance correspondents, sailors in the navy, etc. The girls listen with great enthusiasm, ask interesting questions, express their concerns. Then someone pipes up: ‘I won’t be allowed to train as an archaeologist. I’m a girl and I have to choose a girly profession.’ She’s followed by a second girl, a third, a fourth, a tenth, all of them breaking out into bitter lamentations. </p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">Girls are barred from many occupations because they serve a ‘different purpose’. Furthermore, ‘men are smarter and stronger / women must wholly submit to the will of their families / girls haven’t the right to study abroad / women’s opinions aren’t taken into account’. A woman can be forcibly married off at any time and to whatever husband her patrilineal relatives deem appropriate. Divorce proceedings, too, can only be initiated with the permission of her family’s menfolk. In our society, a divorcee loses even the little power she wielded as an ‘innocent’ girl or as a married woman.</p><p class="blockquote-new">The absurdity of it all is encapsulated by the fact that widow, divorcee and woman of easy virtue are all rendered by a single Ingush word – zhiiro. I don’t think I really need to expand upon how hard it is to be divorced or widowed in a patriarchal society where everyone can construe the meaning of ‘zhiiro-hood’ however they please. But the time has come for us women to decide what role we are to map out for ourselves in any of the world's communities, and how (if at all) this choice is influenced by this or that status. </p><p class="blockquote-new">Zarina Beksalova, zhiiro.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/irina-kosterina/love-north-caucasus-style">Love, North Caucasus style</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/convert-and-love-russia-s-muslim-wives">Convert and love: Russia’s Muslim wives</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maria-klimova-yulia-sugueva/honour-killings-in-russia-s-north-caucasus">“Honour killings” in Russia’s North Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/stories-you-weren%E2%80%99t-meant-to-hear-women-tradition-and-powe">Stories you weren’t meant to hear: women, tradition and power in Russia’s North Caucasus </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia 50.50 oD Russia Svetlana Anokhina Human rights Caucasus Tue, 05 Jun 2018 04:08:12 +0000 Svetlana Anokhina 118220 at https://www.opendemocracy.net How Russian state pressure on regional languages is sparking civic activism in the North Caucasus https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mikail-kaplan/pressure-on-regional-languages-is-sparking-civic-activism-in-the-north-caucasus <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>New legislation that makes studying minority languages voluntary in Russian schools comes as signs of decreasing usage emerge. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mikhail-kaplan/yazik-do-moskvy-dovedet" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/img_5420_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/img_5420_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="245" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Photo: Ruslana Alibekova. Source: chernovik.net. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>According to the Presidential Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights, <a href="https://ria.ru/society/20180410/1518325059.html">a bill on the voluntary study of national languages</a> that was passed by parliament this April will have a <a href="https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/3614583">detrimental effect on inter-ethnic relations in Russia</a>. The Kremlin’s position on the question still remains unknown.</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, civic activists across the national republics of the Russian Federation are demonstrating a willingness to fight for the preservation of identity. Unexpectedly for many, national linguistic policies have provoked a wave of mobilisation.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Integral, but voluntary</h2><p dir="ltr">The draft law is the result of a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l1T4yfnKhvk">statement made by President Putin last year</a>, in which he claimed that “forcing someone to learn a non-native language is just as unacceptable as lowering the level of Russian education.” During the meeting of the Council for Cross-National Relations that took place in Yoshkar-Ola in July 2017, Putin urged the heads of the constituent entities of the Russian Federation to pay “special attention” to this issue.</p><p dir="ltr">Putin also added that, in the Russian Federation, national languages are “an integral part of indigenous culture of the country’s peoples.” He also emphasised that “the right to learn national languages is guaranteed by the Constitution, and it is a voluntary right.”</p><p dir="ltr">This statement led to a series of inspections by prosecutors in republics across the Russian Federation. North Ossetia, where <a href="https://www.kavkazr.com/a/28742061.html">Ossetian has been taught as a state language</a>, was one of them. However, at that time, Putin’s statements drew little attention in the North Caucasus. It seemed as if the region was indifferent to the fate of its languages. Tatarstan was the only region that <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/bulat-mukhamedzhanov/moscow-leaves-tatarstan-speechless">stood up against the Kremlin</a> in the fight for the fundamental rights of Russia’s federal organisation.</p><p dir="ltr">Perhaps it was this Volga republic’s “principles” that led to the North Caucasus becoming agitated by this recent bill. Social activists in North Ossetia were the first to speak out, with the Association of Teachers and Researchers of Ossetian Language and Literature <a href="http://gradus.pro/tamerlan-kambolov-poprosit-putina-zashhitit/">organising a signed appeal to the Head of State</a> in December 2017.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/23d5e3d8-7775-44b3-af83-d79744b5dd94_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/23d5e3d8-7775-44b3-af83-d79744b5dd94_0.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The lesson of the Ossetian language. Source: sevosetia.ru</span></span></span>These civic activists refer both to the Constitution of the Russian Federation and federal laws which allow individual republics to freely choose their state languages in their territories and regulate how they are studied. In their statement, the activists emphasise that “the laws that regulate the study of Ossetian as a state language of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania are based entirely on the Constitution and federal legislations.”</p><p dir="ltr">Following the example of North Ossetian activists, intellectuals and civic activists in Kabardino-Balkaria <a href="http://zapravakbr.com/index.php/30-uncategorised/1002-2015-05-18-11-13-59tr-28549231">addressed</a> the heads of the executive and legislative powers in an open letter at the end of April. The letter was published on the Kabardino-Balkarian Human Rights Centre website: “The bill proposed by the State Duma flagrantly violates the constitutional rights of the Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria [KBR], as well as those of other national republics: all of them are legal state entities that have a right of self-determination within the legal framework of Russian Federation, including the right to choose a model for preservation and development of their native languages. On that basis we categorically object to the adoption of the bill, and we demand that it be removed from the [legislative] agenda immediately because, apart from its destructive power that aims to completely obliterate national languages, it can also seriously destabilise the socio-political climate of the multinational state.”</p><p dir="ltr">The Congress of Karachai People <a href="https://vk.com/kongress_kn?z=photo-139538955_456239198%2Falbum-139538955_00%2Frev">also issued a demand to stop the bill</a> in support of the initiative of Kabardino-Balkarian civic activists. It states the following: “In accordance with the Republic Constitutions, the languages of the national republics are considered state languages. Consequently, the current legislative initiative undermines the basis of statehood in the national regions and thus should be considered as destructive. Furthermore, it can even become a factor that destabilised the cross-national relations in our country.”</p><p dir="ltr">In May, Kumyk civic activists <a href="https://www.idelreal.org/a/29218807.html">addressed</a> the members of the State Duma demanding that the bill be removed from the legislative agenda because it is “anti-people”. This was followed by the <a href="https://www.idelreal.org/a/29227865.html">similar demands</a> from the National-Cultural Autonomy of Dagestani Avars.</p><h2 dir="ltr">“A deadly threat”</h2><p dir="ltr">North Caucasus regional languages are exposed to various degrees of threat, due to different tempos of linguistic assimilation. In the eight years between Russia’s 2002 and 2008 censi, the number of Karachayevo-Balkar language speakers in Kabardino-Balkaria decreased by 10,000. In 2002, the ratio of Karachayevo-Balkar speakers in Karachayevo-Cherkessiya to the size of its population was above 101% – i.e., the language was also spoken by members of other national groups. However, by the year 2010, that ratio had <a href="https://www.kavkazr.com/a/pochemu-karachaevskogo-yazyka-net/28135339.html">dropped</a> to 93%.</p><p dir="ltr">The number of speakers of the Kabardino-Cherkessiyan language (the linguistically proper name) in Kabardino-Balkaria decreased by 68,000, and in Karachayevo-Cherkessiya the number remains unchanged, even though the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cherkess">Cherkess population</a>, a sub-group of the Circassian people, in the region has increased slightly.</p><p dir="ltr">During the same period, the number of Ossetian speakers in North Ossetia decreased by nearly 43,000. The number of <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mikhail-kaplan/kumyk-people-are-still-fighting-territorial-claims">Kumyk speakers</a> in Dagestan had decreased by almost 63,000. And the number of Avar language speakers in the same republic had dropped by nearly 80,000.</p><p dir="ltr">These numbers speak for themselves. Observations in the North Caucasus show a general tendency toward a demographic increase among all ethnic groups on the one hand, and a decrease in the number of national language speakers on the other.</p><p dir="ltr">Speaking to me, the head of Kabardino-Balkarian Human Rights Centre Valery Khatazhukov confirmed this trend: “I can claim without any exaggeration that ethnic cultures in Russia are facing a deadly threat. And this is connected first and foremost to federal-level initiatives aimed at diminishing the public and political roles native languages play in these regions.”</p><p dir="ltr">According to Khatazhukov, over the last decade the time dedicated to learning the native languages of Kabardino-Balkaria has been reduced by 50%, elementary classes that were taught in Kabardin and Balkarian languages have been closed, and native language learning in pre-school education has been gradually phased out. Khatazhukov believes that these are the causes of public outrage and criticism towards this new draft legislation on the voluntary learning of native languages.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">It should be noted that the numbers of regional language speakers were in decline even under the conditions of compulsory education</p><p dir="ltr">“While analysing the current situation, we have to face a question that is no longer rhetorical: what is to be done, and what is the role of the state in solving these problems?” Khatazhukov adds. “It might be worth remembering why the Kabardino-Balkarian Republic was established in the first place, and where it gets its name from. It received its name as a result of the self-determination of both Kabardin and Balkar peoples within Russia.”</p><p dir="ltr">Khatazhukov explains that it is not about privileging Kabarinians and Balkarians – all citizens of the republic have their rights to self-determination along with equal civil and political rights. However, within the territory of KBR, Kabardinian and Balkarian are designated as state languages, and, according to Khatazhukov, this is why learning these languages must be obligatory.</p><p dir="ltr">It should be noted that the numbers of regional language speakers were in decline even under the conditions of compulsory education. The situation is predicted to worsen after learning the state languages in the republics of the North Caucasus is made optional.</p><h2 dir="ltr">A non-standard situation</h2><p dir="ltr">Early in 2018, civic activists in the North Caucasus announced a petition against a law that initiates “the exclusion of the national-regional component” from federal education policies, and which had already been enacted in 2007. This law began to be implemented in November 2008, after the Ministry of Education and Science banned the use of native (non-Russian) languages in state examinations. In other words, native-speaking students were no longer allowed to take their final school exams. </p><p dir="ltr">The North Caucasus is now almost devoid of schools where students are taught in their region’s native language. The only school which does was recently opened in North Ossetia, though children are taught in their native languages in some rural primary schools in Dagestan. However, there are no educational institutions where a full education is carried out in regional languages in Dagestan. No such schools exist in Chechnya and Ingushetia, which are practically mono-ethnic, either.</p><p dir="ltr">In the republics of Chechnya and Ingushetia, people still use regional languages for everyday communication, which creates the impression that Vainakh ethnic groups (Chechens, Ingush and Kists) are resilient against the threats of assimilation. However, according to many sociolinguists, the absence of education, visualisation, and paperwork in native languages will eventually lead to the qualitative degradation of the latter.</p><p dir="ltr">These are the reasons why national activists are protesting against the efforts to make regional languages optional in education. Among other things, the petition above states that “the realisation of the principle of choosing a native language, or promulgation of the right to choose whether to study one’s native language, will have catastrophic consequences for all the languages and cultures of non-Russian peoples.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/37592B77-EFC9-4055-A4A9-10DEDD14ACD0_cx0_cy2_cw0_w1023_r1_s_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/37592B77-EFC9-4055-A4A9-10DEDD14ACD0_cx0_cy2_cw0_w1023_r1_s_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The number of speakers of native languages in Dagestan is steadily declining. Photo: Kavkaz.Realii. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>“If in the final school exam [EGE], the Russian language exam is obligatory, while other subjects are examined only in Russian, most of the non-Russian parents will prefer to raise their children as Russian native speakers because that would allow them to maximise the time spent on learning Russian as well as other subjects. Consequently, students who will keep studying their native languages will suffer in terms of their knowledge of Russian and their level of education in general.”</p><p dir="ltr">It would be untrue to say that regional activists are fighting for their native languages only by criticising the state powers. For example, Adygean enthusiasts (Kabardinians, Circassians, and Adygians) created their own information platform, <a href="http://circassiatv.com/">CircassiaTV</a>, which distributes various video materials in their native language.</p><p dir="ltr">Elbrussoid, the Karachayevo-Balkar foundation for the development of youth, is translating and dubbing popular animation and feature films. Alongside this, young programmers are creating educational gaming apps that help users learn the Karachayevo-Balkarian language.</p><p dir="ltr">Activists of Moscow-based Kumyk organisation Qumuqlar translated the whole interface of the social networking platform VKontakte. Now users of this popular social network are able to switch to the Kumyk language, which is rendered in Latin alphabet. The interface of this social network has been translated into other languages as well. Now users can choose between Kabardino-Circassian, Ossetian and Lezgin. Ingush, Avarian and Lak versions are now in the process of being translated as well. Some Caucasian languages lost their positions in the social network due to a lack of updates – after all, every month the VKontakte interface is updated with new words. </p><h2 dir="ltr">Governmental approach</h2><p dir="ltr">As far as Russian state’s role in popularising national cultures is concerned, it appears that the government considers regional languages to be risk factors, and is trying to get rid of them as soon as possible. However, it is precisely restrictive measures that are stimulating yet another wave of ethnic mobilisation. In this sense, language appears as an entirely new factor in the North Caucasus. Until this day, the main triggers of mobilisation were, among others, resources (for example, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/burning-lands-leninaul-dagestan">land</a>) or distribution of seats in the government.</p><p dir="ltr">The Russian government needs to rethink its linguistic policies at least for the sake of preserving stability. It is quite clear that villages, where regional languages still dominate, should use different educational approaches and even different textbooks in contrast to urban centres where knowledge of regional languages is often weak. As far as the educational system is concerned, these features must be taken into account. National activists also believe it is important to emphasise the presence of languages in the regional media.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Moscow criticises its neighbouring countries for initiating the same kind of policies towards Russian minorities</p><p dir="ltr">Furthermore, the government is not even training certified Caucasian language translators, even though the demand can be quite high–for example, when translators are needed in courts or during legal investigations involving people who prefer to be addressed in their native language. However, as things stand, only philologists and journalists get to learn these languages in universities.</p><p dir="ltr">The Russian government is applying double standards in their linguistic policies. On the one hand, we have an adoption of laws that demotivate people and create disadvantageous conditions for learning regional languages. On the other hand, Moscow criticises its neighbouring countries for initiating the same kind of policies towards Russian minorities.</p><p dir="ltr">For example, in April 2018 a Russian parliamentarian described the decision by the Latvian government to gradually transform Russian schools into Latvian ones as <a href="https://themoscowtimes.com/news/moscow-appeals-osce-latvias-genocidal-language-reforms-61157">“linguistic genocide”</a>. This statement came in the context of the very same legislative initiative about the voluntary study of regional languages. Such hypocrisy is obviously a source of public discontent.</p><p dir="ltr">Quite unexpectedly, activists in the North Caucasus, Volga, Ural and other regions are starting to demonstrate solidarity in public discourse. All of the aforementioned petitions addressed to the federal government appear to represent the last stage before the conflict escalates into street protests. In Tatarstan, the government refused nearly a dozen requests to hold marches in support of the Tatar language. Moscow will find it much more difficult to ban street protests in the North Caucasus. </p><p dir="ltr"><em>This article was translated by Tomas Čiučelis.</em></p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/If-russias-minorities-are-excluded">If Russia’s minorities are excluded from national political life, then why are they the most “loyal” on paper?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/mikhail-kaplan/kumyk-people-are-still-fighting-territorial-claims">Seventy years on, the Kumyk people in Dagestan are still fighting territorial claims</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/no-defence-in-chechnya">No defence in Chechnya: Oyub Titiyev and the grim future of human rights in Russia’s North Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/abdul-itslayev/soviet-deportation-chechnya-akhmed-tsebiyev">One Chechen man’s quest for a real education</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/bulat-mukhamedzhanov/moscow-leaves-tatarstan-speechless">Moscow leaves Tatarstan speechless</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Mikail Kaplan Education Caucasus Thu, 31 May 2018 08:10:06 +0000 Mikail Kaplan 118130 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Seventy years on, the Kumyk people in Dagestan are still fighting territorial claims https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mikhail-kaplan/kumyk-people-are-still-fighting-territorial-claims <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p dir="ltr">In Russia's North Caucasus, wartime deportations influence the complex relations between ethnic groups to this day. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mikail-kaplan/karamanskiy-protest-i-dagestanskaya-istoriya-spravedlivosti" target="_self">RU</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/imageedit_3_8652692392_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="351" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The Tarki-Karaman camp on the day of remembrance on 12 April, 2018. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>On 12 April, representatives of the Kumyk people, the largest Turkic ethnic group of the North Caucasus and the third largest of Dagestan, held a ceremony to commemorate the anniversary of the forced deportation of people living in its former Tarki district.</p><p dir="ltr">In 1944, residents of Makhachkala’s outlying villages Tarki, Kyakhulai and Alburikent, all part of the Tarkinsky district, were forcibly rounded up and re-homed in houses which had had been left empty. Their Chechen inhabitants were deported to Central Asia and Kazakhstan by the Soviet authorities two months earlier. Both the Tarki Kumyks and Dagestani Chechens have been trying to reclaim their districts ever since.</p><h2 dir="ltr">The Kumyk capital</h2><p dir="ltr">On 12 April, between 300 and 400 Kumyks gathered in a specially built mosque popularly known as the Tarki-Karaman mosque, as it’s called in the village of Karaman (“Black Stones”). Members of the older generation spoke about how the deportation took place, and a mavlid, a Muslim religious ceremony, took place. Then local leaders reminded people that the main aim of this public action in Karaman was to <a href="http://kavpolit.com/articles/tarki_karaman_kogda_gora_ne_idet_k_magomedu-6118/">restore the Tarkinsky district and revive local government there</a>.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/571e4dad8613f2044533955971c6c16e.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="277" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Tarki settlement, on the western outskirts of Makhachkala, Dagestan's capital. Source: akamaihd.net. </span></span></span>From the start, this “Karaman protest” has not been just a protest of Makhachkala’s outlying villages. Kumyk communities, in Dagestan and beyond, have expressed their solidarity with the Karaman villagers. The Kumyks formed as an ethnic group on the so-called Kumyk plain, which encompasses the low lying area and lower slopes of Dagestan’s mountainous region, as well as present-day Chechnya, Ingushetia and North Ossetia. Today’s Kumyks often associate themselves with the&nbsp;<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shamkhalate_of_Tarki">Shamkhalate of Tarki</a> and its historic capital, and now cultural centre, the village of Tarki. In the Middle Ages the Kumyks had their own feudal states, of which the Shamkhalate of Tarki was the most important. Its centre was in Tarki, where the local Tarkovski ruling dynasty lived. Both the forced resettlement of the Tarki Kumyks in 1944 and the attitude towards them of today’s Russian state has led them to believe that they are the target of concerted attempts to deprive their people of their historical memory.</p><p dir="ltr">This is one subject touched on by Khabiy Alkhanadjiyev, co-chair of the Union of Native Kumyk Communities. Alkhanadjiyev stresses the fact that it was only the Tarki communities who were deported on the orders of the Dagestan government, rather than the Soviet authorities. And, he says, the Tarki communities are the only remaining ethnic group in Dagestan to have been refused compensation by the state, which has not returned their property and possessions.</p><p dir="ltr">It is worth mentioning that the Tarki Kumyks, who were exiled to the Chechen villages Osmanyurt, Bammatyurt and Bayramayl in the Khasavyurt district, voluntarily handed their houses back to their previous owners when they began to return home in the late 1950s. What’s more, it was their local assembly, not the Dagestan authorities, who took this step.</p><p dir="ltr">“Perhaps the authorities have taken this attitude to the Tarki residents because they returned the Chechens’ houses and property, unlike the Laks of the Novolaksky district and the Avars of the Kazbekovsky district, who didn’t,” says Khabii Alkhanadjiyev. “And the Tarki Kumyks returned, after all, to an area where no one expected them and houses that were more or less destroyed. But the main thing was that they lost their land, their previously rich kolkhozes. And now their settlements don’t even have their own local authorities: they’ve turned into powerless appendages of [Dagestan’s capital] Makhachkala.”</p><p dir="ltr">The problem in Tarki is further complicated by the fact that back in the 1990s, the Dagestan government decided to resolve the land conflict between the Laks and the Chechens by allocating individual plots of land to Laks in areas that had formerly belonged to the Tarki district. Last year, the Dagestan government <a href="https://chernovik.net/content/lenta-novostey/konca-pereseleniyu-lakcev-iz-novolakskogo-rayona-eshche-ne-vidno">reported</a> that it had built more than 3,000 houses for Laks on this land.</p><p dir="ltr">The Lak community welcomed this decision from the start and <a href="http://flnka.ru/digest-analytics/7659-lakskiy-nacionalnyy-sovet-prizval-tarkincev-otkazatsya-ot-trebovaniy-peredat-im-zemli-karamana.html">called</a> on the Tarki residents to give up their claims to Karaman. Djabrail Khachilayev, a prominent social activist, declared that “The Laks must be resettled, and the sooner, the better. Half of them are already resettled in the Kumtorkalinsky district. We just have to stop cashing in on the situation and find people who are really engaged in the whole process.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2018-05-01 at 13.35.26_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="318" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Zelimkhan Valiyev at the March 2017 Emergency Congress of the Kumyk people. Source: Youtube / Atakumuk. </span></span></span>Zalikhman Valiyev, chair of the Kyakhulai Kumyk community organisation, pointed out that the Tarki group hadn’t given their consent to the Laks’ resettlement. “The residents of the Tarki settlements haven’t agreed to the Laks moving onto our historical lands, and under current legislation that is an important condition,” says Valiyev. “In this situation, the powers that be have brought municipal officials in from our villages and so legitimised the resettlement. Also, in cases like this in the Caucasus, it’s normal to also get the agreement of the clerics, and the Tarki imam has turned down the Laks’ request.”</p><p dir="ltr">The active phase of the battle of Tarki’s communities over the reconstruction of their district began in 2012, when the jamaats, religious assemblies, of the Tarki, Kyalukhai and Alburikent suburban settlements occupied the area of Karaman next to their lands (opposite the lands allocated to the Laks for new development), demanded that the Makhachkala and republic-level authorities stop the illegal sale of plots of land and created a protest camp to keep an eye on the situation (it is still functioning today). The mosque, built by the Tarki community with their own hands right in the camp, has become the symbol of the protest.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2018-05-01 at 13.28.36.png" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="284" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>21 August 2013: the conflict between the Kumyk protest camp at Karaman and law enforcement comes to a head. Source: Youtube / Targu Karaman. </span></span></span>The forms taken by the protests gradually diversified. In November 2014, for example, activists wanting to force a decision on the land issue <a href="http://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/252133/">went on a hunger strike</a>. From time to time, the camp was <a href="https://chernovik.net/content/inye-smi/v-dagestane-lidery-obshchestvennyh-sovetov-tarkinskih-poselkov-pomeshcheny-pod">subject to pressure from the authorities</a>, but neither the arrest of its leaders, nor <a href="http://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/239009/">a blockade of its perimeter by armed police</a>, nor attempts to <a href="http://rusplt.ru/society/voyna-budet-grajdanskaya-izza-etih-zemel.html">turn members of other ethnic groups</a> laying claim to the same land against the Kumyks had any effect. The “Karaman protest” astounded observers by its immunity from any provocation.</p><h2 dir="ltr">The battle for the plain</h2><p dir="ltr">The conflict over land came to a head between 2013 and 2017, when Ramazan Abdulatipov led the Republic of Dagestan. It was clear from the start that Abdulatipov had no intention of trying to resolve the issue. One of his first speeches as head of the republic was openly aimed at the protesting Kumyks. Instead of proposing a way to reach a peaceful settlement, Abdulatipov offhandedly remarked that “There are no ethnic lands here.”</p><p dir="ltr">And that wasn’t the end of it. Other speeches made by Abdulatipov <a href="http://president.e-dag.ru/novosti/v-centre-vnimaniya/r-abdulatipov-patriotizm-dolzhen-byt-v-mode">contained recriminations</a> against the Kumyks. Their leaders had been “caught” making frequent visits to Turkey, they organised congresses in Pyatigorsk and, to cap it all, the new head of Dagestan called on the FSB to pay particular attention to their leaders. In other words, Abdulatipov hinted that the Kumyks’ activism was not a natural reaction to their circumstances, but a sign of their manipulation by Turkey, a country with which they have close cultural links. This was a rather threadbare dig: the subject of “Kumyk pan-Turkists” is often used to discredit Kumyk activism in the eyes of the Kremlin.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/-тарки_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/-тарки_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Prayer in the Tarki mosque. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The land situation, meanwhile, continued to deteriorate. In the post-Soviet period, uncontrolled migration from mountain areas to the lowlands of Dagestan escalated. Regional legislation on agricultural land permitted mountain municipalities to rent pasture on the plains; however, the pastures somehow turned into entire villages: 200 ghost settlements sprang up on the Kumyk plain alone.</p><p dir="ltr">These illegal settlements also <a href="https://www.kavkazr.com/a/kumyki-postavili-abdulatipovu-ultimatum/28341794.html">somehow acquired public amenities</a>, including a gas supply. Some of them are even in a better state than the local legal villages, where the schools, hospitals and so on are in a much worse condition. In addition, the over-exploitation of land in the north of Dagestan has turned it into<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vM_OO-5jFRI"> an environmental disaster area</a> with increasing signs of desertification.</p><p dir="ltr">To add to the problems, the Kumyk population is expanding, with an almost 20% increase in numbers recorded between the last two censuses — one of the highest rates in the whole of Russia. And it’s not just overall figures that are rising: settlements in the Tarki area are also growing. There are now many families in these villages where three or more generations squeeze in under one roof, despite the fact that a “small family” of two, or rarely, three generations is now the norm among Kumyks.</p><p dir="ltr">The shortage of land is becoming critical. <a href="https://www.kavkazr.com/a/v-300-konflitnyh/28163800.html">Any plans by the Dagestan government</a> to remove land from the “Kumyk” settlements in favour, for example, of the towns are immediately shot down by the public. And even the leaders of the “Kumyk” districts frequently refuse to have anything to do with the media or public figures.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2018-05-01 at 13.49.45_1.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="331" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>March 2017, people gather at the Emergency Congress of the Kumyk people. Source: Youtube / Atatkumuk.</span></span></span>The leaders of the Karaman protest are popular among the Kumyks, so it’s logical that a new centre of the Kumyk movement is forming here. In March 2017, the Kumyks convoked an Emergency People’s Congress. This event brought together representatives from nearly all their communities, including the Karaman leaders, in response to the republican government’s intention to legalise the “ghost settlements”, which community leaders believe would lead to a reduction in the number of ethnic Kumyks in their traditional lands. After the congress, activists <a href="https://www.kavkazr.com/a/kumyki-postavili-abdulatipovu-ultimatum/28341794.html">threatened</a> to hold a referendum on Kumyk secession from Dagestan. The explanatory letter sent out by them in advance of the congress also contained a response to the government plans:</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“This (the legalisation of the “ghost settlements”) is nothing more or less than a covert prescription to officially merge the lowland areas with the mountain districts, after which the centres of population that have sprung up on the plain would be legalised and given their own local authorities.”</p><p dir="ltr">After the Kumyk protests in northern Dagestan, the Nogais, a closely related Turkic people with similar land problems were the next community to take to activism. The congress they held <a href="https://www.kavkazr.com/a/v-dagestane-nogaytsy-vystupili-protiv-zemelnoy-politiki-vlastey/28548109.html">attracted 6,000 people</a>, among them delegates from the Kumyk community.</p><p dir="ltr">This noticeable rise of public activity by two Turkic peoples, along with protests by other ethnic groups and constant complaints from Dagestanis about the uselessness of their regional government, contributed to Ramazan Abdulatipov’s forced resignation from his post as regional governor (although officially, the decision was his own).</p><h2 dir="ltr">Vasilyev’s “strong arm”</h2><p dir="ltr">The Kumyks are quick to talk about the particular discrimination they face from the Dagestani authorities. However their clans, as well as the Avars and Darghins, have traditionally held high office in Dagestan. And, according to residents of Tarki, the Kumyk clans were used by the authorities to break up the Karaman protest, which has led to the Kumyk grassroots movement <a href="http://kavpolit.com/articles/dlja_dagestanskogo_naroda_glavnoe_ne_persony_a_pri-18792/">becoming even more alienated from the clans</a>. At the same time, however, each new regional gubernatorial appointment gives Tarki residents hope that things will change.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-small'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Vladimir_Abdualievich_Vasiliev,_April_2014_(cropped)_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="160" height="167" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_small" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Vladimir Vasilyev, former chair of the Russian parliamentary committee on security, who was appointed acting head of Dagestan in October 2017. CC BY 3.0 / Premier.gov.ru. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>This is what happened when Abdulatipov was appointed, before the local population became disillusioned with him. And now it’s happening again, with the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/federal-control-in-the-north-caucasus">appointment of “strongman” Vladimir Vasilyev</a> to the post. Khabiy Alkhanadjiyev believes that the new republican head has seriously declared war on Dagestan’s clans:</p><p dir="ltr">“The new government isn’t complete yet, not all the ministers have been appointed. The main agenda is the war on corruption, arrests are continuing. Governance systems in line with the Kremlin’s requirements are being introduced; issues to do with property, gas and electric supplies and so on are being ironed out. That’s the main angle at the moment. The ethnic clans that have had a monopoly on power for many years are regrouping and settling in for a long struggle. They are trying to discredit the new administration, catch it out and use its ignorance of Dagestan’s reality to provoke mass disaffection with the new leadership.”</p><p dir="ltr">The Nogai leadership is looking at Dagestan’s new head with the same idea in mind. They recently <a href="https://www.kavkazr.com/a/nogaytsy-prosyat-vstrechi-s-vladimirom-vasilyevym/28853444.html">discussed</a> their current problems with Vladimir Vasilyev.</p><p dir="ltr">There is, however, as yet no noticeable progress in the resolution of these problems. Houses owned by supposed terrorists are still being blown up, social activists still attacked (this was what the previous regime was criticised for). Recently, for example, Sirazh Utdin, the local head of the Memorial human rights organisation was beaten up. Dagestan is still not a place where you can lead a normal life.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">The first target for Vasilyev’s “strong arm” politics wasn’t the Kumyk clans who wielded power in the area, but ordinary farmers</p><p dir="ltr">Nothing has changed for the Kumyks either. The first target for Vasilyev’s “strong arm” politics wasn’t the Kumyk clans who wielded power in the area, but ordinary farmers. On 1 April, the Department for Combating Economic Crimes held a full scale “special operation”. The villagers who experienced it reported that it was intended as a check on the papers required by people who used gas to warm their greenhouses, but that the department’s staff behaved like thugs.</p><p dir="ltr">“It’s not the first time they have burst into greenhouses without showing any orders or even introducing themselves,” <a href="https://www.instagram.com/p/BhOBxumnY2c/?taken-by=boynaq">said</a> the villagers in Ullubiiaul. “And it sometimes even happens at night. If the greenhouse owner isn’t there, they can break the lock or tear the polythene cover. The people in this village work all day in the greenhouses to earn a living and never obstruct any inspections. But what happened on 1 April can’t be seen as just an inspection by a government agency. Unknown people in jeeps and with guns burst into the greenhouses like bandits and when asked to show their ID all they said was, ‘We’re not going to explain ourselves to you; we’ll show our ID to the people who need to see it’.”</p><p dir="ltr">The local social networks are full of the news of how these “guests” falsified the evidence that they stole gas. They locked the owner in his greenhouse, attached a pipe from the street to the structure and recorded this “construction” on video. Now the greenhouse owner is threatened with a court case and possible fine of 250,000 roubles (£2,877).</p><p dir="ltr">“People asked the strangers to show their ID and introduce themselves, but they refused,” reported the local social media. “They also started a fight, pulled out their guns and started shooting, although the local police were there to protect them. It was only speedy and professional action by the Karabudakhkentsky district police that averted a mass punch-up.”</p><p dir="ltr">The local community has now drawn up a letter about the incident to the appropriate authorities. The stand-off with the government continues.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/abdul-itslayev/soviet-deportation-chechnya-akhmed-tsebiyev">One Chechen man’s quest for a real education</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/burning-lands-leninaul-dagestan">The burning land of Lenin-Aul</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/russia-regions-federalism-and-its-discontents">Russia’s regions: federalism and its discontents</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/dagestan-who-owns-women-s-bodies">Who owns women’s bodies in Dagestan?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/federal-control-in-the-north-caucasus">How the Kremlin’s anti-corruption agenda masks federal control in the North Caucasus</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Mikail Kaplan Dagestan Chechnya Caucasus Wed, 02 May 2018 05:54:45 +0000 Mikail Kaplan 117599 at https://www.opendemocracy.net How the Kremlin’s anti-corruption agenda masks federal control in the North Caucasus https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/federal-control-in-the-north-caucasus <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>But is there room for real political subjectivity between local and national corrupt power? <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/dagestan-kalmykiya-i-poryadok-vechnogo-vosvrascheniya" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/3_October_2017_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/3_October_2017_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="284" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Vladimir Vasilyev at meeting with Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin, October 3, 2017. Photo CC BY 4.0: Kremlin.ru. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Should we welcome the <a href="https://www.osw.waw.pl/en/publikacje/analyses/2018-02-14/a-purge-dagestan-ahead-russian-election">anti-corruption campaign launched by Moscow</a> in Russia’s regions? This question is no less ambiguous than this one: “Should we take part in the Russian presidential elections?” With both supporters and opponents of the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mitya-lebedev/alexey-navalnys-election-boycott">recent election boycott</a> armed equally with logical arguments, this is a hard one to answer. But the fact that the results were known in advance renders the discussion somewhat meaningless.</p><p dir="ltr">It’s a similar situation with Russia’s anti-corruption agenda. On the one hand, it’s obvious: corruption is an evil that must be eradicated by any lawful means. On the other, behind the good intentions of the Russian state lurks the ruinous prospect of a super-centralised Russian state. As with the country’s elections, Russian society is faced with the problem of its role in legitimising the methods of Kremlin rule.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Attack on the clans</h2><p dir="ltr">Vladimir Putin’s unexpected visit to Dagestan on 13 March confirmed experts’ conjectures that the appointment of Vladimir Vasilyev as acting head of the republic last October was linked, among other things, to the forthcoming presidential elections.</p><p dir="ltr">Commenting on Vasilyev’s appointment, sociologist Denis Sokolov <a href="https://www.vedomosti.ru/opinion/articles/2017/10/04/736464-prokurator-dagestana">reminded</a> us that “People Against Corruption, a party with links to the Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of Dagestan, and one that has united many oppositionists, was prevented from participating in the People’s Assembly elections of September 2016 on account of a precipitous rise in its popularity. Following the election, accusations of mass fraud were widely levelled at the authorities – untampered, the results would have been catastrophic both for (former head of Dagestan Ramazan) Abdulatipov and United Russia.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“The situation there is very challenging. Perhaps we may really lose Dagestan” </p><p dir="ltr">As per established tradition, Vasilyev kicked things off with a strident anti-corruption campaign. The months of January and February witnessed several high-profile arrests – namely, those of Makhachkala mayor Musa Musayev, the city’s chief architect Magomedrasul Gitinov, acting Dagestani prime minister Abdusamad Gamidov, his deputies Shamil Isayev and Rayudin Yusufov, and former Education Minister Shahabas Shahov. Senior officials stand accused of <a href="http://tass.ru/proisshestviya/4900383">machinations with property</a> and <a href="https://ria.ru/incidents/20180206/1514065016.html">embezzling budget funds allocated to social programmes</a>.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-medium'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Abdulatipov_R.G_0_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Abdulatipov_R.G_0_0.png" alt="" title="" width="160" height="190" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ramazan Abdulatipov. Photo CC BY 3.0: Wikipedia. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Back in 2013, Ramazan Abdulatipov, Vasilyev’s predecessor, kicked off his own reign in no less emphatic a manner. </p><p dir="ltr">Abdulatipov was appointed head of the republic in late January of that year, and less than six months later a military helicopter landed in Makhachkala’s main square – a helicopter that became a symbol of the struggle being waged by Russia’s federal centre against the regional elites. On that day, the helicopter took away the Dagestani capital’s charismatic mayor Said Amirov (nicknamed “The Immortal” by virtue of <a href="https://chernovik.net/content/inye-smi/said-bessmertnyy-kak-mer-samogo-opasnogo-goroda-rossii-perezhil-15-pokusheniy">having survived 15 assassination attempts</a> throughout his 22 years in power) and flew him to Moscow. Amirov was subsequently <a href="https://ria.ru/incidents/20160324/1396165777.html?inj=1">sentenced to life imprisonment</a> on terrorism charges.</p><p dir="ltr">In late July 2015, the <em>siloviki</em> (security forces) arrested Andrey Vinogradov, head of Dagestan’s Kizlyar district, and cordoned off the dacha of Sagid Murtazaliyev, chief of the Dagestani Pension Fund. The latter managed to escape detection and fled to the UAE. Murtazaliyev, a <a href="https://regnum.ru/news/1947895.html">close friend of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov</a> and an Olympic freestyle wrestling champion, was arrested in absentia for funding terrorism.</p><p dir="ltr">It was under Abdulatipov, too, that the criminal prosecution of Derbent mayor Imam Yaraliyev began. Meanwhile, Saigidpasha Umakhanov, mayor of Khasavyurt since 1997, was forced to quit his post and take up that of Minister of Transport, Energy and Communications in the republican government. In addition, a car accident in December 2013 claimed the life of Dagestan’s deputy prime minister Gaji Makhachev, whose journey into big politics began in the early 1990’s with the founding of the Imam Shamil Avar Popular Movement. In Abdulatipov’s own words, he “replaced 26 district heads” during his tenure in office, as well as overseeing “two changes of government”. But, as people in Dagestan <a href="https://onkavkaz.com/news/1890-ministry-abdulatipova-podayut-v-otstavku-tljaratinskii-klan-otstranjat-ot-vlasti-ozhidayutsja-p.html">believe</a>, Makhachev was also ultimately sucked into the battle of the clans.</p><h2 dir="ltr">The untouchables</h2><p dir="ltr">Well-known Caucasus expert Sergey Markedonov draws attention to the fact that the so-called clans “did not come into existence as a result of any particular North Caucasian backwardness”. Rather, Markendonov believes, they came to the fore when “complex socio-political processes took place in Dagestan without the oversight required from the state, and the republic’s secular courts and law enforcement officials were unable to guarantee people protection and security.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/_Ленину_Махачкала.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Makhachkala on Victory Data, 2015. CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikipedia. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>“Against a backdrop of remarks that ‘terrorists should be wasted in the toilet’, high-ranking officials in the Kremlin haven’t given a great deal of thought to where the funding for the Dagestani militiamen’s arms and supplies is actually coming from,” Markedonov <a href="http://caucasustimes.com/ru/sergej-markedonov-dagestan/">points out</a>. “Things were no better when it came to the ruling party’s results at both Dagestani and national elections. For instance, the precipitous decline in the fortunes of the Dagestani branch of the Communist Party, which once enjoyed considerable popularity in the republic, attracted little attention.”</p><p dir="ltr">Putin made his now-proverbial remark about “wasting terrorists in the toilet” in the wake of the bombing of Chechnya’s capital by Russian fighter planes in September 1999. Shamil Basayev and Emir Khattab’s militants had invaded Dagestan a month previously. Russian prime minister Sergey Stepashin visited the republic in August 1999 – only to tender his resignation the following day with the words: “The situation there is very challenging. Perhaps we may really lose Dagestan.” Putin was then appointed acting prime minister; he arrived in Dagestan in late August, immediately following the militants’ retreat. Fifteen years later, Ramadan Abdulatipov would <a href="http://www.mk.ru/politics/vertical-vlasti/2018/02/12/usmirenie-tatarskoy-elity-i-razgrom-dagestanskikh-klanov-obkatka-kremlevskogo-scenariya.html">say</a> that “it was here in Botlikh that Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin’s political formation got underway.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“The unrestricted war over power and money metamorphosed into a contest over posts and budgets – one circumscribed by implicit rules”</p><p dir="ltr">Indeed, it was in the fight against militant groups that a new Dagestani “elite” was formed. The above-mentioned Gaji Makhachev, Said Amirov and Saigidpasha Umakhanov came to preside over militia detachments during these challenging times for the region. Of course, they were already ambitious political players who’d earned their prestige through an occasionally bloody struggle against numerous opponents. But in the years since the juncture <a href="https://www.riadagestan.ru/news/society/avgust_sentyabr_1999_goda_uroki_muzhestva/">described</a> by Putin as “the beginning of the resurgence of state power [gosudarstvennost’] and the country’s authority,” the means of actualising the reputational capital of <a href="https://www.astrakhan.kp.ru/daily/26235.7/3117371/">“Putin’s foot soldiers”</a> in the North Caucasus have changed. Indeed, in the Caucasus, they have become associated with statehood itself. </p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/_С._Д_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/_С._Д_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="434" height="272" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Said Amirov. Source: Wikipedia.</span></span></span>“The unrestricted war over power and money metamorphosed into a contest over posts and budgets – one circumscribed by implicit rules,” this is how Denis Sokolov <a href="https://republic.ru/posts/89621?code=4862a384741e925b19ca802925bdc1d4">describes</a> the early 2000s in Dagestan. “‘Noble robbery’, property seizures, caviar poaching and kidnapping gave way to the management of infrastructural enterprises, pension funds, social and medical services, funds from the Russian Agricultural Bank, and administering the allocation of land for development.” </p><p dir="ltr">In other words, criminal entrepreneurship became legitimate and institutionalised in Dagestan.</p><h2 dir="ltr">The unbearability of Samsara</h2><p dir="ltr">The fusion of power and criminality was happening in other republics as well. When, in September 2004, Kalmyk oppositionists occupied the central square of Elista and demanded the resignation of the republic’s president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, high-ranking law-enforcement agency representatives <a href="http://kavpolit.com/articles/kalmykija_desjat_let_posle_razgona-9683/">threatened</a> them with reprisals at the hands of criminal groups. The protesters refused to disperse. Enter a combined detachment of riot police, special forces and interior ministry troops – the first violent dispersal of a peaceful protest in the history of contemporary Russia followed shortly after. One person was killed. Everyone else was left in no doubt as to the seriousness of the intentions of the head of state, who, in the wake of the terrorist attack in Beslan, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/terrorism-and-russian-power-vertical">announced</a> measures aimed at strengthening the “power vertical”. </p><p dir="ltr">By that time, it must be pointed out, the existing method of choosing district heads in Kalmykia (<a href="https://www.vedomosti.ru/newspaper/articles/2010/06/09/luchshe-menya-ofshory-nikto-ne-sozdaval">appointment rather than selection</a>) had already been in place for around ten years. Furthermore, the republic adopted the Steppe Code (Basic Law) at Kirsan Ilyumzhinov’s instigation in 1994 and formally renounced the principles and symbols of Russian statehood, metamorphosing from a “democratic rule-of-law state” into an “equal subject of the Russian Federation”. Discontent with the vertical model of administration is precisely what prompted thousands of people to take to the streets in 2004. As it turned out, however, the window of opportunity for establishing a dialogue with the authorities had already slammed shut.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/n71n-s06_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/n71n-s06_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="328" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Dispersal of the demonstration “Kalmykia against Ilyumzhinov”, Lenin Square, Elista. Source: Novaya Gazeta.</span></span></span>Putin’s unprecedented “strengthening of state structures” entailed reprisals against all levels of Russia’s political opposition. The regions came to know the utter hopelessness of Nietzschean reality as described by Milan Kundera: “In the world of eternal return the weight of unbearable responsibility lies heavy on every move we make.” Any first attempt at holding democratic elections could a priori be successful only as an exception. But, once the leadership of the republic had been entrusted to Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the Kalmyk public was denied the opportunity to correct the situation. Again and again, he was appointed “from above” – ​​until the Kremlin’s strategy vis-à-vis the national republics changed.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“It’s not me who’s coming to Dagestan, but the rest of Russia”</p><p dir="ltr">In 2010, Ilyumzhinov was replaced by Alexey Orlov, a Kalmyk who advanced up the ranks in Moscow. Appointments were made in keeping with that same principle in the majority of the southern republics. Arsen Kanokov, the former head of Kabardino-Balkaria; Yuri Kokov, his successor; Yunus-bek Evkurov, the head of Ingushetia; Boris Ebzeyev, the former head of Karachay-Cherkessia – all these regional leaders made their careers far beyond their respective birthplaces. In theory, then, these men would not have been embroiled in the clan system. In keeping with the logic of this trend, Ramadan Abdulatipov – who gained his political weight in Moscow during the 1990s – became the head of Dagestan in 2013.</p><p dir="ltr">Behind the new stage-set, however, lurked the same ruthlessness of the same cyclic universe. The former head of Dagestan Magomedsalam Magomedov, another Kremlin appointee, is replaced by Kremlin appointee Abdulatipov, who declares that he willl “liberate the people of Dagestan from 20 years of bondage” and kicks off his reign by instigating high-profile arrests of local “barons”. In 2017, Kremlin appointee Vasilyev entered the scene <a href="https://www.vesti.ru/doc.html?id=2940743">bearing a slogan</a>: “It’s not me who’s coming to Dagestan, but the rest of Russia.” Shortly after, Abdulatipov’s associates were led away in handcuffs. </p><h2 dir="ltr">From queens to pawns</h2><p dir="ltr">In this context, the appointment of Vladimir Vasilyev, a former Russian parliamentarian and security committee chairman, to the top post of a complex republic like Dagestan is a rather risky move on the part of the Kremlin. </p><p dir="ltr">If helicopters swoop down to take away his team as well, the republic’s denizens will lay responsibility for any fresh spiral of corruption directly at Moscow’s door. It must be borne in mind, however, that what Vasilyev said about “the rest of Russia” is not a metaphor. The Russian state that has come to Dagestan is one where Magomedsalam Magomedov serves as the deputy chief of staff of the presidential administration, while Abdulatipov works as presidential special envoy for cooperation with the Caspian states. It is a state where investigatory films about the Russian prosecutor general and the prime minister (<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3eO8ZHfV4fk">Chaika</a> and <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrwlk7_GF9g">He is not Dimon to you</a>) are demonstratively ignored by the authorities.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/9595507217_7bd039d8b3_z_0_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Gimry, Dagestan. CC: Varvara Pakhomenko / International Crisis Group / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>More than a quarter of a century ago, when he was still deputy governor of St Petersburg, Putin declared that “the makers of October 1917 laid a time-delay mine under the edifice of the unitary state that was called Russia.” Two years ago, the president <a href="http://ren.tv/novosti/2016-02-01/odno-iz-pervyh-intervyu-putina-25-letney-davnosti-porodilo-novye-spory">repeated</a> this idea almost verbatim – though he added a clarification about the negative consequences of “autonomisation”. It is hardly surprising that, in their analyses of the “defeat of the Dagestani clans” and “pacification of the Tatar elite”, experts are now <a href="http://www.mk.ru/politics/vertical-vlasti/2018/02/12/usmirenie-tatarskoy-elity-i-razgrom-dagestanskikh-klanov-obkatka-kremlevskogo-scenariya.html">arriving at the conclusion</a> that “the national republics may soon cease to exist”.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Complete loyalty to the central government no longer serves to guarantee security for the establishments of the national republics</p><p dir="ltr">By and large, it matters little whether or not there’ll be a referendum on amending the Russian Constitution. The republics have long been deprived of all autonomy, and the regional political elites have become such an insignificant stratum that external control would appear to be justified from a management point of view. Only three years ago, the Kalmyk opposition expressed its indignation at the fact that half of the leading posts in the republic’s government bodies (including all security agencies) were occupied by personnel from other regions. As soon as he’d strengthened his hand, Vasilyev too brought “outsiders” to Dagestan, installing them in the posts of prime minister and prosecutor.</p><p dir="ltr">Complete loyalty to the central government no longer serves to guarantee security for the establishments of the national republics. And it isn’t only in Dagestan that sweeping purges have taken place, either. Thus, influential businessman and former Karachay-Cherkessia senator Vyacheslav Derev was imprisoned in early March. Last July, meanwhile, saw the arrest of Pyotr Lanzanov, first deputy prime minister of Kalmykia. But local administrations <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/If-russias-minorities-are-excluded">continue to ensure record election turnout</a>, doing so by any means at their disposal. Because the regional “elites” have no other course open to them. Traitors in the people’s eyes, they’re regarded by the federal government as pawns who deceive themselves with the illusion that a promotion to queen is a realistic possibility – but generally become nothing more than bargaining chips.</p><p dir="ltr">The vanished resource of popular support is openly lamented only by those who already have nothing to lose – people like former acting Dagestani prime minister Abdusamad Gamidov, for instance, who tickled the internet’s funnybone by declaring that his arrest represented a <a href="https://lezgigazet.ru/archives/22603">“humiliation for the entire Dagestani people”</a>. Those who remain in power either keep a low profile or tentatively suss out the lay of the land, with Umakhanov, who has <a href="https://chernovik.net/content/politika/dagestanu-nuzhny-novye-lidery-saygidpasha-umahanov-chernoviku">explained</a> at length why “Dagestan needs new Avar leaders”, electing the latter option. And although “yesterday’s heroes” have no chance of returning to real politics by the “back door”, the very existence of nostalgia for a unity of “party and people” – albeit one that is in many respects illusory – deserves attention.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Annihilation of politics</h2><p dir="ltr">To conclude, let us eliminate a false dilemma. To be a critic of the federal centre’s consolidation of its positions in the regions is not to become an apologist for the complete lawlessness of the republic’s “barons”. The influence of the regional nobility was eagerly sought by the Kremlin during the initial stages of the power vertical. It was none other than Moscow that nurtured a monster that could only be fought with the aid of military helicopters and other hardware.</p><p dir="ltr">The problem stems from the fact that during the mutually beneficial period of cooperation between the Moscow state bureaucracy and national elites citizens were almost entirely excluded from politics. Almost, because the national minorities who cling to their ethnic and religious belonging <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/If-russias-minorities-are-excluded">potentially remain political subjects</a> – and perhaps the only ones in Russia.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">In the world of eternal return, dissenters will have only one alternative: the disorder of insurgency</p><p dir="ltr">Francis Bacon’s idols – prejudices and delusions – prevent us from grasping this fact. Received opinion holds that governability is a good thing. Hence the logical chains that lead to the conclusion that “Russia has come to Dagestan” is, generally speaking, a positive process. It follows, then, that the policy being pursued by the Russian government in this regard is correct. But such a conclusion reduces the political to the what the state does. Yet these concepts exist, if anything, in opposition to one another.</p><p dir="ltr">In actual fact, modern Russia’s so-called nationalities policy, predicated on the construction of a “civil-political” nation and ultimately geared toward transforming the federation into a unitary state, annihilates the political space as such. At the same time, political relations were highly likely to emerge in the national republics where, until recently, ethnic mobilisation <a href="http://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/222451/">represented</a> “not only a political instrument for local elites but also the sole means of protecting property and contracts” for an otherwise resourceless population. </p><p dir="ltr">The long battle that Kumyk settlements in Dagestan have waged for their lands is more sustained and productive than the demonstrations by the Moscow “creative class”. Meanwhile, the Dagestani jamaats (rural communities) that have <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/gubden-dagestan-where-radicals-police-themselves">independently tackled issues of medical care and quality education</a> offer ample demonstration that the peoples forgotten by the authorities also exists as a demos. In the plains, where there are no geographical obstacles to the spread of the state’s “care”, ethnic groups (including the titular ones) are more easily managed. </p><p dir="ltr">Local demonstrations against the authorities in the “more progressive” Russian regions don’t lead to the emergence of political relations and the materialisation of political subjects. In the North Caucasus, it is jamaats that constitute such subjects.</p><p dir="ltr">This kind of thing is thought to be out of step with the times. But the political unfolds with due allowance for the movements of space and time – in contrast to the state, which exists according to the laws of Euclid. The authorities, masquerading as “the rest of Russia”, are capable of offering the Russian regions nothing but dominance while forging the shortest possible path to its goal. In these conditions, governability and standardisation will destroy the very prospect of politics. In the world of eternal return, dissenters will have only one alternative: the disorder of insurgency.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/If-russias-minorities-are-excluded">If Russia’s minorities are excluded from national political life, then why are they the most “loyal” on paper?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/dagestan-who-owns-women-s-bodies">Who owns women’s bodies in Dagestan?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-kolezev/ekaterinburg-presidential-election-russia">If Russians are ignoring their upcoming presidential election, what are they talking about?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/svetlana-anokhina/makhachkala-citizen-city">Makhachkala: citizen city </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/burning-lands-leninaul-dagestan">The burning land of Lenin-Aul</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Badma Biurchiev Caucasus Wed, 18 Apr 2018 04:28:25 +0000 Badma Biurchiev 117306 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Feeling Yerevan’s pulse: the new media talking about Armenia’s blind spots https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maxim-edwards/feeling-yerevan-s-pulse-new-media-talking-about-armenia-s-blind-spots <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A year ago, the media platform <a href="evnreport.com">EVN Report</a> was founded to surface everyday concerns and what the media leaves behind. As Armenians take to the streets again, it’s become an invaluable resource.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/30708496_10156607870589665_2323373721391202304_n.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>16 April: opposition politician Nikol Pashinyan speaks to a crowd in central Yerevan. Image: Roubina Margossian. </span></span></span></p><p><em><span>Read the latest in our ongoing </span><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/odr-debates/unlikely-media">Unlikely Media series</a><span>. As part of this series, we profile new independent (and independently-minded) publications from across the post-Soviet space, and interview editors who are trying to make spaces for alternative journalism, political commentary and reporting.</span></em></p><p>These are turbulent times for Armenia. Following constitutional changes in 2015, the country transitioned from a presidential to a parliamentary republic. Some dismissed the move as a tactic by president Serzh Sargsyan to stay in power after his final presidential term expired in April 2018. The naysayers were proven right; two days ago, the ruling Republican Party of Armenia elected Sargsyan as its candidate for prime minister. Today, parliament votes on his appointment.<br /><br />For many younger Armenians, it’s the final straw. Over the weekend, hundreds of opposition protesters marched in the Armenian capital and beyond to “Reject Serzh”. They’ve occupied streets, seized the public radio building, and ground Yerevan to a halt. The new independent media platform <a href="http://evnreport.com">EVNReport</a> has been indispensable in bringing perspective to these events.</p><p dir="ltr">The publication was born in the fallout of an earlier episode of mass unrest in Armenia. In July 2016, a motley assortment of nationalist veterans called Sasna Tsrer (“Daredevils of Sasun”)&nbsp;<a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/thomas-de-waal/armenia-s-crisis-and-legacy-of-victory">seized a police station</a> in suburban Yerevan, killing two in the process. As riot police besieged the occupied building, Kajik Grigoryan, a 58-year old unemployed man, set himself alight as protests broke out.</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, 49-year old Artur Sargsyan approached the fighters and gave them food, for which he was charged with “supporting an armed terrorist group.” After a long stay in prison without adequate medical assistance, the “bread bringer” died in hospital a year later. At the request of EVN’s founder editors, Yerevan-based poet, academic, and musician Arto Vaun penned a short essay, “<a href="https://www.evnreport.com/raw-unfiltered/bread-and-fire-change-starts-within-each-of-us">Bread and Fire</a>”, on Sargsyan’s death.</p><p dir="ltr">“Either a nation is full of apathy and hypocrites and gets what it deserves, or it isn’t”, wrote Vaun. So appeared EVN Report, which has just celebrated its first anniversary, seeking to tackle old taboos and hit a few new nerves. Maxim Edwards speaks to the project’s founding editor Maria Titizian and managing editor Roubina Margossian about the Armenia they aspire to, and the Armenia they have to confront to bring it about.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>There’s no shortage of English-language Armenian publications, based in both Armenia and the US. Rather than ask you what they’re doing wrong, can you say a few words about what you aim to do differently?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Roubina: </strong>We’re the only ones in Armenia creating primarily English language content. Almost everyone else who has content in English often translates the text created for the local Armenian reader. On the other hand, there are many primarily English or mainly English-language outlets in the diaspora, but here the difference is just that they are not based in Armenia itself.</p><p dir="ltr">EVN experiments more than the average media outlet in Armenia in terms of form, by its use of academic writing and editorial podcasts where we share the behind the scenes thoughts, sentiments, challenges of EVN...</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Maria:</strong> When we launched EVN, our mission was to provide compelling analysis and in-depth commentary, something we felt was missing in the Armenian media landscape, especially in English. This was conditioned by two events in 2016 — the April War [with Azerbaijani forces in Nagorno-Karabakh - ed.] and the Sasna Tsrer takeover. Everyone was reporting on it, but no one was asking the really tough questions.</p><p dir="ltr">On the other hand, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anna-zhamakochyan/armenia-in-trap-of-national-unity">national discourse was hijacked by extreme voices on opposite poles</a> of most any issue confronting the country. While we’re very passionate and perhaps even activists-at-heart, we are very careful to understand the nuances of the stories we develop and publish. We try to be even-keeled, looking at all sides of the issues and let the reader decide what they feel or think. Have we always succeeded in doing this? No, because we understand that we too bring our own personal, political, cultural baggage to the conversation. We have always tried to be honest about that, acknowledging that objectivity can be feigned for the sake of objectivity but honesty is what makes a story great.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/30724532_10156607883604665_3244662855131201536_n.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A protester holds a poster of outgoing president (and probable incoming prime minister) Serzh Sargsyan. 15 April, Yerevan. Image (c): Roubina Margossian. </span></span></span>We decided on long-form journalism because we believe that readers want insightful pieces and when they’re written well and with great thought, people will read them. The proof is in the pudding — most of our longer, heavier pieces are the most read ones on our website.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Yet EVN report isn’t really a “report” at all, but rather a magazine of essays, longform reportage and feature pieces. Can you tell us a little about what you publish, and who your authors are?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Roubina: </strong>EVN is a magazine. We try to explain background and context, bringing back topics that have dropped out of the day’s news feed or talk about things that never make it into the news. We sometimes publish poetry and fiction and if there is a developing story, we change gears and go into news mode. We’re not a pure breed.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Maria:</strong> While we publish the usual topics (politics, economy, tech, culture), we also feature compelling commentaries on issues ranging from regional issues to Armenia-Diaspora relations to questions of identity. We feature stories that others aren’t writing about — delving into archives bringing back stories that have been hidden on dusty shelves. We feature women prominently, because we can and should. We look back on recent events and those steeped in history to understand the trajectory of the nation and bring stories that help us understand the complexities of living in a post-Soviet developing country.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">We felt that we were stuck in an echo chamber, we were only speaking to ourselves especially in times of crises and mostly in Armenian</p><p dir="ltr">Our authors aren’t always journalists, many are academics, professionals, experts in their respective fields and some are younger writers, including university students.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>When do you choose to publish in Armenian, and when in Russian or English?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Roubina: </strong>Armenian content was not initially part of the plan or vision. The first piece we published in Armenian was <a href="https://www.evnreport.com/raw-unfiltered/eclipse">“Eclipse”</a>. The Ministry of Culture had shut down an exhibition about Stalin-era repressions in Armenia. It was an installation at the Hovhanes Tumanyan Museum based on archival material. So we asked the curator of the exhibition and the director of the museum if she would consider lending the material to EVN Report where we could sustain an online version of what had been physically removed.</p><p dir="ltr">That was when it did not make sense or even seem fair to take something that was created for the people in Armenia and only present it in English. So we made the first exception. The sentiment lingered. We were often being asked if this or that piece is available in Armenian; now we can sometimes say, “yes”. We do not have the resources, nor at this point the intention, to be a fully bilingual publication but some pieces and subjects demand to be in Armenian, like our series on the ‘88 Movement [The nationalist movement advocating for Nagorno-Karabakh’s unification with Armenia before the collapse of the USSR - ed.].</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Maria: </strong>We are primarily an English language platform for a specific reason: We felt that we were stuck in an echo chamber, we were only speaking to ourselves especially in times of crises and mostly in Armenian, and there was a great need to communicate with the world in a language that was universally understood.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/30711025_10156607870104665_8695684327574339584_n.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Protesters have blocked several key roads in central Yerevan, and have begun to block roads into the city in order to disrupt the parliamentary vote. Image (c): Roubina Margossian. </span></span></span><br />We wanted to be a gateway for the world to see and understand Armenia and the issues it confronts and overcomes. We have started to publish select pieces in Armenian and this was conditioned by requests by readers. We will remain a primarily English-language publication and if and when we have the capacity and capability, Armenian and Russian would be considered.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>It seems you don’t have to dig too deep beneath national(ist) solidarities to find mistrust between diasporan Armenians and <em>hayastancis</em>, ethnic Armenians born in the Republic of Armenia. One sees this dynamic in some attitudes towards the civil society sector — “it’s just another bunch of liberal diasporans coming over here telling us how to run things”, and so on. To address that, you’ve described your approach as one of “constant humility”. Could you expand on that?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Roubina: </strong>That is exactly what so many of our pieces say, sometimes very directly and sometimes by implication. Neither the diaspora nor the population of Armenia come from the same cookie cutter or were even baked in the same oven. If we just look at EVN Report, you’ll see the Canadian-Armenian journalist with roots in Lebanon, the LA-Armenian lawyer with roots in Tehran and Baghdad, the Gyumri-Armenian historian, the Boston-Armenian poet with roots in Aleppo and Yerevan, the Yerevan-born, Beirut-raised psychologist who is the “diasporan” in Armenia and the “hayastanci” in the diaspora.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“Constant humility” is the environment where we all start speaking the same language</p><p dir="ltr">Collectively, we’ve come out of civil wars, revolutions, the Soviet Union, the 1988 earthquake, territorial conflicts... different forms of democracies, authoritarian and religious settings... The diversity of our collective experiences is pretty striking, and it is even wider if you look at our authors and readers.</p><p dir="ltr">People either feel a part of civil society or they don’t. That is not something that changes overnight when you change your place of residence. So, “constant humility” is the environment where we all start speaking the same language.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>One of my favourite articles focused on the <a href="https://www.evnreport.com/raw-unfiltered/russian-armenians-navigating-identity">place of Russian Armenian identity in the Armenian diaspora</a>, and another was Roubina's very personal <a href="https://www.evnreport.com/raw-unfiltered/bourj-hammoud-and-the-prodigal-daughter">farewell to Bourj Hammoud</a>, an Armenian district in Lebanon. Many of your essays seem to be asking “who gets to speak for Armenians?” Like other diaspora communities, the Armenian world does coalesce around certain institutions, leading “community leaders” to become gatekeepers and definers of collective political stances. How can we open the gates?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Roubina:</strong> For me it is about what we need more of — intelligent, well-researched, well-founded and civil dialogue. And more people who have the guts to stick their fingers into the wound before they can attest to a miracle or foul play.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Maria: </strong>The Armenia-Diaspora divide is very personal for us. We know that we can never understand the life stories, the narratives, the personal experiences of <em>Hayastancis</em> therefore we never assume to know better than them regarding what their needs, desires or dreams are. That is why “constant humility” is so important. We are not missionaries here to save anyone and whoever comes to Armenia with that notion is does a grave disservice to this country and to themselves.&nbsp;</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Ararat_BW.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Ararat_BW.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="314" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Mount Ararat, an important symbol of Armenian identity, viewed from the Armenian side of the border. Image (c): Roubina Margossian</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>EVN report goes to a lot of uncomfortable places. You’re <a href="https://www.evnreport.com/raw-unfiltered/is-this-what-you-wanted" target="_blank">critical of militarism</a>, and of how the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anna-zhamakochyan/armenia-in-trap-of-national-unity">imperative for national unity drowns out alternative opinions</a>. You’ve recently looked at how <a href="https://www.evnreport.com/politics/bound-by-duty-the-diaspora-s-normalization-of-armenia-s-political-system">Armenian-American organisations have buttressed this militarism</a> (as well as Armenia’s less-than-democratic politics) from afar, to the detriment of civil society in Armenia itself. What would you say are the other taboo topics in Armenia’s media, and how can they be broached?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Roubina:</strong> In my opinion, certain subjects are often not discussed because, on the one hand, there is an environment of unhealthy self-censorship. On the other hand, there is a considerable amount of heavy-handed criticism. But most often it arrives post factum when there is little-to-no room to be constructive.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Maria:</strong> Probably the most taboo topic in Armenia is the army. Full stop. For a nation that lives in a state of no war, no peace, with the possibility of the conflict [over Nagorno-Karabakh] escalating out of control, it’s understandable that people are careful not to be very critical of the armed forces. But we need to ask ourselves a question: Is it our role as journalists to serve the defence ministry or the people of Armenia and Karabakh?</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Probably the most taboo topic in Armenia is the army. Full stop</p><p dir="ltr">This is a question we need to ask because traditionally the Armenian media has been very careful when it comes to reporting about the army and the truth is that this self-censorship allowed many abuses to fall under the radar of public scrutiny and many of these abuses became apparent after the April War. I think we did a disservice to the people of Armenia and the men serving in the army because of our trepidation and self-censorship.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Both your founder editors are women, in a country where both politics and the media grapple with gender-based discrimination and the primacy of “traditional values”. Recent years have seen some small-scale public advocacy for feminism and women’s rights, and you’ve highlighted the remarkable stories of Armenian women throughout history. Women are talked about in Armenia as cherished bearers of family and national tradition — how much of a voice do you think Armenian women have in politics, and what’s EVN Report’s contribution to amplifying it?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Roubina:</strong> Women come to EVN not because so many of us on the editorial board are women. Women’s issues organically took up a part of our content because they are issues that need to be addressed and dealt with. Domestic violence is violence, and <a href="https://www.evnreport.com/arts-and-culture/from-the-forgotten-pages-of-history-the-tragedy-of-maro-alazan">Maro Alazan</a> and <a href="https://www.evnreport.com/arts-and-culture/from-the-forgotten-pages-of-history-countess-mariam-tumanyan">Countess Tumanyan</a> were incredible human beings, so we need to be reminded of their courage, resolve and generosity...The largest group of domestic violence victims are women. Alazan and Tumanyan and so many others were forgotten because they were women. I sincerely hope EVN Report will help amplify the message that no one can finish a race if they insist on putting only one shoe on.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Maria:</strong> I think we have a long way to go before we can say that women actually have a voice in Armenian politics. I don’t want to make any sweeping statements, it’s a very personal decision and yet a serious societal issue — but when half the population does not have a role in decision-making bodies, then we should stop pretending we’re trying to build a democracy. We’re trying to find stories of women, ordinary and extraordinary, who could serve as the missing mentors, icons in our lives — something that has been missing in our lives. And you don’t have to dig too deep, right there below the surface, buried just under the narratives written by men, are reams of stories about women and written by women waiting to be told. That’s what we’re doing, one story at a time.</p><p><strong>Writing on Armenia for international media is never easy. The country is dominated by either Karabakh or the historical memory of the genocide. In that context, it’s difficult for domestic social issues to get a look-in — yet that’s just what you’re doing, whether by addressing recent protests against the new conscription law, the treatment of the disabled, or the ongoing struggle against domestic violence. Is this a conscious focus of the project?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Roubina: </strong>Most of these topics seem strictly Armenocentric only on first sight. Take out the names and the geography, and the narrative is universal. Most often it is a matter of approach and language. You have to decide if you want to speak of your grievances and achievements only within your own context or a more international context.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/30716453_10156607870214665_7297936265322692608_n.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Anger has not abated - one thing which unites many Armenians across age and class is a deepening mistrust towards the country's ruling elite. Image (c): Roubina Margossian. </span></span></span><br />Students in Armenia are fighting for something and students in America are fighting for something, different students and not exactly the same fight, but there are commonalities — the right to an uninterrupted education and the fight against a state policy that creates the conditions for this interruption. What is happening in Armenia and the #metoo campaign are the different manifestations of the same patriarchal mentality.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>I think it was the Armenian poet Paruyr Sevak who wrote that sometimes, “a wall will remain a wall, but a perfectly good forehead will be lost”. So you say that your project is one of “radical love, radical empathy, and radical honesty”. Which one of these is the most important to each of you, and can it ever be achieved?</strong></p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Maria: </strong>All of them, but if I had to choose one it would be radical love. I’ve often thought we don’t really love each other enough because if we did we would have more empathy, we would be more raw and honest and we’re not. At least not enough. Love means listening, respecting, honoring, and lifting each other up unconditionally. It is the beginning and end of everything.</p><p dir="ltr"><strong>Roubina: </strong>That is what happens when you have a poet on your editorial board: “radical love, radical empathy, and radical honesty” become a part of the vocabulary. But also, EVN would not have come to be if Maria’s approach was “moderate love, moderate empathy, and moderate honesty.”</p><p dir="ltr">All of these can be achieved even in journalism — a profession built on the concept of impartiality — so long as there is no blurring of the ethical and professional guidelines. Remember, at the end of that sentence there is also ”personal accountability.”</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-zhamakochyan/armenia-in-trap-of-national-unity">Armenia in the trap of “national unity”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/gohar-saroyan/depoliticising-protest-in-armenia">Depoliticising protests in Armenia</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-nikoghosyan/armenian-womens-place-protest">An Armenian woman’s place is at the protest</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/armine-ishkanian/speaking-truth-to-power-is-dangerous-violence-perpetrated-against-armenian-politica">Speaking truth to power is dangerous: the violence perpetrated against Armenian political activists </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/karabakh-rules-armenia">“Karabakh rules Armenia”</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Maxim Edwards Unlikely Media Caucasus Armenia Tue, 17 Apr 2018 09:07:54 +0000 Maxim Edwards 117336 at https://www.opendemocracy.net No defence in Chechnya: Oyub Titiyev and the grim future of human rights in Russia’s North Caucasus https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/no-defence-in-chechnya <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The prosecution of a Chechen human rights campaigner is a landmark step in the systematic elimination of civil society under Ramzan Kadyrov. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/checnhya-bez-prava-na-zaschitu" target="_self"><em><strong>RU</strong></em></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/_Чеченской_Республики,_Герой_России_Рамзан_Ахматович_Кадыров_вручает_Председателю_Парламента_Чечни_Магомед_Даудов.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/_Чеченской_Республики,_Герой_России_Рамзан_Ахматович_Кадыров_вручает_Председателю_Парламента_Чечни_Магомед_Даудов.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="340" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ramzan Kadyrov and Magomed Daudov. From Ramzan Kadyrov's Instagram. </span></span></span><span class="blockquote-new">“The whole world knows Ramzan Kadyrov as an effective and decisive defender of human rights, who supports all human rights-oriented institutions in Chechnya... Among those behind the situation that has led to sanctions and the blocking of the Head of the Chechen Republic’s social media accounts are rights defenders working in various ‘centres’ and ‘committees’, as well as ‘journalists’ from the most unscrupulous media who win ‘prestigious prizes’ and ’30 pieces of silver’ in Washington and other western countries for their anti-Russian subversive activities… I think it’s time to dispatch our enemies back to their bosses abroad or remove them from healthy society. If there weren’t a moratorium at present in Russia, it would be Salaam Alaikum to the enemies of the people and that would be the end of it.<span>”</span></span></p><p dir="ltr">This is an extract from a <a href="https://chechnyatoday.com/content/view/309926">statement</a> made in late 2017 by Magomed Daudov, the head of Chechnya’s parliament, one of the most influential people in the republic and Ramzan Kadyrov’s right hand man.</p><p dir="ltr">Daudov’s call did not go unheard: on the first working day of 2018, police officers arrested Oyub Titiyev, head of the Grozny branch of the Memorial Human Rights Centre.</p><h2 dir="ltr">208 grams of pure lies</h2><p dir="ltr">On 9 January, the weather in Grozny was miserable: an overcast morning turned into rain and wet snow that continued into the night. It was the first working day after the New Year celebrations, and people wrapped themselves up in scarves before setting out for work.</p><p dir="ltr">Oyub Titiyev set off for Grozny early. Despite the forecast, Titiyev, who is used to tidiness, cleaned his car inside and out in the yard of his house in the village of Kurchaloy. He left home at about nine o’clock: he had to meet a friend first and then go to the Grozny office of Memorial, which he has headed since 2010.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/IMG-0699.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="338" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Oyub Titiyev in court, with legal counsel Pyotr Zaikin in the foreground. Source: Ekaterina Neroznikova. </span></span></span>Titiyev planned to arrive at his office at about 11am, but he hasn’t been at work since that morning. Indeed, he hasn’t been at home or free to go anywhere. As soon as Titiyev left his home, he was stopped by police officers who asked him to show his ID and open the boot of his car, and then they “unexpectedly” found a package of marijuana weighing 208 grammes under his passenger seat.</p><p dir="ltr">The story of Oyub Titiyev’s arrest has been covered in the press extensively. There is absolutely no doubt that the drugs were planted in the car, and that this was done to discredit not only Oyub Titiyev personally but the Memorial organisation in general. The Human Rights Centre is active in the North Caucasus; it’s the only international NGO with an office in Grozny.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">“They have no family, no nation, no religion… all they have is a common interest”</span></p><p dir="ltr">Two days after Oyub Titiyev was arrested, Shalinsk city court remanded him in custody for two months, and on 6 March the Staropromyslovsky district court extended his remand for a further two months. Appeals by lawyers, intercession on behalf of various bodies, not to mention statements by Titiyev himself and blunders by the prosecution were ignored by both the trial and appeal courts.</p><p dir="ltr">In the few weeks since Titiyev’s arrest, Memorial has been subject to a number of attacks: its office in Ingushetia has been burned down; its staff members in Dagestan have been plagued by letters and phone calls threatening physical harm. The Dagestan office driver’s car has been set alight. Oyub’s lawyer and friends have been harassed in Chechnya. The NGO’s office in Grozny was also searched and drugs were found planted on their balcony. Titiyev’s close colleagues and family have had to flee the country.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/img-20180117-wa0002_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Memorial's office in Nazran, Ingushetia, after it an arson attack in January 2018. Source: Memorial.</span></span></span>It is not just independent Russian and international human rights campaigners who have sprung to Oyub Titiyev’s defence: even Mikhail Fedotov, the head of the Russian Presidential Council on Human Rights, has joined in deploring his arrest. Human rights ombudsperson Tatyana Moskalova practically declared her lack of trust in Chechnya’s judicial authorities and asked for Titiyev’s case to be tried outside the republic. The Memorial organisation, meanwhile, has added him to its list of political prisoners.</p><p dir="ltr">But every attempt to defend Titiyev in Chechnya has had the same response from the one person who decides the fate of all Chechens – the republic’s head Ramzan Kadyrov:</p><p class="blockquote-new" dir="ltr">“They say that the police have caught a junkie with hashish on him. The UN, and even the US State Department, are up in arms about the arrest of one person from the Kurchaloy district. The police have caught thousands of addicts in Chechnya and no one has given a squeak, but this particular junkie got himself arrested and the whole world noticed. Why haven’t they defended the rights of other addicts? What’s the difference… Surely he could smoke if he wanted to? We arrest people of 60, 70 years old who use drugs. Can’t we arrest him? Of course we can.”</p><p dir="ltr">These words belongs to Ramzan Kadyrov. In his speech on 17 January, Kadyrov didn’t only express his opinion of Tityev (without mentioning him by name), but predicted the fate of all human rights campaigners: “They have no family, no nation, no religion… all they have is a common interest. I am amazed that a person who considers himself a Chechen can work with them. And I’m also amazed that his family don’t stop him. They should know that their work won’t pass in our republic.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">First they throw eggs: what will be next?</h2><p dir="ltr">Oyub Titiyev became head of Memorial’s Chechen team at a difficult moment. His predecessor was Natalya Estemirova, who was abducted from her apartment in Grozny in July 2009, driven to Ingushetia and murdered. Titiyev was then working in Memorial’s office in Gudermes, Chechnya’s second largest town, about 35km east of Grozny, and he was offered her job.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/14570552992_5e4436b67a_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Natalia Estemirova. BY-NC-ND 2.0 Frontline Defenders / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>“When Natasha was killed, there was a big question mark over who should be her successor,” says an ex-colleague at Memorial’s Grozny office. “It was an important position, and they tried a few people out before Oyub agreed to take the job. He was a rather stiff person, very calm; he kept his distance from other people and it took us a while to get used to him. But when we started travelling around with him on work trips, we started getting to know him better. He is the kind of person who puts his work above a lot of other things in life. He has a heightened sense of responsibility for his colleagues and has always tried to keep us safe. He never spared himself, worked calmly and quietly and in general didn’t waste words – just got on with it, whatever was happening.”</p><p dir="ltr">The clouds around Memorial started to thicken as the years passed. “In 2014, some thugs in masks broke into the Gudermes office and threw eggs at the people working there,” a former colleague of Titiyev tells me. “There were generally a lot of attacks on human rights campaigners working in Chechnya at that time, and the<a href="http://www.pytkam.net/"> Committee against Torture NGO</a> [headed by Igor Kalyapin] was forced out of the republic. It was a sign that things were getting dangerous. First it’s eggs, but then what? All these women had family members. And in Chechnya, it’s never just a single person that gets hurt – your family isn’t safe either. We are not just responsible for ourselves, you understand. So we decided to close the Gudermes office.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“He was always prepared for the worst. He realised that anything could happen to him at any moment”</p><p dir="ltr">From the start, Oyub showed himself to be a very experienced operator in his field. “He started by passing Natasha [Estemirova] information about war crimes, doing anonymous monitoring. He did this for free, as a civic duty. It was a difficult time, but he went on doing it. He wasn’t afraid of anyone. At that point, disseminating information – telling people what was going on during the second military campaign – was one of the most important things you could do for Chechnya. They were murdering innocent civilians, while claiming to be killing terrorists. Everything was carefully hushed up. Without the help of people like Oyub, a lot of stuff would still not have come to light.”</p><p dir="ltr">Oyub had continual problems, although he didn’t talk about them much. At one point, his family was evacuated abroad, but they couldn’t live outside Chechnya and returned home. Oyub kept receiving warnings, hints that he’d do well to leave his work and leave the republic. Both he and his colleagues were kept under surveillance.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/201801europe_russia_chechnya_titiev_memorial_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The arrest of Oyub Titiev has provoked international outcry. Source: Memorial Human Rights Center.</span></span></span>“He was always prepared for the worst,” says his colleague. “He realised that anything could happen to him at any moment. I think he was psychologically prepared for arrest and prison. In Chechnya, nobody believes the police story’s about drugs. The government has its own fan club, of course, who pretend to believe the official line. But our main source of information isn’t the TV or the pro-government press. It’s Grozny market. Ask anybody there what they think about Oyub – they’ll all tell you he was arrested because he wouldn’t get along with the local administration.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">The elimination of the undesirables</h2><p dir="ltr">Oyub Titiyev’s detention is just one link in a chain of arrests of people who disagreed with the Chechen authorities’s actions. In April 2016, Jalaudi Geriyev, a young journalist working for the Caucasian Knot online news site was <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dominik-k-cagara/disappearing-journalists-of-north-caucasus">kidnapped, tortured and then arrested</a>. He was in a minibus on his way to the airport, due to fly to Moscow and with nothing on him but a small backpack, when he was dragged out of the bus under the eyes of the other passengers and driven off to an unknown destination. The police later claimed that his arrest was accidental – supposedly he was caught smoking hashish in a Grozny cemetery.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/20140912_160101.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/20140912_160101.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Zhalavdi Geriyev in Itum‐Kali, Chechnya in September 2014. Image: Dominik Cagara</span></span></span>In September 2016, Geriyev was sentenced to three years in a prison colony, convicted of possession of a particularly large quantity of narcotics. Oyub Titiyev will be tried for the same crime 18 months later. The supposed proof of Geriyev’s guilt was the packet of marijuana found in either his backpack or his flat – the investigators came up with both explanations at various times – and the weight of the packet was suspiciously similar to the one being used to incriminate Titiyev.</p><p dir="ltr">Geriyev’s defence team appealed to every possible body and lodged a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), but to no avail. Jalaudi Geriyev, who has been recognised as a political prisoner, is currently serving his sentence in a prison colony in Chernokozovo.</p><p dir="ltr">In December 2017, another Chechen political prisoner, the head of the Caucasus Peoples’ Assembly Ruslan Kutayev, was released from the same prison after serving three years and ten months. Kutayev was convicted under the same article of the Criminal Code, but charged with possession of a different drug. In 2014, when he was arrested, heroin was the substance of choice for planting on undesirables. Three grammes of the stuff were found on him, a sufficient quantity for a more serious charge, hence the longer sentence. Kutayev was arrested on the day after he chaired a round table that discussed whether or not to move the celebration of Fatherland Defender’s Day from 23 February to 10 May, 23 February being a day of mourning for Chechens in memory of their<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deportation_of_the_Chechens_and_Ingush"> mass deportation to Central Asia</a> on that date in 1944. At such discussions, Kutayev always reminded participants of this tragedy, despite the Chechen government’s ban on discussing it.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class="mag-quote-center">“I am pretty sure that Oyub’s defence will get nowhere. The judges will carry out their instructions”</span></p><p dir="ltr">Kutayev is now living on probation in Ivanovo, a Russian city northeast of Moscow and the place where he is officially registered, and will be required to remain there for a year after his release from jail. Afterwards, he plans to return to Chechnya and continue his activities there.</p><p dir="ltr">Kutayev knows Oyub Titiyev to be a principled and honest person, but holds little hope that the judicial system of which himself has been a victim will act differently in Titiyev’s case. “I am pretty sure that Oyub’s defence will get nowhere,” he tells me. “The judges will carry out their instructions. Putin gave the Chechen government carte blanche to do what they like with their people, and has done nothing to change that arrangement. It still exists, and they do as they like. Wherever a Chechen might be – in Germany, the US or the bottom of the Pacific Ocean – they still have the power to do as they like with them.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Kutaev_colour [from YouTube].png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="339" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>In 2014, Ruslan Kutayev was <a href=https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maria-klimova/ruslan-kutayev-chechen-human-rights-activist>sentenced to four years in prison</a> on drugs charges. Photo CC: youtube </span></span></span>According to Ruslan Kutayev, in the years when he was active in public life, working conditions were even worse than they are now. “Who said that we had permission to do what we did? Who said we were allowed to do it?” he asks. “We did everything in spite of them, the Chechen government, and they were sitting pretty. Now we have oppositionists like Alexey Navalny, Igor Kalyapin [Committee to Prevent Torture], Pyotr Zaikin [Tityev’s lawyer] and Elena Milashina [journalist for Novaya Gazeta] writing and talking about all this. But back then, there was no information coming out of Chechnya: anyone who did anything the government didn’t like was on their own against these people. So they weren’t scared, then. But at my trial we saw a crack appear in the inviolability of the Kadyrov regime.”</p><p dir="ltr">Igor Kalyapin, a member of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights and Chair of the Committee against Torture and one of the people mentioned by Kutayev, does actively monitor things happening in Chechnya, but can’t engage in human rights campaigning in the republic. In 2016, he was <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/03/17/russia-rights-defender-attacked-chechnya">assaulted</a> at the entrance of the 5-Star Grozny City Hotel, where “local residents” threw eggs and flour and poured green dye over him.</p><p dir="ltr">The Committee against Torture was one of the few organisations whose work in Chechnya was based on “mobile groups” of lawyers, human rights activists and journalists. Members came from various regions and would travel to wherever their services were required at a given moment. A few days before Kalyapin’s last visit to Grozny, one such group was subjected to a violent attack when the minibus in which they were travelling to Chechnya from Ingushetia (with some foreign journalists on board) was stopped by an unidentified group of people. The travellers were dragged out onto the road and threatened and beaten, and their minibus was set alight.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/4b4258527_3575506.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/4b4258527_3575506.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Igor Kalyapin, Committee to Prevent Torture, was attacked in Grozny in March 2016. Source: Twitter.com/Moskvychova.</span></span></span>Despite the attack being caught on tape (MediaZona journalist <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/author/yegor-skovoroda">Yegor Skovoroda</a> managed to switch on his dictaphone) and the evidence of its victims, the attackers have still not been found. Kalyapin himself has stated more than once that the raiders came from the Chechen side of the border.</p><h2 dir="ltr">The apotheosis of terror</h2><p dir="ltr">Oleg Orlov runs Memorial’s “Hot spots” programme, and coordinates the human right centre’s work in the North Caucasus. Orlov’s first trip to Chechnya was in 1994, before the First Chechen War, when he travelled with<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sergei_Kovalev"> Sergey Kovalyov</a>, who was then Russia’s ombudsperson and head of the President’s Human Rights Commission. President Boris Yeltsin had commissioned Kovalyov to observe the return of refugees who had been displaced by the short-lived<a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-ingushetia-north-ossetia-prigorodny-dispute-poisons-relations/29023492.html"> Ossetian-Ingush Conflict</a> of late 1992.</p><p dir="ltr">“When we had finished our main task, we dipped into Chechnya and discovered the horrific lack of rule of law there: bandits were attacking the Russian speaking population, taking advantage of the fact that the government of the de-facto independent Chechen Republic of Ichkeria wasn’t stopping them,” Orlov recalls. “We passed all the information we collected to Yeltsin, although it wasn’t used because war broke out soon afterwards. But Memorial has had a presence in Chechnya ever since”.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/4689828175_a8ccbfe304_z.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/4689828175_a8ccbfe304_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="300" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Grozny, 1995. Photo CC BY-NC 2.0: Vladimir Varfolomeev/Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Orlov was part of Kovalyov’s observer group, representing Memorial, from the start of the war in December 1994. He tells me about the time when Memorial was setting up its network in the Caucasus: how it began by opening an office in Ingushetia, from where it could be engaged with what was going on in Chechnya. Later, the organisation had offices in Chechnya itself: in Sernovodsk, Urus-Martan, Gudermes as well as Grozny. He recalls Natasha Estemirova working with Memorial from the day it opened its office in Ingushetia.</p><p dir="ltr">“We were constantly getting information about torture and the destruction of towns and villages,” he tells me. “We tried to publicise every instance of human rights infringement that we heard about. It was hard, both psychologically and physically – a lot of places were inaccessible because of the fighting.” Natalya Estemirova would get caught in gunfire in the centre of Grozny itself at that time.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“It wasn’t, of course, easy to discover how and where people died, and now it’s simply impossible. Let alone trying to find the people responsible for the killings”</p><p dir="ltr">“On the other hand, what made our work easier was the fact that the people in towns and villages would tell us a lot about what was happening, so we could collect objective information from the most important source – ordinary people” says Orlov. “It wasn’t, of course, easy to discover how and where people died, and now it’s simply impossible. Let alone trying to find the people responsible for the killings. We could count our successes in that respect on the fingers of one hand.”</p><p dir="ltr">According to Orlov, the situation changed dramatically in 2009. People became less talkative. They became increasingly afraid of being victimised. And Natalya Estemirova was assassinated in that same year. “That was a terrible tragedy for us. Natasha was very important to us, a fantastic worker and close friend,” he tells me. “She was murdered because they needed to halt the active human rights work that she was at the heart of.”</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/IMG-0388.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="300" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Oleg Orlov (centre), together with Grigory Yavlinsky and Svetlana Gannushkina, at a recent hearing for Oyub Titiyev. Source: Ekaterina Neroznikova. </span></span></span>Now it’s not just the tragedies of their neighbours that people don’t want to talk about, says Orlov: they’re afraid to mention the harassment faced by their own family members. “Ten years ago it would have been impossible to imagine such a thing. What we see now is the apotheosis of fear. You can’t conceive of how it could get any worse.”</p><p dir="ltr">Chechnya’s human rights community used to look quite different. There was a whole network of organisations that would discuss the various issues and take a collective approach to the authorities. “We weren’t alone in Chechnya: there was a functioning civil society there,” Orlov goes on. “But gradually, a lot of organisations either closed down completely or remained just on paper. I can understand them: it’s awful working in the conditions we have today. Ruslan Kutayev, for example, only ended up behind bars because he organised a conference that wasn’t sanctioned by the powers that be. He was charged with possession of narcotics, and now they’re trying to pin the same charge on Oyub Titiyev. But what’s worse is when human rights campaigners are ‘born again’. Look at Kheda Saratova’s Obyektiv [Lens] organisation. She used to be a great friend of Natalya Estemirova, and actively worked with us. But now what has that turned into? A pro-Kadyrov propaganda machine.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“We don’t know what will happen in a few years time. We may remember 2018 as a year when we still had a certain freedom of action”</p><p dir="ltr">The whole of Chechnya changed soon after the end of the war. Towns were rebuilt, power was consolidated, civil society was more or less wiped out. “People were broken by the regime set up by Ramzan Kadyrov, in which he has almost absolute power. His power is so extensive that no one is left unaffected by it. The principle of collective responsibility that is universal in the republic creates an atmosphere of mindless terror. Whole families are made to pay for the actions of their relatives. Any criticism of the government, however mild, is severely punished, with especially close surveillance reserved for social media. Kadyrov’s regime is not just authoritarian, it is totalitarian. Chechnya’s political, social, economic and religious life has long since been subject to absolute control, including the everyday private life of the republic’s residents. In 2016, the Committee against Torture was literally thrown out of Chechnya. Violent assaults and raids on the offices of organisations that don’t toe the line have become the norm. And now it’s Memorial’s turn.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_img-0400_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/rsz_img-0400_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The Titiyev's trial in Grozny. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Orlov sees little distinction in this respect between Chechnya and Russia as a whole – whatever happens in the republic is just a symptom of the disease afflicting all of Russian society. “NGOs are being squeezed all over the country. We are accused of selling Russia’s interests, and called foreign agents. Chechnya just takes it all to extremes. And we don’t know what will happen in a few years time. We may remember 2018 as a year when we still had a certain freedom of action.”</p><h2 dir="ltr">Removing the traces</h2><p dir="ltr">Oyub Titiyev’s case has gone quiet; his next court session will be on the eve of 9 May, Victory Day. His defence team is not optimistic: the chances are that his time in pre-trial custody will be extended, after which they will start preparing to deliver his sentence. There is practically no hope of an acquittal – only 0.4% of people who come to trial are declared innocent.</p><p dir="ltr">Meanwhile, Grozny’s TV station is busy filming wonderful stories about how Chechnya is flourishing – about the stability and security provided by the rule of Ramzan Kadyrov. On the screens, Kadyrov smiles modestly in response and promises never to let his motherland fall into the hands of foreign agents, as people who disagree with his government are generally known.</p><p dir="ltr">Fashionably dressed young ladies stroll through the centre of Grozny, and young men sit in cafés drinking tea and laughing happily as they look at someone’s Instagram account. The house in the village of Kurchaloy where we last watched our human rights activist washing his car will soon be no more: Titiyev’s house and the 38 others beside it are to be demolished and replaced with a shopping centre.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maria-klimova-egor-skovoroda/how-ingushetia-got-rid-of-its-independent-media">How Ingushetia&#039;s independent media and opposition were harassed, exiled and murdered out of existence</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/dominik-k-cagara/disappearing-journalists-of-north-caucasus">The disappearing journalists of the North Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/varvara-pakhomenko/russia-s-north-caucasus-lesson-in-history">Between dialogue and violence: the North Caucasus&#039;s bloody legacy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tamara-grigoreva-ismail-djalilov/new-era-of-crimes-against-humanity-in-eurasia">A new era of crimes against humanity in Eurasia</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/abdul-itslayev/soviet-deportation-chechnya-akhmed-tsebiyev">One Chechen man’s quest for a real education</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/marina-starodubtseva/the-chechen-watcher%20">The Chechen watcher</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dominik-k-cagara/chechnya-dead-europeans-are-only-news-sometimes">Chechnya: dead Europeans are only sometimes news</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Ekaterina Neroznikova Human rights Caucasus Thu, 12 Apr 2018 12:15:45 +0000 Ekaterina Neroznikova 117230 at https://www.opendemocracy.net How Ingushetia's independent media and opposition were harassed, exiled and murdered out of existence https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/maria-klimova-egor-skovoroda/how-ingushetia-got-rid-of-its-independent-media <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Ten years ago, the North Caucasus republic of Ingushetia was undergoing a bloody security operation. Today, there’s not much left.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-03-28_at_15.23.18.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-03-28_at_15.23.18.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Magomed Khabziyev in May 2016. Source: Youtube / Magas Live. </span></span></span>On 12 March, we heard the news that Magomed Khazbiyev, the last editor of blocked website Ingushetia.ru who hadn’t moved away from politics, emigrated or been murdered, <a href="https://zona.media/news/2018/03/12/xazbiev">had gone on a dry hunger strike</a> in pre-trial detention. We compiled a short chronicle of the legendary website and with it Ingushetia’s opposition – the blocked platform had been its main mouthpiece.</p><p dir="ltr">“Over the last two or three years, whenever someone confronted the regional authorities, a hand grenade would go off in their yard. And no one would even condemn [these attacks by the authorities]. But everyone should have been wondering why this kept happening,” says Magomed Mutsolgov, who heads the Mashr human rights NGO. Mutsolgov is surprised that neither Russia’s federal government, nor Ingushetia’s regional authorities seem to be aware of these explicit attacks. It shows, he says, that “someone has access to explosives at any moment”.</p><p dir="ltr">On 8 March, a grenade was thrown into Magomed Khazbiyev’s parents’ yard, blowing up the car in the courtyard. Khazbiyev, 38, wasn’t at home: he has lived in Grozny, in Chechnya, for the last three years, ever since a criminal charge was levelled at him at home. In Chechnya, the oppositionist enjoyed state protection after an attempt was made on his life in 2015, his brother Murad tells us, and also says that in late 2017, Magomed took the decision to reject this protected status and return home, but didn’t announce this publicly. “He didn’t give any interviews at the time,” says Murad, “but the elders all knew and told his friends that there were rumours he was coming back. And evidently the rumours reached someone who wanted to scare him into staying away.”</p><p dir="ltr">On the day after a grenade was set off outside his house in Nazran, Ingushetia’s largest town, Magomed <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KoclZOge5u0">issued a video statement</a>, saying that he was planning to return home and accusing the younger brother of Yunus-Bek Evkurov, Ingushetia’s leader, of carrying out the unsuccessful assassination attempt.</p><p dir="ltr">“I am planning to return home and, if Allah wills it, to go on fighting this system: until they stop their abductions and murders, and stop robbing my people, we shall continue this fight,” says Khazbiyev on the video, adding that he has “one single enemy, the enemy of my people and the enemy of Allah-Yunus-Bek Bamatgireyevich Evkurov, so he will carry the responsibility for anything that happens to me.”</p><p dir="ltr">On 11 January, Khazbiyev returned to Ingushetia and was immediately detained by the police (he has been under arrest in absentia since January 2015, on a charge of arms dealing). He was remanded in custody and charged with a criminal offence after police found a gun and a grenade during a search of his parents’ house. His brother says that Magomed only visited the house occasionally and didn’t use the room where, according to the cops, the gun was hidden.</p><p dir="ltr">“They supposedly found these objects hidden under a pillow on his bed,” his lawyer Kheda Ibriyeva tells us. “But a whole squad of these guys had been all over the house before that”. She remarks that the search was carried out by members of Centre E, Ingushetia’s elite counter-extremist force, whose leaders <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/yegor-skovoroda-sergei-smirnov/inside-ingushetia-anti-extremism-torture-extortion">have now been arrested and charged</a> with extortion and the torture of detainees.</p><p dir="ltr">According to his lawyer, Khazbiyev was fingerprinted twice: the first expert concluded that the prints on the gun couldn’t be identified, but “the investigative organs were not satisfied with this conclusion, ordered a second test and found an expert who did conclude that the prints belonged to my client.” The defence team requested yet another examination, but the court refused.</p><p dir="ltr">The court and the investigators also turned down all requests for Magomed, who has a stomach ulcer, to be released under house arrest, says Ibriyeva. “The very mention of his name is enough to have any request rejected out of hand. So I don’t think we’ve any hope of justice here.”</p><p dir="ltr">Ibriyeva tells us that Khazbiyev was on both a federal and an international wanted list, despite the papers stating that he was under official protection in Chechnya. No Ingushetian law enforcement ever visited to Grozny, she says.</p><p dir="ltr">Once in custody, Magomed Khazbiyev was presented with another charge (“insulting a representative of authority”). His lawyer says that these charges are connected with his video addresses, but it’s still unclear what specific words and images triggered the new case. Recently, Ibriyeva has been unable to visit the remand centre – an employee destroyed her professional ID and she hasn’t yet received a new one. </p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“If I had the same opportunities as Ramzan [Kadyrov], I would have killed ten thousand of them, and forced all the rest to work, but I don’t have those opportunities” </p><p dir="ltr">In one of his video addresses, Khazbiyev <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iPBUUa6X7E0&amp;app=desktop">claimed</a> that he bought secret internal documents from people close to Yunus-Bek Evkurov, as well as material obtained from phone taps proving that Ingushetia’s leadership was implicated in murders and kidnappings: “If I had the same opportunities as Ramzan [Chechen leader Kadyrov], I would have killed ten thousand of them, and forced all the rest to work, but I don’t have those opportunities,” says someone whose voice is very reminiscent of that of Ingushetia’s leader on one of the tapes.</p><p dir="ltr">Khazbiyev published his posts on the<a href="https://www.youtube.com/user/ingushetiyaruorg2010/videos"> Ingushetiyaruorg2010</a> YouTube channel, whose name is very close to that of republic’s most prominent opposition website in the republic. This site was first blocked in 2008, but the platform continued to work from a new address, Ingushetia.org. This was then blocked in 2010, and from then until the next block, in 2013, the site existed yet another name, Ingushetiyaru.org. Magomed Khazbiyev is the last person involved in the project who hasn’t left politics, emigrated or been murdered.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Protests against killings and kidnappings</h2><p dir="ltr">One of the walls in the office of Mashr, Mutsolgov’s organisation, is covered in black-and-white images of people who have disappeared without trace or been abducted by Ingushetia’s security services. Ruslan, a brother of the NGO’s founder Magomed Mutsolgov, tells us the stories of these people – a teacher, a beekeeper, a taxi driver, a paralegal. Many were later found dead. His brother Bashir was <a href="http://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/blogs/342/posts/26832">abducted</a> in December 2003. His body has still not been found, but the investigation of his case, like those of many others (Mashr has 227 names on a list of the disappeared) is still going on.</p><p dir="ltr">“Arrested and detained people disappear and die,” reads a <a href="https://memohrc.org/ru/reports/situaciya-v-respublike-ingushetiya-put-k-destabilizacii-sentyabr-2007">2007 report</a> by Russian human rights organisation Memorial: “Special operations in towns and villages are accompanied by flagrant infringements of human rights and Russian law. The police carry out executions without trial, brutally torture suspects, impede lawyers’ work and falsify criminal cases.” Extrajudicial reprisals against people suspected of terrorism have provoked complaints and distrust among local residents against the representatives of state power, the report continued.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“At that time, the situation in Ingushetia had reached its lowest point”</p><p dir="ltr">By mid-2007, it looked as though Ingushetia’s then president Murat Zyazikov, elected five years earlier, had completely lost control of the situation in the republic. Attacks on law enforcement agencies alternated with assassination attempts on local officials, religious leaders and highly placed family members of the president. Concluding that the republic’s law enforcement were incapable of dealing with the situation, the federal government decided to tighten the screws. That summer, Russia’s Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev ordered a “special integrated preventive operation”, in which the number of Interior Ministry troops in the republic was increased from 700 to 2,500, and officers were put on an intense service regime.</p><p dir="ltr">However, members of Ingushetia’s People’s Assembly were <a href="http://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/132666/">convinced</a> that the influx of Russian federal forces, which failed to halt a wave of traceless disappearances (that might have been the work of the security services), had only exacerbated the situation: “Members of the law enforcement bodies did not only infringe the law and the constitutional rights and freedoms of our citizens, but were responsible for particularly grave crimes such as kidnapping and murder.”</p><p dir="ltr">“At that time, the situation in Ingushetia had reached its lowest point,” recalls lawyer Kaloy Akhilgov. “Between 2003 and 2007, dozens of young men disappeared without trace. In Ingushetia, everyone knows one another – it’s not Moscow with its 15 million-population. Here there are only 300,000 or 400,000 people who all live next to one another and see each other every day. All the people who were kidnapped were somebody’s friends and somebody’s relations. The troops only created more tension. So of course, people weren’t in the mood to support a government that was implicated in the disappearance of their families. Zyazikov was more or less accused of selling the republic to the security services.”</p><p dir="ltr">In September 2007, businessman Maksharip Aushev’s son and nephew <a href="http://www.vremya.ru/2007/171/46/187434.html">disappeared</a> from the village of Surkhakhi, and he quickly discovered that their kidnappers were dressed in military gear. The kidnapping happened on the road from Grozny after the young men had had returned from Astrakhan, where they had spent the summer working in a road repair gang. According to Aushev, the kidnappers had shown security services ID at the border post between Chechnya and Ingushetia.</p><p dir="ltr">On the day after the Aushevs’ disappearance, roughly 1,000 demonstrators blocked one of Nazran’s main streets in protest against the kidnapping. Witnesses reported the police firing above the heads of the crowd, who responded by throwing stones at them. A few people started tearing up the rails on the Nazran-Mineralnye vody rail line.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“My brother is a policeman. I want all young men to be safe, whether they are off or on military service, defending their loved ones, or praying at mosque”</p><p dir="ltr">On 20 September, the kidnap victims were <a href="https://lenta.ru/news/2007/09/20/free/">released</a>, but the police showed no signs of searching for their abductors. Maksharip Aushev claimed that the man behind the crime was the police chief of the Urus-Martanovsky district of Chechnya, who maintained a private prison in the village of Goyta, where hundreds of Chechens had reportedly been killed. According to Aushev, neighbouring republics’ security services also used the prison, where detainees from the entire North Caucasus region were tortured. Aushev compiled a report on the situation which he published on<a href="http://old.memo.ru/hr/hotpoints/caucas1/msg/2008/03/m128092.htm"> Ingushetia.ru</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">At the end of November 2007, security forces shot a six year old boy – the son of a suspected militant – during a special operation in the Ingush village of Chemulga. Hearing about the killing on the TV, Ingushetia.ru readers, between 150 and 300 people, took to the streets in an unofficial protest, with placards reading “No to kidnappings!” and “Bring the murderers to justice!”. The local authority responded to this low key action by calling out the riot squad, whose members fired ammunition into the air and struck out with their truncheons as they arrested dozens of the protesters.</p><h2 dir="ltr">“I didn’t vote”, and election turnout at 98.35%</h2><p dir="ltr">Ingushetia.ru was founded in 2001 by lawyer and businessman Magomed Evloyev. He initially <a href="https://lenta.ru/lib/14176029/">thought of it</a> as “a source of knowledge about the culture and traditions of Ingushetia”, but soon, as he put it, “historical and even cultural issues acquired a new relevance after the recent conflicts in the region and their explosive political context”. The site then “went political” and began to publish investigations into police violence and local authority corruption, as well as strong criticism of the republic’s head, and quickly became one of the most popular Ingush online platforms.</p><p dir="ltr">Evloyev soon gathered like-minded people around him, including human rights activist Rosa Malsagova, who later became the site’s editor-in-chief, and young lawyer Kaloy Akhilgov. Maksharip Aushev started working with him as well after the kidnapping incident.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-03-28_at_15.28.06.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Screen_Shot_2018-03-28_at_15.28.06.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="348" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Magomed Evloyev. Source: Wikipedia. Public Domain. </span></span></span>“We started with fifteen hundred readers, but the number of people posting on the site and reading it rose by the day,” Akhilgov recalls. “And this was before the internet was widely available here. There would be 25,000-30,000 new people online – unique visitors – daily. The site became a general platform for the whole North Caucasus.”</p><p dir="ltr">After the Duma Elections in December 2007, Magomed Evloyev and Maksharip Aushev set up an initiative group with other like-minded people and announced a campaign under the banner: “I didn’t vote”. The Ingush authorities were reporting a record turnout 98.35% across the republic, with 98.7% of voters apparently supporting the ruling United Russia party, and these improbable figures <a href="http://www.vremya.ru/2008/6/4/195856.html">infuriated many people</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">Volunteers from the “I didn’t vote” campaign suggested to voters that they fill in the blanks on their ballot papers with the declaration, “I [first and last name] did not take part in the election. But I have learned that someone at the polling station completed a paper in my name. Please look into this irregularity.”</p><p dir="ltr">“We saw the records of the constituency committees – in the village of Kantyshevo and School No 18 in Malgobek, for example. They were all filled in with the same pen in the same hand, and signed by the same person,” <a href="http://www.newsru.com/russia/14jan2008/ne_golosoval.html">said</a> Evloyev, promising to report the situation to the Central Investigation Committee. “We could launch a criminal case and have a graphology expert examine this evidence, but of course the republican prosecutor’s office hasn’t noticed any irregularities.”</p><p dir="ltr">According to the campaign organisers, they managed to collect more than 80,000 “I didn’t vote” declarations – in other words, around half of registered voters didn’t turn out. Evloyev accused President Zyazikov’s team of fabricating turnout data on the orders of the federal authorities.</p><p dir="ltr">On 14 January 2008, about 300 folders of declarations were transported to Moscow, hidden under bales and boxes in a van driven secretly from the republic. They didn’t however, reach the Central Investigation Committee. </p><p dir="ltr">As Caucasian Knot <a href="http://old.memo.ru/hr/hotpoints/caucas1/msg/2008/02/m125671.htm">reported</a>, the campaign organisers changed their minds about challenging the election results, since if they were declared null and void the republic could lose its representation in the State Duma. “There is no legal document linked to the campaign in any government body – neither the Prosecutor General’s Office nor the Central Electoral Commission,” <a href="http://www.newsru.com/russia/13feb2008/disapp.html">said</a> the commission’s head Vladimir Churov in February 2008. So the declarations collected in Ingushetia just got lost somewhere in Moscow.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/_на_Магас_и_горы.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/_на_Магас_и_горы.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="292" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>View of Nazran and Magas, Ingushetia's main towns. CC BY-SA 4.0 Shaliets / Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>At the start of 2008, Evloyev and his associates, who now included Magomed Khazbiyev, <a href="http://www.newsru.com/russia/24jan2008/yanegolosoval.html">planned</a> a rally under the name “We support Putin’s politics” – this is the name they adopted for a protest against corruption, kidnappings and summary executions on 26 January. “Over the last few years, more than 150 people disappeared without trace, a large number for such a small republic,” <a href="https://www.newsru.com/russia/24jan2008/yanegolosoval.html">explained</a> Rosa Malsagova, the then deputy editor of Ingushetia.ru. “My brother is a policeman. I want all young men to be safe, whether they are off or on military service, defending their loved ones, or praying at mosque. If someone breaks the law, they should be tried by a court, not gunned down on the street.”</p><p dir="ltr">However, on the eve of the protest, part of Ingushetia was declared to be under a counter-terrorist operation. Maksharip Aushev’s business premises were searched “as part of a check on the firms’ financial management operations”. Police dispersed activists who had gathered in Nazran and 48 people were detained. Police officers claimed that they had uncovered more than 120 bottles containing an incendiary cocktail and no less than 500 sticks and stones supposedly collected by the protest organisers in case of mass unrest. They were charged with a criminal offence.</p><p dir="ltr">It took a year before Russia’s Investigative Committee <a href="http://sledcom.ru/news/item/517527">produced</a> its report on the case. Maksharip Aushev, Musa Aushev and Ruslan Khazbiyev were charged on three counts: organisation and participation in mass unrest; the use of violence against a representative of authority and illegal arms dealing. According to the investigators, the accused “carried out incitement amongst the population”, in part through the Ingushetia.ru website, and then gathered on Harmony Square in Nazran to demand the resignations of Zyazikov and the heads of the republic’s police bodies. “They also organised mass unrest, accompanied by violence, hate campaigns, arson attacks, destruction of property and armed resistance to representatives of authority.</p><p dir="ltr">But by then, Ingushetia.ru had been blocked and Magomed Evloyev assassinated.</p><h2 dir="ltr">The block on Ingushetia.ru and killing of Magomed Evloyev</h2><p dir="ltr">The first attempt to block Ingushetia.ru took place in 2007, when Moscow’s Kuntsevo inter-district prosecutor’s department received a request from North Ossetia, another small republic in the North Caucasus, to open a criminal case of “incitement to hatred and hostility”. RIA Novosti news agency <a href="https://ria.ru/society/20080901/150840953.html">quoted</a> Magomed Evloyev’s proposition that “The prosecutor’s initiative may have been connected with a series of materials concerning the Ossetino-Ingush conflict of 1992.” </p><p dir="ltr">At that point, Ingushetia.ru managed to ride out the storm, but on 6 June 2008 it was totally blocked on the orders of the Kuntsevo District court. According to Kaloy Akhilgov, the immediate trigger for blocking the site was a reprint of an article from another source. And although the court could have just ordered the offending article to be removed, it decided not to.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“That was the first blocking of a website in Russia. People didn’t even know how to do it – you had to send a directive to every provider in the country”</p><p dir="ltr">“That was the first blocking of a website in Russia,” says Akhilgov. “People didn’t even know how to do it – you had to send a directive to every provider in the country. These days, everything is strictly regulated and happens quickly, but then it took three or four months.”</p><p dir="ltr">According to Akhilgov, President Zyazikov felt personally threatened by the site: “He didn’t like the fact, to put it mildly, that information that he considered confidential could appear on the site. And he did all he could to close it down.”</p><p dir="ltr">In August 2008, Magomed Evloyev <a href="https://echo.msk.ru/news/537575-echo.html">accused</a> the Ingush president, along with his Head of Security Ruslanbek Zyazikov and the local police chief Musa Medov of openly threatening dissidents. “These people,” wrote Evloyev, “have unleashed civil war, killed hundreds of the republic’s citizens, forced Ingush to kill one another and rolled the republic’s economy and social sphere back by many years.”</p><p dir="ltr">On 31 August, Evloyev flew to Ingushetia from Moscow on the same flight as Zyazikov, his sworn political enemy. When the president left the airport, the oppositionist was detained by the police. According to the official version of events, they planned to question him about an explosion at the home of the head of the Presidential Control Directorate; three cops sat with Evloyev in the 4x4, one of them on the back seat next to the owner of Ingushetia.ru.</p><p dir="ltr">According to the Ingush police, when the vehicle moved off, the detainee <a href="https://www.kommersant.ru/doc/1019413">tried to grab an automatic rifle from the police officer</a> sitting next to him, at which point the one sitting next to the driver grabbed his automatic pistol and aimed it at Evloyev.</p><p dir="ltr">The gun, the cops claimed, went off by accident: the safety catch had been inadvertently left off. Evloyev received a serious wound to the head and died in hospital later that day.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/RIAN_338019.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="lead " title="" width="460" height="308" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>"Killed by the police by a shot to the head. 'He died by accident'" reads this placard at a rally in memory of Magomed Evloyev, September 2008. (c) Ilya Pitalev / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The associates of Ingushetia.ru’s founder accused the authorities of premeditated murder. It was soon known that Evloyev had been detained at the airport by the security detail of Ingushetsia’s police chief Musa Medov, which included Ibragim Evloyev, his head of personal security and a family relative. It was Ibragim Evloyev who actually shot the opposition leader: he was charged with manslaughter. “Now there is no one in our family who can avenge my son’s killing,” said the dead man’s father Akhya Evloyev, “but I will take my revenge on Medov, because I regard him as the person who organised his murder.”</p><p dir="ltr">On 11 December 2009, the Karabulak City Court found the former cop guilty of manslaughter and sentenced him to two years in a prison colony-settlement, but after a couple of months the sentence was reduced to two years of “restriction of freedom”. In August 2010, Ibragim Evloyev was <a href="https://www.gazeta.ru/politics/2010/08/04_a_3404590.shtml">shot dead</a> in a café in Nazran: his killers have not been found.</p><h2 dir="ltr">The murder of Aushev and blocking of Ingushetia.org</h2><p dir="ltr">After Ingushetiat.ru was blocked, it initially moved to the zonu.com domain, and then changed its name to Ingushetia.org. For a time, it was headed by Maksharip Aushev, but he retired after Zyazikov resigned as president. Rosa Malsagova, the project’s next editor-in-chief, left Russia and requested political asylum in France. “She was bringing up three sons and didn’t want to be put under any pressure because of them,” says Kaloy Akhilgov, who worked for a year as press-secretary to the new president Evkurov before moving to Moscow and starting legal practice.</p><p dir="ltr">Aushev died on 25 October 2009: his car was <a href="http://polit.ru/article/2009/10/26/macshrip/">raked by gunfire</a> not far from Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria – more than 60 spent cartridges were found beside it. Maksharip was killed on the spot; a female cousin, who was in the car with him, was seriously wounded but survived.</p><p dir="ltr">“There is no doubt that the security forces were involved in Aushev’s killing, as well as that of Magomed Evloyev,” <a href="http://polit.ru/article/2009/10/26/macshrip/">said</a> the dead men’s associates. “In Ingushetia, state terror has become the way to get rid of dissidents.”</p><p dir="ltr">President Evkurov, for his part, has said that the murderers were trying to “destabilise the situation in the republic”, and vowed to find them.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/RIAN_487616.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>October 2009: the funeral of Maksharip Aushev in Surkhakhi, Ingushetia (c) Dmitry Vanin / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Six weeks later, a car carrying Aushev’s pregnant widow, 27-year-old Fatima Djaniyeva, was <a href="http://www.polit.ru/news/2009/12/28/piteraus/">blown up</a> in Nazran. Her mother, Leila Djaniyeva and her two brothers were also in the car and her mother and one brother died in the attack. Unconfirmed rumours suggest that the car blew up after police officers wearing masks stopped and searched it.</p><p dir="ltr">After the attempt on her life, Aushev’s widow moved to St Petersburg, where she planned to undergo rehabilitation. She was accompanied by family members: her brother Ali Djaniyev, uncles Yusup and Yunus Dabriyev and their nephew Magomed Adjiyev. On the night of 26-27 December, the men of the family left Fatima in their relatives’ flat on Vasiliyevsky Island and went to a hostel in the centre. Not long afterwards, their phones went silent, and since then nothing has been heard of them.</p><p dir="ltr">The law enforcement agencies did very little to investigate the men’s disappearance without trace, <a href="http://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/179484/">says</a> Memorial staff member Ekaterina Sokiryanskaya: “In the spring, when the snow melted, the police discovered the car that the kidnapped men were travelling in. But nothing more happened.” None of these cases – neither Aushev’s murder, nor the explosion in his relatives’ car, nor the kidnapping in St Petersburg – has ever been solved.</p><p dir="ltr">The Ingushetia.org site was blocked in 2010 by the District Council of Ingushetia’s capital Magas. One of the triggers for the blocking of the entire site was a short article, entitled “A Call from the Aushevs to all Residents of Ingushetia”, that was published on the day of Maksharip Aushev’s death. Its author suggested that friends and people who had been well-disposed towards the dead man should gather in front of his house.</p><p dir="ltr">However, by the time of the last blocking, opposition activist Magomed Khazbiyev had already set up yet another new site, Ingushetiyaru.org. Khazbiyev said he would cover events “that no one in Ingushetia writes about any more”: “We aim to show up all the shortcomings of the regional authorities,” he says. “We shall talk about corruption. We shall try to ensure that we have a correspondent in every village, in every hospital, in the Prosecutor’s Office, in the Investigative Committee”.</p><h2 dir="ltr">The blocking of Ingushetiyaru.org and Khazbiyev’s arrest</h2><p dir="ltr">The new site was from the start under constant DDoS attack, recalls Khazbiyev’s brother Ali. In 2013. it too was blocked after a number of articles about the work of the<a href="https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%9C%D0%B5%D1%85%D0%BA-%D0%BA%D1%85%D0%B5%D0%BB"> Mehk-Khel</a> (People’s Council) movement, which Magomed Khazbiyev had joined, were added to the Federal list of extremist materials. Human rights activist Ruslan Mutsolgov recalls the movement’s activists coming under pressure from Centre E.</p><p dir="ltr">In February 2013, Sultan-Girei Khashagulgov, one of the most active members of Mehk-Khel, was <a href="https://memohrc.org/ru/news/ubit-sultan-hashagulgov">killed</a> during an FSB special operation – the official line is that he shot at the police while he was being detained. The Investigative Committee claimed that Khashagulgov and his brothers were involved in an armed underground, and “liquidation lists” were found at his home.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/maxresdefault_6.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/maxresdefault_6.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Sultan-Girei Khashagulgov. Source: Youtube. </span></span></span>Khashagulgov took part in most of the actions carried out by the Ingush opposition. In 2012, he was <a href="https://memohrc.org/ru/news/ingushetiya-kollektivnaya-golodovka-zakonchilas-izbieniem-i-zaderzhaniem-uchastnikov">detained and beaten</a> during a Mehk-Khel activists’ hunger strike aimed at getting rid of the republican government and demanding official compliance with the law “On the Rehabilitation of Repressed Peoples”. On the eve of his death, Khashagulgov <a href="http://ru.rfi.fr/kavkaz/20130212-my-ne-terroristy">gave an interview </a>to Rosa Malsagova, who worked at Radio France Internationale after emigrating to France. He ended the interview with the words: “I’m not going anywhere. If they kill me, they kill me. If I’m still alive, I’ll go on living.”</p><p dir="ltr">Khashagulgov was one of Mehk-Khel’s most inspirational members, and the movement’s activity dwindled after his death, says Ruslan Mutsolgov, adding that over the last years there have been few memorable protest demonstrations: it’s practically impossible to get a protest sanctioned, and people at unsanctioned protests have been subjected to rough treatment for a long time now.”You’re sending people out to be beaten up with truncheons: it’s in Moscow that they still use truncheons, here they arrive in armoured troop carriers.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">“It’s in Moscow that they still use truncheons, here they arrive in armoured troop carriers”</p><p dir="ltr">Before leaving for Grozny, Magomed Khazbiyev spent some time heading the Ingush branch of The People's Freedom Party (PARNASSUS), which has long since disappeared. “When he came back, he planned to continue his work, and he has said that he still couldn’t just sit around and stop working,” says his brother Ali. For the moment, though, he’s still in custody, though he has now called off his hunger strike.</p><p dir="ltr">Ruslan Mutsolgov combines his human rights work with heading the local branch of the Yabloko Party. He tells me how difficult it was to collect signatures on a petition to propose its head Grigory Yavlinsky’s candidacy for president: people are so scared of anything directly or even indirectly connected with politics that when they see someone on their doorstep with a clipboard, they pretend they don’t keep their ID papers at home. For the whole of Ingushetia, Ruslan managed to collect just 800 signatures.</p><p dir="ltr">“There are more and more repressive measures every year,” says Magomed Mutsolgov. “It’s an obvious attack on NGOs, independent media, bloggers and civil rights activists and it’s getting steadily worse.” He reflects for a moment: “But we have to go on working in spite of all these threats and the arson attacks on cars and offices. We just don’t have any option. Why? Because we have chosen this work ourselves, in accordance with our principles and our desire to help people. That’s why we need to do this work.”</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>This article originally appeared in Russia on <a href="http://www.zona.media">MediaZona</a>.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/varvara-pakhomenko/russia-s-north-caucasus-lesson-in-history">Between dialogue and violence: the North Caucasus&#039;s bloody legacy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/yegor-skovoroda-sergei-smirnov/inside-ingushetia-anti-extremism-torture-extortion">Inside Ingushetia’s anti-extremism centre: torture, extortion, murder</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/irina-slavina/new-casualties-of-russia-s-war-on-terror">The new casualties of Russia’s war on terror</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/If-russias-minorities-are-excluded">If Russia’s minorities are excluded from national political life, then why are they the most “loyal” on paper?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/abdul-itslayev/soviet-deportation-chechnya-akhmed-tsebiyev">One Chechen man’s quest for a real education</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Yegor Skovoroda Maria Klimova Ingushetia Caucasus Mon, 02 Apr 2018 22:31:26 +0000 Maria Klimova and Yegor Skovoroda 116968 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Nagorno-Karabakh’s militarised social democracy https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/aleksey-antimonov/nagorno-karabakh-s-militarised-social-democracy <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>With flat-rate taxes and sky-high growth rates, some call Nagorno-Karabakh a “Caucasian Tiger”. Meanwhile, money from abroad funds a generous but militaristic social welfare system — maintaining border villages and swelling the army’s ranks.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Stepanakert_Soldiers.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Stepanakert_Soldiers.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="320" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Soldiers of the Nagorno-Karabakh Defence Army on the central square in Stepanakert, capital of the self-declared republic, May 2017. Photo CC BY 2.0: David Stanley / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><em>This article originally appeared at <a href="http://oc-media.org/total-war-karabakhs-militarised-social-democracy/" target="_blank">Open Caucasus Media</a>. We are grateful for their permission to republish it here.</em></p><p>For three decades the border between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan has echoed with the crack of gunfire: the ceaseless noise of the oldest ‘frozen conflict’ in the former USSR. Yet for those living in Nagorno-Karabakh since the ceasefire of 1994 was signed, this border has seemed to drift further and further away, almost vanishing from the horizon of relevance.&nbsp;</p><p>Gegham Baghdasaryan, the head of the Karabakh Press Club, illustrated this in an anecdote: at an international conference years ago, a young Armenian woman from Karabakh was called to the floor. She was asked about the relationship between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan. She replied, “what is my relationship to Azerbaijan? I don’t have a relationship. I just want to be left alone.”</p><p>This opinion was far from unique, and was echoed by many in Karabakh. One respondent, a young man in his mid-twenties, said that the events of April “opened his eyes” to the “real danger” that Azerbaijan presented. For him and for other young people, the ceasefire had been all they had ever known, and for all the bellicose rhetoric and the slow but constant deaths on the border, it had become background noise, as fixed and permanent as the hills and sky.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The ceasefire is all Karabakh’s youth have ever known. &nbsp;Bellicose rhetoric and deaths on the border have become background noise, as fixed and permanent as the hills and sky&nbsp;</p><p>Since the clashes of April 2016 — four days during which fierce fighting erupted along the line of contact, and ended with over a hundred fatalities, and the seizure by Azerbaijan of several key positions formerly controlled by Armenian forces — the conflict has taken on a shrill immediacy. The shock which initially gripped the population of Karabakh transformed into anger both at Azerbaijan and at the loss of a sense of normality.&nbsp;</p><p>A few years ago, flare-ups in the prolonged conflict might have been seen both by residents and politicians as exceptional, but this most recent violent eruption seems to have solidified in their minds a sense that rather than an exception, war is in fact, the normal state of affairs, and that military interests must circumscribe and submerge all other pursuits.</p><p>The Karabakh war lasted from 1988–1994. It claimed over 30,000 lives, displaced almost a million people, and utterly devastated Karabakh’s economy and infrastructure. The region suffered an estimated $5 billion in damage (with a population of only 140,000) — further compounded by the deindustrialisation that followed the USSR’s collapse.&nbsp;</p><p>Nevertheless, Nagorno-Karabakh endured. With generous aid from the Republic of Armenia as well as donations from the global Armenian diaspora, Nagorno-Karabakh was rebuilt. By 2007 it had the fastest growing economy in the wider region, with GDP growth rates fluctuating between 10%–15% per year. Moreover, unlike Armenia, it did not suffer from demographic decline, with the population increasing by 10% since 2005.</p><p>This quite literal “rise from the ashes” is most apparent in Karabakh’s capital, Stepanakert. Formerly a bombed-out city with more than a passing resemblance to post-war Sarajevo, it has in recent years developed into a small yet bustling urban centre, featuring well-paved boulevards, neatly maintained gardens, and a wealth of public amenities.&nbsp;</p><h2>The Caucasian tiger</h2><p>‘At first [Karabakh’s economic development] was a patriotic undertaking’, Davit Babayan, speaker for the office of the President of Nagorno-Karabakh, told <em>OC Media</em>. ‘But that cannot work forever’. He argues that Karabakh’s economic motor for the past decade was a commitment to a ‘market-driven’ economy, and that only by creating ‘special conditions for investment’ would Karabakh’s development continue.&nbsp;</p><p>Officially, Nagorno-Karabakh has been on an explicitly market-oriented path since 2007, when under the official direction of its newly elected President Bako Sahayan, it <a href="https://secretmag.ru/cases/stories/artsakh-epic.htm" target="_blank">undertook rapid (neo)liberal economic reforms</a>. Examples of this include: the dissolution of the anti-monopoly service (under the slogan “The Market Will Figure It Out”), the creation of a flat-tax for those categorised as self-employed ($15 a month), and the reduction of regulations on construction licenses (officially it should take only three days for a new license to be approved). The reforms also entailed the privatisation of a series of state-owned assets, most significantly, the regional hydropower utility.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Much like the “Asian Tigers”, this “Caucasian Tiger” is less of a market miracle than is apparent at first glance</p><p>Considered in conjunction with Karabakh’s stellar rates of economic growth, these reforms drew praise from liberal voices in the wider region, with some even calling the region “<a href="http://novostink.ru/mir/77506-rbk-nagornyy-karabah-mozhno-nazvat-zakavkazskim-tigrom.html" target="_blank">The Caucasian Tiger</a>”.&nbsp;</p><p>However, in a similar vein to the “<a href="http://hir.harvard.edu/article/?a=7524" target="_blank">Asian Tigers</a>”, Karabakh is less of a market miracle than is apparent at first glance. Karabakh’s rapid development has been made possible only through significant government intervention in the market and perhaps more importantly, ongoing transfers of funds from the Republic of Armenia. This state of affairs is only made possible through Karabakh’s unique geopolitical and ideological position.&nbsp;</p><h2>Armenia’s heart</h2><p>Nagorno-Karabakh is without question the single most volatile factor in Armenia’s politics. It is not simply a place, but an idea. It stands in for Armenian nationhood, and in a country where the Armenian Genocide of 1915 still defines foreign policy, it provides a powerful counter-narrative to a sense of historical victimhood. As Karabakh politician Karen Avagimyan told&nbsp;<em>OC Media</em>, Karabakh is “the spiritual heart of Armenia”.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/karabakhindependence.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/karabakhindependence.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A banner in central Stepanakert. Photo (c): Khachig Joukhajian / OC Media. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>In practical terms this means that if any significant amount of territory in Karabakh is re-taken by Azerbaijan, the government in Yerevan would likely not survive. For instance, in the summer of 2016 a group of Karabakh veterans calling themselves the Sasna Tsrer (the Daredevils of Sasun) seized a police station and called for an uprising against the government. Central to their criticisms of the government was their claim that the current administration intended to cede part of Karabakh to Azerbaijan. While the claim seems to have been spurious, at the time, it helped to mobilise thousands of young people who met with police in violent clashes in defence of the Sasna Tsrer.&nbsp;</p><p>The policies of the Armenian Government towards Karabakh, and the policies of the Karabakh government itself, must be understood in the light of such events. Karabakh’s territorial integrity must be maintained, and all economic and social policies must account for and support this objective.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">In Karabakh, where economic emigration is seen as a threat to national security,&nbsp;neoliberalism tout court is not a tenable option</p><p>As Nagorno-Karabakh is an unrecognised state, it is therefore not party to most international trade-treaties. This means the government needs to maintain an investment friendly atmosphere and to advertise this friendliness, if “non-patriotic” investment (coming primarily from the Russian Federation) is to continue. However, this creates a certain conundrum for the ruling authorities. Investor-friendly and deregulated markets often foster grave societal inequality, with less competitive local workers and small businesses being crushed by economies of scale. As in much of the world, poverty easily transforms into migration, which while quite tolerable for most governments, in Karabakh is simply a non-starter.</p><p>In the eyes of Karabakh officials, the equation of migration is simple: migration equals a lower population, a lower population means fewer soldiers, and fewer soldiers not only makes Karabakh militarily weaker but also incentivises Azerbaijan to attack. This means that the economy cannot be subject to the whims of a capricious market, as population fluctuation resulting from periodic economic crises would quite literally endanger Nagorno-Karabakh — neoliberalism tout court is not a tenable option.&nbsp;</p><h2>Militarised social democracy&nbsp;</h2><p>In practice, the collection of policies enacted to ensure economic stability and liveability in Nagorno-Karabakh can be considered a sort of militarised social democracy: welfare mechanisms are in place to lessen the impact of unemployment or poverty, but they differ from traditional European social democracy in that these mechanisms are tied explicitly to military status. </p><p>For instance, a large portion of the population sits on military pensions, and the families of soldiers killed or wounded on the front are not only financially supported, but often granted free housing or other essentials and amenities. The state also insures all residents who live close to the line of contact, with any damage from the conflict (such as homes damaged by shelling or cattle killed by gunfire) covered by the state.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Stepanakert_Market_2012.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Stepanakert_Market_2012.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Market in Stepanakert, 2012. Photo CC BY-NC-ND 2.0: Marco Fieber / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>That’s not to say the government doesn’t make use of traditional Keynesian policy either. In fact, the state often intervenes at the level of the firm, providing subsidies and preferential loans to struggling businesses, keeping them afloat to ensure that a higher level of employment is maintained.</p><p>It may seem like this is a little much for a government presiding over a relatively poor population of 146,000 to accomplish, and that’s because it is. The government of Nagorno-Karabakh is far from self-sufficient. Officially, at least 4.5% of Armenia’s national budget is allocated for the region, though the real number is likely far higher, especially since any budget transfers related to national defence are classified.</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">Officially, at least 4.5% of Armenia’s national budget is allocated to Nagorno-Karabakh&nbsp;— though the real amount is probably much higher</span></p><p>This policy direction has only solidified since the April clashes. Villages near the line of contact have become subject to new legislative classification as “border villages”. Here, according to Speaker of the Prime Minister’s Office Artak Beglaryan, the government’s explicit purpose is to maintain, and if possible, increase the population in order to create a presence that would detect and deter Azerbaijani attacks. This is a difficult task, as these villages are directly in the line of fire — an understandable disincentive for citizens to continue living there.</p><p>Which is why under the auspices of this new legislation the government has increased subsidies for these villages — for instance, creating a gas and electricity subsidy that, for some households, entirely covers their monthly bills — as well as providing financial incentives (again subsidies, as well as tax breaks) for investment in border villages in order to stimulate employment.</p><p>But the lengths to which the government is willing to leave behind neoliberal economic orthodoxy is most apparent in the village most affected by the conflict: Talish.</p><h2>A <em>kolkhoz</em> by any other name<span>&nbsp;</span></h2><p>In the dawn hours of 2 April 2016, the north-western heights above the small village of 500 were overrun by the Azerbaijani military. By the time Armenian forces retook Talish, it had been reduced to rubble, and even after the ceasefire was signed, the strategic hills overlooking the village remained in Azerbaijani hands.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>With most of the homes destroyed, the people of Talish have become homeless, living with relatives or in state-provided housing in nearby villages further away from the line of contact. However, even in its current strategically vulnerable position, the Karabakh government is committed to rebuilding Talish, and having its residents return.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_2821469.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_2821469.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Armenian militia in Talish, a village in the Martakert region of the self-declared Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, April 2016. Photo (c): RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Every single family that lost a home will have their home rebuilt. Infrastructure will be repaired and updated. New buildings will also be added, including a house of culture and a recreation centre. But these are not the most ambitious plans for the village; in order to ensure a high level of employment and a strong degree of social solidarity, the village is rebuilding its agricultural and production capacities in a collective model.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>In the words of Talish Mayor Vilen Petrosyan, “It will be like a Soviet <em>kolkhoz</em> (collective farm - ed.), but different. Instead of giving our profits to the government, the community will decide what to do with them”. The beginnings of this new/old model are already in place. The Talish ‘collective’ is producing honey, fruit and vegetables, spirits, meat, and dairy — with several dozen workers employed by the social enterprise composed of former Talish residents (entirely men) who have returned to the village as government contractors, working to rebuild their homes and defend them in case of an attack.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Whether the model will work, and if it will actually be democratic, remains to be seen. But for the local administration, the hope is that the new Talish will not only flourish, but become a model of economy and governance for other villages in Nagorno-Karabakh.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><h2>Going nowhere</h2><p>From 1994 onwards, the people living in Nagorno-Karabakh have been holding out hope for a peaceful normalisation of their situation. But as repeated peace deals floundered, and a deep chill descended, many began to adapt to a new status quo. Even if peace never came, life would go on. But the events of April 2016 shattered this uneasy sense of stability.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>In a strange irony however, as the Karabakh people’s sense of stability was shattered, the existing economic and political order only grew stronger. As a region forged in the crucible of conflict and still enduring its ravages almost thirty years later, Nagorno-Karabakh has ceased being a place where the military exists to support state and society. Rather state and society now exist to support the military. And that is unlikely to change any time soon.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="http://oc-media.org"><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/15977610_1190654974363979_6636835841198235357_n.png" alt="" width="100%" /></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/olesya-vartanyan-magdalena-grono/armenia-and-azerbaijan-collision-course-over-nagorno-karabakh">Armenia and Azerbaijan’s collision course over Nagorno-Karabakh</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-zhamakochyan/armenia-in-trap-of-national-unity">Armenia in the trap of “national unity”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus">On 25 years of postmodernity in the South Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/karabakh-rules-armenia">“Karabakh rules Armenia”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/behind-azerbaijan-s-facades">Behind Azerbaijan’s facades</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/christina-soloyan/in-armenia-front-line-starts-at-school">In Armenia, the frontline starts at school</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Aleksey Antimonov Nagorno-Karabakh Caucasus Mon, 05 Feb 2018 09:32:38 +0000 Aleksey Antimonov 115932 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Afgan Mukhtarli: behind bars, but not forgotten https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mike-runey/afgan-mukhtarli-not-forgotten <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/Runey_Mike_opEd.jpg" alt="" width="80" />Last year, this fearless journalist was abducted from the streets of Tbilisi and wound up in an Azerbaijani jail cell. We need more like him.</p><p>&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Afgan_Mukhtarli_5_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Afgan_Mukhtarli_5_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Afgan Mukhtarli in Tbilisi. Image via Kavkazskiye Novosti / YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>Afgan Mukhtarli and I first met in early 2015, at Prospero’s cafe in central Tbilisi. We were both recent arrivals to Georgia: I was here because an upstart Azerbaijani media outlet had failed to attract a more qualified candidate, and Afgan because his investigative reporting — particularly on the corruption of the country’s military and its ruling Aliyev family — had forced him to flee neighbouring Azerbaijan to end the government’s harassment of him and his family.</p><p dir="ltr">However, it didn’t stop. Family members who remained in Azerbaijan were still threatened, still followed, and still harassed. Neither did Afgan, who kept reporting, supporting struggling members of <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/is-georgia-still-safe-for-azerbaijani-dissidents">Tbilisi’s then-thriving Azerbaijani exile community</a>, and kept protesting. Then in May of last year, the Azerbaijani government escalated their war on Afgan by having him abducted from the streets of Tbilisi and whisked away to a prison in Baku. Earlier this month, he was <a href="http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=30793">sentenced to six years in prison</a>.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Where silence is golden</h2><p dir="ltr">The Azerbaijani state’s attacks on its discontents are always deeply personal. One journalist saw her brother, a rural day labourer whom she credibly believed had never read a word she’d written, sent to prison for a year on fabricated drug charges. Afgan was no exception. He had volunteered to fight in the Nagorno Karabakh War as a young man, and it clearly bothered him that the same state he had once risked his life for was now doing its utmost to destroy him and his family.</p><p dir="ltr">Afgan’s legendary stubbornness served him well as an investigative reporter, but it also roused the ire of certain parts of the Georgian state. There was no protest he wouldn’t attend — there is a picture, lost somewhere deep in Facebook’s ever-changing algorithm, of Afgan protesting the sentence of youth activist Qiyas Ibragimov with a group of Georgian street punks half his age - and both the Georgian police and the quasi-official security contractors hired by SOCAR, the Azerbaijani took notice.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Why, in a country as rich in oil and natural gas as Azerbaijan, are its people still reliant on dangerous gas stoves or&nbsp;burning hazelnuts&nbsp;to keep warm?</p><p dir="ltr">In the same cafe where Afgan and I first met, less than a year and a half later, Afgan’s wife Leyla Mustafayeva would be interviewed about <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/leyla-mustafayeva/afgan-mukhtarli-after-abduction">how the Georgian state abducted Mukhtarli</a> and arranged for him to be “caught” by Azerbaijani border guards while smuggling over $10,000 across the border, in the middle of the night and without his passport. Six months and multiple indignities passed before Afgan was sentenced to six years in prison on charges of smuggling and illegal border crossing. His lawyers are appealing, but much damage has already been done.</p><p dir="ltr">He has been denied proper medical care for his type two diabetes while in custody, and the Azerbaijani court declined to permit him to travel to the funeral for his sister, niece, and nephew in the town of Zaqatala, <a href="https://jam-news.net/?p=79314">who died in their sleep</a> after wind extinguished the flame of the gas heater the family used in lieu of central heating.</p><p dir="ltr">Due to the government’s decision to try him in a court in Balakan, six hours by car northwest of Baku, for no apparent reason other than to inconvenience his lawyers and discourage journalists from attending the trial, the funeral was less than an hour’s drive away. </p><p dir="ltr">The sad and tragic death of his relatives was one of the grim outcomes of entrenched elite corruption that Mukhtarli sought to expose as a journalist. Why, in a country as rich in oil and natural gas as Azerbaijan, are its people still reliant on dangerous gas stoves or <a href="https://www.azernews.az/lifestyle/122005.html">burning hazelnuts</a> to keep warm?</p><h2 dir="ltr">A state of impunity</h2><p dir="ltr">In most countries, the sentencing of a journalist — or anyone, regardless of occupation — on such absurd charges would be a major story in and of itself. In Azerbaijan it barely counts as news.</p><p dir="ltr">In 2017 alone, a photojournalist and blogger was sentenced <a href="https://www.civilrightsdefenders.org/sv/news/journalist-mehman-huseynov-sentenced-to-two-years-on-fabricated-charges/">to two years</a> for slander for accurately describing his torture by Baku police, and another received <a href="http://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/304334/">seven years</a> for extortion for reporting on police-protected brothels. Another managed <a href="http://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/303722/">to lose all his teeth</a> during a month-long stint for failing to obey police instructions, and three months into pretrial detention over a Facebook post, <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/news/22657/">yet another inexplicably hung himself</a> in his cell. </p><p dir="ltr">If we were to start counting beyond the legal system, we would note <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/news/25504/">the case of Ilqar Valiyev</a>, who was abducted and tortured by Azerbaijani servicemen near the line of contact with the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh. They had assumed he was an Armenian spy. Valiyev is now in a third country, but he escaped Azerbaijan via Georgia, where Mukhtarli helped him get medical care.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/images-cms-image-000031350.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/images-cms-image-000031350.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="263" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Journalist Ilqar Valiyev. Source: meydan.tv</span></span></span>Although his case has caught by far the most international attention, Mukhtarli’s kidnapping is part of a trend of closer ties between two South Caucasus countries that are often held up as the poster children for everything that can go right and wrong in “European integration”. Georgia celebrated its long-awaited goal of visa-free travel to the EU last March, while Azerbaijan’s year was marred by the <a href="https://www.occrp.org/en/azerbaijanilaundromat/">Azerbaijani Laundromat</a> revelations and the delay of the signing of a new partnership agreement with the EU. From Brussels or Berlin, one could be forgiven for believing the two post-Soviet states were moving in opposite directions.</p><p dir="ltr">It isn’t the case. A recent <a href="https://puerrtto.livejournal.com/979192.html">blog post</a> by Alexander Lapshin, an Israeli-Russian travel writer who ran afoul of the Azerbaijani authorities about evidence submitted during his prosecution, revealed that Georgia responded to a request for information on his entry and exit from the country with a wealth of supplementary information. This ranged from property Lapshin owned in Batumi to data on those who happened to cross the Armenian border shortly before or after him in late 2016. As most other countries ignored Azerbaijan’s requests — even a friendly state would probably question why the request was not sent via Interpol — it raised questions about what prompted Georgia’s enthusiasm.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">On a macroeconomic level, Azerbaijan is the biggest source of foreign direct investment in Georgia</p><p dir="ltr">On a macroeconomic level, Azerbaijan is the <a href="http://www.geostat.ge/index.php?action=page&amp;p_id=2231&amp;lang=eng">biggest source of foreign direct investment in Georgia</a>, investing more than twice as much as any European state, and as of this year, its <a href="http://georgiatoday.ge/news/8714/Georgia-Not-To-Purchase-Gas-from-Russia-in-2018">sole supplier of natural gas</a>. </p><p dir="ltr">In a deal that raised eyebrows internationally and sparked protests among the domestic opposition, last January the Georgian government and Russia’s Gazprom renegotiated how Gazprom pays Georgia for use of its pipeline for transferring natural gas to Armenia. In the past, Gazprom compensated Georgia with an in-kind payment of 10% of the gas that entered its territory, but the new arrangement <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/georgia-russia-gas-agreement-armenia/28256580.html">stated</a> Georgia would receive cash instead. Neither side has revealed the final terms. As the price is likely tied to the heavily subsidised prices Gazprom charges Armenia, it’s hardly likely the deal was favourable to Georgia.</p><p dir="ltr">In April, then-Georgian Energy Minister Kakha Kaladze <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/caucasus-report-georgia-gas-agreement-azerbaijan-gazprom/28439726.html">announced another deal</a> with Azerbaijan’s SOCAR to increase Azerbaijani gas sales to Georgia to replace the lost Russian gas. As with the Gazprom deal, the financial terms were not disclosed, and the result was Azerbaijan now provides 99% of Georgia’s natural gas. Less than two months later, Afgan Mukhtarli would disappear from the streets of Tbilisi.</p><h2 dir="ltr">Where guests are sacred</h2><p dir="ltr">News of Afgan’s arrest spread quickly across social media, leading to <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-40606599">on-air protests by journalists</a> and demands for accountability from ordinary Georgians, many of whom saw their government’s complicity in Mukhtarli’s disappearance <a href="https://eurasianet.org/s/georgia-fears-reputation-for-hospitality-at-risk-over-azerbaijani-journalists-kidnapping">as a betrayal of deeply-held beliefs</a> about hospitality and protection of guests. “What if they kill him? What are we going to tell his wife? This is medieval! What kind of Georgian would give his guest, no matter who he is, to an enemy?” said Tbilisi shopkeeper Meda Aslamazishvili to <a href="https://eurasianet.org/s/georgia-fears-reputation-for-hospitality-at-risk-over-azerbaijani-journalists-kidnapping">Eurasianet’s Giorgi Lomsadze</a>.</p><p dir="ltr">Despite the furore, Georgia’s official investigation never got off the ground. <a href="http://rustavi2.ge/en/news/78347">Local investigative journalists</a> and <a href="https://worldview.stratfor.com/article/curious-case-afgan-mukhtarli">members of the OCCRP network</a> quickly discovered that both the security cameras in central Tbilisi and along the Azerbaijani border that would have recorded either Mukhtarli’s abduction or attempt to cross illegally had been either deactivated or their footage deleted.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/11232710_1148272005188108_8406602109320388017_n_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/11232710_1148272005188108_8406602109320388017_n_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Leyla Mustafayeva and Afgan Mukhtarli, 2016. Source: Mustafayeva's personal archive. </span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">It has been months since the Georgian government has offered any updates, and fearing for her own safety, Mukhtarli’s wife Leyla Mustafeyeva <a href="https://eurasianet.org/node/85541">took her daughter and fled to Germany</a>. In doing so, she became the latest Azerbaijani dissident or journalist to be forced out of Georgia in the last eighteen months.</p><p dir="ltr">Beginning in late 2016, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-georgia-election/ruling-party-in-georgia-decisively-wins-parliament-vote-idUSKCN1272AT">shortly before elections</a> that granted the ruling Georgian Dream party a constitutional supermajority, several exiled Azerbaijanis who had filed routine paperwork renewing their residence permits received letters from the Georgian government informing them they would not be renewed on national security grounds. None of them could realistically expect to return to Azerbaijan without facing immediate arrest, and most had no choice by to try their luck at asylum in the European Union.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Georgia, which had long tolerated a sizable Azerbaijani expatriate community of dissidents, has unsubtly been pushing them to leave</p><p dir="ltr">Some were lucky enough to have behind-the-scenes help from a friendly embassy, and others, such as composer and intellectual Elmir Mirzoyev, resigned themselves <a href="http://www.tagesspiegel.de/kultur/ein-gefluechteter-komponist-berichtet-aus-dem-leben-eines-lagerinsassen/14690850.html">to the realities of a refugee camp</a> and the risk of refusal and deportation. Georgia, which had long tolerated a sizable Azerbaijani expatriate community of dissidents, intellectuals, and journalists, was unsubtly pushing them to leave.</p><p dir="ltr">Some who noticed the refusal letters did not seem to be based on Georgian law opted to try to fight the government for permission to stay. One such couple was Afgan Mukhtarli and Lelya Mustafayeva.</p><h2 dir="ltr">A time to shout</h2><p dir="ltr">Mukhtarli’s sentencing is not the end of the story. His lawyers are appealing, and the case is ripe for the European Court of Human Rights. The Georgian officials who signed off on Mukhtarli’s kidnapping will know that when his term is over — either in six years, or possibly earlier, given Ilham Aliyev’s practice of showing clemency with mass pardons during Nowruz, the Azerbaijani New Year — the notoriously feisty journalist will have a story to tell.</p><p dir="ltr">Azerbaijan has long escaped significant international pressure for its human rights abuses, both in part due to its relatively low international profile and a moderately successful campaign to buy some of the west’s <a href="https://www.occrp.org/en/corruptistan/azerbaijan/2015/06/22/profile-of-an-undercover-lobbyist-for-azerbaijan.en.html">less scrupulous academics</a> and <a href="https://www.occrp.org/en/azerbaijanilaundromat/azerbaijans-high-profile-beneficiaries">public figures</a>.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-33484359.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-33484359.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Azerbaijani opposition supporters hold Azerbaijani flag and EU flags during a protest against corruption and political repression at Mahsul Stadium, Baku, October 2017. Photo (c): Aziz Karimov/Zuma Press/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p dir="ltr">But rights advocates are not without leverage — Azerbaijan has still not managed to secure all necessary financing for the Southern Gas Corridor, and the European Investment Bank recently <a href="https://euobserver.com/tickers/140259">delayed a final decision</a> on a €1.5 billion loan for “due diligence” issues after months of campaigning by environmental groups. </p><p dir="ltr">Azerbaijan’s longstanding refusal to comply with a judgement by the European Court of Human Rights and <a href="https://eurasianet.org/s/azerbaijan-threatened-with-expulsion-from-council-of-europe">release opposition leader Ilgar Mammadov</a> has finally escalated to the point where it is <a href="https://eurasianet.org/s/azerbaijan-threatened-with-expulsion-from-council-of-europe">risking expulsion or suspension</a> from the Council of Europe. Baku could opt to quit the Council and leave Mammadov in prison, but in doing so would sacrifice much of the international support it would need to see the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh Republic reintegrated into Azerbaijan.</p><p dir="ltr">One day Afgan will be free and resume his quest, to <a href="https://www.civilrightsdefenders.org/news/statements/journalists-conviction-a-black-eye-for-azerbaijan-and-georgia/">paraphrase his words on the day of his sentencing</a>, to have the last word until the end of his life. It is a dark time for journalism and human rights across the world, but rather than despair, it is the responsibility of those who are free to keep working, writing, arguing, and being the inconvenient citizens that refuse to leave the corrupt and powerful be.</p><p dir="ltr">&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ilgar-mammadov/open-letter-from-inmate-of-southern-gas-corridor">A letter from an inmate of the Southern Gas Corridor</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/leyla-mustafayeva/afgan-mukhtarli-after-abduction">Afgan Mukhtarli: after the abduction</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/is-georgia-still-safe-for-azerbaijani-dissidents">Is Georgia still safe for Azerbaijani dissidents?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/gulnar-salimova/walking-free-in-azerbaijan">Walking free in Azerbaijan</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/stopping-spin-from-azerbaijan-s-very-special-laundromat">Stopping the spin from Azerbaijan’s very special laundromat</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Mike Runey Human rights Georgia Caucasus Azerbaijan Mon, 29 Jan 2018 12:50:00 +0000 Mike Runey 115876 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Georgia: Strasbourg’s scrutiny of the misuse of power https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/philip-leach/georgia-strasbourgs-scrutiny-of-the-misuse-of-power <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A new European Court of Human Rights ruling on the misuse of power in Georgia creates an important precedent in cases of political persecution. </p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none_left caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/imageedit_4_7580243807.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/imageedit_4_7580243807.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>European Court of Human Rights. Photo(c): Winfried Rothermel/DPA/PA Images. All rights reserved. </span></span></span>These are unsettling times for the human rights system which covers the whole European continent — 47 states from Ireland to Russia, from Norway to Turkey. Hostile politicians and commentators are wont to rail against judges sitting on the Council of Europe’s European Court of Human Rights, arguing that they unjustifiably extend their purview into sovereign, domestic affairs. The Court’s position as the legitimate apex of human rights adjudication is now further under threat by the rise of European populism and the far right, as well as the fallout from Brexit. The deluge of cases from Turkey after mass arrests following the failed coup in 2016, the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine, and Russia’s unprecedented 2015 law that allows its Constitutional Court to <a href="https://www.ejiltalk.org/russia-defies-strasbourg-is-contagion-spreading/">pick and choose which European Court judgments</a> to implement, have put further strain on the Court. </p><p>Human rights are under serious challenge too in the European Union. Given, the executive’s exertion of control of the Constitutional Tribunal at the behest of the ruling Law and Justice Party in Poland, and the machinations of Viktor Orbán’s illiberal regime in<strong> </strong>Hungary (characterised as <a href="https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3009280">“rule of law backsliding” and creeping autocracy within the EU</a>), as we scan the European horizon these days is it right to ask if the very principle of the rule of law is under threat?</p> <p>Last week’s <a href="https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng#{">judgment</a> from the Strasbourg Court’s Grand Chamber concerning the circumstances of the criminal prosecution of Ivane Merabishvili, the former Minister of Interior and Prime Minister of Georgia, represents a significant moment and, indeed, test for democracy and the rule of law in Georgia.</p> <p>Merabishvili was a key figure within the United National Movement (UNM), the party led by Mikheil Saakashvili, which won the 2004 presidential and parliamentary elections, following the “Rose Revolution” the previous year. However, after the Georgian Dream Coalition won the 2012 parliamentary elections, a raft of former <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/regis-gente/in-georgia-justice-delayed-is-justice-denied">UNM Ministers and officials were prosecuted</a>. In 2012 and 2013, a series of criminal investigations were opened against Merabishvili concerning his alleged use of a fake passport, for alleged embezzlement and abuse of authority concerning a state programme for job seekers and relating to a private house. This led to his arrest in May 2013 and his pre-trial detention.</p> <p><span class="mag-quote-center">How do you prove that there was an ulterior purpose behind the instigation of criminal proceedings?</span></p><p><em> </em></p><p>Merabishvili sought to challenge the legality of his detention in Strasbourg, but more fundamentally, he argued, in effect that he was the subject of political prosecution, by raising one of the less well-known provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights – Article 18, which prevents governments and state bodies from restricting human rights for hidden, ulterior purposes — in other words, from acting in bad faith. It is a provision which has frequently been raised by petitioners to the European Court, but the Court has only found it to have been breached six times before — in cases against Ukraine, Russia, Moldova and Azerbaijan. </p> <p>For example, the former Prime Minister of Ukraine, <a href="http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-119382">Yulia Tymoshenko</a>, and a former Ukrainian Minister of Justice, <a href="http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-112013">Yuriy Lutsenko</a>, both successfully complained to Strasbourg about criminal proceedings brought against them. Soon after Viktor Yanukovych’s victory in the 2010 Presidential elections, both were accused of abuse of power and prosecuted in circumstances considered by many observers to be politically motivated. Prominent business figures prosecuted in Russia and Moldova have also shown similar dysfunctionality in their cases, and last year the Azerbaijani human rights activist <a href="https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng#{">Rasul Jafarov</a> was able to satisfy the European Court that the actual purpose of his criminal prosecution was to silence and punish him for his human rights activities.</p> <p>These cases, however, create a significant practical and legal difficulty — <a href="http://verfassungsblog.de/merabishvili-v-georgia-has-the-mountain-given-birth-to-a-mouse/">how do you prove that there was an ulterior purpose behind the instigation of criminal proceedings</a>? The former majority shareholder in the holding company which owned the NTV television channel in Russia, Vladimir Gusinskiy, was able to point to a document signed by the Russian Minister for Press and Mass Communications which established that the authorities’ intention in prosecuting him in 2000-2001 had actually been to wrestle his media shares away from him, in favour of Gazprom. This led the Court to underline that criminal proceedings cannot be used as&nbsp;part of commercial bargaining strategies. However, in none of the other cases, has a similar “smoking gun” been uncovered – which is of course hardly surprising. In the Jafarov case, and the other Azerbaijani judgment concerning the opposition politician and blogger, <a href="https://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng#{">Ilgar Mammadov</a>, the Court was prepared to base its bad faith finding on wider contextual evidence of ulterior purpose, no doubt reflecting the particularly atrocious human rights record of the Aliyev regime. </p> <p>I<span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_left caption-small'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Ivane_Merabishvili.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_small/wysiwyg_imageupload/564053/Ivane_Merabishvili.jpg" alt="" title="" width="160" height="207" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-small imagecache imagecache-article_small" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ivane Merabishvili, Georgian Interior Minister (2004-2012) and Prime Minister (2012). </span></span></span>n Merabishvili’s case, the Court acknowledged the backdrop of bitter political antagonism between the UNM and Georgian Dream, but it did not accept his claim that his pre-trial detention was chiefly aimed at removing him from the political scene. </p><p>Instead, the finding of a violation of Article 18 hinged on an incident in December 2013 when he claimed to have been taken from his Tbilisi prison cell in the middle of the night, and driven to an unknown destination where he was questioned by the Chief Public Prosecutor and the head of the Georgian prison service. They offered Merabishvili a “deal”: to provide financial information about former President Saakashvili, and information about the death of former Prime Minister Zurab Zhvania, in exchange for a guarantee that he would be released and allowed to leave the country with his family. He refused to comply and was threatened with worsening prison conditions.</p> <p>The government flatly denied that such an incident had ever happened, but having scrutinised the available evidence, the Court found that Merabishvili’s covert removal from his prison cell was proven. It noted that Merabishvili’s account of what happened was detailed, specific and consistent. By contrast, it was critical of how the authorities had investigated his complaint about the incident: the significant delays; the lack of independence; the failure to verify evidence or to obtain certain evidence (such as mobile phone records); and that the prison’s CCTV film had apparently been deleted within 24 hours. </p><p>The Court therefore concluded that, although the investigation of offences had initially been based on reasonable suspicion, as a result of this incident, the predominant purpose of Merabishvili’s detention was found to have changed. </p><p class="mag-quote-center">This is the first ever such finding by the European Court concerning Georgia — and the authorities’ response to it represents an important test for its democratic credentials</p><p>This is the first ever such finding by the European Court concerning Georgia — and the authorities’ response to it represents an important test for its democratic credentials. Could the ruling assist in alleviating the bitter fractiousness which has marred domestic politics after the country’s first peaceful transition of power since the break-up of the Soviet Union in the 2012 elections? The judgment does not directly address the question which is now being hotly debated in Georgia — whether Merabishvili should be released from custody. This reflects the principle of subsidiarity: that the European Court’s decisions will not necessarily stipulate particular steps to be taken, but will allow the national authorities to decide how to comply with a judgment. A finding of a violation of Article 18 of the European Convention (the misuse of power) is very rare. It needs to be taken extremely seriously here, given that it relates to the criminal prosecution of a leading political opposition figure. </p> <p>Arguably, the appropriate response would be to instigate a rigorous, independent investigation into Merabishvili’s covert removal, and if necessary, to re-open the proceedings against him, a process which might justify the quashing of his conviction. There are relevant precedents. In Ukraine, Yuriy Lutsenko’s criminal conviction was quashed by a domestic court, as a result of his Strasbourg ruling, and in September this year, the Council of Europe’s <a href="https://search.coe.int/cm/Pages/result_details.aspx?ObjectID=090000168074a3bd">Committee of Ministers called on the Azerbaijani authorities</a> to reopen the proceedings which led to Rasul Jafarov’s 2015 criminal conviction.</p> <p>However, the <a href="https://www.newsgeorgia.ge/tsulukiani-ne-schitaet-merabishvili-politzaklyuchennym-nesmotrya-na-reshenie-strasburgskogo-suda/">initial responses from the Georgian authorities seeking to downplay the decision</a> do not augur well. Georgia’s Minister of Justice Tea Tsulukiani has been quoted as saying that “the state considers the case to have been decided in its favour”. Georgia’s Minister of Refugee Affairs, Forced Migration and Settlement Sozar Kubary responded: “It is pitiful that we did not manage to convince the judges that Merabishvili’s removal from the prison cell had never happened. But what can we do?” </p> <p>There is little doubt that the international community, including institutions such as the IMF (which has <a href="http://www.imf.org/en/Publications/CR/Issues/2016/12/31/Georgia-2013-Article-IV-Consultation-40886">noted</a> the “political tensions” and appears to rely on the government’s commitment to strengthening the rule of law), will continue to watch this case, and its aftermath, carefully, to see whether the Georgian government’s response is commensurate with the rule of law and a stable, functioning democracy. It will be important too within the context of the EU’s Eastern Partnership initiative, and for the prospects of eventual EU accession. Only last month, the members of that initiative (including Georgia) <a href="http://www.consilium.europa.eu/media/31758/final-statement-st14821en17.pdf">recommitted themselves to strengthening democracy, rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms</a>.</p> <p>More broadly, the Grand Chamber decision in the Merabishvili case sets an important precedent for the whole of Europe, as it revises its case-law to clarify that there will be less of an onus on individuals claiming to be the victims of similar “bad faith” cases in future. No longer will the Strasbourg Court require “incontrovertible and direct proof”. Instead it will apply a more flexible, contextual approach. This is a welcome development which will assist in exposing the misuse of power. As three judges (including the Georgian and Ukrainian judges) argued in their separate (concurring) opinion:</p> <p class="blockquote-new">It is paramount for the Court not to hesitate to consider highly sensitive political contexts. Doing otherwise will endanger democracy and could even be seen as a possible endorsement of the existence and acceptance of political persecution.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/aage-borchgrevink/international-election-observers">No answers on 2016 attack against international election observers in Georgia </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/leyla-mustafayeva/afgan-mukhtarli-after-abduction">Afgan Mukhtarli: after the abduction</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tornike-zurabashvili/waiting-for-misha-s-second-coming">Waiting for Misha’s second coming</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/stephen-f-jones/fate-of-georgian-dreams">The fate of Georgian dreams</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/bakar-berekashvili/georgia-s-grotesque-democracy">Georgia’s grotesque democracy</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/regis-gente/in-georgia-justice-delayed-is-justice-denied">In Georgia, justice delayed is justice denied</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Philip Leach Georgia Caucasus Tue, 05 Dec 2017 21:22:07 +0000 Philip Leach 115072 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The paradox of Armenia’s domestic violence law https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anna-nikoghosyan/paradox-of-armenia-s-domestic-violence-law <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>If passed, Armenia’s draft law against domestic violence will only nurture patriarchy.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/candle_lighting.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/candle_lighting.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="283" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Candle lighting by Armenia’s Coalition to Stop Violence against Women on 1 October 2017. The posters feature victims of domestic violence. Photo courtesy of Zaruhi Hovhannisyan. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>This October, the Armenian government redeveloped its draft law on preventing domestic violence and opened it for public discussion. This started heated debates between state representatives and several groups who oppose the law. Women’s organisations and domestic violence survivors have been left on the periphery of a male-dominated vicious circle, and the draft law has been artificially turned from a preventive and protective tool into a mechanism for “family reconciliation” between abusers and survivors.&nbsp;</p><h2>Real legislation could mean real change</h2><p>Domestic violence remains a prevalent problem for Armenian society. Despite the latent character of the issue and women’s reluctance to seek refuge from abusive relationships, as of October 2017, there were 602 cases of domestic violence officially registered by the Armenian police this year. Women’s rights NGOs received around 5,000 hotline calls.&nbsp;</p><p>In its most cruel form of power and subjugation, femicide in Armenia continues to demonstrate the systemic oppression of women. Between 2010-2017, at least 50 women were killed by their partners or ex-partners, often on the grounds of “male jealousy”. These crimes were <a href="http://coalitionagainstviolence.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/englishversion.pdf?x24321" target="_blank">not properly punished, and were justified even on the level of court judgements</a>.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The number of known cases of domestic violence is increasing, breaking the silence around these normalised crimes&nbsp;</p><p>Thanks to increasing media attention towards violence against women and the fact that more survivors are empowered to speak up about their abuse, the number of known cases of domestic violence is increasing, breaking the hindering silence around these unpunished and normalised crimes.</p><p>Indeed, the law on domestic violence is long overdue for Armenia, say women’s rights activists. According to Lara Aharonyan, co-founder of Women’s Resource Center: “Were the law’s mechanisms put in place, the murders of many women would be prevented.”&nbsp;</p><h2>Concrete steps</h2><p>Not so long ago, members of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia were denying the existence of domestic violence in the country. For instance, in 2014, Eduard Sharmazanov, current Vice President of the National Assembly, stated: “There is no issue of violence against women as Armenians are a nation that honours mothers”. Three years on, the government seems to have “recognised” the need for protective legislation. “The public demand for this kind of law has existed for a while... The current legislation does not ensure effective and necessary mechanisms to protect and support victims and to prevent domestic violence,” remarked Armenia’s Minister of Justice Davit Harutyunyan on 1 November.&nbsp;</p><p>The redevelopment of the draft of domestic violence law by the Armenian government, however, is neither an indication of its sudden increased awareness of the issue — nor the magical manifestation of political will.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Will women’s rights organisations fight for the final adoption of the law in its current format? Or will they call for its total dismissal?&nbsp;</p><p>Under its Human Rights Budget Support Program, the European Commission has made an €11m grant to the Armenian government. One of the <a href="https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/near/files/eni_2014_c2014_7807_final_annual_action_programme_for_armenia_humanrightsprotection.pdf" target="_blank">conditions of the grant’s provision</a> was the adoption of a standalone law on domestic violence.</p><p>This conditionality can be attributed to the persistent advocacy and lobbying efforts of Armenian women’s rights organisations, which have worked on the law since 2007. Their initial efforts resulted in the draft law being rejected by the Armenian parliament in 2013. This decade-long struggle eventually led to the new draft redeveloped by the government this year. But this work also triggered an artificially produced public controversy and media manipulation.&nbsp;</p><h2>Men (dis)agreeing on women’s destinies</h2><p>The first public hearing on Armenia’s new domestic violence draft law took place in Yerevan on 9 October. After state representatives finished their public speeches and presentations, several groups, angry and dissatisfied with the Q&amp;A format of the agenda, attempted to take the stage.&nbsp;</p><p>In the chaos that ensued, the increasingly brutally and violently expressed demands of these groups were eventually satisfied. Hayk Nahapetyan, who runs the nationalist “<a href="http://armsovereignty.com/" target="_blank">For restoring sovereignty</a>” group, took the floor and spoke on behalf of organisations opposing the legislation. Nahapetyan declared that “there is no public need for the law, the public demand comes from [European Union Ambassador to Armenia] Piotr Świtalski.”&nbsp;</p><p>Some members of these groups distributed leaflets in Russian containing information on the differences between Russian and western values in relation to domestic violence legislation. One woman, who had spoken to the Minister of Justice in Russian, condemned the work of a diaspora Armenian women’s rights defender. “You are not Armenian!” she told Maro Matosyan, the director of the Women’s Support Center, which has run a shelter for women survivors of domestic violence for many years.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/2. Groups opposing the law hijacking the first public hearing_Lara Aharonyan.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/2. Groups opposing the law hijacking the first public hearing_Lara Aharonyan.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Groups opposing the law on domestic violence attempt to hijack the first public hearing. Photo courtesy of Lara Aharonian. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>In this state of turmoil, the floor was given to the Primate of Shirak Diocese of Armenian Apostolic Church Bishop Mikayel Ajapahyan who tried to calm down all sides, stressing the importance of Christian education to prevent violence and encouraging the audience not to seek conspiracy in the draft legislation.</p><p>Semi-satisfied, few, if any, participants questioned the fact that neither women’s rights organisations, nor domestic violence survivors were given the floor to express their deep concerns and disagreements on the draft law.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The draft law includes a “mediation clause” that gives abusers the opportunity to reconcile with survivors</p><p>The absence of radical criticism by women’s rights groups made it appear as if their standpoint aligned with that of the state. As a result, instead of demanding improvements, for women’s groups, the fight was lowered to merely preserving the current draft, which not only fails to criminalise domestic violence, but also contains a number of problematic provisions.&nbsp;</p><p>For instance, the draft law includes a “mediation clause” that gives abusers the opportunity to reconcile with survivors via an “independent body” called a “Support Centre”. This is a clause that makes the Armenian domestic violence draft law distinct from other countries’ similar legislation as the state starts fulfilling a function of a reconciliation institution.&nbsp;</p><p>The draft does not envisage serious punishment for non-compliance with the protection and restraining orders or for revealing a shelter’s location. It also suggests creating a council to oversee the law’s implementation. The council members would, however, be appointed by the Prime Minister, thus completely discrediting the council’s independence. These and several other problematic clauses were not widely criticised, and the discussion became an attempt to “justify” (or “disprove”) the need for legislative changes to struggle against domestic violence as a serious trouble for Armenian society.&nbsp;</p><h2>From violence to empowerment&nbsp;</h2><p>During the second public hearing, several individuals who were active in the 2013 <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anna-nikoghosyan/in-armenia-gender-is-geopolitical" target="_blank">anti-gender movements</a> and proven to be <a href="http://uicarmenia.org/en/2288" target="_blank">backed by Russia</a>, delivered speeches in the Armenian parliament. “This law envisages manipulations and blackmailing,” stated Arman Boshyan, the coordinator of Pan-Armenian Parents’ Committee, and president of the Yerevan Geopolitical Club, a group aimed at strengthening Russia’s political influence in Armenia.&nbsp;</p><p>In fact, the domestic violence draft law was condemned by “opposition” groups, as well as by a wider public affected by their misinformation, for being a “new” mechanism to take children from their parents and give them to state-run shelters. The manipulations from these groups and the media were so intense that little, if any, attention was paid to the fact that such a clause (Article 43.2) already exists in the Armenian Family Code. As to the draft law on domestic violence, it neither envisages any mechanisms for taking children away nor opens shelters for children.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/5. Hasmik talking in the Parliament_Credits-Anna Nikoghosyan.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/5. Hasmik talking in the Parliament_Credits-Anna Nikoghosyan.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Hasmik Khachatryan, a survivor of domestic violence, shares her story before Armenia’s parliament. Photo (c): Anna Nikoghosyan. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>At the second public hearing on the draft law in parliament, Arman Ghukasyan, the director of International Humanitarian Development, an NGO whose profile is impossible to find online, stated: “Women’s NGOs have an interest in the high rate of domestic violence cases in order to be able to receive more grants.” Despite the fact that none of the people opposing the legislation was a professional working in the field of domestic violence or a related area, the opinions of these groups were seriously taken into account both by state representatives and the media.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The draft law neither envisages any mechanisms for taking children away nor opens up shelters for children&nbsp;</p><p>In this environment of “suddenly emerging” deep expertise on domestic violence, Hasmik Khachatryan, a survivor of domestic violence who was subject to violence by her husband for nine years and whose abuser received an amnesty and was set free, shared her story in parliament.&nbsp;</p><p>As Khachatryan highlighted, the first time the investigator came to see her, he recommended her to return to her husband: “Women should obey their husbands when they beat them, he told me.” As she stressed the importance of the law, she referred to many women who live in a constant state of fear and do not know how to seek help. Despite Hasmik’s powerful speech, which was accompanied by applause, the draft was not saved from further distortions by the government.&nbsp;</p><h2>State-sponsored reconciliation</h2><p>In the middle of complying with the EU’s budget support programme and menace from Russian-backed campaigning against the law, the Armenian government decided to make dramatic changes in the draft, including its title. Hence, on 16 November, the government quickly and silently approved the draft law and presented it to the National Assembly. The new draft is now entitled “Preventing violence in the family, protecting the victims of violence in the family and restoring harmony in the family”.</p><p>As the new title and changed provisions suggest, this law shifts the focus from protecting individuals and preventing crime to “reconciling the family”. According to members of the Armenian Coalition to Stop Violence against Women, a unity of NGOs fighting for the adoption of the law, this concept “not only lacks a legal definition, but also contradicts local and international legal norms”.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“Legislation exists so that relationships between people are regulated on the basis of laws, not traditions”</p><p>Furthermore, the term “domestic violence” has been switched out for “violence in the family”, thus narrowing the targets of the law. One of the principles enshrined in the new draft is now the strengthening of “traditional family values”, while one of the actions prescribed by the law is a review of educational materials to include information on values in “traditional families”.</p><p>As Anahit Simonyan, a women’s rights defender, told me: “Legislation exists so that relationships between people are regulated on the basis of laws, not traditions.” The approved draft, however, does not question Armenian traditions — the root causes of women’s violence and oppression. Instead, it perpetuates them.&nbsp;</p><p>The Armenian government continues to be influenced by political groups whose agenda seems to align with their own politics. It is ignoring the advice of experts from the field of domestic violence and voices of domestic violence survivors — the people who should be at the frontline of these discussions. Both the effectiveness and necessity of a law that risks aggravating the situation, rather than becoming a support mechanism for survivors, are questionable.</p><p>Will women’s rights organisations fight for the final adoption of the law in its current format? Or will they call for its total dismissal? This remains uncertain. But one thing is clear: Armenia’s patriarchal state bodies are nurturing laws and policies that reflect their values — and keep getting paid for it. Even at the EU level.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-nikoghosyan/in-armenia-gender-is-geopolitical">In Armenia, gender is geopolitical</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/armine-ishkanian-maro-matosian/heated-debates-around-domestic-violence-in-armenia">Heated debates around domestic violence in Armenia </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-nikoghosyan/armenia-invisible-women">Standing up for Armenia&#039;s invisible women </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/antonina-vikhrest/victims-of-russia-s-ultra-conservatism-are-russian-people-themselves">The victims of Russia’s ultra-conservatism are the Russian people themselves</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/dagestan-who-owns-women-s-bodies">Who owns women’s bodies in Dagestan?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/violence-and-gender-inequality-in-azerbaijan">From emancipation to restraint: violence and gender inequality in Azerbaijan</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/armine-avetisyan/armenia-s-parents-dream-of-having-sons">Armenia’s parents dream of having sons</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Anna Nikoghosyan Rights for all Caucasus Armenia Wed, 22 Nov 2017 11:58:46 +0000 Anna Nikoghosyan 114828 at https://www.opendemocracy.net “We don’t want to be invisible”: the meaning of Azerbaijan’s LGBT purge https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/we-don-t-want-to-be-invisible-meaning-of-azerbaijan-s-lgbt-purge <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In late September Azerbaijan’s police rounded up and detained dozens of LGBT people. What explains this sudden crackdown?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Policevan_Baku.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Policevan_Baku.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="288" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Police van in central Baku, September 2017. Image still via Euro Vision Social Newswire / YouTube. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>In late September Azerbaijan’s police force began rounding up LGBT people, and those perceived to be such, across the country. On 2 October, police released all detainees, while admitting that 83 had been detained (LGBT rights activists estimate their number at 150-200). The events led to widespread international condemnation, but this story isn’t over — not least for the young men and women whose lives may never be the same.</p><p>In the weeks since the crackdown, several LGBT people have either left the capital of Baku, or <a href="http://oc-media.org/arrests-threats-and-humiliation-in-azerbaijans-crackdown-on-queer-people/ " target="_blank">fled the country altogether</a> (reportedly to Russia and Turkey). Harassment of LGBT people continued into October in the country’s second-largest city of Ganja. After detaining and strip-searching LGBT people, local police “<a href="https://twitter.com/minorityaze/status/919289389716471809" target="_blank">warned [gay and transgender people] to leave the city</a>, where they are not wanted” alleged <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/culture/16959/" target="_blank"><em>Minority</em>, the country’s only LGBT magazine</a>, in a tweet on 14 October.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Azerbaijani society is so intolerant towards LGBT people that the country was declared “the worst place to be gay in Europe”</p><p>Homosexuality was decriminalised in Azerbaijan in 2000. However, public attitudes have yet to change: LGBT people remain largely defenceless against hate crimes and hate speech. In January 2014, Isa Shahmarli, founder of the Azad LGBT network, took his own life by hanging himself with a rainbow flag. In his final note, the prominent activist blamed society for his death. Such are the levels of Azerbaijani society’s revulsion towards LGBT people that the country was declared “<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/10/azerbaijan-worst-place-in-europe-to-be-gay-lgbt-rainbow-index" target="_blank">the worst place to be gay in Europe</a>” in the 2016 Rainbow Index.&nbsp;</p><p>In this atmosphere, it’s no surprise if some Azerbaijanis turned a blind eye to the crackdown. But what explains the detentions and humiliations in the first place? And what could <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/stopping-spin-from-azerbaijan-s-very-special-laundromat" target="_blank">a country which lavishes millions on its international image</a> have conceivably gained from an anti-LGBT crackdown?</p><h2>Contagion and contempt</h2><p>Baku still dismisses any accusations from human rights organisations of systematic pressure against gay, lesbian and transgender people. Its spokesmen first declared that the detentions were carried out in the interests of public health. Azerbaijan’s interior ministry and the prosecutor general’s office <a href="https://www.facebook.com/mia.gov.az/posts/1922739461276691" target="_blank">released a joint statement</a> on 2 October that raids in the capital targeted people accused of “offering unsolicited sexual services to locals and tourists, violating public order and spreading infectious diseases.”</p><p>The authorities’ statement also claimed that of those detained, six had AIDS, a further six were HIV-positive, and 16 had syphilis. The stats quickly became confused, as reports emerged that AIDS centres were denying having conducted any medical examinations. Pro-government media went even further, claiming that <a href="http://virtualaz.org/cemiyyet/103566" target="_blank">all those detained had sexually-transmitted diseases</a>. Whatever the discrepancies, the authorities concluded that urgent measures to protect public health had to be taken.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00116070.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00116070.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Young Azerbaijanis at the waterfront in Baku, 2005. Photo (c): Dmitry Korobeynikov / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>In an interview for <em>EurasiaNet</em>, spokesman for Azerbaijan’s interior ministry Ehsan Zaidov, cited the aforementioned claims as <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/85326" target="_blank">proof that public concerns about the LGBT community were entirely justified</a>. He also added that LGBT people among the Azerbaijani population “[do] not fit in our nation, our state, and our mentality.”</p><p>This isn’t the first time police have rounded up LGBT people in Baku. Law enforcement personnel have often conducted AIDS tests upon detaining transgender, gay or lesbian people. What was remarkable about the crackdown in September was its sheer scale, aggression and systematic nature — police arrested people on the street, while others were reportedly <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/azerbaijan-gay-men-abuse-lgbt-arrests-crackdown-torture-electric-shocks-a8016291.html" target="_blank">tortured and forced to confess their involvement in the sex trade</a>. </p><h2>Spirited away<span>&nbsp;</span></h2><p><span>Officials state that the police operation lasted for 15 days, from 15-30 September, while local lawyers state it began a day earlier.&nbsp;</span><span>On 14 September, plainclothes police entered nightclubs and bars to detain LGBT people. Reports soon emerged that police had been approaching LGBT people on streets and the parks across Baku and demanded that they leave — and fast. In short, they were to become invisible.</span></p><p>The first three days alone saw the arrest of over 100 people, 56 of whom were arrested and sentenced to administrative detention of 10-30 days by district courts. Some 18 were fined, and nine received verbal warnings. Others were held by police with no formalities whatsoever.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>“They lined us up outside the front door of the police station and ordered us not to show our faces on Torgovaya Street [now called Nizami Street - ed.] or any other touristic areas after 10-11 PM,” one gay man who was detained in central Baku tells me. September, it should be mentioned, is not tourist season in Azerbaijan.</p><p>Some were luckier. One gay man told me that he was outside when his flatmates were taken into custody: “I went out to buy groceries and heard my friend yelling from the balcony, telling me to run away, as [the police] had come for us. I hid in a hen-house all night,” he says. When he returned, the flat had been turned upside-down. The landlord then evicted the man and his friends.</p><p>“I was shocked,” began one trans woman who described the humiliation endured after her trial. Detained while dining at Baku’s Hard Rock Café, she was forced to undergo a blood test on suspicion of carrying an infectious disease. Police then shaved off her hair to make her “look like a man”. This isn’t uncommon experience for <a href="https://chai-khana.org/en/nigar-aka-naomi" target="_blank">trans people in Azerbaijan</a>. Despite having undergone male-to-female surgery, many trans women in Azerbaijan are still registered as male on their national identity cards, a gender identity to which they must conform. To date, only one trans woman has succeeded in changing the gender on her passport.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p class="mag-quote-center">Many LGBT people are now afraid of venturing out in public&nbsp;— they fear being trapped by the police and being taken into custody once more</p><p>Transgender and transsexual people have been particularly hard-hit in the latest crackdown, and several have left Azerbaijan or returned to their families (if their relatives still accept them). “We don’t want to be invisible,” one told me from a neighbouring country, “We will not die. People will speak of us even after we are gone.”</p><p>“The psychological condition of these people is not good,” sighs Javid Nabiyev, chair of the <a href="http://www.nefeslgbt.org/index.php/en/" target="_blank">Nefes (Breathe) LGBT rights organisation</a>. The prospects that they’ll get the help they need in Azerbaijan are dim indeed. However, Matanat Azizova, chair of the Gender Crisis Centre, sees the crackdown as a “clear violation of human rights”, adding that Azerbaijan is obliged to comply with European conventions on human rights and its own constitution, which proclaims the “equality of all people”.<span>&nbsp;</span></p><p>Thanks to rising international pressure from early October, the detained people in Baku eventually walked free. But many LGBT people are now afraid of venturing out in public — and even more afraid of meeting unfamiliar people. As Nabiyev puts it, they fear being trapped by the police and taken into custody once more.</p><p>There’s also the fact that alongside the beatings and verbal abuse, many detained people were released only after giving names and addresses of other LGBT people in Baku. These contacts were then arrested in turn.</p><p>So, the pretexts for this police operation seem as wide-ranging as the crackdown itself. But what, exactly, are the likely motives?</p><h2>A crackdown without a cause?</h2><p>Responding to&nbsp;<a href="https://www.balcanicaucaso.org/eng/Areas/Azerbaijan/Muiznieks-asks-for-details-on-the-LGBT-situation-in-Azerbaijan-183281" target="_blank">a letter by Nils Muižnieks</a>, the Council of Europe’s commissioner on human rights, Azerbaijan’s interior minister Ramil Üsübov dismissed the idea that the detentions were linked to the detainees’ sexual orientation or gender identity,&nbsp;<a href="https://www.meydan.tv/amp/az/site/news/25659/Ramil-Usubov:-Cinsi-azlıqların-vəziyyəti-Avropa-ölkələrindəkindən-fərqlənmir.htm" target="_blank">declaring</a>&nbsp;that “the situation [for LGBT rights] in Azerbaijan is not fundamentally different from the rest of Europe”. His explanation reiterated nearly all the justifications offered by officials since detentions started.</p><p>A<span>longside “health concerns”, Azerbaijan’s interior ministry has also cited appeals from Baku residents as a reason for the police operation (human rights defenders have disputed this claim). One official justification for the numerous detentions and arrests was that those under scrutiny resisted arrest or disturbed the public order. Indeed, the interior ministry included “hooliganism” as a factor in its recent statement.</span></p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Usubov_Ramil.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Usubov_Ramil.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“The situation [for LGBT rights] in Azerbaijan is not fundamentally different from the rest of Europe”, says interior minister Ramil Üsübov. Photo courtesy of MeydanTV. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></span></p><p>“The official accusations against them are unfounded, and the victims say that they’ve done nothing except follow the orders of police officers,” Samad Rahimli, a Baku-based lawyer involved in defending the detainees, tells me. All those whom I interviewed for this article confirmed that the police did not specify the exact reason for their detention while they were in custody.</p><p>“I was told by the police that I had been disrupting public order. I couldn’t fathom how. We were just chatting among ourselves on Torgovaya Street,” recalls one gay man, adding that he was then rebuked by the police for “asking too many questions”.</p><p>Another gay man tried to find out more during his detention at Baku’s main police department, to which officers responded that “everything [he knew] was just a rumour, and that the operation [was] an order from above.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Police also explained the crackdown by accusing those targeted of being sex workers, stressing their “immorality”</p><p>Police also explained the crackdown by accusing those targeted of being sex workers, stressing their “immorality”. As Azerbaijan’s Interior Minister went on to say in an interview with Lent.Az that those “working at nights” caused the most public concern. This ties in with another possibility — that the crackdown was the result of an appeal from Baku residents (Ministry of Interior said this, but human rights defenders have disputed the claim).&nbsp;</p><p>In at least 57 cases known to lawyers, LGBT detainees were accused not of engaging in sex work, but resisting police officers in their line of duty.&nbsp;</p><p>Prostitution is illegal in Azerbaijan and is punishable by a fine — police raids against sex workers are routine in the capital. Operating brothels and pimping are criminal offences which can land the defendant with a prison sentence. Yet it’s important to note that <a href="https://jam-news.net/?p=58286" target="_blank">such activities are far from limited to the country’s LGBT community</a> and its alleged “immorality”.&nbsp;</p><p>“We don’t deny that there are many transgender people among Azerbaijan’s sex workers,” explains Gulnara Mehdiyeva, an activist for Nefest and editor of <em>Minority.&nbsp;</em>“However, they are often obliged to get involved in it,” continues Mehdiyeva, noting that LGBT people are often excluded from many sectors of the labour market.&nbsp;</p><p>For most sex workers in the country, the legal fine of 100 Manat (£45) is essentially a bribe to police to avoid arrest. Most detainees I spoke to confirmed that they had been fined 100-150 Manat, though <em>Minority</em>&nbsp;states some individuals have been fined 1,000-3,000 Manat (£450-1,350).</p><p>“There’s no legal documentation of any of these fines,” explains Samad Ismayilov, one of the founders of <em>Minority</em>. “The aim was just to extort and terrorise people.”</p><p>Even if one accepts the police explanation that the raid was launched first and foremost against sex workers, activists estimate that machinery of state soon turned towards another 150-200 LGBT people. They worked in the most diverse professions — teachers and housekeepers, bakers and hairdressers.&nbsp;</p><p>Mehdiyeva points out that many police probably can’t tell the difference between sex workers and LGBT people — let alone between transgender, transsexual and gay people. This arbitrariness is as dangerous as targeted acts of discrimination, and pours no less oil on an already raging fire.&nbsp;</p><h2>Rumours&nbsp;</h2><p>A transgender woman insulted a minister passing by in his car. Transgender people beat the son of an influential Arab businessman. A government official’s son received a sexually transmitted disease after a night on the town. These are just some of the rumours which have been swirling around Baku since mid-September. Everybody’s reading the tea leaves here. Some even believe the crackdown is just one manifestation of intra-elite rivalries.</p><p>This much is certain: Azerbaijan’s LGBT community is a group nobody is willing to defend, and a group which nearly everybody hates. They’re a symbol of “western decadence” for conservatives and traditionalists, whom Azerbaijan’s government is eager to appease in its delicate dance between the west and the rest. After all, Baku has always been cautious in its dealings over the LGBT community — having to show (nominal) progress on human rights to European partners, without irritating a conservative electorate.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Leyla_Ali-AzLGBT.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Leyla_Ali-AzLGBT.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Rainbow Azerbaijan. An illustration by Leyla Ali for Minority Azerbaijan, the country’s only LGBT-interest publication. Photo: Facebook / Minority Azerbaijan.</span></span></span></p><p>And while the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/anna-nikoghosyan/in-armenia-gender-is-geopolitical" target="_blank">politics of homophobia in the South Caucasus is riven with geopolitical divides</a>, not all LGBT people are automatically activists who feel compelled to pick a side. Indeed, most Azerbaijani LGBT people I interviewed did not seem particularly interested in the political situation in Azerbaijan. They wanted to keep their heads down and get on with their lives — their principal concern being that the country’s police interfered in those lives far too easily. Even those who somehow believed Azerbaijan to be democratic state saw this as “surprising”.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Azerbaijan’s LGBT community never posed a political threat to the regime&nbsp;—&nbsp;many want to keep their heads down and get on with life</p><p>Indeed, Azerbaijan’s LGBT community has never posed a political threat to the regime — indeed, when politically expedient they have been showcased to the international community as a symptom of a newly westernised Azerbaijan. Never was this clearer than in 2012, when Baku hosted the Eurovision Song Contest, widely perceived by Azerbaijanis as “gay-friendly”.&nbsp;</p><p>One could well ask whether the LGBT community have any friends in Azerbaijani politics whatsoever. When approached for comment, several of Azerbaijan’s opposition politicians did not seem willing to engage with the topic. Isa Gambar, former leader of Müsavat, the country’s largest opposition party, said that he remained sceptical of both the interior ministry’s statements on the detention and the accounts of human rights defenders (the party’s current leader Arif Hajili made no statement on the detentions). Leader of the National Council of Democratic Forces and former presidential candidate Jamil Hasanli is less equivocal&nbsp;<span>— he sees</span><span>&nbsp;the detentions as the act of a police state, and states that his political platform has no interest in citizens’ personal lives.&nbsp;</span></p><p>One theory is that a crackdown on the beleaguered LGBT community was a useful gesture in the government’s attempts to build bridges with a conservative Muslim electorate. In 2011, 92% of self-described Azerbaijani Muslims <a href="http://www.pewforum.org/2013/04/30/the-worlds-muslims-religion-politics-society-morality/" target="_blank">believed homosexuality to be morally wrong</a> (although it is important to note that <a href="http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/WVSOnline.jsp" target="_blank">93% of Azerbaijani society at large held the same view</a>). Nevertheless, Azerbaijanis of all faiths and none took to social media to support the actions of the police — calling on them to “burn” LGBT people in their social media comments.</p><h2>Look, a bird!</h2><p>Finally, there’s the timing. On 12 September, Baku’s police chief Mirgafar Seyidov <a href="http://www.turan.az/wap/2017/9/free/politics%20news/en/65456.htm" target="_blank">became the first Azerbaijani citizen to wind up on the Global Magnitsky List</a>, thus subject to western sanctions in response to corruption and human rights abuses.</p><p>Crucially, early September also saw the publication of a <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/04/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-azerbaijani-laundromat" target="_blank">new OCCRP investigation on Azerbaijan’s laundromat</a> — a slush fund which laundered nearly $3 billion to pay for the luxurious lifestyles of the Azerbaijani elite and their <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/stopping-spin-from-azerbaijan-s-very-special-laundromat" target="_blank">extensive lobbying efforts abroad</a>. In response, Baku blocked the OCCRP’s website and slammed the report as “absurd”. By 23 September, <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/opposition-activists-hold-anticorruption-rally-baku/28753209.html" target="_blank">hundreds of opposition activists were protesting in Baku</a>, enraged by the new allegations.</p><p>Given that these revelations were probably quite embarrassing for several government officials, it’s not impossible that “a nice little war” was in order — to prove the authorities’ popular credentials and deflect public outrage.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">It’s not impossible that “a nice little war” was in order — to deflect public outrage from yet more embarassing revelations about the corruption of Azerbaijan’s elite</p><p>Historian Altay Göyüşov also wrote in a <a href="https://www.facebook.com/altaygr/posts/10208086805407971" target="_blank">25 September Facebook post</a> that launching a crackdown during the Islamic holy month of Muharram also had a certain resonance — perhaps a message of support for conservative Azerbaijanis’ worldview.&nbsp;</p><p>These detentions have also been widely compared to the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/brothers-be-careful-don-t-meet-up-with-anyone-in-grozny" target="_blank">brutal anti-gay purges in Chechnya earlier this year</a>, which saw dozens of gay men detained, assaulted, and tortured. Authorities allegedly encouraged “honour killings” across the territory.&nbsp;</p><p>“It’s totally similar,” argues Nabiyev, adding that “the government is just trying to publicly make an excuse for western sanctions against Azerbaijan, taking this opportunity to demonstrate that mainstream opinion still supports the government [and vice versa].”&nbsp;</p><p>“Should any sanctions be intensified in future, the government can then imply that they were imposed due to pressure on gay people [and they may be held responsible],” predicts Nabiyev.&nbsp;</p><p>It seems that other authoritarian governments may have followed Baku’s lead — news recently surfaced that <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/17/tajikistan-gay-lesbian-register-medical-checks" target="_blank">Tajikistan has drawn up a list of gay and lesbian citizens</a>. The justification? Public health concerns.&nbsp;</p><p>There may be many explanations for what happened in Baku, and what may still be happening in other cities across Azerbaijan. What is all too clear is that the short-term goals from harassing a widely-reviled sexual minority outweigh the international costs. It would seem that in Azerbaijan LGBT people simply remain too easy to hate — and for the authorities, too tempting a target.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>“<a href="http://oc-media.org/azerbaijans-media-spreading-fear-and-hate-of-queer-people/" target="_blank">Azerbaijan’s media —&nbsp;spreading fear and hatred of queer people</a>”, Vahid Ali, <em>OC Media</em></p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/behind-azerbaijan-s-facades">Behind Azerbaijan’s facades</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-nikoghosyan/in-armenia-gender-is-geopolitical">In Armenia, gender is geopolitical</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/sabir-akhundov/azerbaijanism">“Azerbaijanism”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/azerbaijan-ruling-in-bad-faith">Azerbaijan: ruling in bad faith</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/marina-shupac/lgbt-lives-in-moldova">LGBT lives in Moldova</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/alyona-soiko/brokeback-in-belarus">Brokeback in Belarus </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Lamiya Adilgizi Caucasus Azerbaijan Mon, 30 Oct 2017 09:19:24 +0000 Lamiya Adilgizi 114333 at https://www.opendemocracy.net A response to “Georgian land, Georgian freedom” https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/hans-gutbrod/response-to-georgian-land-georgian-freedom <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>We recently published an article arguing in favour of Georgia’s proposed ban on selling agricultural land to foreign buyers. A foreign landowner with several years’ experience in the country’s agricultural sector uses his right of response to argue against the move.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/GrapeHarvest_Georgia.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/GrapeHarvest_Georgia.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The grape harvest in Kakheti, a region of eastern Georgia famous for its winemaking. Photo CC-by-2.0: Joe Colne / Flickr. Some rights reserve.</span></span></span></p><p>In <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sopiko-japaridze/georgian-land-georgian-freedom" target="_blank">this article on Georgia’s proposed ban on selling agricultural land to foreign buyers</a>, Sopo Japaridze makes a number of excellent points: in policy, the needs of Georgia’s rural population should have priority. They make up more than 40% of Georgia’s population, yet are often neglected. She also makes the sensible point that Georgia imports far too much food (though it is unlikely to be quite the 80% that she cites). However, the proposed solution —&nbsp;banning foreign land ownership — is unlikely to be the solution for either of these problems.</p><p>Right now, the main problem in Georgia is that most land is not actually being farmed. By some estimates, as much as 50% of Georgia’s arable land lies fallow, being used for grazing at best. Foreign investors can contribute to putting this land to use by bringing skills, capitals, and access to international markets. These investors can also bring employment, and can help to revive agriculture, through some anchor investments. Foreign investments have already led to employment, to increased standards, and have helped to export Georgian products to Germany, Japan and other destinations. It might have been useful to highlight this dimension, given the current discussion.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The main problem in Georgia is that most land is not actually farmed. Foreign investors can help put this land to use</p><p>It is also sensible to keep focusing on exports. First, Georgia needs export revenue, to buy the things it does not produce. While manufacturing jobs are desirable, they cannot be conjured out of nothing. Next to tourism and hydropower, agriculture offers a sensible source of revenue. </p><p>Export requires high standards, which are in demand in Georgia, too. Currently, many farmers over-use pesticides and herbicides, and while most Georgian produce looks wholesome and tastes delicious, a chunk of it is not particularly safe. One case in point is the recent US health warning about <a href="https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/doh/downloads/pdf/lead/georgian-spices.pdf" target="_blank">high levels of lead in Georgian spices.</a> That is just the tip of what unfortunately is a far-from-healthy iceberg. Exporters, particularly those to Western European markets, are held to high standards, with regards to residues. They are, incidentally, also held to standards with regards to labour safety. </p><p>Thus, working to export standards can bring the quality and productivity that likely will contribute to reducing imports, too. In Georgian agriculture, we have a long way to go before we reach a zero-sum game of either exports or imports. </p><p>To be sure, not all investment (foreign or Georgian) is great, getting the details of regulation right is difficult. The details are complex. I do wish that future articles on this issue take account of that complexity, and contribute to a nuanced discussion. </p><p>In Georgia, and all across the former Soviet Union, there is much misery today, because of hot-headed decisions that were taken on impulse, in the past. The right answers often are not in extremes (“any investor in!”; “all investors out!”), but in identifying sensible trade-offs. Journalism contributes to developing such policies when it highlights the complex mechanics that are at play, and illuminates the unintended consequences that could result from courses of action that appear superficially attractive, while leading us down some unhappy paths. </p><p><em>Hans Gutbrod has been working in and on the Caucasus region since 1999. He is also active in agriculture, and believes in its potential in Georgia, if the right decisions are taken. </em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>“<a href="https://medium.com/@hansgutbrod/ban-on-foreign-ag-ownership-in-georgia-why-leases-are-not-the-solution-6abdb72706e1" target="_blank">Ban on foreign ag-ownership in Georgia — why leases are not the solution</a>”, Hans Gutbrod for <em>Medium</em></p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/sopiko-japaridze/georgian-land-georgian-freedom">Georgian land, Georgian freedom</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Hans Gutbrod Georgia Caucasus Tue, 17 Oct 2017 22:32:50 +0000 Hans Gutbrod 114047 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Stopping the spin from Azerbaijan’s very special laundromat https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/stopping-spin-from-azerbaijan-s-very-special-laundromat <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/u555493/osce_budapest_portrait-37.jpg" alt="osce_budapest_portrait-37.jpg" width="80" />We all know about Baku’s international efforts to whitewash criticism of human rights abuses. What makes these latest revelations so different?</p><br /> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-32971826.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>23 September: several thousand people gather in Baku for a protest rally of the National Council of Democratic Forces, under the slogan ''Return the money stolen from the people!''. (c) Aziz Karimov/Zuma Press/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>It’s been a busy last few weeks for Sofia’s City Prosecutor Office, which has launched an <a href="http://sofiaglobe.com/2017/09/07/azerbaijani-laundromat-reports-bulgarian-prosecutor-general-orders-probe-of-mitrev/" target="_blank">investigation into Kalin Mitrev</a>, the Bulgarian representative to the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development. In Slovenia, a presidential candidate <a href="https://www.sns.si/izjava-za-javnost/" target="_blank">dropped out of the race</a>. In the UK, former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/05/theresa-may-challenged-over-azerbaijani-money-laundering-scheme" target="_blank">called for a full investigation</a> into the whereabouts of dirty money channeled through UK offshores to buy influence and powerful friends.&nbsp;</p><p>The reason for all this commotion is the revelations surrounding a new money laundering scheme dubbed the “<a href="https://www.occrp.org/en/azerbaijanilaundromat/" target="_blank">Azerbaijani Laundromat</a>”, released by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) together with international investigative media outlets and Belingske. Stories of offshores, investments and businesses owned by members of the ruling Aliyev family have adorned international publications for years. This is hardly the first <a href="https://panamapapers.icij.org/20160404-azerbaijan-hidden-wealth.html" target="_blank">investigative exposé</a> of corruption and money laundering schemes commonly used in Azerbaijan — just remember the Panama Papers.&nbsp;</p><p>So what makes the latest round of revelations so special? In the days since their announcement, I’ve had time to chew over the question. As executive director of OCCRP Paul Radu told me, this was the first time investigative journalists have actually gained access to bank accounts, and revealed the actual beneficiaries of these huge transactions. Radu added that the funds were used not just to purchase luxury goods and politicians in Europe, but that countries like Iran had used Azerbaijan’s slush fund to bypass sanctions.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Unlike ever before, these revelations reveal the extraordinary lengths to which Baku will go in order to whitewash criticism and buy praise</p><p>These revelations concern me, not only as an Azerbaijani but also as a journalist. Unlike ever before, they reveal the extraordinary lengths to which the government in Baku will go to whitewash criticism of the country’s dismal human rights record — with a little help from its foreign friends.&nbsp;</p><h2>A serving of caviar diplomacy&nbsp;</h2><p>The time frame indicated in the investigations is significant. In 2012, the Azerbaijani leadership tasted what an international outcry on human rights abuse at home meant <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-17479011" target="_blank">while hosting the Eurovision song contest</a>. By this point, the regime had already started making useful friends at the Council of Europe thanks to what Berlin-based think tank ESI described in its 2012 report as “<a href="http://www.esiweb.org/pdf/esi_document_id_131.pdf" target="_blank">Caviar Diplomacy</a>”.&nbsp;</p><p>Their report is an excellent explainer for anyone trying to understand how Azerbaijan’s laundromat works. Caviar Diplomacy was about “winning and retaining the stamp of legitimacy” — and win Azerbaijan certainly did when it came to finding positive assessments about the country’s internal democratic progress.&nbsp;</p><p>In some cases, these friendly voices needed a little gift. At least, this may have been the case with German politician Eduard Lintner. Lintner, a Christian Social Union politician, <a href="http://www.dw.com/en/azerbaijani-laundromat-brings-german-ex-politician-into-spotlight/a-40379377" target="_blank">allegedly received a total of 819,500 euros between 2012-2014</a>. He also led a German mission to Azerbaijan to observe the <a href="http://www.osce.org/institutions/110015" target="_blank">rigged 2013 presidential elections</a>, though concluded that the contest had been <a href="http://www.dw.com/en/azerbaijani-laundromat-brings-german-ex-politician-into-spotlight/a-40379377" target="_blank">held with “German standards”</a>. The now retired politician has since denied benefitting from the slush fund, insisting that the money was received through an NGO he established to promote Azerbaijani-German relations after stepping down from the Council of Europe.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Lintner_15.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Lintner_15.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The German CSU parliamentarian Eduard Lintner. Like several other European politicians, Lintner has highly praised rigged elections held by Azerbaijan’s autocratic regime. Photo CC-by-SA 3.0: Togodumnus / Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>European politicians once called for sanctions and suspended the Azerbaijani delegation’s voting rights at the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE). That tone began to change some time after the presidential elections in 2008 and <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/7949327.stm" target="_blank">referendum in 2009</a> that removed presidential term limits. Instead of calling for sanctions over Baku’s human rights violations, they now call for “patience” (in the words of former British Liberal Democrat MP Michael Hancock).&nbsp;</p><p>Others joined these calls for patience. Delegates from Baku argued there was scope for progress despite the falsifications, irregularities and shortcomings to which even they readily admitted. But the highlight of Azerbaijan’s “caviar diplomacy” really showed its true impact in 2012 when PACE <a href="http://assembly.coe.int/nw/xml/News/News-View-en.asp?newsid=4296&amp;lang=2" target="_blank">voted against a draft resolution on political prisoners in Azerbaijan</a>. This served as a green light for the authorities in Baku to <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/altay-goyushov/crackdown-in-azerbaijan" target="_blank">launch a crackdown against civil society</a>. They went after journalists, rights defenders and political activists, while making deep changes to legislation governing NGOs and the media.&nbsp;</p><p>Parliamentary elections in 2015, and another <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dominika-bychawska-siniarska/azerbaijan-s-unconstitutional-future" target="_blank">country-wide referendum held in 2016</a> were no different. Aleksander Nikoloski, a Macedonian MP from the VMRO-DPMNE party who headed the PACE mission to Azerbaijan said the result expressed the will of the people of Azerbaijan and was a “step forward towards safe, stable and sustainable development of the country”, while other MPs <a href="http://www.epde.org/en/newsreader/items/international-election-observers-whitewash-fraudulent-referendum-in-azerbaijan.html" target="_blank">stated</a> the results were <a href="https://www.eureporter.co/frontpage/2016/09/27/azerbaijan-referendum-result-is-ringing-endorsement-of-aliyev-plans/" target="_blank">democratic</a> and took place according to international standards.&nbsp;</p><h2>Beyond business as usual&nbsp;</h2><p>Praise for these elections was music to the ears of the Azerbaijani government. While the regime’s threshold for criticism has never been too high, it has certainly stepped up its game.&nbsp;</p><p>When in 2015, OCCRP <a href="https://www.occrp.org/en/corruptistan/azerbaijan/azerbaijan-telecom/offshores-paid-nothing-for-share-of-state-telecom">published an investigation</a> revealing the hand of Finnish-Swedish telecommunications firm TeliaSonera assisting the president and his family to acquire more than $1 billion, the president’s top aide Ali Hasanov called the work “unfounded”, “false” and “primitive”. The most recent revelations have prompted the government in Baku to block access to OCCRP’s website altogether. As usual, the report was slammed as “biased”, “ridiculous” and part of an orchestrated “smear” campaign organised by no other than the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/searching-for-armenian-lobby">“Armenian lobby”</a>, albeit with the help of British Intelligence and George Soros.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-medium'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/AZ-Manat.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/AZ-Manat.jpg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="150" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The Azerbaijani manat – money that gets about. After the OCCRP revealed information about Baku’s $2.8bn slush fund, the site was blocked across Azerbaijan. Photo courtesy of Photolia. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>This kind of reaction isn’t surprising. After all, this time there is evidence of money being transferred directly to politicians and members of the European parliament who we know have played their part improving Azerbaijan’s image in Europe. It is these revelations that have pushed the European Parliament, PACE and politicians across Europe to condemn such acts of corruption, thoroughly investigate them and adopt measures to prevent their ever occurring again. </p><p>The timing is also important. On 7 September, three days after the breaking of the laundromat story, United States Senator Richard Durbin <a href="https://twitter.com/RobBerschinski/status/905816750838644736">proposed sanctions against Azerbaijan</a>.&nbsp;</p><p>What these latest revelations reveal is how Azerbaijani money has been used to <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/azerbaijan%27s-failed-rebranding">buy favours and praise while playing down criticism</a>. It also shows that rather than investing in long-term development of Azerbaijan, the country’s ruling elite prefers to invest in assets abroad. The corruption in my country is such that even the elite know that their property rights are respected only abroad, and that it’s only abroad that they don’t have to pay bribes to keep their businesses. They also know that no one will ask questions or hold them accountable for their actions at home. Or so they thought.</p><p>Earlier this year, Azerbaijan <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-azerbaijan-eiti/azerbaijan-leaves-transparency-group-after-membership-suspended-idUSKBN16I007">left the EITI</a> (Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative) amid growing international criticism of crackdowns on dissent. For years, Azerbaijan had tried to push certain policymakers to see criticism of the country’s human rights record as not being theirs to make. Now that we know what we do about Azerbaijan’s lobbying onslaught, whose place is it to make that criticism?</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">As European politicians choose to look the other way, Azerbaijan is bringing its corruption onto their turf, undermining the very basis of their commitments to democracy</span></p><p>It’s up to you to peek <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/behind-azerbaijan-s-facades">behind Azerbaijan’s facades</a>. Yes, Baku’s <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/jo-ram/principles-down-pipeline" target="_blank">“business as usual” with large western energy firms breeds apologists</a> for Azerbaijan’s regime overseas. But the west is not the only powerful actor in this relationship — governments in Europe and North America are themselves the targets of a concerted campaign of political influence, on which the Aliyev regime has lavished millions of dollars.</p><p>As European politicians choose to look the other way, Azerbaijan is bringing its corruption onto their turf, using their institutions and their citizens, undermining the very basis of their commitments to democracy.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/casey-michel/eurasia-incredible-spin-men-press">The rearguard battle against Eurasia’s incredible spin-men</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/behind-azerbaijan-s-facades">Behind Azerbaijan’s facades</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/azerbaijan%27s-failed-rebranding">Azerbaijan&#039;s failed rebranding</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards-mikhail-kaluzhsky-natalia-antonova-thomas-rowley/from-panama-via-london-with">From Panama, via London, with love</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Arzu Geybulla Caucasus Azerbaijan Fri, 29 Sep 2017 09:22:54 +0000 Arzu Geybulla 113688 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Armenia’s parents dream of having sons https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/armine-avetisyan/armenia-s-parents-dream-of-having-sons <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Armenia still has one of the world’s highest rates of sex-selective abortions. Here are the mothers’ stories.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00758680.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00758680.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Two boys play in a slum outside Echmiadzin, Armavir Province, Armenia, 2001. Photo (c): R. Mangasaryan / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><em>This article originally appeared on&nbsp;<a href="http://oc-media.org/the-women-affected-by-abkhazias-abortion-ban/" target="_blank">Open Caucasus Media</a>. We are grateful for their permission to republish it here.</em></p><p>Although their number is slowly decreasing, Armenia still has one of the highest rates of sex-selective abortions in the world. oDR’s partners at <em>OC Media</em> talked to a number of women who faced pressure from their families after falling pregnant with a daughter about the decision they were forced to make, and the consequences they’ve had to live with.&nbsp;</p><h2>An unexpected daughter&nbsp;</h2><p>“I got married at the age of 17, and five months later I was already pregnant. The pregnancy was expected in our family, it was even considered late because my husband’s family subscribes to the view that the purpose of a bride is to have a baby, and that she should get pregnant after the first night of sleeping with her husband”, says Gayane (a pseudonym), a resident of Aragatsotn Province in the west of Armenia.</p><p>Gayane started to visit a local clinic with her mother-in-law to monitor the condition of her pregnancy.</p><p>“We went to the doctor very often — so often that [at one point] they wouldn’t even receive us telling me all my tests were fine. I was already ashamed to go, but my mother-in-law made me go, saying ’I’m afraid something will happen to my boy’”, Gayane recalls.&nbsp;</p><p>By “boy”, the mother-in-law meant Gayane’s baby — she was convinced that her daughter-in-law would have a boy. During one of the visits, when she was 13 weeks pregnant and the doctor was able to see the baby’s sex, Gayane was told she would have a baby girl.&nbsp;</p><p>“It was probably the most terrible day of my life. When my mother-in-law learnt I was going to have a girl, she did not say anything to the doctor and we returned home in silence. I felt there was going to be a quarrel at home. And there was. My mother-in-law was screaming that her son didn’t want a wife who was going to have a girl. She was shouting that she would be ashamed before her family, that she had already told everybody her son’s wife was pregnant and she was going to have a boy.”</p><p>“My father-in-law was listening silently, but from his look I could see he agreed with his wife’s words. Even my husband’s sisters, who were not married at the time, looked at me with disapproval. I was looking forward to my husband coming home from work so at least he could defend me”, recalls Gayane.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Gayane’s husband sided with his mother, claiming that he was not the kind of a man from whom a girl could be born</p><p>Gayane’s husband, however, sided with his mother. He claimed that he was not the kind of a man from whom a girl could be born. A family gathering was held, where they all discussed the issue of Gayane’s having a girl. Ultimately, they decided that the baby was not a desirable and should be removed.</p><p>Gayane had not been allowed to speak at the meeting.&nbsp;</p><p>“They forced me to go to the hospital... where I had an abortion. God has punished me for that day, but I am not guilty. They forced me!” says Gayane, bursting into tears.</p><p>Some 12% of Armenia’s population considers sex-selective abortion acceptable, according to the United Nations’ Population Fund report from 2016, “<a href="http://armenia.unfpa.org/en/publications/men-and-gender-equality-armenia" target="_blank">Men and Gender Equality in Armenia</a>”. More women (13%) than men (11%) consider sex-selective abortion acceptable.</p><p>Approval of the practice is generally higher in rural areas — 18% of respondents in rural areas and 13% in urban areas consider sex-selective abortion acceptable. The report also links higher acceptance with lower levels of education.&nbsp;</p><h2>Complications</h2><p>Six years have passed since Gayane had the abortion. Over those years Gayane has been trying to get pregnant again, but in vain. She has undergone many tests which found that she now has fertility problems due to the abortion, which prevent her from becoming pregnant. Gayane is now undergoing treatment.&nbsp;</p><p>“Now my husband and mother-in-law are paying a lot of money so I can at least have a girl. They are very sorry for what they did. And I’m still suffering because I couldn’t find the strength [to resist]. I killed my unborn baby with my own hands. I was a child, I was stupid.”&nbsp;</p><p>Obstetrician and gynaecologist Naira Vardanyan spoke with <em>OC Media </em>about some of the complications women face after having an abortion.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Adopting legislation isn’t enough while societal attitudes change so slowly</p><p>“After abortion, women face a number of complications: directly and indirectly. Direct complications occur during abortion or several days after it, such as uterine perforation, bleeding, remains of the embryo in the uterus cavity, acute inflammation of the uterus, and others. The indirect complications can arise over the years, and the most important one is infertility, as well as miscarriages and future complications in pregnancy,” explains Vardanyan.&nbsp;</p><p><em>[oDR editors’ note: according to data from multiple countries, an abortion performed by qualified healthcare professionals in hygenic conditions is widely considered a safe medical procedure, rarely leading to complications]</em></p><p>Two years ago, the government decided to combat sex-selective abortion. On 2 July 2015, the Armenian parliament approved a package of draft amendments to the law on “Human reproductive health and reproductive rights”. The law prohibits sex-selective abortion, applying penalties to doctors who carry them out. On 19 June 2016, the law was adopted by parliament.&nbsp;</p><p>According to Vardanyan, however, the law is vague and is difficult to apply. She says adopting legislation alone cannot be successful in combatting sex-selective abortion because societal attitudes are slow to change.</p><h2>“We broke up because I was going to have a girl”</h2><p>“I was 34 when I got married. I loved my husband very much. We were so happy when we got married that I couldn’t even imagine breaking up, or that the reason for that could be a baby girl”, Zhanna Tepanyan from Gyumri told&nbsp;<em>OC Media</em>.&nbsp;</p><p>Zhanna explained that when her husband and mother-in-law learned she would have a daughter, they immediately ordered her to terminate the pregnancy. The reason they gave was that before marrying Zhanna, her husband had been married to another woman, and he had two daughters from the first marriage. He now dreamt of having a baby boy.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Tepanyan_OC.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Tepanyan_OC.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="264" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Zhanna Tepanyan with her daughter. Photo (c): Armine Avetisyan / OC Media. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><div><span>“I was told either I have an abortion or we would divorce. I chose the second option. Now my daughter is one and a half years old. I’m happy. Although I do not have a house and have very bad living conditions, there is a miracle living here with me. My parents help me out. Soon, I’ll take my baby to kindergarted and I’ll start to work. my child should live well”, says Zhanna.</span></div><p>Zhanna’s husband did not recognise the child as his own — his surname was not given to the girl. He saw her only once, about a year ago, but has since passed away.&nbsp;</p><p>“My daughter was eight months old when her father was dying. I took my girl to her father. He saw her. But there was no reaction from his family. Shortly afterwards he died. I have no contact with my mother-in-law. She doesn’t need us anymore,” sighs Zhanna.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">While the number of sex-selective abortions in Armenia is now three times lower than it was in 2005, the current sex ratio is still one of the most unequal in the world</p><p>According to Armenia’s National Statistical Service, 112 boys were born for every 100 girls in 2016. Although the number of sex-selective abortions is three times lower now than it was in 2005, the current sex ratio is still considered one of the most unequal in the world. <a href="https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2018.html" target="_blank">According</a> to the CIA’s <em>World Factbook</em>, the number is also high for Azerbaijan and Georgia with 111 and 108 boys born respectively for every 100 girls. The world average is 103 boys to 100 girls.</p><p>Zhanna’s story is not uncommon in Armenia, which is why doctors try to work with men when they notice the warning signs that a future father is not inclined to have a baby girl. Usually, doctors ask women to attend a consultation with their husbands and during the echocardiogram, they start talking specifically to the men, showing them details of the baby’s body on the screen.</p><p>The doctors thus preparing the man for the idea that he is waiting for a miracle, that he is going to become a father&nbsp;<span>—</span><span>&nbsp;and that the baby’s sex doesn’t make a difference.</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>“<a href="https://chai-khana.org/en/georgias-missing-girls" target="_blank">Georgia’s missing girls</a>” on <em>Chai Khana</em></p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-nikoghosyan/in-armenia-gender-is-geopolitical">In Armenia, gender is geopolitical</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-nikoghosyan/armenia-invisible-women">Standing up for Armenia&#039;s invisible women </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/marianna-kotova/meet-women-affected-by-abkhazia-s-abortion-ban">Meet the women affected by Abkhazia’s abortion ban</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/regina-jegorova-askerova/breaking-cycle-ending-underage-marriage-in-georgia">Breaking the cycle: ending underage marriage in Georgia</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anastasia-ovsyannikova/how-should-we-talk-about-abortion-in-russia">How should we talk about abortion in Russia?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/dagestan-who-owns-women-s-bodies">Who owns women’s bodies in Dagestan?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Armine Avetisyan Caucasus Armenia Tue, 26 Sep 2017 09:40:07 +0000 Armine Avetisyan 113530 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Georgia’s highlanders against hydropower https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ana-maria-seman/hydropower-project-georgia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>As the Georgian government moves ahead with its plans for increasing the country’s hydropower capacity, local communities are being sidelined in the process of compensation payments.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/33107055270_a7149bc31e_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Locals working on their land to produce their food, Svaneti. (c) Bankwatch. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Earlier this summer, I visited Georgia’s Svaneti region together with colleagues from <a href="https://bankwatch.org">Bankwatch</a>. Svaneti, located high in the Caucasian mountains, borders the breakaway territory of Abkhazia, and is home to some of the most pristine rivers in the Caucasus. As a team of civil society members, we travelled there to talk with local people and analyse the quality of consultations over future development projects on their lands.</p><p dir="ltr">Together with the surrounding forests, Svaneti’s Nenskra and Nakra rivers have existed in a symbiotic bond with local communities for centuries. This strong interdependence between people and nature is visible everywhere in Svaneti — a constant reminder of the important role that local communities must play in designing infrastructure projects.</p><p dir="ltr">Yet in recent years, Svaneti has been transformed into a battleground between communities and the Georgian government with its plans for building large hydro power plants. The threat has united Svan people who are struggling to conserve what is left of their cultural heritage and the biodiversity of the region.</p><h2>Public funding</h2><p dir="ltr">The Georgian government’s ambition to build<a href="https://bankwatch.org/our-work/projects/hydropower-development-georgia"> dozens of new hydro power plants</a> (HPPs) in the Svaneti region has caught the attention of international financiers. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the European Investment Bank (EIB), the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) have all expressed interest in financing the planned 280MW Nenskra HPP, the most advanced project in the government’s pipeline. Up to 75% of the project costs <a href="https://bankwatch.org/our-work/projects/nenskra-hydropower-plant-georgia">could come from international public sources</a> and with the <a href="http://www.ebrd.com/work-with-us/projects/esia/nenskra-hpp-portage.html">loan approval date</a> coming up on 15 November for the EBRD, there is little time to act.</p><p dir="ltr">But while the dam is supposed to ensure energy security for Georgia during winter and eliminate imports from Turkey, locals and activists are opposing the project, which they view as a threat to Svan culture, the biodiversity of the region and the safety of local communities given the area’s seismic instability.</p><p dir="ltr">Seeing the awe-inspiring Svaneti region, the forests and rivers that will vanish for the Nenskra HPP, it is easy to understand these concerns, the anger and the feeling of hopelessness that locals express. Capturing water from these two serene rivers, the impacts of the project would stretch for dozens of kilometres, from the transmission lines to the power house, the site of the dam and over and across the mountains along the future water intake tunnel from the Nakra river. If the dam plans are implemented, it will get Nakra river down to 10% of its current flow and Nenskra to 5%. The project will affect numerous pasture lands and summer grazing areas for animals and its reservoir will flood hectares of forest.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">If realised, this project will strip over 200 people, some of whom already living in poverty, of their pasture lands and livelihoods</p><p dir="ltr">A biodiversity expertise commissioned by Bankwatch identified several species of wild protected animals in the region including Eurasian lynx, brown bear, Persian leopard, booted eagle among many whose habitats will be disturbed by the future dam. Moreover, the region is experiencing annual mudflows and landslides and is well known for its geological instability, something people fear might be emphasized when the dam is built. Locals have also expressed great concerns over the impact the the dam will have on the humidity levels in the villages, causing numerous health problems as was the case of the Enguri HPP built in the region during soviet times.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/33490337175_aaedf20dee_o.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562891/33490337175_aaedf20dee_o.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Hiking trail in Svaneti mountains. Photo: Bankwatch / Flickr. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>The project promoter is JSC Nenskra, a Georgian company established by Korean K-Water with a 10% share of a Georgian state owned company. JSC Nenskra has already benefitted from several deals with the Georgian government, among others <a href="https://bankwatch.org/sites/default/files/Nenskra-LALRP-11Sep2017.pdf">receiving forest land for one dollar contracts</a> (see page 20). The locals we spoke to and who have used this land for centuries told us they were not even aware of the deal.</p><h2>Patronising perception of local culture</h2><p dir="ltr">JSC Nenskra has committed to compensating the rightful owners for all pasture land and assets that will be lost due to the project. But during our visit and discussions with affected people, we discovered major flaws in the company’s assessment of the number of people that will be affected, their assets as well as the compensation they are entitled to. The shortcomings, which we have collected in a <a href="https://bankwatch.org/publications/failing-local-communities-land-assessment-and-livelihoods-restoration-plan-nenskra-dam">report</a>, are proof and consequence of a lack of proper consultations with local communities.</p><p dir="ltr">The majority of people living in the two valleys own cattle that graze on summer pastures, lands which are inherited since generations and co-owned by up to five families. Customary law still dominates the region and people share both pasture and other assets such as summer cabins. During our discussions with affected households, we discovered that the project developer failed to map all the rightful users of these lands and assets. Instead, the company included single users in the compensation scheme, thus leaving behind numerous other co-users. This is the case for all the households we interviewed and from the assessment of the project documentation it seems it has been the practice for all the pasture lands that will be lost. In addition, a number of individual owners of land and cabins from the Nakra valley have been completely left out of the compensations scheme.</p><p dir="ltr"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/33107062370_749173de39_z.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="318" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Khaishi villagers discussing Nenskra HPP. (c) Bankwatch. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>These systemic gaps in how JSC Nenskra assessed people’s land rights reveals not only the poor quality of public consultations, but also a patronising perception of local culture and livelihoods. Our visits to the region have left no doubt that the company has failed to recognise locals’ dependence on their land and the way their communities are functioning, based on strong internal rules of sharing and inheritance.</p><p dir="ltr">The poor quality of consultations is also reflected in the unjust amounts of compensation. As detailed in our<a href="https://bankwatch.org/publications/failing-local-communities-land-assessment-and-livelihoods-restoration-plan-nenskra-dam"> report</a>, the project documentation does not thoroughly assess the economic situation of affected households. The company’s assessment does not take into consideration the number of cattle that a family owns and which of these families would lose access to pasture and therefore to fodder. It also does not account for the numerous internally displaced people in the communities, or acknowledges the impact of changes in logging activities. In sum, the company has overlooked major aspects of the socio-economic profile of locals which are crucial for a just compensation scheme.</p><p dir="ltr">Moreover, the company is still delaying an assessment of the impacts of facilities associated with the hydropower plant such as transmission lines and a waste disposal site. Needless to say that also the consultations with affected communities has not happened yet.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">Many still fear to speak out about the project and have asked for confidentiality during our interviews</p><p dir="ltr">While the project documents made available by JSC Nenskra do not contain information on the location of these associated facilities, cadastral plans obtained from the Georgian authorities show that the location has already been agreed on. Local residents, who have signed letters demanding to be consulted about the locations of these facilities and the compensation they are entitled to, are understandably outraged.</p><p dir="ltr">Many still fear to speak out about the project and have asked for confidentiality during our interviews, afraid there might be repercussions on their families or jobs. A change in the logging licence system from 2015 has restricted the possibility for locals to obtain licences, forcing many into the illegal logging and timber sales business.</p><p dir="ltr">But the threat of losing parts of their identity along with the development of the project drove more than 300 people to sign a <a href="http://greenalt.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Collective_letter_2017.pdf">letter </a>this June expressing their opposition to the project and their disappointment with the company’s failure to take account of customary law and local culture. And some are still taking the risk of openly opposing the project — in August, Bankwatch <a href="https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bx-fjdZ4WfAIMkVTMGNRV3ROT2s/view">witnessed</a> a large group of locals stepping out from the last round of public consultations held by the company.</p><h2>International standards</h2><p dir="ltr">Assessments of expropriation and compensation are not the residents’ own ideas, but international standards that JSC Nenskra has to respect to receive international public finance. Yet countless breaches of these standards are evidence that the Nenskra hydropower project is a serious threat to the local Svan communities.</p><p dir="ltr">If realised, this project will strip over 200 people, some of whom already living in poverty, of their pasture lands and livelihoods. The project must not go ahead until the project company is conducting individual assessments in order to have a full picture of the socio-economic situation and the fair amounts of compensations.</p><p class="mag-quote-center" dir="ltr">When banks’ clients lack the capacity and willingness to understand the contexts in which they operate, the irreversible disruption of the fabric of entire communities is inevitable</p><p dir="ltr">Multilateral development banks have so far delayed their approval date for loans for the Nenskra project in light of the numerous environmental and social concerns. With Georgia’s hydropower sector marked by controversies and major errors in the past, international investment ought to tread more carefully with approving any more projects.</p><p dir="ltr">When banks’ clients lack the capacity and willingness to understand the contexts in which they operate, the irreversible disruption of the fabric of entire communities is inevitable. &nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/kate-horner-igor-vejnovic/river-defenders-gather-forces-in-georgia">River defenders gather forces in Georgia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/tatuli-chubabria/how-can-we-politicise-labour-rights-in-georgia">How can we politicise labour rights in Georgia?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/mari-nikuradze/left-in-dark-inside-georgia-s-chiatura-mines">Left in the dark: inside Georgia’s Chiatura mines</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ana-maria-seman/nuclear-transboundary-consultations-are-test-for-public-participation-and-">Nuclear transboundary consultations are a test for public participation and transparency across Europe</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/peter-liakhov/armenia-before-goldrush">Armenia: before the goldrush</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/vladlena-martsynkevych/hatching-discontent-in-ukraine">Hatching discontent in Ukraine</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Ana-Maria Seman Green Eurasia Georgia Caucasus Wed, 20 Sep 2017 20:56:27 +0000 Ana-Maria Seman 113484 at https://www.opendemocracy.net In Chechnya, a ruthless strongman orders family reunification https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tanya-lokshina/in-chechnya-ruthless-strongman-orders-family-reunification <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Ramzan Kadyrov wants to reunite Chechnya’s divorced couples. His initiative could only put already vulnerable women at grave risk.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_01277888.LR_.ru__0_1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_01277888.LR_.ru__0_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Fashion and faith. Billboards in Grozny, Chechnya, advertise bridal dresses. Photo (c): Ramil Sitdikov / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Chechnya’s strongman, Ramzan Kadyrov, launched a program in June to reunite families divided by divorce. Ostensibly <a href="https://ru.boell.org/ru/2016/03/02/zhertvy-mifov-i-predrassudkov" target="_blank">concerned with rising divorce rates</a> and the impact of such break ups on children, Kadyrov created local councils “for harmonising marriage and family relations.” Made up of public officials and Muslim religious authorities, the councils draw up lists of divorced couples in their districts and approach the spouses, suggesting reconciliation. </p><p>By 12 July, Chechen media applauded the <a href="grozmer.ru/events/v-groznom-vossoedineno-6-raspavshihsja-s.html" target="_blank">reunification of six families</a>, by 25 July the number had <a href="https://www.kavkazr.com/a/28636963.html" target="_blank">risen to 240</a>, and on 21 August, Chechnya’s state television and radio broadcaster triumphantly reported that the council’s work resulted in the <a href="https://ok.ru/groznytv/topic/67058362329881" target="_blank">reunification of 948 families</a>.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Embracing this new “family reunification” program may be the only way these women can get access to the children they lost to divorce</p><p>The claim that close to 1,000 divorced couples have chosen to reunite two months after a ruthless and abusive autocrat declared such family reunifications a priority, should be treated with scepticism and concern that they are not all voluntary. And yet many Chechen women discussing the new initiative on messaging apps, including some reunited with their ex-husbands, express enthusiastic support for Kadyrov’s initiative. </p><p>The real reason may not be obvious to those outside Chechnya: embracing this new “family reunification” program is the only way these women, their female friends and relatives, can get <a href="https://rus.azattyk.org/a/27671701.html" target="_blank">access to the children they lost to divorce</a>. Chechen traditional laws, often upheld by local authorities even when they run contrary to Russia’s laws and international human rights obligations, stipulate that children belong with the father and his family. Having worked in Chechnya for over 15 years, I’ve met numerous women who stayed in abusive marriages for decades because they could not contemplate losing their children. Other Chechen acquaintances of mine left their husbands, unable to put up with abuse, and barely if ever get to see their kids.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02937949.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02937949.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="329" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Ramzan Kadyrov at a press conference in Grozny, September 2016. Photo (c): Said Tsarnayev / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>But in recent years, several Chechen lawyers told me, judges in Chechnya have <a href="http://www.kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/281896/" target="_blank">started to rule more often in favour of mothers</a> in at least some custody cases, citing the best interests of the children. The correct standard for deciding custody of a child should indeed be what is in their best interest, and not their parent’s gender. </p><p> Kadyrov, an ardent proponent of so-called traditional values, did not seem to appreciate these developments. When commenting on his family reunification program in a <a href="https://youtu.be/IcjuD0nF7tg" target="_blank">televised broadcast in July</a>, he grumbled:</p><p class="blockquote-new">Most [divorced] mothers want to take the kids away from the fathers, go to the muftiat [local Muslim authority], to the elders, to all the relatives. And they also come to us [the government]… they rent an apartment in the city and ask for money. One told me she needed an apartment [to live with her children]… [We] brought in the father [of her children], I asked him why aren’t you providing for your family? And he says… this woman wouldn’t leave me alone [until she] took the kids… If they can live together until they have five kids, why can’t [they] then live together for the sake of the kids? </p><p>Kadyrov says the family reunification programme’s primary objective is to benefit the children who bear the brunt of their parents’ divorce. His aspiration may be genuine, but it does not give him the right to force families to stay together. When those approached by the “family relations” councils refuse to reunite with their ex-spouses, the councils’ representatives reportedly pressure them, emphasising that “<a href="http://www.bbc.com/russian/features-40973106" target="_blank">this is Kadyrov’s instruction</a>” and therefore must be obeyed. </p><p>For women who have escaped abusive relationships, such “reunification” could put them at risk of further physical and psychological harm, with potentially deadly consequences. </p><p>Kadyrov rules over Chechnya with an iron fist, commanding all aspects of political and social life there. Given that harsh reality, it’s hard not to dread that in the wake of his new project local courts will stop supporting mothers’ custody claims for fear of retaliation by the authorities. </p><p>Indeed, two women from Chechnya who managed to keep their children after divorce told me the other day that “reconciliation officials” had approached them and urged them to return to their ex-husbands. They adamantly reject the idea but fear their husbands, who are also under pressure from the authorities, will go to court and get custody of the kids in no time at all. Their dread is real.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maria-klimova-yulia-sugueva/honour-killings-in-russia-s-north-caucasus">“Honour killings” in Russia’s North Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-selivanova/it-all-comes-down-to-fact-that-i-m-wearing-hijab">“It all comes down to the fact that I’m wearing the hijab”</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/convert-and-love-russia-s-muslim-wives">Convert and love: Russia’s Muslim wives</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/dominik-k-cagara/chechnya-dead-europeans-are-only-news-sometimes">Chechnya: dead Europeans are only sometimes news</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ali-gubashev/chechens-alienated-amidst-gay-persecutions">Chechens alienated amidst gay persecutions</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/aida-mirmaksumova/transgender-life-in-chechnya">A transgender life in Chechnya</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/irina-kosterina/love-north-caucasus-style">Love, North Caucasus style</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia 50.50 oD Russia Tanya Lokshina Chechnya Caucasus Mon, 04 Sep 2017 12:11:13 +0000 Tanya Lokshina 113170 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Mayor or manager? Tbilisi chooses its kingpin https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/bakar-berekashvili/mayor-or-manager-tbilisi-chooses-its-kingpin <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Here in Tbilisi, we’re preparing for mayoral elections in October. The race will be heated, but can the role actually change anything for the better?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Tbilisi_CityHall_New.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Tbilisi_CityHall_New.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Tbilisi’s City Hall, completed 1878, stands on Liberty Square, behind a monument to St George. Photo CC-by-SA-2.0: George Kvizhinadze / Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Amid heated discussions about <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/84666" target="_blank">new constitutional reforms</a> initiated by the ruling Georgian Dream government, Georgia is gearing up for local elections this October. The contest is likely to be a fight for survival for the remnants of the United National Movement (UNM), the former ruling party of Mikheil Saakashvili, which <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/tornike-zurabashvili/waiting-for-misha-s-second-coming" target="_blank">split in two at the start of this year</a>. Some eleven regional district and city heads are to be elected, but the greatest prize will be Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital and largest economic hub.</p><p>The talk in Tbilisi is all about the candidates for the city’s next mayor, and what their priorities will be in governing the city (elections for the Sakrebulo, or City Assembly, will also be held in parallel). But for all this excitement, our society hasn’t paid a lot of attention to the political significance of mayor’s role and what powers it has to change anything. What, then, is the measure of a mayor in Georgia today?</p><h2>The lineup</h2><p>Tbilisi’s mayoralty is no stranger to controversy. Tbilisi’s current mayor, Georgian Dream’s Davit Narmania, won his post in August 2014 in a runoff vote against UNM candidate Nika Melia. The contest was marred by the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/regis-gente/in-georgia-justice-delayed-is-justice-denied" target="_blank">controversial arrest</a> in July 2015 of long-time mayor Gigi Ugulava, a close Saakashvili ally who came to power in 2006 (Ugulava was re-elected in Tbilisi’s first ever direct elections for mayor in 2010). Georgian Dream, brainchild of the billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, had <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/stephen-f-jones/fate-of-georgian-dreams" target="_blank">come to power in 2012 on a platform of “restoring justice”</a> after the excesses of the late Saakashvili era. </p><p>The 14-month pre-trial of mayor Ugulava, which Georgia’s <a href="http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=28576" target="_blank">Constitutional Court ruled as illegal</a>, became a symbol of the ruling party’s fervour in settling old scores with the <a href="http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/08/22/the-man-without-a-state-misha-saakashvili-georgia-ukraine/" target="_blank">now-stateless Saakashvili</a> and the party he once led, the UNM. Ivanishvili’s campaign to expel UNM as a political force from Georgian public life continues to this day, and the mayoral showdown is just one front.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">This mayoral showdown is one front in Ivanishvili’s campaign to expel UNM as a political force from Georgian public life</p><p>While the candidates’ pre-electoral programmes haven’t been fully released, their public statements would have given us a pretty good idea of what little they appear to stand for. </p><p><strong>Elene Khoshtaria</strong> is candidate for the European Georgia party which split from Saakashvili’s UNM, and its principle polemicist in public life. While Khoshtaria’s strived to present herself as a new face in politics, she was once deputy state minister of Euro-Atlantic integration in Saakashvili’s government. Khoshtaria is known for her association with close Saakashvili associate Giga Bokeria, who enjoys a poor reputation in much of Georgian society, and for her founding of GRASS (Georgia’s Reforms Associates), a Tbilisi-based think-tank which has strongly opposed Georgian Dream. These associations will not work to her advantage; she has few chances to win in this race.</p><p>Facing Khoshtaria is <strong>Zaal Udumashvili</strong>, a member of the “loyalist” UNM. Udumashvili is a former news anchor at the Rustavi-2 TV station. In March 2017, a scandal erupted after Georgia’s Supreme Court handed ownership of Rustavi-2 businessman Kibar Khalvashi, who owned the channel from 2004 to 2006. The move was <a href="http://oc-media.org/supreme-court-ruling-on-rustavi-2-raises-fears-over-media-freedom-in-georgia/" target="_blank">seen by several international and local rights groups as political</a>, given Rustavi-2’s critical stance towards the Georgian Dream government. </p><p>Among the government’s diehard supporters, Rustavi-2 is seen as a pro-Saakashvili propaganda outlet. Udumashvili cuts a peculiar figure — despite this backstory, he could be perceived as a “non-political” candidate due to his background in media. With his nomination, UNM is attempting to mobilise support among voters sceptical of more traditional politicians, of whom there is no shortage in Georgia today.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02325727.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02325727.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The favourite? Ruling party Georgian Dream has nominated Kakha Kaladze, former minister of energy, as its candidate for mayor of Tbilisi. Photo (c): Alexander Imedashvili / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>The confrontation between Khoshtaria and Udumashvili will easily divide the opposition vote to the advantage of former minister of energy and former football player <strong>Kakha Kaladze</strong>. As Georgian Dream’s candidate for mayor, Kaladze is an influential figure within the party, with many powerful allies. The Georgian Dream candidate has also pledged to end “urban genocide” and continue Narmania’s pledges to <a href="https://jam-news.net/?p=51840" target="_blank">tear down some of the capital’s Soviet-era housing stock</a>. His reputation has been tarnished by conflicts of interest during his time in office, but that may not matter — Kaladze will be able to mobilise administrative resources and powerful financial backers to have a real shot of winning this race.</p><p>A recent poll by NDI found that<a href="https://jam-news.net/?p=51341" target="_blank"> a staggering 68% of Georgians don’t actually have a political preference</a> in these upcoming elections. Among those who were sure they’d cast a vote, Kaladze came first with 37%.</p><p>Their next favourite, with 20%, was independent candidate <strong>Aleksandre Elisashvili</strong>. A quasi-charismatic activist with plenty of experience in protests, Elisashvili is mostly endorsed by NGOs and civil society actors from among the urban elite. While he lends a voice to the rudderless sense of anger and disillusionment on Georgia’s streets, it’s hard to discern what his political programme would actually entail. Furthermore, in the shock event of his victory, Elisashvili would find it difficult to cooperate with Tbilisi’s City Assembly, where Georgian Dream will supposedly still enjoy a majority.&nbsp;</p><p>Another “protest candidate” is <strong>Irma Inashvili</strong>, who is <a href="https://codastory.com/disinformation-crisis/traditional-values/clash-of-narratives-a-tale-of-two-georgias" target="_blank">favoured among ultra-nationalists and religious conservative voters</a>. As deputy chairperson of the Georgian parliament, she is known for her aggressive outbursts against both Georgian Dream and the UNM. Inashvili’s divisive language plays on right-wing populist narratives and concerns over a loss of Georgian cultural identity. This is a language with traction on Georgia’s streets, and as such could present a real challenge to other candidates standing “against the political class.”</p><h2>Rearranging the furniture</h2><p>With this lineup in mind, let’s return to my initial question. In modern European societies, a mayor is perceived less as an entrepreneur or a manager and more as a politician, a statesperson with a distinct vision, a philosophy and a strategy for the development of the city. In some cases, the legitimacy and political convictions of the mayor are so strong that often they can afford severe confrontations with the central government. Clearly, this kind of legitimacy and strong political influences are conditioned by high levels of local democracy in some western European societies where the mayor is primarily accountable to the voters rather than the central bureaucratic apparatus. </p><p>In many democratic societies, mayors can even go on to become head of state or government. More remarkably, from a Georgian perspective, a mayor can also become a member of an opposition —&nbsp;something that is practically impossible to come across in post-Soviet countries, where the mayor is a member of the ruling political party and acts as a manager for its behalf, rather than a local politician with a civic vision.</p><p>My city has a rich and colourful history of local rulers, however unaccountable they were. In the middle ages, the city was ruled by elders. Under the Russian Empire it was run by military elites and members of the mostly ethnic Armenian bourgeoisie. Towards the late nineteenth century, members of the Georgian nationalist intelligentsia appeared in the mayor’s office — Dimitri Kipiani, mayor from 1875 to 1878, clashed with the imperial authorities for his promotion of Georgian culture, so was exiled to the North Caucasus where has murdered (and canonised by the Georgian Orthodox Church in 2007.)</p><p>We had some troublemakers, too. Benia Chkhikvishvili, mayor during Georgia’s brief period of independence, had led a peasant revolt in Guria, on the shores of the Black Sea, in 1905. He returned to Georgia in 1924 to lead an uprising against the Bolsheviks, who eventually caught and executed him and his comrades.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Georgians’ scepticism towards mayors is such that citizens are more inclined to solve problems by appealing directly to central government</p><p>In Soviet Georgia, Tbilisi was ruled by the head of the so-called city council executive committee. The Soviet-era counterparts of today’s mayors were functionaries who served merely to implement development plans drafted by the republic’s elites — mostly aimed at further urbanising the growing city. Of course, socialist-era mayors were not accountable to capital, but neither were they accountable to Tbilisi’s inhabitants.</p><p>As for post-Soviet Georgia, the mayor’s institution was introduced to the Georgian political life as a part of the European tradition of local administrative and political government. </p><p>These days, Tbilisi’s mayor is perceived in two dimensions. First, a mayor is a party functionary, and to it he owes his legitimacy. While this is a facet of many mature local democracies, the problem is that in post-Soviet Georgia, mayors usually fail identify themselves with the voters and fail to understand problems in a local context. Thus, for most of them, their work and their judgments depend on strategies concentrated in the central government and ruling political elite. Georgians’ well-ripened scepticism and nihilism towards governors and mayors is such that citizens are more inclined to solve their problems by communicating directly with central government.&nbsp;</p><p>Another dimension is that a mayor is increasingly perceived as a large-scale entrepreneur or manager rather than a politician or statesperson. At first glance, this may not be problematic, but the fact of the matter is that a mayor cannot be a good entrepreneur without primarily being a statesperson.</p><h2>Tbilisi, Inc. </h2><p>A managerial, rather than political, mayor is inclined to using practices and mechanisms that were already in place. A useful example would be the failure of mayor Davit Narmania to change the institutional practices by his predecessor, maintaining the same relationship to business interests in a changing environment with evolving residents’ needs. It seems as though Tbilisi has become a kind of corporation where managers promoting the interests of the shareholders (such as big business and the construction sector) come and go. </p><p>A mayor as politician or statesperson is a cardinally different figure, who tries to take newly systemic approaches and strategies for the good of the city — focusing on the interests of public goods rather than private capital. Ideally, such a mayor takes a holistic approach to local problems, and can encourage the direct political participation of its citizens.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Whose_City_Tbilisi.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Whose_City_Tbilisi.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A crowd in a central Tbilisi underpass, 2017. Photo (c): Maxim Edwards. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Tbilisi’s city council is preparing to draft a general plan for urban development, and resentment is on the rise at <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/irakli-zhvania/tbilisi-panorama-project-urban-boosterism-at-its-worst" target="_blank">lavish and controversial construction projects of questionable civic value</a>. Only a political mayor can approach urban development in a political sense, fulfilling their obligations to the city’s residents as a social constituency. A managerial mayor merely adjusts the dynamics of urban development to the fleeting interests of investors, often to the disadvantage of local citizens. </p><p>It is certainly possible for a political mayor to be ineffective, but here we are talking about general experience and general practices of European local government — practices which Georgian local government has never meaningfully implemented.</p><h2>Just one of the guys </h2><p>Perhaps this is a bigger malaise. Post-Soviet Georgia appears to lack a fundamental understanding of the political. While it may be the substance and style of our daily lives, politics is just understood as a dirty game. In Athenian democracy, those who didn’t want to actively participate in the political life were seen as disregarding society’s needs, bothered only by their narrow interests. In western European schools of thought, politics is not understood as a dirty game exclusively for professional politicians, but a sphere of public action where citizens and politicians defend common interests in an organised manner.</p><p>Across Europe, <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/andries-du-toit/hyper-political-anti-politics" target="_blank">the “anti-political” and the “non-political” has reared its head</a>, to the advantage of managerial neoliberals and right-populists alike. In that sense, perhaps we’re ahead of the curve — in Georgia, the stigmatisation of politics may as well be a tradition of our post-Soviet identity.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">In Georgia, the stigmatisation of politics may as well be a tradition of our post-Soviet identity</p><p>The choices on offer this October are not appetising. By distancing themselves from politics, these politicians undermine the very fundamentals of a civic state, instead presenting themselves as competent managers. The rest assume the mantle of “anti-political” everymen, an act of resistance which does little to resolve a crisis of democratic legitimacy — a crisis which not only Georgia suffers.</p><p>The mayor of our capital can also be understood in this manner — where taking care of the city is seen as an act of corporate management, not a task of the state. This is a true obstacle for the development of the city as a political, social, economic and cultural space&nbsp;<span>–</span>&nbsp;one which we need to reclaim for politics.</p><p><em>A version of this article originally appeared on the blog of the Georgian Public Broadcaster as “<a href="http://1tv.ge/projects/analytics/?page=detail&amp;id=167424" target="_blank">City mayors and their political values</a>.” It was translated from Georgian by Giorgi Kobakhidze and expanded by the author for openDemocracy.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/stephen-f-jones/fate-of-georgian-dreams">The fate of Georgian dreams</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/irakli-zhvania/tbilisi-panorama-project-urban-boosterism-at-its-worst">Tbilisi’s Panorama project is urban boosterism at its worst</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/tatuli-chubabria/for-tbilisi-s-squatters-things-must-change">For Tbilisi’s squatters, things must change</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus">On 25 years of postmodernity in the South Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/manuela-zechner-bue-r-bner-hansen/more-than-welcome-power-of-cities">More than a welcome: the power of cities</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/beppe-caccia/european-network-of-rebel-cities">A European network of rebel cities?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/andries-du-toit/hyper-political-anti-politics">Hyper-political anti-politics</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Bakar Berekashvili Cities in motion Georgia Caucasus Thu, 24 Aug 2017 05:41:32 +0000 Bakar Berekashvili 112982 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Neither here, nor there: Georgian refugees from Abkhazia https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/neither-here-nor-there-georgian-refugees-from-abkhazia <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Twenty five years have passed since the war in Abkhazia, but ethnic Georgian refugees from the breakaway territory remain in limbo. <em><strong><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/pogranichnoe-sostoyaniye">RU</a></strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00025728.LR_.ru__0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00025728.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="308" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>1994. Refugees traverse a ruined bridge over the Inguri River, which separates Abkhazia from Georgia proper. Photo (c): Tutov / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>In the Soviet period Abkhazia, a balmy region on the Black Sea coast and popular summer destination among the USSR’s elites, enjoyed autonomous status within the Georgian republic. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, ethnic Abkhaz with some Russian support fought a brutal war against the Georgian government in 1992-93. The catastrophe left more than 250,000 Georgians (who had constituted a majority in the region) homeless. In August 2008, Russia recognised the territory as independent&nbsp;<span>–</span><span>&nbsp;the overwhelming majority of states consider it part of Georgia.</span></p><h2>No home away from home </h2><p>The houses in the Georgian village of Orsantia line the road into Abkhazia, a mere 200 metres away past the border crossing point. Of the village’s 3,500 inhabitants, 1,400 are ethnic Georgian refugees from the unrecognised republic, who fled their homes during the conflict. </p><p>The centre of this small settlement consists of a grocery store, a local administrative building and some half-derelict structures, one of which hosts the office of Egrisi. It’s an NGO supporting both the displaced population and Georgians who have managed to remain in Abkhazia to this day (they still form a majority in the region’s southernmost Gali district, bordering Georgian government-controlled territory). Egrisi’s activities range from providing grants to set up bakeries and building greenhouses for local families. </p><p>Until 1992, Egrisi’s head Tsitsino Biblaia lived in the nearby Gali district, where she taught at a school. After the conflict broke out, she was forced to flee to Zugdidi, the capital of Georgia’s Samegrelo province to the west. She tells me how, when the conflict broke out, local officials insisted that nothing was happening and told people not to panic: “I was sitting in the school, filling out my daily journal, and suddenly there was turmoil. People were running around, not knowing where to go. So I ended up with my husband and children, in another town. I still haven’t come to terms with it.”&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/tbilisi_abkh_IDPS-1_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/tbilisi_abkh_IDPS-1_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Internally displaced people from Abkhazia in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, 2012. Photo: CC-by-NC-ND-2.0: Marco Fieber / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>The Georgian Civil War of 1991-93 broke out after Eduard Shevardnadze, former Soviet foreign minister, returned to Tbilisi and came to power. Tense relations between the new president and supporters of his predecessor, the first president Zviad Gamsakhurdia, turned into open confrontation. The fighting was accompanied by inter-ethnic conflict in Abkhazia (1992-3) and South Ossetia (1989-92). The civilian population began to leave the conflict zones in huge numbers.&nbsp;</p><p>As a result of the war, both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, another former autonomous region within the Georgian SSR, declared their independence. Given that the government in Tbilisi still regards both territories as part of Georgia, official documents refer to the refugees as internally displaced persons (IDPs). </p><p>Most of these IDPs live in areas bordering the two breakaway states: Samegrelo, Imereti and Shida Kartli, or otherwise in Tbilisi. According to Georgia’s Ministry for Refugees and Resettlement, more than 265,000 IDPs (about 6% of the population) are live in a country which has already seen its population drain away due to labour migration to Russia and the EU.</p><h2>A closed border </h2><p>The war was long ago, but the arrangements for the collective resettlement of forced IDPs are still in place. Only a few refugees have been able to start new lives: the vast majority are still dependent on government handouts. Many of them still live in difficult circumstances – <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/mari-nikuradze/georgia-exiles-election" target="_blank">usually in old sanatoriums and holiday camps</a>. In Kutaisi, for example, one building still houses several refugee families, now including children and grandchildren. The rooms are in total disrepair, with cardboard replacing the earlier glass in the windows. </p><p>As the years pass, it is also becoming ever more difficult for the Georgians who were forced out of Abkhazia to visit their relatives and their old homes in the unrecognised republic. In March 2016, the Abkhazian authorities closed two border crossing points on the Inguri River, which serves as the border with the breakaway territory. A year later the same thing happened in the villages of Otobaia and Nabakia, leaving only one central crossing point - across the Inguri River bridge. </p><p class="mag-quote-center">Only a few refugees have been able to start new lives: the vast majority are still dependent on government handouts</p><p>Locals say that it now takes at least three hours to cross the border. What’s more, only people who have kept their old Soviet passports with their Abkhazian residence stamps or have a special pass issued by the Abkhazian authorities can cross freely. Anyone without the the right papers has to get an official invitation from their friends or relatives and pay for a visa. Up to March 2017 the whole business was free and took 15 minutes, according to locals. </p><p>Russian citizens don’t need a foreign passport to visit Abkhazia, so Georgian border officials can’t monitor their visits to the unrecognised republic, but under Georgian law they are formally forbidden. To avoid breaking the law on occupied territories (Georgia considers Abkhazia to be under Russian occupation), citizens of CIS and EU countries have to enter it from the Georgian side. Some Russians friends of mine, however, have been refused entry through Georgia and recommended to enter the territory from Russia (in 2014 the intrepid traveller and blogger Aleksandr Lapshin, who has joint Russian and Israeli citizenship, managed to visit Abkhazia this way, <a href="http://puerrtto.livejournal.com/577496.html" target="_blank">although not without problems</a>; he has recently been sentenced by court in Azerbaijan to three years in prison for visiting another self-declared state, the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh).</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Ingur-Bridge-new-2.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Ingur-Bridge-new-2.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="296" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Today the bridge over the Ingur River has been rebuilt, but the road home is still closed to displaced Georgians. Photo CC-by-2.0: Anya / Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>In Nabakia today, on the Abkhazian side of the old bridge, fencing mesh has been put up between the concrete piers and the concrete blocks massively reinforced. There are no official border guards on the Georgian side, since Tbilisi doesn’t recognise the bridge as a legal border (though police SWAT teams in full combat gear patrol the area).</p><p>“People from Abkhazia used to be able to come across here without any problems”, 56 year old Tsitsino Biblaia tells me. There were even minibuses going back and forth to the crossing from both sides. As the border officers were Abkhazians, they were more flexible. But then they brought Russians in, and now the controls are much stricter. They don’t take bribes, either, so there’s no more smuggling stuff across.” </p><p>Despite the closure of the crossing points, some Abkhazians still slip across the border to buy their food. There are crowds of them Zugdidi market every morning. Back in the day, the Abkhazians used to be traders themselves, selling nuts and mandarins. Since the authorities in Abkhazia’s de-facto capital of Sukhumi have introduced export duties, so there’s no money in that anymore. </p><h2>Soft power, Georgian-style</h2><p>Many families still live in two houses: according to Biblaia, the elderly generally prefer to stay on the Abkhazian side of the bridge, while the youth prefer the Georgian side. Some refugees who are officially registered as living in one of the border villages actually live in Tbilisi, but receive various social benefits thanks to their refugee status. </p><p>“The state hands out grants for university education, and provides free medical assistance and benefits,” says Bibilaia. It’s an open secret that <a href="https://jam-news.net/?p=3795" target="_blank">people living in the unrecognised republic also go to Georgia for their healthcare needs</a>; provision in Abkhazia is not adequate, but to be seen by a Georgian doctor, you’ll need a Georgian passport. Many people try to keep this quiet, she continues, as they might get into trouble at home. At the moment, Ukraine is trying to set up a similar scheme for citizens who continue to live in Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk. </p><p class="mag-quote-center">“Some even prefer not to marry, so as not to lose their refugee status and the benefits it brings”</p><p>Irakli Khubua, who also works for Egrisi, tells me that most refugees still don’t feel at home: “There are mixed marriages, but people still feel like outsiders.” One factor here is the refugees’ densely crowded accommodation and the fact that their status gives them access to extra social welfare payments. In Gori, for example, there are whole neighbourhoods entirely populated by refugees.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Khvamli1_1.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Khvamli1_1.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The derelict Hotel Khvamli in Kutaisi. Once intended to be temporary accommodation for those displaced, it is still inhabited by IDPs - and their children. Photo (c): Mari Nikuradze / openDemocracy. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>“Some even prefer not to marry”, says Khubua, “so as not to lose their refugee status and the benefits that come with it.” NGOs are also involved in preserving memories, recording the exact locations the Georgians fled from. In Georgia, the most important element in this process is the Abkhazeti Centre. In conjunction with the Danish Refugee Council and with EU financial support, Abkhazeti has coordinated the construction of homes for refugees since 2016, as part of a state programme for sustainable resettlement. However, says Nino Mindiashvili, who heads the “<a href="https://www.ekhokavkaza.com/a/24529193.html" target="_blank">Ray of Hope</a>” NGO, this kind of aid is often a disincentive to work (provided that employment can be found anyway). “The men have got used to getting handouts; now it’s just the women who work while the men prefer to wait for their benefits cheques,” sighs Nino. </p><h2>Keeping the roots strong </h2><p>One tradition which knows no borders holds that burial rites should take place in a family cemetery. Tsitsino Biblaia, for example, walked 11 km into Abkhazia in secret, in order to bury a family member. “We didn’t all have the necessary documents, so my brother and I carried the zinc coffin, containing all 165 kg of him, along winding forest paths. Once on the other side, Abkhaz villagers – total strangers – came out to help us.” The wish to be buried on one’s forefathers’ land at all costs remains as normal to IDPs as it is bizarre to outsiders.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">For the children of many refugees, Abkhazia has become a foreign country </p><p>Nevertheless, for many children of IDPs, Abkhazia has become a foreign country. Young people who have grown up in Kutaisi or Tbilisi are mainly interested in finding work and somewhere to live. For them Tskhinvali, Ochamchire, or Gali are just names lodged in their memories, toponyms from the land of their ancestors.</p><p>“My great-grandchildren were born here. My granddaughter came here to live when she was three years old,” says Zhuna Biblaia, who also lives in Orsantia. “With each generation, people forget where they came from. Perhaps my great-grandsons will know that their roots are in Abkhazia, but they’ll otherwise be completely integrated in Georgian society.”</p><p>Every day, Zhuna comes to look after her great-grandsons at the two-storey hostel that the authorities have provided for the IDPs. Apart from an Ikea cupboard in the hallway, the atmosphere and decoration reeks of the Soviet era, with carpets hanging on the walls and china figurines on the shelves. The flat is heated by a cast-iron stove; there is one shower per floor, water from a well and some of the neighbouring flats are abandoned, their windows smashed. These refugees have been living here for a quarter century, but don’t want to renovate or redecorate anything themselves.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Abkhazia_IDP_2_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Abkhazia_IDP_2_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>An elderly refugee from Abkhazia in the village of Shkra, central Georgia. Photo CC-by-NC-ND-2.0: Marco Fieber / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>“We’re not big spenders and we don’t want any favours from the state, but why won’t it do anything for us?” asks schoolteacher Rimma, another resident of the hostel. “When the state wants to do something, it gets on with it. But they obviously don’t see any need to make this place look decent. They only remember about us on important dates!”</p><p>Rimma fled Abkhazia after she and some others were surrounded by armed Abkhaz soldiers while gathering nuts. One of the nut-pickers tried to run away and when the Abkhazians ran after him, she and her husband escaped. She tells me that she doesn’t hold any grudges: many Abkhaz saved their lives more than once during the conflict. “I’m ready to forgive them: even if they did wrong, I’ll be the first to extend my hand in peace,” she says. Rimma recalls how friends phoned their telephone numbers back in Sukhumi, and strangers picked up the phone: “People would ask the occupants to look after their house, wept and then phoned another number.” </p><p>Ordinary Georgians I spoke to blamed everyone except their own government for what happened back in the early 1990s. For their part, international observers also report that crimes were committed against peaceful civilians by both sides of the conflict. Many people still launch into geopolitical debates: some blame Gorbachev, others Putin. </p><p class="mag-quote-center">“Why won’t the state do anything for us? They only remember about us on important dates” </p><p>Leah Tchlachidze, who runs the Ergneti Rehabilitation and Development Centre and moved from South Ossetia to Georgia after the five day long Russo-Georgian War in 2008, believes that one of the main reasons for the prolonged conflict has been the Georgian government’s policy towards ethnic minorities. </p><p>“In 1991-2, when President Gamsakhurdia was in power, armed men arrived here from Tbilisi, but the local Georgians asked, ‘Why? We don’t need protecting’”, Tchlachidze tells me. After that war things seemed to quieten down, although there were constant acts of provocation on both sides – we can’t deny we were equally to blame – they fired at us and we fired back. Then in 2008 we had [Mikheil] Saakashvili’s little gamble on a lightning strike.”</p><p>Tsitsino Biblaia, on the other hand, blames Russia for initiating the conflict and maintaining a heightened state of tension: “We’d never had any experience of war, and suddenly here we were, with Georgians fighting against Georgians; Abkhazians against Abkhazians, and everyone against everyone else. It was an internecine war. But the Abkhazians had never had any problems or complaints before. They probably still want independence, but it would be easier for us to come to an agreement with them if the Russian troops left. How can we go back home now? I haven’t even considered it. I’d come back to my old house, and a stranger would be living in it. I couldn’t throw him out – it would take a war to do that”.</p><p>According to Biblaia, her children were very anti-Russian for a long time, blaming them for the whole situation. “I tried to explain to them that I had Russian friends who helped me, and that no single ethnicity should be blamed for the war. Now my son watches Russian films with me, to learn the language.” Tsitsino tells me that she has managed to explain to her children that there is a difference between ordinary Russians, Russian culture and the Russian government: “but Georgians have less and less contact with Russians; all we can remember is the war – especially people like us who lost our homes because of it.”</p><h2>Hope without cause?</h2><p>I have visited Georgia a number of times, and have probably spent a total of over two months there. I’ve mostly hitchhiked from place to place, and Russo-Georgian relations – especially the conflict with Ossetia and Abkhazia in 2008 – have inevitably come up in my conversations with drivers. </p><p>Despite the deaths of innocent people at the hands of Russian forces, the break in official diplomatic relations between Russia and Georgia and the appearance of the self-proclaimed South Ossetian and Abkhazian republics, I have always found Georgians friendly and well-disposed towards me as a Russian. In most cases they have welcomed an opportunity to speak Russian again, criticising both governments for their military escapades.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_03168104.LR_.ru__0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_03168104.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Vladimir Putin meets de-facto president of Abkhazia Raul Khadjimba. Putin’s visit to the self-declared republic on 8 August this year was timed to coincide with the anniversary of the 2008 Russo-Georgian war, after which Russia recognised both Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. Photo (c): Alexey Druzhinin / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Perhaps, if the Russian government was a bit more far-sighted, it could turn this mood to its advantage. But today’s Georgians are increasingly looking to the west, what with visa-free travel to the EU and a NATO training centre just outside Tbilisi. </p><p>The position of the IDPs remains, however, unresolved, and they are unlikely to return home in the near future. In the present unstable situation they have few options: they can either sit across the border, yearning to return to their lost homes or move to the capital to earn money and start a new life. While there, they can try to retain their identity as Georgians from Abkhazia. After all, in Georgia, everybody wants to know where your roots lie. </p><p><em>Translated by Liz Barnes</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/mari-nikuradze/georgia-exiles-election">Georgia: the exiles’ election</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus">On 25 years of postmodernity in the South Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/oliver-bullough/arda%E2%80%99s-flags-postcard-from-abkhazia">Arda’s flags: a postcard from Abkhazia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/abkhazia-recognising-ruins">Abkhazia: recognising the ruins</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/ossetians-in-georgia-with-their-backs-to-mountains">Ossetians in Georgia, with their backs to the mountains</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/nikolaus-von-twickel/do-you-speak-mingrelian">Do you speak Mingrelian?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/marianna-kotova/meet-women-affected-by-abkhazia-s-abortion-ban">Meet the women affected by Abkhazia’s abortion ban</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Dmitry Okrest Georgia Caucasus Abkhazia Thu, 24 Aug 2017 05:39:53 +0000 Dmitry Okrest 112992 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Meet the women affected by Abkhazia’s abortion ban https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/marianna-kotova/meet-women-affected-by-abkhazia-s-abortion-ban <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A year and a half ago, the authorities in Abkhazia banned abortions in nearly all circumstances. These women have paid the price.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/hospital-sukhum.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/hospital-sukhum.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A hospital in Sukhumi, Abkhazia. Photo via Sputnik Abkhazia / OC Media. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><em>This article originally appeared on <a href="http://oc-media.org/the-women-affected-by-abkhazias-abortion-ban/" target="_blank">Open Caucasus Media</a>, in partnership with <a href="http://www.civil.ge" target="_blank">Civil.Ge</a>. We are grateful for their permission to republish it here.</em></p><p>A year and a half after Abkhazia banned abortion, reportedly to increase the number of births, reports of women’s deaths and pregnancy complications have became more numerous, yet the number of babies being born has not increased. Local activists have called on parliament to change the controversial new law, which they say discriminates against women.</p><p>The amendment to the Law on Healthcare passed in early 2016 banned abortions in the South Caucasus territory in almost all circumstances. It has provoked heated discussion in Abkhazian society, with local activists still raise the issue periodically, arguing either for or against the law citing various arguments.&nbsp;</p><p>oDR’s partners at <em>OC Media </em>spoke&nbsp;with three women who have been directly affected by the ban. All three asked to remain anonymous; they said that their problems were too sensitive to bring up in public — but that they could not remain silent.</p><p>One mother of two who said that when her husband found out that the family was expecting one more member, he simply left. “He told me I should have just not got pregnant if I didn’t want to. He said that he couldn’t cope with family responsibilities anyway and he just left,” the woman recalls, with tears in her eyes. “I approached a charity and asked them to help me have an abortion, but they persuaded me to keep the child, promising to provide help after the birth.”</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“If mothers were given higher allowances, we would have children. But the state doesn’t want to help us, all they do is to forbid things”</p><p>The woman says that financial difficulties were the only reason she didn’t want to give birth to the child. “If mothers were given higher allowances, more than 500 roubles (£6.50) a month, we would have children. But the state doesn’t want to help us, all they do is to forbid things,” she sighed.&nbsp;</p><p>Abkhazia’s de-facto president Raul Khadzhimba signed the law banning abortion on 9 February 2016. Two months later, the law was enshrined in Abkhazia’s constitution. The original author of the law was Vice Speaker of Parliament Said Kharaziya.&nbsp;</p><p>Supporters of the law talked of demographic fears in Abkhazia and the supposed “sinfulness” of abortion. According to Khazariya, no one has the right to take the life of an “unborn soul”. Before the law was adopted, there were suggestions that the ban should apply only to ethnic Abkhaz people. However parliament dismissed the approach as discriminatory, deciding to ban abortion altogether, even in the event of serious medical complications.</p><p>During the session of the parliament when the amendment was adopted, Said Kharaziya said that “everything was in God’s hands.”</p><h2>Not everyone can afford a child</h2><p>Our second respondent found herself in a similar situation, she already has three children and is unemployed. Her husband only has irregular work, and their social benefits are barely enough to buy school supplies for the couple’s older children.&nbsp;</p><p>She told <em>OC Media</em> that she couldn’t afford to pay for a trip to Russia to have an abortion. Despite childbirth being free under the Abkhazian law, she will still have to give the doctor a huge bribe.</p><p>“I received 1,000 roubles (£13) in benefits for two children and came to [the territory’s capital] Sukhumi for a scheduled examination with the doctor. This money is not enough. I have to pay 1,500 roubles (£19.60) for the tests alone, and then I have to pay the doctor. So that’s how I’ll spend my whole pregnancy, not knowing if my child is fine, and I also need to save money for childbirth. Until the doctor receives 20,000 roubles (£261), the newborn won’t be released from the hospital. They come up with different problems, like the child has jaundice, but the moment they see the money, the baby is suddenly alright. I already went through it three times,” she exclaims.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00130148.LR_.ru_.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_00130148.LR_.ru_.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Children play in a courtyard in Sukhumi, capital of the unrecognised Republic of Abkhazia, 2006. Many buildings in the city remain derelict following the bloody 1992-1993 war with Georgia. Photo (c): Alexey Nikolsky / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Our third respondent, determined not to have a fourth child, went to Sochi, right across the Abkhazian–Russian border. Even there she encountered difficulties, as a number of Russian doctors were refusing to terminate the pregnancies of Abkhazian women. She was categorically rejected by several doctors, yet in the end, managed to find one who agreed to go through with the procedure. She had to pay about 3,000 roubles (£39).&nbsp;</p><p>“I was told at a clinic in Adler [district of Sochi] that women with Abkhazian passports can’t be given abortions. Some kind of order had come from above. But this one doctor felt sorry for me and sent me to another clinic in Sochi. There I was also coldly received. They said they had also been instructed not to give Abkhazians abortions. They said that they have 700–800 Abkhazians terminating their pregnancy each month. But it was my goal to remove the foetus, and I wasn’t going to stop at anything. Maybe this doctor noticed and felt sorry for me,” she remembers.&nbsp;</p><p>These are the reasons Viktoriya Vorobyova, an obstetrician-gynaecologist at the Sukhumi Maternity Hospital, is categorically against the ban on abortion. She told <em>OC Media</em> that someone who really wants to have an abortion will find a way, while economically disadvantaged and often poorly informed women will continue to give birth, including to sick children.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Two pregnant women have died since Abkhazia’s abortion ban was introduced</p><p>“Women order pills for chemical abortion online, they administer them themselves, even in late pregnancy. We have had women with severe complications at our hospital. One patient, after taking such a ‘miracle pill’ had her uterus seam loosen and the foetus fell into the abdominal cavity. We barely saved her,” Vorobyova recalls.&nbsp;</p><p>Two pregnant women have died since the ban was introduced. Their children were saved, but their two large families were left without mothers.&nbsp;</p><p>“These women came to the hospital early in their pregnancy to terminate them, but they were turned away due to the ban. One died from eclampsia — a severe condition that occurs only in pregnant women. The second shouldn’t have give birth either,” the doctor said.&nbsp;</p><h2>“Women need explaining how to behave”&nbsp;</h2><p>Member of Parliament Alkhas Dzhindzholiya mentioned the need to soften the ban in his parliamentary election programme, saying that abortion should be legal when there are medical complications. But even now, as he says, women have the opportunity to have an abortion without violating the ban.&nbsp;</p><p>“If developmental defects in the foetus are diagnosed, or the woman herself is sick, then a consultation meeting between several doctors is held. A record of the consultation goes to the Ministry of Health and there they decide whether it is possible to let the woman have an abortion. There are already precedents for this,” Dzhindzholiya told <em>OC Media</em>.</p><p>As for changes in the legislation, he said that more work was needed.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Abkhazia_Woman_Orchard.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Abkhazia_Woman_Orchard.jpg" alt="" title="" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" width="460" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Woman in a walnut orchard in Gali district, southern Abkhazia, 2011. Photo CC BY-NC-ND 2.0: Dmitriy Medlev / Nonviolent Peaceforce / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>“We should not approach this issue categorically. You can’t allow full permission for abortion, but at the same time, you can’t put [women’s] lives at risk. That’s why we consult with the public. In general, we need to work with women. They need explaining how to behave, so they don’t need to have abortions later,” Dzhindzholiya said.&nbsp;</p><p>Dzhindzholiya discussed only medical factors. Social aspects, such as the financial situation of families, are routinely ignored by Parliament. Politicians say that there are always ways to avoid unwanted pregnancies. Any woman can receive a free consultation and various contraceptives at the state-funded Centre for Reproductive Health.</p><p>Doctor Viktoriya Vorobyova told <em>OC Media</em> that condoms, contraceptive pills, and the contraceptive coil are always available at the centre and are always free.&nbsp;</p><p>“Maybe we don’t inform the public well enough about the activities of the centre,” Vorobyova admits. “We need to work with young people, explain to them that [contraception] is nothing to be ashamed of.”</p><p>There is currently only one such centre in Abkhazia, in Sukhumi. Outside of the capital, international organisations occasionally implement programmes offering contraceptives, or to educate people about how and why to use them, both to protect their health and prevent unwanted pregnancies. These are all, however, sporadic at best.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>“<a href="https://chai-khana.org/en/banning-abortion-in-abkhazia-1" target="_blank">Banning abortion in Abkhazia</a>” - a short video on <em>Chai Khana</em></p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/regina-jegorova-askerova/breaking-cycle-ending-underage-marriage-in-georgia">Breaking the cycle: ending underage marriage in Georgia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/irina-kosterina/love-north-caucasus-style">Love, North Caucasus style</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/editors-of-opendemocracy-russia/stories-you-weren%E2%80%99t-meant-to-hear-women-tradition-and-powe">Stories you weren’t meant to hear: women, tradition and power in Russia’s North Caucasus </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/anastasia-ovsyannikova/how-should-we-talk-about-abortion-in-russia">How should we talk about abortion in Russia?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/dagestan-who-owns-women-s-bodies">Who owns women’s bodies in Dagestan?</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia 50.50 oD Russia Marianna Kotova Rights for all Health Caucasus Abkhazia Thu, 17 Aug 2017 12:18:19 +0000 Marianna Kotova 112905 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The burning land of Lenin-Aul https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/burning-lands-leninaul-dagestan <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>In a remote corner of Dagestan, a vicious land dispute has erupted between Avars and Chechens. <strong><em><a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ekaterina-neroznikova/goryachaya-zemlya-leninaula-dagestan" target="_blank">RU</a></em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Leninaul-Kalininaul_view.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Leninaul-Kalininaul_view.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="295" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Lenin-Aul and neighbouring Kalinin-Aul, two villages near Dagestan’s border with Chechnya, 2006. Photo CC BY-SA 3.0: Umar Dagirov / Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Lenin-Aul is a town of some 10,000 in the Republic of Dagestan, in Russia’s North Caucasus. Chechnya is not far from here, and in recent weeks its presence has been very keenly felt. A land dispute in Lenin-Aul has almost transformed into an interethnic confrontation between the local Avar population and Akkins (a subethnos of Chechens). While peace was easily restored to the village after unrest in late July, the roots of this conflict lie deeper — mistrust still lingers.</p><p>The bone of contention is the historic ownership of these lands, for which both side has its own justification.&nbsp;</p><h2>Thin red lines&nbsp;</h2><p>Lenin-Aul straddles the border between Dagestan’s Kazbekovsky and Novolaksky districts. Until Stalin uprooted and deported the entire Chechen people from their historic lands in 1944, the settlement was known as Aktash-Aukh, and many of its inhabitants were ethnic Chechens. In those years, some 28,000 Chechens were deported from Dagestan, including 15,400 Akkins. Following their exile to Kazakhstan, ethnic Avars from the village of Almak moved into the Chechens’ empty homes. With the stroke of a pen, Aktash-Aukh received the resonant name of Stalin-Aul, and the Aukhovsky district to which it had belonged was disbanded.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Chechens_AukhYurt_1957_1.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Chechens_AukhYurt_1957_1.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Chechens deported from the village of Aukh-Yurt, Dagestan (now Kalinin-Aul) at a railway station in Soviet Central Asia, after being permitted to make the long journey back to their homeland. Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, 1957. Photo CC BY-SA 4.0: Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>By 1961, Stalin-Aul had been renamed to Lenin-Aul, and the deported Chechens had started to return to their homeland, but not to their homes — barred from resettling their ancestral villages. Nevertheless, some Akkin Chechens made it to Lenin-Aul, buying their old homes from the Avars who now occupied them.&nbsp;</p><p>To the right of Lenin-Aul, behind a small mountain, lies the neighbouring village of Novolakskoye — administrative centre of the neighbouring Novolakovsky district. According to a decision made on 23 June 1991, this area should have been reformed into the Aukhovsky district. Concurrently, a new Novolaksky district was to have appeared not far from Dagestan’s capital of Makhachkala, where the predominantly Lak population of Novolakskoye village would have been encouraged to settle (ethnic Laks also came to occupy former Akkin Chechen villages after 1944).&nbsp;</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">For other ethnic groups who moved here after 1944, the ancestral lands of deported Chechens have become their home, and they’re not willing to give them up so easily</span></p><p>The 1991 decision allows for the resurrection of the Aukhovsky district within its previous borders, and the full return of Akkin Chechens to their ancestral lands — but it’s little succour for the Chechens of Lenin-Aul and neighbouring Kalinin-Aul, who wish to return home. Following the dissolution of the Aukhovsky district, these two villages were transferred to the neighbouring Kazbekovsky district, meaning that they cannot return there.&nbsp;</p><p>Local authorities have dragged their heels over resurrecting the old Aukhovsky district, to put it mildly. Not only do the deported Akkin Chechens have the biggest claim to stake — for other ethnic groups who moved here after 1944, these lands have become their home, and they’re not willing to give them up so easily.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2017-08-11 at 13.19.56.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/Screen Shot 2017-08-11 at 13.19.56.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="243" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Click to make this partial map of Dagestan and Chechnya larger. Lenin-Aul is marked. Source: Google Maps. </span></span></span></p><p>This impasse has led to today’s state of affairs, which has grown into Dagestan’s most heated confrontation in recent years. I headed to Lenin-Aul to hear both sides.</p><h2>A fight of federal importance&nbsp;</h2><p>On 7 July, an anonymous appeal spread across social networks, calling on Chechens to travel to Lenin-Aul and support their compatriots. This was to take the form of a “people’s gathering” to be held after Friday prayers outside the central mosque in Chechnya’s capital of Grozny, and in the village of Lenin-Aul itself.&nbsp;</p><p>The gathering in Grozny never took place — in today’s Chechnya, such spontaneous public meetings are nigh on impossible. Whether in Chechnya, Ingushetia or Dagestan itself, people who were interested headed to Lenin-Aul. The response was so strong that it certainly surprised the “organisers” of the appeal, whoever they were. Lenin-Aul is 18km from the city of Khasavyurt, Dagestan’s largest city along the border with Chechnya. A convoy of cars stood just 10 km away — each of them packed with people determined to enter Lenin-Aul.&nbsp;</p><p>The convoy was halted at the edge of the village of Novo-Danukh, where riot police vans and cars from Chechnya’s Special Rapid Response Team awaited them, alongside URAL trucks from Dagestan’s military. Five kilometres on stood two armoured personnel carriers. While the local clashes between groups of Avars and Chechens occurred on 25 June, it was only by 7 July that the situation had escalated into an inter-ethnic dispute, in which Chechens from Chechnya itself now participated. Attempts to resolve the situation quietly, without bringing in the authorities, came to naught.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02950203.LR_.ru__0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02950203.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="290" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Magomed Daudov, chairman of Chechnya’s parliament, speaks with Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov at an event in honour of the latter’s father Akhmat-Hadji in Grozny, 2016. Photo (c): Said Tsarnaev / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>This convoy of cars, bearing the letters “KRA” on their numberplates (the initials of Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov) was led into Lenin-Aul by the chairman of the Chechen parliament Magomed Daudov, known by his moniker “Lord”. Only Daudov’s motorcade was allowed to proceed further; ordinary Chechens were kept waiting.&nbsp;For its part, Dagestan also dispatched several significant government officials, including the Avar Saygitpasha Umakhanov, minister of transport and energy and former mayor of Khasavyurt.&nbsp;</p><p>Rumours grew around Daudov’s arrival, chief among them that stones had been thrown at him. It’s difficult to believe that this really happened; in a region like the North Caucasus, and even beyond it, everybody knows what the possible consequences of such an act could be.&nbsp;</p><p>Another rumour held that there were no Chechen police in the Lenin-Aul region. In actual fact, nearly all of the security services’ vehicles arrived from Chechnya itself — and after they set off from Khasavyurt in the afternoon, nobody tried to conceal that fact. When they arrived at their destination, Chechen security operatives walked past civilians with guns at the ready — and only left once Daudov’s motorcade, with its tinted windows, had departed for Chechnya.&nbsp;<span>Upon leaving Dagestan, all the cars returning to Chechnya were greeted by mass applause from a huge crowd of people. </span></p><p><span>Head of the Republic of Dagestan Ramazan Abdulatipov visited Lenin-Aul only a few days after the events described above, leading locals to accuse him of leaving Lenin-Aul and its problems “at the mercy” of a neighbouring republic.&nbsp;</span></p><h2>A Chechen story&nbsp;</h2><p>The lower part of Lenin-Aul is inhabited by the descendants of Akkin Chechens who were deported from these lands in 1944. They returned here in the 1960s, despite the ban on their doing so. In the 1990s, following the decision on restoring the Aukhovsky district, their numbers grew considerably.&nbsp;</p><p>The town’s division is quite apparent. Everybody will tell you where the “Avar neighbourhood” begins. You’ll hardly meet any Avars while walking through the narrow streets of the “Chechen neighbourhood”. It’s said that after the recent incidents, they’ve even been barred from entering Chechen-run shops.</p><p>The Chechens have two working mosques in this part of town. The newest, a large building, was built a year ago with funds the community raised itself. It’s called the “Heart of Aukh”. The house opposite bears a memorial plaque to Akhmad-Hadji Kadyrov, the former president of Chechnya and father of Ramzan Kadyrov after whom the street is named.&nbsp;</p><p>The street is calm, tranquil — occasionally we encounter a group of schoolchildren. But on 7 July, you couldn’t squeeze through the crowd here; for this mosque is where Magomed Daudov met with local Chechen elders.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Kadyrov_Street_Mosque.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Kadyrov_Street_Mosque.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="295" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The newly-built Heart of Aukh mosque in the Chechen neighbourhood of Lenin-Aul, on Akhmat-Hadji Kadyrov street. Photo courtesy of the author.</span></span></span></p><p>Murad Zakayev, local Chechen youth leader in Lenin-Aul, was a direct participant in these events. Everybody knows Murad here — he’s something of a local authority. His car can be easily spotted by the word “AUKH” on its numberplate. “On 25 June, a fight broke out between young Avar and Chechen guys. The elders broke them up. We thought that the conflict had been settled, but then we heard that all the Avars were meeting up at the petrol station. A few of our guys walked past them, and the Avars just pounced on them. A police patrol car was right there, but they didn’t lift a finger. They just stood and watched. All the policemen on the beat are Avars,” recalls Murad.&nbsp;</p><p>“There were only five or six of us, and around 200 Avars. They were clearly enraged. We told the police to put a stop to it, to calm their guys down. And finally, a few policemen showed up — but the crowd just trampled over them.”&nbsp;</p><p>Only with the arrival of riot police, who fired rounds over their heads, did the crowd settle down.&nbsp;</p><p>“We then found out that another crowd had gathered at a checkpoint,” says Murad. “The police had blocked the entrance — if you were Avar, they’d let you pass, if a Chechen — they wouldn’t. Yet on that day, many people were travelling out of town to visit their relatives for a festival. A big traffic jam had already built up, and then the riot police and armoured personnel carriers arrived from Khasavyurt.”&nbsp;</p><p>In his words, law enforcement constantly provoked the Avar crowd and detained young Chechens who tried to get through the police cordon. Murad was among them.</p><p>“I saw some badly injured people, one of them had lost consciousness. We begged the police to call an ambulance, but they refused. They only released us after a request from the head of the local interior ministry. While there, we wrote a declaration, but three of our guys who had been at the petrol station and hadn’t even been involved in the fight were detained for seven days. We didn’t panic, as we thought that would be the end of it,” remembers Murad.&nbsp;</p><p>Following these events in Lenin-Aul, the leader of Dagestan’s security committee Abdulmuslim Abdulmuslimov and deputy leader of the office of the head of the Republic of Dagestan Alexey Gasanov arrived, and urged the local population to peacefully settle their conflict. Everybody agreed, but the story would soon have an unexpected sequel.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Chechen_Boys_LeninAul.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Chechen_Boys_LeninAul.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Defend Grozny: two boys on the streets of the Chechen neighbourhood of Lenin-Aul. Photo courtesy of the author.</span></span></span></p><p>“Shortly before 7 July, I received an SMS message asking me to record a video message to Putin and Kadyrov. I haven’t a clue who the sender was, but they certainly weren’t from our town. Afterwards, a group appeared on WhatsApp which started calling on people to gather in Grozny and Khasavyurt. I phoned the administrator’s number, but nobody answered me. I wrote to them saying that I was from Lenin-Aul myself, and asked them to please call off their meeting.”&nbsp;</p><p>On 7 July, Zakayev headed to Grozny, in an attempt to stop the gathering of Chechen youth. While there, he found out that the activists had already departed for Lenin-Aul, so hurried back home. “There was another crowd at the checkpoint — mostly Chechens from Dagestan. The event at the mosque, at which Daudov presided, was already in full swing,” says Murad.&nbsp;</p><p>Zakayev believes that Daudov’s arrival may have been agreed in advance with Dagestan’s leadership. “If that was so, then it was a wise decision. This case demonstrated that the Chechen authorities have influence not only over ordinary people, but over law enforcement,” believes Murad.</p><p>Local disputes over land frequently occur across Russia — but in Lenin-Aul, they easily become catalysts for inter-ethnic confrontation. Once again, these clashes revolve around the possible resurrection of the Aukhovsky district. “I live in a newly-built house, while my grandfather’s old house now lies in the Avar part of town,” Zakayev tells me. “If you want to truly witness this conflict, then let’s go up there and ask whose house it really is. They’ll immediately answer that ‘it’s mine — Stalin gave it to me’.”&nbsp;</p><p>“Their upper mosque was built in the yard of a house owned by a Chechen man. After he was deported, an Avar settled there, who then donated the land for the construction of the mosque. Now Avars go there to pray. But nobody has asked that Chechen, the original owner of the land, for permission to do so — as they are mandated to do by Sharia law. That Chechen passed away last year, and until his last breath said that he would never forgive them.”&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“If you want to witness this conflict, let’s go and ask an Avar whose their house really is. They’ll respond that ‘it’s mine — Stalin gave it to me’.”&nbsp;</p><p>Local Chechens fear that Lenin-Aul, and their families’ former homes in its Avar district, won’t be included in the new Aukhovsky district. For them, it’s a matter of principle. “We haven’t yet seen any documents confirming that Lenin-Aul or Kalinin-Aul will be included within the district’s borders. But we want historic justice, and we want our lands. After all, throughout Dagestan there are ethnic groups far less numerous than the Chechens who have their own districts,” explains Murad.</p><p>“We don’t want to kick the Avars out. Let them stay here. We tell them: ‘let’s be friends, let’s become brothers, but just return to us what is ours.’ They say that they understand what happened in our history and can work with us to resolve the issue. But no.”</p><p>Recent events have led to a breakdown in the already rare lines of communication between the Avars and Chechens of Lenin-Aul. “The Avar side hasn’t even approached us since 7 July. And why should we make overtures to them? We didn’t start this!” exclaims Zakayev.&nbsp;</p><h2>An Avar story</h2><p>The Avar part of town couldn’t be more different from the Chechen neighbourhood. Winding, narrow passageways snake around the courtyards and flow into each other like mountain streams. Once upon a time, Akkin Chechens lived here. In the centre stands a historic Chechen mosque — it’s said to be over 200 years old. The building is in poor condition — it’s been used as an agricultural warehouse since the 1930s and Chechens have only recently obtained permission to renovate it, albeit with their own funds.&nbsp;</p><p>The Avars have built three other mosques. Opposite one of them, I meet with a deputy in the local town council, Batirkhan Musichov. Like most of the population of Lenin-Aul, he’s originally from the village of Almak.</p><p>“Around 1989, various provocations began. Graffiti appeared on Avar-owned buildings, even on school desks, telling Avars to ‘return home to Almak’.”</p><p>Musichov adds that nowhere in Russia other than Dagestan is there a law on the territorial resolution to the problems of ethnic groups repressed during Soviet rule. “The Chechens lobbied for a territorial resolution. So now both the Avars, Laks and others have to be resettled to accommodate them. But we never agreed to any of their territorial claims. We’ve lived here in the Kazbekovsky district for 70 years, while their Aukhovsky district has only existed for three and a half months!” He reminds me that the Akkin Chechens already received compensation for their lost lands — 28 hectares in the lowlands of the Khasavyurt, Kizilyurt and Babayurt districts.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Chechen_Mosque_LeninAul.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Chechen_Mosque_LeninAul.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The historic Chechen mosque in the Avar district of Lenin-Aul. Photo courtesy of the author.</span></span></span></p><p>The current dispute is a continuation of 1991. “Back then, the Chechens built a camp in an apple orchard, brought their relatives and simply settled there. Then parliamentary leader (and ethnic Chechen) Ruslan Khasbulatov came to speak with them, and so did Ramazan Abdulatipov. The ethnic Avar Duma deputy from Dagestan, Gadzhi Makhachev, also came along. So did Saygitpasha Umakhanov. They were able to resolve the situation, if only temporarily,” says Musichov. And resolved it had to be, for the Akkin Chechens’ protest demanding the restoration of the Aukhovsky district led to a state of emergency being introduced in the Kazbekovsky district in September 1991.&nbsp;</p><p>“Back then, we even signed a document vowing to live together peacefully, but things just went back to the way they were. They’re still building the same camp.” Musichov is convinced that the current clashes occurred under the direction of Chechnya’s authorities. “Ramzan Kadyrov has begun to lay claims on neighbouring republics — both Dagestan and Ingushetia. He thinks he can come here and restore order on his own terms. Kadyrov is an ambitious neighbour; he wants to rule the entire North Caucasus — all the land until the Sulak River, an outlet to the Caspian Sea!”&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“Around 1989, graffiti appeared on Avar-owned buildings, even on school desks, telling Avars to ‘return home to Almak’”</p><p>“But we can resolve our conflicts on our own. We have police, a village head, a district, a republic. But no, the [Akkin Chechen] leaders decided to appeal to Ramzan Kadyrov, to go to Grozny and call on the people to go to Lenin-Aul. And who did they decide to dispatch here? Some “Lord” [Daudov] who has nothing to do with Dagestan whatsoever! Chechnya is a neighbouring subject of the Russian Federation, but they come over here and bring their own security services!” exclaims Musichov.&nbsp;</p><p>According to Musichov’s sources, Daudov believed that the Avars would turn up and discuss the matter with him. “But none of us did. Who is he to us? Some guy with fake medals he was awarded. We would never come to talk to him. We — deputies and heads of the village — waited for him at the local administration building. Had he turned up here, we’d have met with him.”</p><p>Musichev stresses that the opinion of the Chechen community is taken into account in all important decisions regarding village life, adding that the local council comprises of nine Avars and six Chechens. Batirkhan concludes: “Four of my neighbours are Chechens. Three petrol stations belong to Chechens, as do five shops. The school director is a Chechen, the deputy head of the local administration is a Chechen. They even run the local shared taxi business. The deputy head of the Kazbekovsky region is a Chechen. The head of the local pension fund is a Chechen. Any talk of discrimination against them is absurd.”&nbsp;</p><h2>In search of a compromise&nbsp;</h2><p>The disagreement about the Aukhovsky district lies at the root of the tensions in Lenin-Aul. Sooner or later, the issue will have to be resolved — but at the moment, nobody can compromise. Konstantin Kazenin, a senior researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences and Gaidar Institute, believes that the first moves have to start small — establishing normal interaction between ethnic communities and their leaders.&nbsp;</p><p>Many Avars in Lenin-Aul genuinely fear the eventual integration of the Aukhovsky district into Chechnya itself. However, Kazenin believes that such a move is implausible, and very difficult from a legal point of view. He adds that conspiracy theories are widespread in the North Caucasus, and Lenin-Aul is no exception.&nbsp;</p><p>Kazenin adds that fears over a newly mono-ethnic Aukhovsky district are groundless. “It’s very important that the leaderships of Dagestan and Chechnya, as well as the federal authorities, reassure everybody that the district will be ethnically mixed, and interests of all sides will be taken into account — including those of Avars,” he says.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Kazbekovsky_Region.JPG" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Kazbekovsky_Region.JPG" alt="" title="" width="460" height="295" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>What hope for a shared home? “I love the Kazbekovsky district” - reads this sign. Photo courtesy of the author.</span></span></span></p><p>So why has it taken so long to resolve the question of the Aukhovsky region, and which villages belong to it? Kazenin believes that frequent changes in power in Dagestan’s authorities are partly to blame. Of crucial importance is also the issue of where to resettle the Lak population. “The ambiguity around that question suits plenty of people just fine — we know of several corruption schemes related to it. But unless that question is fully resolved, a solution to the problem of the Aukhovsky district will be impossible,” explains Kazenin.&nbsp;</p><p>As concerns interference from Chechen officials, Kazenin reminds me that powerful Dagestanis have also played a role — not least Saygitpasha Umakhanov, who is hugely influential among Avars in and around Khasavyurt. The expert also dismisses opposition to Daudov’s involvement in the dispute. “In terms of keeping the peace, his intervention had a positive effect,” Kazenin stresses. “Certainly, some Chechen officials have great influence on the Chechens of Dagestan. And if they can leverage that to positive ends in situations like this, then that’s excellent.”&nbsp;</p><p>At the moment one can only be relieved that the situation hasn’t deteriorated further, though Kazenin adds that the root of the conflict still remains. “It’s naive to think that everybody will start living peacefully regardless, there’s a lot of work to be done,” he admits.&nbsp;</p><h2>Keeping the calm&nbsp;</h2><p>Finger-pointing over the Lenin-Aul conflict is doomed to failure, as both sides of this dispute are informed only by facts which confirm their righteousness. And the amount of “evidence” only increases with the years, deepening yet another conflict for the regional authorities’ desk drawers.&nbsp;</p><p>It’s unlikely that this issue can ever be resolved on a local level. Even the influence and best efforts of Dagestan’s politicians are not enough — confidence in them has practically dried up. Indeed, it could be time for the federal authorities to take an active role in the dispute over the Aukhovsky region, concerning as it does territorial borders.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Finger-pointing over Lenin-Aul is doomed to failure, as both sides of this dispute are informed only by facts which confirm their righteousness.</p><p>Another realistic option is that the external dimension to this conflict heats up. To see how likely that is, one need only have been in Lenin-Aul on 7 July and to see the impact of the call to arms (whose author still remains unknown). Decisionmakers would have to deal with hundreds of grateful locals escorting cars bound back to Chechnya. Their applause mingled with shouts of “Allahu Akbar,” and the foreboding sense of a coming victory.</p><p>This form of civic unity hasn’t been seen among the Chechens for many years — and we’ll probably witness it again, if the burning dispute over Lenin-Aul isn’t solved.</p><p><em>Translated by Maxim Edwards</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="http://oc-media.org/chechens-in-daghestan-we-must-help-people-overcome-the-mistrust-interview/" target="_blank">“We must help people overcome their distrust” - an interview with Mairbek Vachagaev on the conflict in Lenin-Aul</a>, <em>OC Media</em></p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/svetlana-anokhina/makhachkala-citizen-city">Makhachkala: citizen city </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/kalmykia-s-long-goodbye">Kalmykia’s long goodbye</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/fatima-chumakova/five-bloody-days-in-north-ossetia">Five bloody days in North Ossetia</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/badma-biurchiev/big-government-is-back-in-dagestan">Big government is back in Dagestan</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-yalovkina/decorative-deputies-of-north-caucasus">The decorative deputies of the North Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/varvara-pakhomenko/russia-s-north-caucasus-lesson-in-history">Between dialogue and violence: the North Caucasus&#039;s bloody legacy</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Ekaterina Neroznikova Russia Dagestan Chechnya Caucasus Fri, 11 Aug 2017 11:38:47 +0000 Ekaterina Neroznikova 112807 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Inside Ingushetia’s anti-extremism centre: torture, extortion, murder https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/yegor-skovoroda-sergei-smirnov/inside-ingushetia-anti-extremism-torture-extortion <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Russia’s anti-extremism centres are notorious for their brutal torture. Here are the stories of its victims in Ingushetia, where for the first time, some of the organisation’s operatives face trial for their crimes.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Doliev_Magomed.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Doliev_Magomed.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="279" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Magomed Doliev, murdered at Ingushetia’s Centre E. Photo (c): Sergei Smirnov / MediaZona. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><strong><em>This article <a href="https://zona.media/article/2017/06/20/eshechki " target="_blank">originally appeared in Russian on MediaZona</a>. We are grateful for their permission to publish a translation of it here.</em></strong></p><p>At the end of March 2017, Yunus-Bek Evkurov, head of the Republic of Ingushetia, a region in Russia’s North Caucasus, visited a pre-trial detention centre in Karabulak. As the website of Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service <a href="http://www.fsin.su/news/index.php?ELEMENT_ID=308614" target="_blank">puts it</a>, Evkurov “visited the main buildings of the detention facility and spoke with suspects, detainees and convicts [incarcerated there].” Evkurov was apparently “interested in issues of access to medical treatment, nutrition and whether the rights and lawful interests of those held in custody were being respected.”</p><p>It’s unclear who exactly Evkurov spoke to. Timur Khamkhoev, former head of Ingushetia’s Centre for Combating Extremism (“<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/grigory-tumanov/dark-doings-of-russia%E2%80%99s-centre-e" target="_blank">Centre E</a>”), and several of his subordinates are currently behind bars at Karabulak. They face charges of extorting and torturing people in detention.&nbsp;</p><p>Ingushetia’s Centre E has long had a reputation for torture and murder. The notorious Timur Khamkhoev has led it since October 2013. “I swear — you won’t find anybody worse, anybody dirtier in this republic than that jackal. Did they know about it? I swear on all that’s holy — they all did. From the head [of the republic] to the janitors, they knew all about it!” seethes Akhmed-Bashir Aushev, elder of the Aushev <em>teip </em>(Chechen and Ingush clan - ed.) Two of Aushev’s relatives suffered at the hands of Khamkhoev and his men, both named Magomed Aushev.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“I swear on all that’s holy — they all knew. From the head of the republic to the janitors, they knew all about the torture!”</p><p>Relatives of the victims of Ingushetia’s Centre E say that they complained to Evkurov about police brutality more than once, but he dismissed their concerns. Akhmed-Bashir Aushev claims that in 2014, he personally showed the head of Ingushetia photographs of Magomed Aushev, who then lay in hospital after a severe beating.</p><p>“He told me that I should tell the story again when I turn up in court for slandering our police! Imagine that, the head of our republic said this, Yunus-Bek Bamatgireyevich!” Such was Evkurov’s response, in the words of Aushev, when confronted with evidence of torture by the republic’s Centre E. Three years passed before, in May 2017, the Investigative Committee finally brought charges against Centre E’s 44 year-old director Timur Khamkhoev and departmental head Andrei Beznosyuk, on suspicion of using extreme force against Magomed Aushev.</p><h2>“They never took a break”: the Aushev family</h2><p>Magomed Aushev, 25, came to the attention of the republic’s Centre E after his cousin’s wedding, at which he, in his own words, fired two or three shots into the air with a non-lethal pistol. “Rumours soon started that I had fired rounds from a gilded machine-gun,” says Aushev, finding the right words in Russian with difficulty. This, Aushev believes, explains the police’s interest in him. On 20 December 2014, Magomed and his lawyer entered the police station and presented his non-lethal pistol, upon which Aushev was interrogated in connection with illegal arms trafficking. “They just said ‘Hey, why have you brought us a <em>travmat</em> pistol, where’s the machine gun?’ And I told them that I didn’t have one,” continues Aushev.&nbsp;</p><p>Night fell, and investigator Akhmed Kotiev told Aushev that he was being detained for 48 hours and would now be taken to a temporary detention facility. At the back door of the police station, Kotiev handed the young man over to two people in masks. “They immediately put a bag over my head, shoved me into a car and brought me straight to Centre E.”&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Aushev.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Aushev.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="279" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Magomed Aushev, one of Centre E’s victims in Ingushetia who now demands that his torturers be brought to justice. Photo (c): Sergei Smirnov / MediaZona. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Ingushetia’s Centre E is located in Nazran, the former capital of Ingushetia. Number seven Ozdoev Street is an unassuming two-storey structure, surrounded by a ten metre high metal mesh fence higher than the building itself. This was where they started beating Aushev, “demanding to see the gilded machine-gun.” “They beat me all night — they never took a break. They electrocuted me, they beat me in the groin, on the head. They beat me in the kidneys, they beat me in the knees. At times, I caught a glimpse of them through the bag over my head. At one point, they removed it to give me some water.” And now, three years on, Magomed Aushev has identified Timur Khamkhoev and several of his subordinates as those who tortured him.</p><p>On the second day, he was taken to a prison cell, and from there to the court, where Aushev started to feel unwell. He was then hospitalised. “I could barely walk. I passed out and only regained consciousness in hospital,” he remembers. He’s none the wiser as to the criminal case concerning his “gilded machine-gun”, which was the pretext for his torture. After being discharged from hospital, Aushev spent another two months in prison and was then simply released. In January 2015 he was recognised as a victim of a violent abuse of authority (Section three, Article 286 of Russia’s Criminal Code), but the investigation into his cases was suspended. It was only resumed this January, after several operatives of Centre E had already been arrested.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“They came to his mother’s house&nbsp;— with three armoured personnel carriers! On leaving, one of the armed men told her to ‘complain less’”</p><p>After this, Magomed Aushev was questioned once again, and identified five operatives who had tortured him. However, Aushev’s family was intimidated in an effort to scare him into silence. “They came to his mother’s house — and brought three armoured personnel carriers with them! They were masked, armed, in front of small children! They started to search around, frisking everybody. His poor family was terrified — they never expected anything like this!” exclaims Akhmed-Bashir Aushev. He states that upon leaving, one of the armed men said “you should complain less.”</p><p>The other Magomed Aushev wound up at Centre E on 16 June 2016, on suspicion of involvement in a car bomb which targeted Ibragim Belkhoroev, one of the leaders of the “Batalkhadzhintsy”. </p><p class="blockquote-new"><strong>Who are the Batalkhadzhintsy?<br /></strong><br />The Batalkhadzhintsy are an Ingush Muslim religious group mostly residing in the village of Surkhakhi, infamous for their close ties to the leadership of neighbouring Chechnya. The current leader of the movement, Sultan Belkhoroev, has described Chechnya’s dictator Ramzan Kadyrov as a “messiah and imam who will lead [his people] out of darkness.”<br /><br />The group came to international notoriety when their involvement in the <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/mar/10/journalists-beaten-and-bus-torched-on-chechnya-tour-say-activists" target="_blank">attack on a bus of journalists and human rights defenders</a> on 9 March 2016 at the Chechnya-Ingushetia border became known. The vehicle was set ablaze, killing everybody inside. According to <a href="https://russiangate.com/person/samyy-blizkiy-drug/" target="_blank">one source</a> in the Russiangate dossier, the attack was ordered by Adam Delimkhanov, a cousin and close associate of Kadyrov and member of the Duma.</p><p>Magomed Aushev’s mother, Aza Ausheva, recalls how the police came knocking early in the morning, though they didn’t find anything incriminating during a search of the house. They then headed down to a ditch behind the house, where they found “some kind of package” (which Aza believes to be the components of a detonator planted there by the security services). Magomed was taken away. “Later that evening we discovered that he had been taken to Centre E, and were told that he had been electrocuted. His head and body were swollen, the bridge of his nose broken,” says Ausheva, describing her son’s condition when she saw him in hospital.&nbsp;</p><p>“He told us that a guy started jumping on him, and because you’ve got a bag over your head, you don’t know when to brace. You just exhaust yourself,” says Ruslan Aushev, Magomed’s father. After this torture, the young man, who still hadn’t confessed to anything, was twice released under house arrest, but is now again behind bars. His case is now being <a href="https://magassky--ing.sudrf.ru/modules.php?name=sud_delo&amp;srv_num=1&amp;name_op=case&amp;case_id=730291&amp;delo_id=1540006&amp;case_type=0&amp;hide_parts=0" target="_blank">examined</a> by the Magas city court.&nbsp;</p><iframe width="460" height="259" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/f1BZ_hyQEnc" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe><em>Relatives of torture victims speak out (Russian). Source: MediaZona.</em><p>As Magomed Aushev was being tortured at the building on Ozdoev Street, another prisoner, Magomed Doliev, was subjected to the same cruel treatment. In Doliev’s case, the operatives of Centre E certainly didn’t “take a break.” Aushev’s father says his son considered himself lucky. Due to Doliev’s death, his torturers went a little easier on him. “I could hear his cries,” remembers Magomed, “and just perhaps, he could also hear mine.”&nbsp;</p><p>It’s possible that Doliev’s death in custody saved Aushev from facing further torture. The corpse of a detainee at Centre E spelt the beginning of the end for Timur Khamkhoev’s team of torturers.</p><h2>“They put a plastic bag over my head and began to choke me”: the Doliev family&nbsp;</h2><p>Magomed Doliev, 49, graduated from a police academy in Almaty, and then went on to work in the police and general prosecutor’s office in Kazakhstan. After his family returned to Ingushetia, Doliev was offered a job in law enforcement, but he refused. In recent years, he worked in Moscow where, according to his brother Nazir, he led a “brigade of Azeris and Uzbeks”. Still, Magomed returned home to Ingushetia fairly often. Meanwhile, his wife Maryem worked as a cashier at a bank in the city of Sunzha.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>On the morning of 11 July 2016, an unknown masked man entered the bank. He laid a grenade, which later turned out to be a dud, on the desk where Maryem Dolieva was working that day. Terrified, she opened the safe, and the criminal made off with over 12m roubles (£155,000). “Why didn’t she press the button to sound the emergency alarm? She told me that she was so shocked she couldn’t think of a course of action, and still can’t remember exactly what happened. She feared that the grenade would go off,” explains Nazir Doliev.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>Magomed Doliev was at home at that time, and both husband and wife were questioned by the police. The case was investigated by the Sunzha district branch of the interior ministry, led by Magomed Bekov. On 15 July, Alisher Borotov (now acting deputy head of Ingushetia’s interior ministry, but in 2016 - the republic’s deputy head of police) ordered operatives from Centre E to investigate.</p><p>On that very day at around one o’clock in the afternoon, investigator Timur Khamkhoev from Centre E phoned Maryem at work and told her to go immediately to the police station. Upon arrival, she was led into Magomed Bekov’s office, where Bekov, Borotov, and Khamkhoev were waiting for her. “I wasn’t even able to collect myself before they started bellowing at me,” she recalls. The men demanded to know where Maryem’s husband was (Magomed was at home), and that she confess to orchestrating a theft at the bank with his assistance (Dolieva denies the charge.)</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Doliyev_Family.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Doliyev_Family.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="279" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The brother and mother of Magomed Doliev, murdered at Centre E. Photo (c): Sergei Smirnov / MediaZona. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>“They started to shout at me,” she repeated, “and Khamkhoev sprung up and struck me in the face. Then Magomed Bekov took a plastic bag. There was a room nearby, a rest room. He approached me from my right and jammed the bag over my head; he tightened it from the side and started to choke me.”</p><p>When the polythene plastic stuck to her face and she started to suffocate, Bekov removed the bag and let Maryem take a breath. “As soon as they put the bag on me, they started hitting my face and head. I couldn’t see a thing. They beat me with their fists and their open hands,” she says. When Bekov became tired, other people present took part in the torture. Khamkhoev and Bekov took turns tightening the bag and choking Maryem.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>But despite the torture, Maryem refused to confess and incriminate herself. After a while, the ordeal stopped. “They removed the bag and I began to straighten my headscarf, at which point Bekov remarked that ‘you won’t be needing that anymore.’ Five minutes passed. As soon as I had come to my senses, two Russians appeared, who turned out to be Beznosyuk and Sergei Khandogin — guys from Centre E,” recalls Maryem.</p><p>The two men took Maryem to the courtyard, where a Lada Granta awaited them. Beznosyuk put another plastic bag on her head, which he’d taken from the office of the local interior ministry branch. Throughout the entire ride to Cenere E’s building in Nazran, her captors once again tried to convince Maryem to confess. “As soon as the car stopped, they wrapped tape tightly around the bag, all the way up to my nose. As soon as I raised my hands to straighten it a little, they beat me. They were afraid I’d remove it,” remembers Dolieva.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p><span style="font-size: 1.2em;"><span class="mag-quote-center" style="font-size: 13px;">Later one of the Centre E investigators asked Maryem whether she could recognise her husband’s voice. “Do you want to hear his cries?” he jeered</span></span></p><p>Maryem was taken to an office on the second floor of the building, where she was put in a chair, her hands bound behind her with tape. She remembers hearing one of the employees insisting that “the chair is too weak, it won’t hold out.” They replaced the chair with another, and attached “some kind of wires” to her fingers, through which she received an electric shock. The 40-year old Dolieva begins to weep as she retells the torture. “Then one of the guys said ‘that’s not enough for her, you need to increase the dose a little.’” Her captors then removed the wires from her hands, took off her shoes and socks, and attached them to her toes. “The pain was so intense, it hurts to remember it,” she says.</p><p>Maryem says that the electric shocks and beatings continued for between six and seven hours, with occasional breaks. Later one of the Centre E investigators asked her whether she could recognise her husband’s voice. “Do you want to hear his cries?” he jeered. Magomed Doliev was still alive at this point. He had also been taken to the Centre E building in Nazran, from his home in Karabulak.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>Maryem Dolieva then remembers how one of the men poured half a glass of vodka and offered it to her. “I told them that I don’t drink. That I can’t drink. They grabbed me, slightly lifted the plastic bag and poured it into my mouth. I guess they wanted me to come to my senses,” says Dolieva. Not long prior, another Centre E employee had removed the engagement ring from Maryem’s finger and pocketed it. They didn’t torture her any more after that.</p><p>“It turned out that my husband had just been killed. They were probably scared, so left me be,” supposes Dolieva.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>“I think that with the theft of her engagement ring, Dolieva’s fate was sealed,” believes the lawyer Andrei Sabinin. “I think that they wanted to murder her, take away the body and bury it somewhere. I was afraid that it could end that way.” Dolieva remembers that during the car ride with Centre E operatives, she was told that she “wouldn’t ever return from where we’re taking you.”</p><p>But Dolieva did return, to the town of Sunzha where, not far from the local interior ministry headquarters, the bag was removed from her head and she was given a napkin to wipe a blood from her face. Maryem was picked up from the police station by one of her brothers, who immediately took her to hospital. She didn’t yet know of her husband’s death at Centre E — her brother told her only the following morning.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>Nazir, brother of Magomed Doliev, remembers how he couldn’t locate Magomed the entire day. “Towards the evening, my cousin called me to say that my brother was lying in the morgue. How could that be?”<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>The following day, after all the wounds on his tortured body had been photographed, Magomed Doliev was buried. The cause of his death was initially recorded as a heart attack. Then the forensic experts acknowledged that Doliev had died of asphyxiation, most likely strangled by a plastic bag in the manner experienced by anybody who has experienced Centre E.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_03031183.LR_.ru__0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_03031183.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="303" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Head of the Republic of Ingushetia Yunus-Bek Evkurov during an interview in Moscow, 2017. Photo (c): Mikhail Voskresensky / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>After the funeral, Magomed and Maryem’s relatives approached Yunus-Bek Evkurov and demanded a meeting. Evkurov accepted, but “said that he’ll deal with it when the relevant papers land on his desk. He’ll deal with it then. But what document does he need? They killed my brother! I don’t get it,” says Maryem Dolieva’s brother, exasperated.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>Magomed Doliev’s relatives from the Barkinkhoy <em>teip</em> declared a blood feud against Centre E operative Alikhan Bekov. They were hardly the first family in Ingushetia to have wanted vengeance against Centre E due to the brutal torture their relatives suffered. “They declared a blood feud immediately, right on that very day,” says Nazir, casually. “And well, declaring a blood feud means that, sooner or later, you have to carry it out — you’ll have to bring him down. [Bekov] in particular. Because he’s responsible for my brother’s death.”<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p><span style="font-size: 1.2em;"><span class="mag-quote-center" style="font-size: 13px;">“Evkurov said he’ll deal with it when the relevant papers land on his desk. But what document does he need? They killed my brother!”</span></span></p><p>We’re talking in the yard of the Doliev family home, where Nazir and Magomed’s mother are receiving guests out in the open. The mother chooses her words with some difficulty, and frequently leaves us to attend to her seriously ill husband — Magomed’s father cannot speak, and is given ten jabs every day. But upon hearing the conversation about his deceased son, he comes out in his pyjamas and sits beside us.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>“I don’t believe in our courts,” sighs Nazir.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>The father tries to say something, but he can’t. All he can manage is a terrible, almost inaudible, wheezing sound. He is brought a notebook, over which he labours with a pencil for a long time. The big letters spell out: “Now it’s simply fascism.”</p><h2>An Azerbaijani with connections<span style="font-size: 1.2em; font-weight: normal;">&nbsp;</span></h2><p>The arrest of Timur Khamkhoev and his team was connected not so much with torture — though their involvement in many violence-related criminal cases over the years has left many witnesses — but extortion. It appears that the criminal case against Khamkhoev was not initiated by the Investigative Committee, but the FSB. In its reporting on the detention of Khamkhoev, <em>RIA Novosti</em> underlined the fact that the operation was “conducted by the Republic [of Ingushetia] division of the FSB and the central apparatus of the security department of Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs.”<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>According to the investigator, on 9 November 2016, Timur Khamkhoev and his subordinates in Karabulak forcibly detained a citizen of Azerbaijan and forced him into a Lada Priora. They then brought him to Centre E where, “with physical violence, they took possession of his Audi A6 and iPhone 5.” The man was freed, but there was a catch: he had a month to pay 800,000 roubles (£10,000) to recover his property and prevent Khamkhoev’s men from publicising evidence of “his romantic relations with a woman of Ingush ethnicity.”<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>The victim, Amil Nazarov, 35, appealed to the law enforcement agencies. In this case, they reacted with unexpected diligence. Khamkhoev and several of his men were detained at the start of December 2016. During a search of one of the policemen’s homes, investigators found several dozen bullets, and at another’s, the stolen Audi A6. At first, the detainees were charged with theft — then the case against them was changed to extortion and exceeding their official authority.</p><p>The word in Ingushetia is that Amil Nazarov worked for Abubakar Malsagov, who served as the Republic’s Prime Minister between September 2013 and November 2016. “Khamkhoev wasn’t arrested for Doliev’s murder, I’ll tell you that much,” says Akhmed-Bashir Aushev. “So they shook down some Azerbaijani guy or committed a theft, whatever. But this particular Azerbaijani had the Prime Minister’s protection, and maybe even worked for him. And when that kind of thing comes to light over here, people get scared. So they were frightened, and detained Khamkhoev.”<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p><span style="font-size: 1.2em;"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Magas_View.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Magas_View.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="292" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Magas, the capital of Ingushetia, by night. Photo CC-by-2.0: Shaliec / Wikimedia Commons. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></span></p><p>A former employee at Ingushetia’s Ministry of the Interior, Hasan Katsiev, claims that the woman with whom the Azerbaijani had relations was specially “sent” by Khamkhoev to set up a blackmail. “Her name is Aza Gadieva, and this is the number one fraud in the republic. The department for fighting corruption and economic crimes at the local interior ministry developed cases against her several times, but none of them reached their logical conclusion — because Timur Khamkhoev personally covered for her. Khamkhoev had her back and, according to some, she lived in a rented flat in Magas. Allegedly this flat was provided to her by Timur Khamkhoev,” says Katsiev.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>Several people who wished to remain anonymous said that operatives of Centre E blackmailed the Azerbaijani citizen with video recordings of his meeting with Gadieva. These “fighters against extremism” then threatened to send these recordings to the woman’s relatives which would, in their words, inevitably lead to Nazarov’s murder.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>Aza Gadieva was accused of fraud and involvement in a criminal organisation, which illegally gained possession of and cashed maternity capital certificates to the value of 42m roubles (£543,000). In April 2016, the prosecutor general sent her case to court, noting that Gadieva had pleaded guilty and so had began discussions for a pre-trial cooperation agreement with the authorities. Yet in November, with investigations well underway, Gadieva suddenly disappeared, and the <a href="http://magassky--ing.sudrf.ru/modules.php?name=sud_delo&amp;srv_num=1&amp;name_op=case&amp;case_id=481031&amp;delo_id=1540006&amp;case_type=0&amp;hide_parts=0" target="_blank">trial resumed only three months later</a>. “Khamkhoev was brazenly corrupt,” concludes Katsiev. “That’s how he was able to extort the Azerbaijani, but there are many more such cases.”<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p style="text-align: left;">Centre E was also engaged in another form of extortion. Several sources of <em>MediaZona</em> said on condition of anonymity that Centre E employees also scoured Ingushetia for LGBT people and then threatened to out them were their demands not met.</p><h2>Centre E behind bars: a team to the end<span style="font-size: 1.2em; font-weight: normal;">&nbsp;</span></h2><p>A criminal case on the death of Magomed Doliev and the use of violence against his wife Maryem began almost immediately, in June 2016. However, the operatives of Centre E were initially treated only as witnesses. It was not until December that charges were brought against Timur Khamkhoev, who was already in pre-trial detention accused of extortion, and Alikhan Bekov. This January saw charges against deputy director of Ingushetia’s Centre E, Sergei Khandogin and director of Sunzha district’s department for internal affairs Magomed Bekov. Andrey Beznosyuk, departmental head of Centre E, was finally charged in February.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>All these men are accused of exceeding their authority and using violence. All of them apart from Alikhan Bekov participated in the torture of Maryem Dolieva. Alikhan Bekov who, according to the investigation, strangled Magomed Doliev, is also accused of murder.</p><p>None of the accused has admitted their guilt. In the words of the victims’ relatives, these former employees of Centre E are bold and stick together, threatening to “sort things out” when the charges against them are dropped. “Even during questioning [by the investigators], they’re smug and impertinent. They felt that they were strong, and above the law. Even now when the writing is on the wall, they still won’t give up,” says Maryem Dolieva. At times her voice shudders. Her eyes well up with tears.</p><p>Her brother says that the relatives of the accused offered money in exchange for refusing to testify in court, and “sent the family elders” who said they were ready to swear on the Koran that their relatives didn’t touch Maryem. “They can do anything. They wouldn’t think twice before telling bare-faced lies while swearing on the Koran,” he insists.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“Even behind bars, Khamkhoev feels invulnerable. He promised me that if I wrote a word about him, he would tear off my arms and legs”</p><p>“Even behind bars, Khamkhoev feels invulnerable,” says the human rights defender Magomed Mutsolgov. “In February I approached him in his cell, in my capacity as a member of the Public Monitoring Commission [a formerly independent prison watchdog active in over 80 Russian regions] and the first thing he said was ‘Why have you brought him to me? As if this place is supposed to be a sanatorium!’ He also promised me that if I wrote a word about him, he would tear off my arms and legs. After that, I filed a declaration with the investigative committee that I had been threatened with violent reprisal. They refused to accept it, saying that Khamkhoev’s words had just been a figure of speech.”</p><p>For a long time, Magomed Bekov was held under pre-trial detention, unable to leave. However, at the end of March after a complaint by lawyer Andrei Sabinin, he was placed under house arrest instead. “So, why did they let Bekov return home? The investigator demanded it, as their boss [Khamkhoev] apparently wouldn’t leave his subordinates alone,” supposes Maryem Dolieva’s brother.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>Sergei Khandogin, who became Khamkhoev’s deputy in April 2016, had been transferred to Ingushetia from the odious Centre E branch in Nizhny Novgorod. After his detention, Khandogin was also confined to pre-trial detention, but the investigator also released him on house arrest. Khandogin subsequently went into hiding and was wanted for two months.</p><p>No charges were brought against Alisher Borotov, who gave the order for his Centre E colleagues to provide operational support for the robbery or Rosselkhozbank. Yet Dolieva confirms that he was also present during her torture at the Sunzha district’s department for internal affairs, and helped others to choke her with a plastic bag. Following the arrest of Timur Khamkhoev, Borotov has even got a promotion — he is now Ingushetia’s acting chief of police, thus deputy to the republic’s new minister of internal affairs Dmitry Kava, whose predecessor Alexander Trofimov resigned after arrests began in Centre E.</p><h2>A policeman’s torture. “Take him away and get to work on him”<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></h2><p>Hasan Katsiev, who worked in the anti-corruption department of Ingushetia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, also fell victim to torture at Centre E. On 21 February 2014, Katsiev recalls, he was summoned for a meeting by deputy chief of police Alisher Borotov in the ministry of internal affairs in Magas. When he entered Borotov’s office, he found Timur Khamkhoev waiting for him with four subordinates. “Take him away and get to work on him,” ordered Borotov, with a nod to Centre E’s notorious director.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>Khamkhoev’s men took Katsiev through the cellar, across the courtyard and into a waiting car, which drove him to Centre E’s premises in Nazran. “It began there and then, on the first floor of that building,” remembers Katsiev. The Centre E operatives viciously beat the policeman and smashed his head against the concrete floor, all the while demanding that he sign a confession that he “extorted money from certain persons.” At one moment he heard a command from Khamkhoev to “get our shovels and our jeep ready!”. “It seemed to me that this wasn’t the first time they’d buried a body,” says Katsiev.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>But the policeman wasn’t facing an open grave. As Katsiev sat with a bag over his head, a group of people came who introduced themselves as members of the Interior Ministry’s own security services, or USB. Once again, Katsiev refused to incriminate himself, nor to answer their questions. “Timur, this guy isn’t telling us what we need. Get to work,” Katsiev heard the men to Khamkhoev. The torture continued.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“Borotov walked out into the corridor, saw me covered in blood, burst out into laughter, and walked away”</p><p>Towards the evening of the next day, having had no success with the policeman, his torturers took Katsiev back to the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Magas. “Borotov walked out into the corridor of the security services, saw me, burst out into laughter, and walked away,” he recounts. There, the USB once more demanded that Katsiev sign either a confession or an agreement to cooperate with them. When it turned out that Katsiev was again destined to return to Centre E, he was able to quickly send an SMS message to a friend in the police force. After the friend intervened, Katsiev was released.</p><p>Katsiev lost consciousness in the courtyard of the Interior Ministry, where two security guards dragged him to his brothers’ car which was waiting at the gates. He only came to in a hospital in Grozny, capital of neighbouring Chechnya. Katsiev’s relatives had taken him there, fearing that members of Ingushetia’s Centre E could have undue influence on the doctors at home.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Katsiyev_Torture.jpeg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Katsiyev_Torture.jpeg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="279" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style=""/></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The police officer Hasan Katsiev demonstrates how he was tortured at Ingushetia’s Centre E. Photo (c): Sergei Smirnov / MediaZona. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>The now former police officer Katsiev stresses that he signed no documents, but was dismissed from his post “at his own will” during the month spent in hospital. Katsiev says that his conflict with the leadership of the anti-corruption department was sparked by his investigations into corruption scandals. While working on a criminal case, he says, he discovered that his department’s leadership was implicated in an extortion scheme “under the protection” of Ingushetia’s Minister of Internal Affairs Alexander Trofimov.</p><p>Furthermore, Katsiev discovered that construction firms were paying kickbacks to high-ranking police officers. He also confirms that the report in which he described this corrupt scheme, as well as audio recordings which confirmed bribe-taking, disappeared from his safe after being tortured at Centre E.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>“My son fell out of favour,” says the ex-policeman’s father Magomed Katsiev, “[His superiors] decided that if he stayed in the police force, then every last one of them could be implicated somehow. Katsiev had to be kicked out. And why was he put into Centre E’s hands? Because my son divulged to his department and its employees that Timur Khamkhoev of Centre E frequently ‘extorted money from certain persons.’”<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>A criminal case on Katsiev’s torture has since been filed, though nobody has yet been brought to justice — despite the fact that in one of his resolutions, the investigator officially named the scene of the crime as the premises of Centre E in Nazran, Ingushetia.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><h2>“They’ve been kidnapping people for many years, right?”</h2><p>“It seems to me that these people have never answered for anything,” says Magomed Mutsolgov, a prominent human rights defender in the republic.</p><p>“Impunity. They felt themselves to be above the law acted with impunity. Carrying out these acts… that didn’t require official orders of any sort, just some informal instructions. After all, they’ve been kidnapping people for many years, right? These crimes were committed on an enormous scale — you wouldn’t believe it, but 236 people have been abducted here in Ingushetia and none of them has yet been found.” In Mutsolgov’s words, these years of impunity and criminality by the security services demonstrate that “the regional authorities don’t even demand that they adhere to the law — in fact, they just pander to them.”<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>Mutsolgov fears that “there will be attempts to hinder and even freeze” the ongoing case against the Centre E operatives. “Here there’s the understanding of ‘people of the system’ — of an ostensible system of government. But that’s not true; what system is meant? These officials, particularly in the regional authorities, build their own power structures beneath them and apply the systems of law enforcement and legal authority as they see fit.”<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>“You can’t try and make a mark on these people, to shame them into being better,” laments Akhmed-Bashir Aushev. “Take these 30 guys from Centre E, and I swear that you won’t find one of them without sin.” The number of accused has now risen to more than ten operatives of Centre E, under Timur Khamkhoev’s leadership.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>At the end of May, Ingushetia’s Investigative Committee combined the five criminal cases brought against Centre E’s men into one. Andrei Sabinin, the lawyer who is representing some of the victims on the initiative of the Memorial Human Rights Centre, adds that now the cases of Magomed and Maryem Doliev(a), the Azerbaijani citizen Amil Nazarov, the two Magomed Aushevs, Zelimkhan Mutsolgov and Adam Dakiev will all be investigated as one.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“In a small republic like Ingushetia, these actions would have been impossible without the Investigative Committee’s inaction and protection from the regional leadership”</p><p>Adam Dakiev was abducted and tortured in 2012. He says that upon being released from Centre E, Timur Khamkhoev told him that he should be thankful to leave alive — few are so lucky. Mutsolgov himself was tortured in 2010. “Well, how did you like our Taekwondo?” his torturers apparently asked him.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>Sabinin also complains that as of yet, nobody has been brought to justice “for the torture of former police officer Hasan Katsiev, even though he identified his assailants on several occasions.”<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>“Over the course of several years, those at the higher echelons of Ingushetia’s police have tortured their own citizens with utter impunity, and despite their obvious culpability, continued their criminal activities. There is no doubt that in a small republic like Ingushetia, such actions would have been impossible without the clear inaction of the Investigative Committee and a level of protection from the regional leadership,” concludes Sabinin. He stresses that victims appealed to Yunus-Bek Evkurov on several occasions, but the Ingush leader “took no steps whatsoever to establish the identity of the perpetrators and bring them to justice.”</p><p>“Why the judgements of the Investigative Committee’s investigative department are so selective remains unclear,” notes the human rights defender. “It still hasn’t provided a legal assessment of the actions of Lieutenant Borotov, who was identified by Dolieva as one of her torturers. Even more worrying was the decision of the supreme court of Ingushetia to release Sergei Khandogin under house arrest, despite the fact that the accused’s name is still on a federal wanted list.”<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p>“Some of these police have completely lost their minds. And I hope that soon, we can cut the tentacles of their criminal organisation out of the law enforcement agencies,” remarks Sabinin.<span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><p><em>Translated from Russian by Maxim Edwards</em><span style="font-size: 1.2em;">&nbsp;</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/egor-skovoroda/they-made-this-man-invalid-can-you-imagine-how-they-crippled-my-soul">“They made this man an invalid. Can you imagine how they crippled my soul?”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/egor-skovoroda/crimea-peninsula-of-torture">Crimea: peninsula of torture</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/grigory-tumanov/dark-doings-of-russia%E2%80%99s-centre-e">The dark doings of Russia’s Centre E</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/anastasiya-zotova/this-is-karelia-tortured-voices-from-russia-s-prison-system">This is Karelia: tortured voices from Russia’s prison system</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/irina-slavina/new-casualties-of-russia-s-war-on-terror">The new casualties of Russia’s war on terror</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Sergey Smirnov Yegor Skovoroda Russia Ingushetia Human rights Caucasus Mon, 17 Jul 2017 09:35:20 +0000 Yegor Skovoroda and Sergey Smirnov 112300 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Armenia and Azerbaijan’s collision course over Nagorno-Karabakh https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/olesya-vartanyan-magdalena-grono/armenia-and-azerbaijan-collision-course-over-nagorno-karabakh <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Sound principles for conflict resolution over Nagorno-Karabakh exist. But mistrust, a gulf between mediators and the parties involved, as well as Baku and Yerevan's appetite for military gains render the current formula impossible.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-31564498.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>May 2017: Soldiers of Nagorno Karabakh army make a patrol close to Martakert frontline, less than 300 meters of the Azerbaijan army positions. (c) NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Twenty-three years after Armenia and Azerbaijan signed a ceasefire deal that ended a bloody war over Nagorno-Karabakh, a steady drumbeat of armed escalation is making a return to large-scale violent conflict more likely than ever before.</p> <p>Last April, a four-day flare-up killed at least 200 people. Further skirmishes continue to inflict casualties along the Line of Contact (LoC), the 200km frontline which separates Armenian and Azerbaijani forces. Both sides intermittently employ heavy artillery and anti-tank weapons against each other. In May this year, there were reports of self-guided rockets and missiles falling near densely populated areas. On 4 July, <a href="http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-40504373"><span>a </span><span>two</span><span>-year-old girl and her grandmother</span></a> in the Azerbaijani village of Alkhanli were killed.&nbsp;</p> <p>Years of military build-up have been propelled in Azerbaijan by oil and gas windfall and in economically weaker Armenia by Russia’s preferential prices of weaponry. Alongside <a href="https://www.crisisgroup.org/europe-central-asia/caucasus/nagorno-karabakh-azerbaijan/looming-dangers-one-year-after-nagorno-karabakh-escalation"><span>highly-mobilised, bellicose societies</span></a> on both sides, these developments risk escalating tensions into an unprecedented larger-scale conflict. The fallout of a headlong collision would likely cause immeasurable destruction and exact an enormous civilian casualty toll far worse than April’s flare-up. Such developments could even prompt the intervention of regional powers Russia and Turkey, who have defence commitments with Armenia and Azerbaijan, respectively.</p> <p>At present, Baku and Yerevan say they have little faith in the stalled conflict settlement process led by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Minsk Group. Meetings in May and June last year between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan produced no tangible results. Baku’s frustration with the status quo is at odds with Yerevan’s efforts, in the absence of security, to cement it.</p> <p>Yet after the April 2016 escalation, both sides ultimately share the conviction that the use of force may be a better means to their ends than the defunct political talks. This heightens the temptation to try and use it, or to be ready to respond decisively.&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>The </strong><strong>a</strong><strong>ftermath of April’s </strong><strong>e</strong><strong>scalation</strong></h2> <p>The April 2016 flare-up stoked up both parties’ appetite for conflict. Despite heavy casualties on the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides, waves of pro-war sentiment swept into all segments of society. The four-day escalation amplified voices calling for a necessary decisive moment in the two-decades long conflict. Many in both societies now believe that another war is not only inevitable but may be the best way to end the perpetual, stalemated tension.</p> <p>Azerbaijani society, buoyed by its sense of victory after reclaiming two strategically significant heights from Armenian side’s control, felt new confidence in its armed forces. By altering the much-resented status quo on the ground, it dispelled a myth of Armenian invincibility built up in the 1992-1994 war. Baku’s heavy investment in its armed forces since 2006 gives it the feeling of a technological edge that could tip the balance. In 2015, Baku spent $3bn on its military, more than Armenia’s entire national budget. Many in Azerbaijan consequently believe that a full reconquest of Nagorno-Karabakh is feasible.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">The turbulence after April 2016 was most heavily felt in Nagorno-Karabakh society itself. Although the ethnic Armenian-controlled territory retains close links with Armenia and relies on its military support, much of the population remains relatively isolated</p> <p>In contrast, in the aftermath of the April escalation, Armenians questioned their leadership’s ability to protect Nagorno-Karabakh and its ethnic Armenian population. At the same time, the escalation galvanised the Armenian society, which is fully behind a decisive response to any military challenges. But throughout 2016, with an upcoming election in Spring 2017, dissatisfaction about the post-April fall out was directed at politicians. A two-year constitutional transition from a semi-presidential system to a parliamentary republic, due to be completed in Spring 2018, has only increased the ruling elite’s vulnerabilities and restricted its room for manoeuvrer. The political elite feels itself under significant pressure not to repeat their performance and to stand tall in the face of heightening tensions.&nbsp;</p> <p>The turbulence after April 2016 was most heavily felt in Nagorno-Karabakh society itself. Although the ethnic Armenian-controlled territory retains close links with Armenia and relies on its military support, much of the population remains relatively isolated. It harbours a distinct identity shaped by its experience as a society under siege. The local de facto Nagorno-Karabakh leadership has in the past years prioritised economic and administrative reforms through embarking on programs designed to stimulate the agriculture, energy and foreign investment sectors, all of which generate local income. Yet following April’s clashes the local authorities, with Armenia’s support, reoriented priorities. They shifted local financial resources toward military purposes, such as the construction of roads and tunnels; purchasing high-tech equipment; refurbishing trench structures; and improving surveillance.&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>Risks of renewed war</strong></h2> <p>With increasing militarism on both sides of the Line of Contact, the relative stability that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone once knew is vanishing. The danger for both sides is that another flare-up could easily spiral out of control. In the event of a full-scale outbreak of violence, neither Baku nor Yerevan are likely to secure their objectives but rather inflict severe destruction on each other.&nbsp;</p> <p>Summer-Autumn 2017 is viewed by both sides as a critical period during which their enemy could intensify military operations. Yerevan believes that the Azerbaijani public has high expectations after last year’s gains and thinks Baku’s goal is to re-establish full control over at least some of the territories surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh (which are now held by ethnic Armenian forces) if not all of the conflict region. For its part, Baku believes Yerevan might provoke a fight to regain the land it lost in April 2016, or otherwise improve its standing. In the absence of military communications or any dialogue between the sides, a fateful misinterpretation of both sides’ intentions and activities is ever-easier to imagine along the front line.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/7290290884_453961d142_z_0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A resident of Shusha displays a photo of a family member killed in the Nagorno-Karabakh War (1991-1994). CC Marco Fieber / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span>A new consensus emerged in the Nagorno-Karabakh’s society in the winter of 2016. In the event of an Azerbaijani attack, it is likely that <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/83821"><span>Armenian forces will advance fifteen kilometres</span></a> beyond the LoC into Azerbaijani territory in order to establish a larger buffer zone and secure new bargaining chips for eventual negotiations. Armenians believe such a move would break their enemy’s will to fight once and for all. Yet this would be a highly risky strategy. Baku is keen to make use of its technical and quantitative advantage in weaponry and equipment supplied by Russia, Israel, Pakistan and Turkey, as well as its ever-expanding military numbers, to inflict heavy costs.&nbsp;</p> <p>Keeping another flare-up remote, limited and local will be difficult. In the event that either side comes under heavy pressure, their <a href="http://nationalinterest.org/feature/armenias-new-ballistic-missiles-will-shake-the-neighborhood-18026"><span>possession of ballistic missiles</span></a> – absent during the 1990s conflict – all but guarantees widespread destruction of civilian, economic and military infrastructure. Neither side can necessarily prevent triggering regional tripwires that might cause a far larger war. While Armenia is a member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CTSO) led by Russia and also has bilateral defence commitments with Russia, Azerbaijan in 2010 signed an Agreement on Strategic Partnership and Mutual Support with Turkey.</p> <p>A sudden escalation will quickly have major humanitarian impact, widespread displacement and an unprecedented number of casualties. An Armenian advance into the Azerbaijani side of the LoC would impact numerous densely populated settlements of ethnic Azerbaijanis. Estimates suggest that anywhere between 300,000 to 600,000 residents would be displaced in the event of open conflict. Moreover, war would put the 150,000 inhabitants of Nagorno-Karabakh itself under huge strain. Soviet-era bomb shelters are locked or decrepit and many residents remain unclear of what to do in the event of war. Basic medicinal supplies and foodstuffs are limited.&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>Unlocking the settlement process</strong></h2> <p>The April 2016 hostilities clarified the <a href="https://www.crisisgroup.org/europe-central-asia/caucasus/azerbaijan/nagorno-karabakh-new-opening-or-more-peril"><span>risks as well as heavy costs</span></a> of renewed conflict. But far from spurring the two parties to cooperate and reinvigorate the moribund negotiation process, two subsequent high-level meetings in Vienna and St</p> <p>Petersburg were unable to reach any agreement. Negotiations ground to a halt in September 2016, with some indications in Spring 2017 that another meeting between presidents is being considered for later this year.&nbsp;</p> <p>Public opinion on both sides appears increasingly entrenched, bellicose and uncompromising. Respective leaders tread a fine line between appeasing hawkish domestic constituencies and compromising just enough to move the settlement process forward – or at least to prevent the blame for failure falling on their own shoulders. Ironically, Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders face the same dilemma. Mutual concessions that might benefit the two countries and lower tensions in the longer term could in the shorter run threaten internal stability and the survival of ruling elites. There is thus little incentive for compromise. The tactical use of force remains the dominant modus operandi to gain advantage at the negotiating table.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-21302794.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>October 2014: French president Francois Hollande hosts talks with his Azerbaijan' counterpart Ilham Aliyev as part of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Summit over Nagorno-Karabakh. (c) Pool/ABACA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Further compounding the stalemate is Yerevan and Baku’s deep mistrust of international mediators who they perceive as guided by the interests of major powers and incapable of ensuring the region’s security. In theory, both sides seek a more proactive mediation role of the OSCE Minsk Group. In practice, both sides want the Minsk Group to criticise and assign responsibility for stalled talks and the deteriorating security situation on the other party. So far the Minsk Group Co-Chair countries, Russia, the US and France, have remained highly cautious and only the Russian co-chair has had backing by the country’s leadership.&nbsp;</p> <p>The cause of peace has suffered from waning western interest over the past decade. Russia is the sole country consistently demonstrating high level political will to engage, at the same time as selling weaponry to both parties. Both Baku and Yerevan suspect that Moscow is using this leverage to buttress its geopolitical presence in the South Caucasus, an area it considers a “sphere of privileged interests”. The absence of western leadership has left the two parties at the mercy of Russian mediation. Although Moscow has been active in forwarding proposals, they have gained little traction or support. The Lavrov Plan of late 2015, predicated on the return to Azerbaijan of five or seven Armenian-controlled Azerbaijani districts adjacent to Nagorno-Karabakh, security arrangements and interim status for Nagorno-Karabakh, sparked Armenian anger and fears that Russia’s position was shifting toward Baku.</p> <h2><strong>Outstanding issues</strong></h2> <p>So long as the conflict’s core sticking points remain unaddressed, both sides treat war as a real option. Three main issues have remained unresolved on the negotiating table since the end of the 1990s war. Resolution of these are the only way to build a solid foundation for a durable peace.&nbsp;</p> <p>First, seven Azerbaijani districts outside Nagorno-Karabakh itself have been held by ethnic Armenian forces since 1994. While Baku insists these territories are under “occupation” – the term used in UN Security Council Resolutions 822, 853, 874 and 884 from the 1992-1994 war – Yerevan says the territories can only be returned within a larger agreement, which will also take into consideration security arrangements and the status of Nagorno-Karabakh.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">In order to address the outstanding conflict issues, a first stepping stone will be to combat the profound lack of trust between leaders and the societies</p> <p>Second, principles of self-determination and territorial integrity are far from a black-and-white issue. Azerbaijan insists on self-rule for Nagorno-Karabakh within Azerbaijan, thus guaranteeing Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity. Armenia calls for self-determination of Nagorno-Karabakh outside of Azerbaijan, which would in practice lead to independence for the territory, even if that may be a prelude to a union with Armenia.The precedents of Kosovo’s recognition by the West, and Russia’s unilateral recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as well as its annexation of Crimea in 2014 have particular resonance in Nagorno-Karabakh. These cases stoke fears that discussions of Nagorno-Karabakh’s status might make the conflict’s parties pawns in a larger geopolitical chess game.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/555493/PA-18396229_1_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="312" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>For all sides, state-led propaganda has entrenched public opinion against concessions. (c) Sergei Grits / AP / Press Association Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span>Third, peacekeeping forces and broader international security agreements are a precondition for return of the territories around NK under Azerbaijani control, as well as for the return home of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Azerbaijanis, displaced by the 1990s war. Aside from the two sides’ general lack of faith that international guarantees will be respected, much debate exists on the composition and mandate of such a security force. Only Russia has expressed willingness to send military personnel. But in a rare example of mutual agreement, neither Baku nor Yerevan wish to see Russian peacekeepers in the conflict zone.</p><p>Troop deployment by any outside power, particularly Russia, is a hard pill to swallow for <a href="https://www.crisisgroup.org/europe-central-asia/caucasus/isolation-post-soviet-conflict-regions-narrows-road-peace"><span>post-Soviet Armenia and Azerbaijan</span></a>, who have both recently celebrated a quarter century of sovereign independence.&nbsp;</p> <h2><strong>A way forward?</strong></h2> <p>In order to address the outstanding conflict issues, a first stepping stone will be to combat the profound lack of trust between leaders and the societies. </p><p>Since the 1990s, negotiations have become the prerogative of the two sides’ presidents and foreign ministers. While all alternative channels of communications are closed, the rhetoric since April 2016 has grown increasingly provocative. The hyper-personalisation of the process means substantive positions are the sole responsibility of the individual rather than broader institutions. When relations are frosty between leaders, as present circumstances demonstrate, negotiations cannot be divorced from the prevailing political climate.</p> <p>Progress will also partly depend on restoring faith in international diplomatic mediation, <a href="http://en.apa.az/nagorno_karabakh/the-co-chairs-of-the-osce-minsk-group-released-statement-on-the-recent-escalation-in-nagorno-karabakh-conflict-zone.html"><span>namely the Minsk Group</span></a>. Negotiations are the only way out of the current impasse and the best way to avert another war. Sound principles for conflict resolution exist, but pervasive mistrust, a gulf between outside mediators and the parties involved, and Baku and Yerevan’s current appetite for maximal military gains render the current formula incapacitated.&nbsp;</p> <p>Western powers, particularly Washington and Paris, will need to reinvigorate their interest in conflict. High-level coordination with Moscow to kickstart substantive discussions on the unresolved issues is pivotal. In the short term, the Minsk Group can work on enhancing monitoring, implementing an investigative mechanism and increasing cross-party communication between political elites and militaries. Such proposals were discussed in Vienna and St Petersburg and need to proceed, but must be accompanied by the more substantive discussions of outstanding issues.&nbsp;</p> <p>While Yerevan favours security confidence building measures before substantive talks, Baku will balk at their implementation without the prospect of discussions. Pressure from high-level powers here is capable of bridging the divide. They can also push Armenia and Azerbaijan to tone down their hostile rhetoric, soften their negotiating position, and acknowledge – privately and publicly – that this conflict ultimately will only be resolved through negotiations. Ultimately, the mentality that currently persists, namely that stalemate, even war, are better options than compromise and negotiation, must be overcome.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-zhamakochyan/armenia-in-trap-of-national-unity">Armenia in the trap of “national unity”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/thomas-de-waal/armenia-s-crisis-and-legacy-of-victory">Armenia’s crisis and the legacy of victory</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/maxim-edwards/karabakh-rules-armenia">“Karabakh rules Armenia”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/behind-azerbaijan-s-facades">Behind Azerbaijan’s facades</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/gulnar-salimova/walking-free-in-azerbaijan">Walking free in Azerbaijan</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Magdalena Grono Olesya Vartanyan Caucasus Azerbaijan Armenia Fri, 14 Jul 2017 17:07:55 +0000 Olesya Vartanyan and Magdalena Grono 112263 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Turkey’s fight against Gülen in the South Caucasus https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/turkeys-fight-against-gulen-in-south-caucasus <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The Turkish authorities’ fight against real and imagined enemies in the Gülen movement has now reached Azerbaijan and Georgia.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-28113685_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/PA-28113685_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A group of AKP party supporters protest the attempted military coup against the Turkish government, allegedly supported by the cleric Fethullah Gülen and his organisation. Saracahane Park, Istanbul, July 2016. Photo (c) Depo Photos/ABACA/PA Images. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>The European Parliament has <a href="http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?type=MOTION&amp;reference=B8-2017-0414&amp;format=XML&amp;language=EN" target="_blank">passed a resolution</a> expressing “serious concern” on the case of the Azerbaijani investigative journalist Afgan Mukhtarli, who was <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/giorgi-gogia/azerbaijani-journalist-kidnapped-across-georgia-azerbaijan-border" target="_blank">abducted from Tbilisi late May</a>, only to appear before a court in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku some days later. But the spotlight has yet to fall on another case in Georgia: Mustafa Emre Çabuk, a Turkish schoolteacher, still sits in Gldani prison in the Georgian capital, where an uncertain fate awaits him.&nbsp;</p><p>Ankara has repeatedly accused Çabuk of “supporting terrorism” in reference to his alleged links with the Hizmet movement associated with Fethullah Gülen, the Turkish Muslim preacher and philanthropist based in the US. Çabuk, who has lived in Georgia for 15 years, is now at imminent risk of extradition to Turkey where, <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/10/25/turkey-emergency-decrees-facilitate-torture" target="_blank">judging by similar cases</a>, he is at risk of being tortured.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Çabuk, who has lived in Georgia for 15 years, now risks of extradition to Turkey where&nbsp;he risks being tortured</p><p>Çabuk first came to Georgia in 2002 to work as a physics teacher at the Refaiddin Şahin Friendship School in Batumi, which was <a href="http://civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=29836" target="_blank">shut down earlier this year</a> by Georgia’s National Center for Education Quality Enhancement (NCEQE). The Georgian authorities’ decision came shortly after Turkish officials criticised the Gülen-run school, which teaches five to 12-year olds, <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/79721" target="_blank">calling it</a> an institution “serving a terrorist group.”&nbsp;</p><p>The abduction of Mukhtarli shattered <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/lamiya-adilgizi/is-georgia-still-safe-for-azerbaijani-dissidents" target="_blank">Georgia’s image as a safe haven for dissidents from neighbouring countries</a>, and prompted many Georgians to consider the extent of oil-rich Azerbaijan’s political clout. With Turkey sliding ever further into authoritarianism, is there another headache on the horizon for the Georgian authorities?&nbsp;</p><h2>The price of a good education&nbsp;</h2><p>At the order of president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkish officials and diplomats have made appeals worldwide calling on governments to close down Gülen schools abroad. The Turkish government insists that this network of schools poses a national security threat, and has classified the Gülen network as a terrorist group.</p><p>FETÖ, as the Turkish government calls the Gülen movement’s “terrorist network”, is accused of plotting last year’s failed coup on 15 July. Calling the events a “a gift from God,” Erdoğan promised that those responsible would “pay a heavy price.” Those who feared the coup would provide a pretext to crack down on all dissident have been proved right. Not only Gülen followers, but Turkish liberals, secular democrats and journalists have been arrested, with many more tortured in detention and fired from their jobs. Over the months following the coup, Turkey has arrested more than 40,000 people and sacked or suspended more than 100,000 in the military, civil service and private sector. Turkish nationals working in Gülen-affiliated schools worldwide now fear repatriation and prefer either to apply for a political asylum in their host country or to try their luck in the EU or USA.&nbsp;</p><p>Çabuk has found himself in a similar situation. In 2007, he started work as director of the Niko Nikoladze High School in Kutaisi, western Georgia. From 2012 until 2016, Çabuk served as deputy general director of all Gülen schools in Georgia.&nbsp;</p><p>“Under his watch, many students from our school were successful after having participated at different national and international scientific Olympiads,” a teacher from the closed Şahin Friendship School recalls. The teacher, who wishes to remain anonymous over fears of retribution, underlines that the schools’ quality of education improved directly after Çabuk’s appointment. The teacher simply couldn’t believe how “an accomplished educator” such as Çabuk “might be labeled as a terrorist.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Cabuk_Protest_Tbilisi_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Cabuk_Protest_Tbilisi_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="304" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Protest in solidarity with Mustafa Çabuk on Rustaveli Avenue, Tbilisi, 7 June 2017. Photo (c): Luka Pertaia / OC Media. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>On 24 May, the Georgian authorities launched an extradition procedure against Çabuk at the official request of Turkey. According to information provided by the Turkish prosecutor, Çabuk is wanted for committing a crime as defined by Article 314/2 of Turkey’s Criminal Code: membership of the FETÖ terrorist organisation (recognised as such only by Turkey). Information obtained by openDemocracy shows that he, with the permission of the directors, wanted to sell 60% of shares of the Tbilisi-based Demirel private school to Metropolitan Education and Consultation Services, a company registered in the USA.</p><p>The documentation that supposedly incriminates Çabuk mostly describes the activities of the Gülen movement in Turkey. It does not specify why either&nbsp;Çabuk’s&nbsp;role at the school or his deal with the American company on its behalf constitute a link to terrorist activities and organisations. “Precisely for these reasons, we believe that the charges are entirely unsubstantiated and politically motivated,” concludes Tamta Mikeladze, civil and political rights program director at Tbilisi’s Human Rights Education and Monitoring Centre.&nbsp;</p><h2>Settling scores&nbsp;</h2><p>Çabuk was detained shortly after <a href="http://gov.ge/index.php?lang_id=ENG&amp;sec_id=463&amp;info_id=61125" target="_blank">Turkish prime minister Binali Yıldırım paid a visit to Tbilisi</a> to meet his Georgian counterpart Giorgi Kvirikashvili in May.</p><p>Georgia’s Minister of Education Aleksandre Jejelava has <a href="http://oc-media.org/gulen-school-manager-arrested-after-turkish-pms-tbilisi-visit/" target="_blank">publicly denied</a> any official request from the Turkish side to detain Çabuk but instead says they are “doing their best to defend students from ideological pressure.” During the press conference with Yıldırım, Prime Minister Kvirikashvili, recalling last year’s failed coup in Turkey, was <a href="http://www.sabah.com.tr/gundem/2017/05/23/basbakan-binali-yildirim-gurcistanda-canli" target="_blank">quoted</a> by the pro-government daily <em>Sabah</em> as saying that, “we have to remove the main sources of terror here [in Georgia]. We have to fight with these sources in the wider region, then we must develop our economic and business partnerships.”&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Çabuk’s case, just like Mukhtarli’s, is yet another test for Georgia’s commitment to democratic values</p><p>On 25 May, Tbilisi City Court sentenced Çabuk to three months’ imprisonment, pending extradition. “He’s been in prison for more than a month, and the charge is both scary and ridiculous," says Çabuk’s wife, Tuğba, who adds she still has faith in Georgia’s commitment to democracy. “Georgia is a country that is at the door of the democratic European Union rather than one where democracy has already seen its end.” She has publicly called for the Georgian government not to bow to pressure from Ankara, and <a href="http://oc-media.org/wife-of-gulen-school-manager-detained-in-tbilisi-asks-for-protection/" target="_blank">has herself requested protection from the Georgian authorities</a>, fearing reprisals.&nbsp;</p><p>The case of Mustafa Çabuk, as well as those of journalists and activists from Azerbaijan, is yet another test for Georgia’s commitment to democratic values. Mikeladze adds that due to political loyalty to neighbouring states, the Georgian government “risks denying the protection of fundamental human rights to foreign citizens desperately in need of them, which in turn harms building a democratic state based on the same principles here at home.”&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Demirel-College-Tbilisi.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Demirel-College-Tbilisi.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Demirel College in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, where Mustafa Çabuk worked as a manager and teacher. Photo CC: WikiMapia. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>This kind of political bargaining is common between Turkey and South Caucasus states. After all, Gülen schools were welcomed throughout the region from the early 1990s. With the fall of the Iron Curtain, Georgia became the first country that welcomed representatives of Gülen’s movement, though the Azerbaijani city of Nakhchivan was the first place outside Turkey to host a Gülen-affiliated school. Until the purge, some 13 Gülen-funded schools and the <a href="https://www.meydan.tv/en/site/news/16113" target="_blank">now nationalised Qafqaz University</a>&nbsp;functioned in Azerbaijan. The movement’s schools now operate in 160 countries worldwide.</p><p>After Turkey’s AKP government restored its power following last year’s coup, Ankara initiated a purge against all Gülen followers in the Caucasus and Central Asia. As a strongly authoritarian state and long-time ally of Turkey, Azerbaijan was only too eager to oblige — Baku’s solution was to nationalise the schools. The <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/majlis-podcast-gulen-schools/27919459.html" target="_blank">attitude of the Central Asian republics</a>, with whom Turkey has maintained strong economic and political ties since their independence, was far from united. Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan pushed back against the Turkish demand to pursue Gülenists. Turkmenistan played ball, launching a <a href="http://www.eurasianet.org/node/81611" target="_blank">massive crackdown</a> against all followers of Gülen in the country, while Uzbekistan never welcomed the Turkish schools in the first place. Tajikistan closed the last of its Gülen schools in 2015, though that could be explained as part of a wider campaign against all Islamic groups in the country.</p><h2>Pressure points&nbsp;</h2><p>What power, exactly, does Ankara have over Georgia? As Giorgi Badridze, senior fellow at the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies (GFSIS) puts it, Turkey is one of Georgia’s most important strategic partners. “In a world where our largest neighbour, Russia, puts us under constant military and economic pressure, Turkey plays a vital role both politically and economically. This doesn’t mean that Georgia should disregard the rule of law for the sake of good relations, but if Turkey’s official request is found to be lawful and within the framework of bilateral agreements, then it can’t be ignored.”&nbsp;</p><p>It seems clear that Ankara has already put enormous pressure on Tbilisi to close Gülenist schools and deport Turks working at them. Azerbaijani journalist Mahir Zeynalov, chief editor of the <em>Globe Post</em> who was deported from Turkey for a tweet critical of Erdoğan in 2014, echoes Badridze’s view. Zeynalov stresses that it’s difficult for Georgia to ignore demands from Turkey, its largest friendly neighbour and the country’s <a href="http://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/countries-and-regions/countries/georgia/" target="_blank">second largest trading partner after the EU</a>. Turkish money has flowed into a series of infrastructure projects in Georgia, and is particularly influential in the western province of Ajara.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">It’s difficult for Georgia to ignore demands from Turkey, its largest friendly neighbour and the country’s&nbsp;second largest trading partner after the EU</p><p>The Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association has <a href="https://www.gyla.ge/index.php/en/post/saqartvelom-mustafa-emre-chabuqi-turqets-ar-unda-gadasces#sthash.ay7nSJb0.dpbs" target="_blank">monitored Çabuk’s case</a> and believes that the court ruling for a provisional arrest falls short of the standards established under the Georgian legislation and the European Convention. The prosecutor declared that Çabuk could otherwise flee the country and continue his “criminal activities”, but did not give any grounds for these fears.</p><p>“The court’s decision is not well-founded,” says Vakhtang Kvizhinadze, Çabuk’s lawyer, adding that his appeal against it was in vain. The decision was kept in force despite the fact that Çabuk has lived in Georgia for years and has a residency permit. “Mustafa did not evade any of his obligations before the court,” Kvizhinadze says.&nbsp;</p><p>According to his wife, when the police came to arrest Çabuk on the morning of 24 May, they informed him that the Georgian authorities had no problem with him, but that his arrest was requested by Turkey. “We didn’t even go to Turkey for 17 months, but now my husband is blamed for terrorist activities and a coup attempt,” sighs Tuğba Çabuk.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02993589.LR_.ru__0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_02993589.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Good neighbours on the Black Sea. Batumi, capital of Georgia’s autonomous region of Ajara, which is heavily dependent on Turkish investment. As one of Georgia’s largest trading partners, Turkey is involved in several large infrastructure projects, from airports to dams and railways. Photo (c): Alexander Chichurin / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Georgian legislation allows the courts to imprison somebody wanted by foreign law enforcement agencies, but only as a last resort and never as a punitive method. Çabuk could have been released on bail after handing over his passport and a cash payment of bail of GEL 10,000 (£3,248). When he tried, the court refused.</p><p>“Unless Mustafa can get refugee status or citizenship, then yes, he might be extradited," underlines Kvizhinadze. “Failing that, Tbilisi could always press Ankara to guarantee that Çabuk’s human rights will be respected in Turkey.”&nbsp;</p><p>Sozar Subari, Georgia's Minister for IDPs, accommodation and refugees, stated on 7 June that <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_dnIJC04nkw" target="_blank">Çabuk cannot immediately be deported to Turkey simply upon Ankara’s say so</a>, and that a number of documents would be required before extradition was possible. Meanwhile, Amnesty International has started a <a href="https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur56/6372/2017/en/" target="_blank">campaign in Çabuk’s defence</a>.</p><p>Under Article 28 of the Law of Georgia on International Cooperation in Criminal Matters, Georgia has the right to refuse an extradition if the crime concerned has been fully or partially committed on the country’s territory, as was Çabuk’s alleged crime concerning the Demirel school. Article 35 of the Treaty between Georgia and Turkey on mutual legal assistance in civil, trade and criminal matters states much the same.&nbsp;</p><p>“I’m not sure how eager the Georgian government is to hand Çabuk over to the Turkish authorities, particularly given how the Mukhtarli scandal damaged Georgia's international reputation,” says Badridze, who hopes that the court’s final decision will be guided by legal considerations and not by politics.&nbsp;</p><h2>Déjà vu in Baku&nbsp;</h2><p>Çabuk’s colleague Taci Şentürk, a manager at the Turkish Istek school in Baku, was detained on 7 June. Once he was able to call his family, Şentürk told his spouse Fatma that he was to be sent to Turkey. He proposed that his family come to the airport to meet for the last time. “The policemen did not let my husband give one last kiss to our kids, nor could our lawyer meet him," Fatma Şentürk told me, adding that the only reason they were given was the sudden invalidation of Taci’s passport. The Şentürks’ residency permit in Azerbaijan was due to expire on 7 September this year.&nbsp;</p><p>There is no official information as to why Taci’s passport was invalidated, despite his having the right of residency in Azerbaijan. The question must now be raised how Taci Şentürk was supposed to have entered Turkey without a valid travel document.&nbsp;</p><p>Just 20 minutes before takeoff, Fatma says, a representative of the UN office in Baku arrived and demanded that Taci Şentürk be removed from the plane on the grounds that he and his family were now under the protection of UNHCR’s Baku Office. But after Şentürk was taken off the plane, the representative did not accompany him home. “Police were waiting for him at the airport terminal, and returned him to their organised crime department,” adds Fatma. “Despite my insistence that Taci might be sent to Turkey, the UN delegation couldn’t do anything,” says Fatma Şentürk. Her husband was eventually sent to Turkey on 8 June. Şentürk is now being interrogated in Turkey’s directorate for combatting smuggling and organised crime in Konya.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/TaciSenturk1-2.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/TaciSenturk1-2.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="294" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Taci Şentürk. A Turkish teacher working in Azerbaijan’s capital, Şentürk’s deportation to was stopped at the last minute by UN officials, though it is believed he has been extradited to Turkey regardless. Photo courtesy of the Stockholm Centre for Freedom. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Fatma Şentürk now wants to leave Azerbaijan as she no longer feels safe there. “Even with the UN protection letter, our safety is not guaranteed,” she adds. “Taci always believed that the Azerbaijanis were our brothers and so would not betray us, but it happened. Even our Azerbaijani lawyer refused to take on the case, saying it was politically-motivated and so might endanger his security too.”&nbsp;</p><p>Independent lawyer Samed Rahimli, who will bring Taci Şentürk’s case to the European Court of Human Rights, says that Şentürk’s case is remarkable — he was extradited to Turkey without any legal procedure. “UN protection was completely ignored by the Azerbaijani authorities,” says Rahimli.</p><p>Şentürk is not the first Turkish national who was deported from Azerbaijan in this manner. On 6 June, Muharrem Menekşe, a member of the Gülen movement, was sent to Istanbul without any legal grounds. Menekşe had lived in Baku since the early 1990s, where he ran a small business.&nbsp;</p><p>Rahimli adds that there was no official charge or formal process from the Turkish authorities in either case: “Ankara just gave the order, and Azerbaijan executed it.” A similar fate befell the Azerbaijani opposition journalist <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/04/24/turkey/azerbaijan-journalist-deported-imprisoned" target="_blank">Rauf Mirgadirov, who was deported to Azerbaijan from Turkey</a>, where he lived and worked, in 2014.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">There was no formal charge from the Turkish authorities in either the&nbsp;Şentürk or&nbsp;Menekşe’s deportation: Ankara just gave the order, and Azerbaijan executed it.</p><p>“Erdogan and Aliyev have long rode roughshod over the laws because of their own interests,” says Ulvi Hasanli, a board member of the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/exclamation-mark-that-terrified-azerbaijani-authorities" target="_blank">N!DA youth movement</a>. “There may be other cases of which we are unaware.” That Ankara and Baku are so prepared to trade favours shows a convergence of regime interests rather than strictly national ones. But it was not always so. Erdoğan’s deteriorating international image as well as his vow to getting rid of his archenemy Gülen has made Azerbaijan and Turkey even closer allies in fighting dissent.&nbsp;</p><p>In Azerbaijan, few people appear to care about Taci Şentürk’s fate. When I approached Baku residents, almost none of them knew of Taci Şentürk. Most were surprised to hear about the deportation of a Turkish national; as Azerbaijanis and Turks share many cultural ties, mistreating a Turkish citizen could be considered shameful by Azerbaijanis. </p><p>The ruling on whether Çabuk will receive political asylum in Georgia will be made on Friday — the extradition process has been put on hold while his asylum application is being considered. The ultimate decision on whether he will be deported to Turkey to face (in)justice will be made in a final trial to be held after 24 August, after his three months’ detention comes to an end.</p><p>Between 2007 and 2016, Ankara made almost <a href="http://greece.greekreporter.com/2017/01/31/turkish-propaganda-targets-greece-eu-for-not-responding-to-extradition-requests/" target="_blank">399 extradition requests</a> to western European countries, though only 11 have been granted (including nine by EU Member States). These include requests for the extradition of 59 participants in the coup attempt of 15 July. Germany has refused to expel 22 individuals linked with Gülen. In Greece, civil society protest over Turkey’s extradition bid request led to a <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jan/26/greek-court-turns-down-extradition-request-eight-turkish-officers-ankara-failed-coup" target="_blank">Supreme Court ruling against it</a>.</p><p>Wealthy and influential western European countries can afford to reject extradition requests made by the Turkish government. But Azerbaijan and Georgia probably cannot. Neither wants to harm their relationship with Turkey, which is an important corridor to the west and regional counterbalance against Russia. Ankara’s hunt for Gülen may prove a test of how the two states can defend their sovereignty. That is, if they’re interested.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/giorgi-gogia/azerbaijani-journalist-kidnapped-across-georgia-azerbaijan-border">Azerbaijani journalist kidnapped across Georgia-Azerbaijan border</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/behind-azerbaijan-s-facades">Behind Azerbaijan’s facades</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/zeynep-gambetti/failed-coup-attempt-in-turkey-victory-of-democracy">Failed coup attempt in Turkey: the victory of democracy?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/cihan-tugal/turkey-coup-aftermath-between-neo-fascism-and-bonapartism">Turkey coup aftermath: between neo-fascism and Bonapartism</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Turkey </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia North-Africa West-Asia oD Russia Turkey Lamiya Adilgizi Uncivil society Georgia Caucasus Azerbaijan Thu, 06 Jul 2017 08:21:50 +0000 Lamiya Adilgizi 112122 at https://www.opendemocracy.net A transgender life in Chechnya https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/aida-mirmaksumova/transgender-life-in-chechnya <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>As reports of purges of gay men surfaced, Chechnya recently made international headlines. A transgender woman, now in exile, reflects on her place in Chechen society.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/hidjab_istinnaya_krasota001.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/hidjab_istinnaya_krasota001.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="305" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>“This is about who I am. Religion has nothing to do with it”. Photo courtesy of IslamDag.ru. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><strong><em><span>This article originally appeared on&nbsp;</span><a href="http://oc-media.org/chechen-transgender-woman-on-being-hunted-the-persecutions-in-chechnya-and-life-before-kadyrov/" target="_blank">Open Caucasus Media</a><span>. We are grateful for their permission to republish it here.</span></em></strong></p><p>Queer people in Russia’s North Caucasus region face a number of challenges — from discrimination, physical and sexual abuse, to blackmail. LGBT rights in Chechnya were thrust into the global spotlight several months ago, after reports emerged of the <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/brothers-be-careful-don-t-meet-up-with-anyone-in-grozny" target="_blank">abduction, torture, and murder of gay men in the republic</a>. The story was broken by <em>Novaya Gazeta</em> journalist Elena Milashina, who <a href="http://www.bbc.com/russian/features-39702293" target="_blank">revealed how the Chechen authorities were rounding up suspected queer men, and sending them to the secret prisons of Argun</a> (Russian link). However, the lives of LGBT people in the region had already been in danger for quite some time. Our partners at&nbsp;<em>OC Media</em> spoke to a transgender woman from Grozny, who shared some of her experiences and talked to them about what’s happening in the republic.&nbsp;</p><h2>“To wash a stain away with blood”</h2><p>Sabrina (not her real name), a transgender woman, was born and grew up in Grozny. She’s felt that she was a woman since childhood. Once she reached adulthood, she realised that it wasn’t safe for her in Chechnya and moved to Moscow. After a group of Chechens learned of their compatriot, a hunt began for Sabrina. Eventually, in fear for her life, she moved to the US.&nbsp;</p><p><strong>Sabrina:</strong> I worked as a volunteer at a human rights organisation. Once I was told that that someone needed my help. It was an acquaintance from Dagestan, a transgender woman. She had problems; she was in danger. I immediately took her in, because she didn’t have any money. While I was trying to help her, someone I considered a friend made copies of my documents and posted them all over the internet along with my phone number and photo, sending them to his Chechen acquaintances with a following note: “Are there are no men left in Chechnya who could remove this shame?” After that, photos of my documents were shared across WhatsApp.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">I heard a man’s voice: “This is a gift to you from your uncle”. When I looked around I felt something in my body. Then I lost consciousness</p><p>On 10 October 2015 I was attacked. I was taking shopping bags from the backseat of my car. I heard a man’s voice: “This is a gift to you from your uncle”. When I looked around I felt something in my body, but there was no pain. Then I heard another sentence, but in Chechen: “How long are you going to disgrace the family, scum?” I didn’t know the person, but I remembered that it was a young man, under 30. Then I lost consciousness. Apparently some women had seen everything and began yelling. The man ran away, and they called an ambulance. I woke up in hospital, where I learnt that I had two stab wounds in my right lung.</p><p><strong>OC Media: Which room were you sent to: the men’s or the women’s?</strong></p><p>I have old documents with my male name, but the doctor understood everything and put me in the women’s room. I am very thankful to him for this. When I first saw his name on the door, I was crazily afraid — a Muslim name, from the North Caucasus. He turned out to be a decent man. I am grateful for his attitude towards me.&nbsp;</p><p>I spent more than a month in hospital. Last February I received threats. They called me, relatives wrote to me, strangers, some unknown people. A nightmare began. Neighbours and some distant relatives came to my family, demanding that I move back to Chechnya to prove that this [the sex change] was all a lie. There were crazy demands. Some said that I had to prove it by walking through the streets topless. Some people said that I had to speak on the official Grozny TV and say that I hadn’t changed my sex, that it was all slander and photoshop. How could I speak on TV with C-cup breasts?</p><p><strong>How did your family cope with this pressure?&nbsp;</strong></p><p><strong>Sabrina</strong>: They still cope with it. Some elderly people from the street approached my mum once. They told her: “You gave birth to a freak who disgraced not only your family, but the entire republic. We cannot touch you, because you are a pious woman, but you must leave”. My Mum couldn’t take any more and put a noose around her neck. Luckily, neighbours came and saved her.</p><p>During that time I had to switch flats several times a day. I would move into one flat and in a few hours a car would park under my windows with the number 95 the plate, from the region [Chechnya], and tinted windows. After the third time I understood that something was wrong. My friends, human rights activists, checked the numberplates; it turned out that they were looking for me.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_03082928.LR_.ru__0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_03082928.LR_.ru__0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov gives a speech in Grozny, April 2017. Photo (c): Said Tsarnaev / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><strong>How did you leave the country?</strong></p><p>Activists helped me. I don’t want to say their names, for safety reasons, but I want to say that I remember everyone, they really helped me.&nbsp;</p><p>With their help I left the country, but something unbelievable happened. I still cannot understand how it was possible.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“Do you think you are safe because you left the country? We have our people where you are; they know your hotel. We even your room number. It’s 115”</p><p>Right before my departure from Moscow, I purchased a new SIM card in order to call my mother once I arrived. I bought it without registration, without documents, without anything. I broke my previous sim card and put it in the bin. I arrived and checked into my hotel. The number was registered to a stranger. I put the SIM card in my phone. I tried to call my mother through WhatsApp and at the same moment I received a message: “Do you think you are safe because you left the country? We have our people where you are; they know your hotel. We even your room number. It’s 115”. Can you imagine? This was indeed my room number.&nbsp;</p><p><strong>Do you keep in touch with your relatives?</strong></p><p>Only with my mother and sisters. However we don’t discuss the sex change — this is a taboo. Traditional Caucasian moments are still inside me. No matter how strongly I want to, I cannot ignore this psychological barrier. I always say that while my mum is alive, I will do my best to do everything not to upset her. If we have a video chat, I do try to look like the person she remembers I was in the past, I mean in the male form. However it is very hard to do.</p><p><strong>Do you know what the situation is like in Chechnya now? Do you know what friends are doing, those who are left there?</strong></p><p>I presented a report in Washington last month. I needed fresh information about the situation in Chechnya, so had spoke with someone who spent a month and a half in Argun Prison. He said that now, as it’s Ramadan, they are not abducting and torturing people. However, everyone looks forward for the end of Ramadan, so he didn’t rule out that there will be a new wave [of persecutions]. Most likely, they will now rely on people’s family members. I mean, they will probably summon their relatives [those of suspected queer people]; they will deal with the person, and then [the authorities] will demand proof that the so-called “honour” has been satisfied with blood.</p><p><strong>Are there any gay people left in these secret prisons?&nbsp;</strong></p><p><strong>Sabrina</strong>: According to an acquaintance of mine, there aren’t many now. Mainly those who do not have rich relatives, or whose relatives have abandoned them to face Ramzan Kadyrov’s trial. From what I understand they are being kept there in order to show them off later as terrorists. I mean, if they murder them, they will show their bodies on TV alleging that they attacked some village or military target. Do you understand? As if they were not just people who disappeared but went underground to become militants.</p><p><strong>Is this an assumption or do you have a source for this information?&nbsp;</strong></p><p><strong>Sabrina</strong>: I am quoting somebody who spent a month and half at Argun Prison. He says that several people who were kept in this prison disappeared after their beard was grown. There has been no news of them. They just took them. And this so-called Lord [Magomed Daudov, the Speaker of the Chechen Parliament, and close ally of Kadyrov], this person, personally saw them at the moment they took these people. However, until now they have not been presented as bandits, there were no reports of this, but we suspect that such actions are possible. Otherwise why did they not allow these people to shave?</p><p><strong>Do you know if there were previously such persecutions, abductions of people with a so-called ‘nontraditional’ orientation in the republic?</strong></p><p>I always wore my hair long. I had a bob cut when I lived in Chechnya. I think the whole of Grozny knew about me even before 2003, when I lived there without any problems. Seriously! I never had any trouble even in 1998–1999, when Sharia Law was in force. On the contrary, it was much safer than now. I mean Russia, which wanted to bring “civilisation” to us, brought the stone age in the end.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">I never had any trouble even in 1998–1999, when Sharia Law was in force. On the contrary, it was much safer than now!</p><p><strong>How is this possible with Sharia Law?</strong></p><p>My eyebrows were plucked, I had coloured eyelashes, tube-jeans, I wore short tops. The Ministry of Sharia Security never touched me. There was a spot in front of the Russian theatre in Grozny where every evening, especially on weekends, a whole bunch of people like me gathered. This was a small square with several benches, and the entire city knew about it, why men would come, young people, to meet up. We were never insulted. There is such an expression in Chechen language — <em>Kharda ma Kharda</em> — which means “do not laugh at someone else’s misfortune”. They often tell this to children if they make fun of sick people.</p><p><strong>So they would just turn a blind eye to you, as they thought you were sick?&nbsp;</strong></p><p>Yes. They would never insult me, never chase me or beat me.</p><p><strong>You’re destroying some stereotypes in my head right now. How long did this situation last?</strong></p><p>Before Kadyrov to power.. In 2005, when he was appointed Prime Minister [of Chechnya], he began to speak on television, talking about morality. He didn’t speak specifically about us, but mainly about the behaviour of women. However, you could feel in the city that people had began to change. Those who used to smile and laugh, began looking at you questioningly. I left Chechnya in those years. But every time I went back home, I could feel that the situation in the republic was deteriorating.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_01277888.LR_.ru__0_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/RIAN_01277888.LR_.ru__0_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Fashion and faith. Advertisement billboards in Grozny, Chechnya. (c) Ramil Sitdikov / RIA Novosti. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p><strong>What do you do now?&nbsp;</strong></p><p>I work as a waitress. I am not paid much — $700–800 a month (£625) — which is not much for the US. Apart from that I continue being an activist. Now I am responsible for 15 Muslim women. I communicate with them as kind of a psychologist. We organise tea drinking meetings, rallies, I go to the hospital with them, I help them to get food cards. I do all this absolutely free. I found these people myself. I was going through shelters. I am Muslim and I want to help those who need help.&nbsp;</p><p><strong>Do you wear a hijab?&nbsp;</strong></p><p>Yes.</p><p><strong>Many people say that practicing Muslims</strong><strong>&nbsp;c</strong><strong>annot be gays, lesbians or transgender people…&nbsp;</strong></p><p>That’s just is silly. This is nature — religion has nothing to do with it. It’s the same thing as Chechens foaming at the mouth to prove that they do not have any gays. Dagestanis have them, Kabardins have them, and Russians have them too, the entire planet has them, but “Chechens — they don’t”. Well, I came from there.&nbsp;</p><p>I meet so many men from the Caucasus here. Many of them — Muslim worshippers, who visit the mosque and fast during Ramadan — live with men.&nbsp;</p><p>You know, many people mix transgenderism with men who like men, and they think that people change sex so that they have more intimate opportunities, but this is wrong. This is a different thing, different psychology in fact, different attitudes to things. For me it is important that now I feel in my own shoes and I am not ashamed of my body. It is not important if you have a partner or not. I am sorry for the details, but it’s been more than a year since I had intimate relations with anyone. And I’m absolutely not upset about this — I just know that now I am myself.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/dmitry-okrest/brothers-be-careful-don-t-meet-up-with-anyone-in-grozny">“Brothers, be careful. Don’t meet up in Grozny”</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ali-gubashev/chechens-alienated-amidst-gay-persecutions">Chechens alienated amidst gay persecutions</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ksenia-leonova/life-in-chechen-closet">Life in the Chechen closet</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-nikoghosyan/in-armenia-gender-is-geopolitical">In Armenia, gender is geopolitical</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/marina-shupac/lgbt-lives-in-moldova">LGBT lives in Moldova</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Aida Mirmaksumova Chechnya Caucasus Wed, 28 Jun 2017 12:38:18 +0000 Aida Mirmaksumova 111938 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Walking free in Azerbaijan https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/gulnar-salimova/walking-free-in-azerbaijan <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>It’s easy to celebrate when Azerbaijan’s political prisoners are released. But ensnared by public stigma and personal trauma, what are the chances that they ever find a place for themselves in society?</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Ismayilova_Home.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Ismayilova_Home.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="315" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Khadija Ismayilova returns home after her release (on probation) in May 2015. In September 2015, the acclaimed investigative journalist was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison on charges of fraud and tax evasion. Image still via YouTube / Turan Agentliyi. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Azerbaijan’s ruling Aliyev dynasty is tightening the screws, and last year was a new low. At the end of 2016, Bayram Mammadov and Giyas Ibrahimov, two activists for <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/exclamation-mark-that-terrified-azerbaijani-authorities" target="_blank">youth movement N!DA</a>, were <a href="https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/10/azerbaijan-ten-years-in-jail-for-youth-activist-who-sprayed-graffiti-is-a-travesty-of-justice/" target="_blank">sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment for spraying graffiti</a> on the statue of former Azerbaijani president Heydar Aliyev. “Happy Slave Day”, they wrote — a play on the similarity of the words <em>gül</em> (“flower”) and <em>qul</em> (“slave”) in Azerbaijani.</p><p>Amnesty International has recognised Mammadov and Ibrahimov as prisoners of conscience. And they’re far from the only ones. We could mention the jailed video blogger <a href="https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur55/6178/2017/en/" target="_blank">Mehman Hüseynov</a> or the journalist <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/giorgi-gogia/azerbaijani-journalist-kidnapped-across-georgia-azerbaijan-border" target="_blank">Afghan Mukhtarli, who was recently abducted from the Georgian capital</a> and sentenced on bogus charges in Baku. We could mention many more still, and hold international campaigns for their release. Sometimes, as in the case of famous journalist Khadija Ismayilova, this pressure even bears some fruit.</p><p>Released on parole last May, Ismayilova still continues her work from Azerbaijan. The journalist’s mother <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/31/freed-journalist-khadija-ismayilova-azerbaijan-interview" target="_blank">is said to have remarked</a> that Khadija would have been safer in prison, as “they wouldn’t just kill you [in there].”</p><p>A dissident can walk free, but their story doesn’t end there — they have few hopes of finding a place for themselves in a society as authoritarian as Azerbaijan. Repression breeds depression, and political prisoners who walk free can find themselves mired in hopelessness. If you’re once a dissident, you’re always a dissident — employers and even friends keep their distance after release. After all, it’s just easier that way.</p><h2>Munificence&nbsp;</h2><p>At the end of last year, Azerbaijani civil society eagerly awaited president Ilham Aliyev’s pardon list, which he’s usually given before the new year’s holidays. There tends to be a handful of political prisoners among the convicted, too. But this time, there was no announcement.&nbsp;</p><p>Of course, it’s not pangs of conscience that prompt such moves. As the human rights activist and chairman of the Azerbaijan without Political Prisoners group Ogtay Gulaliyev writes, the regime in Baku pardons political prisoners when it needs to sweeten relations with Europe. For example, the <a href="https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/03/azerbaijan-pocs-release/" target="_blank">last pardon list</a> was issued just before Novruz (Persian and Azerbaijani new year) and included <a href="http://www.bbc.com/azeri/azerbaijan/2016/03/160317_president_pardon.shtml" target="_blank">12 jailed activists</a>. Gulaliyev regarded it as an attempt to increase Azerbaijan’s chances at receiving an invitation to the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington in 2016. More recently, with the EU <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/yan-matusevich/terms-and-conditions-apply-georgia-and-ukraine-s-visa-free-victory" target="_blank">focused on migration politics</a> and the US busy with elections (and their aftermath), Azerbaijan’s leaders didn’t see any need to show such mercy.&nbsp;</p><p>In any case, mercy often comes with strings attached. The release of one prominent dissident is usually accompanied by the arrest of a few lesser-known troublemakers. Khadija Ismayilova has called it “<a href="https://www.occrp.org/en/corruptistan/azerbaijan/2016/05/27/interview-with-khadija.html" target="_blank">Azerbaijan’s revolving door</a>.”</p><p>Naturally, how well one adapts to life after imprisonment depends on the harshness of life inside, and the trauma it can bring. “Conditions in jail are quite similar to conditions outside it. The only practical difference is that you’re stuck in a cell,” remarks Tofig Yagublu. The ex-political prisoner, deputy chairman of the opposition Musavat Party, was arrested in 2013 and sentenced to five years. Yagublu was pardoned by president Ilham Aliyev in March 2016.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">“Essentially, conditions in jail are quite similar to conditions outside it. The only practical difference is you’re stuck in a cell”</p><p>The loss of his daughter Nargiz, also an opposition activist, struck Yagublu hard. Yagublu couldn’t attend her wedding as he was behind bars, but was released for seven days to be at her funeral (she died during childbirth in Russia in 2015).&nbsp;</p><p>On the whole, says Yagublu, political prisoners are respected by other inmates. But in poor conditions, that mattered little. Yagublu was moved between prisons several times, but says conditions rarely varied. He slept near every night near somebody with tuberculosis. “There were usually two or three times more inmates than beds,” he adds, “and they were too small anyway.”&nbsp;</p><p>“The prisoners I met were often just normal people,” remarks Zaur Gurbanli, a N!DA youth activist. “Most of them weren’t guilty. They’d been arrested on all kinds of pretexts, like failing to pay a bribe.” Gurbanli was arrested in 2013 and released at the end of the following year. He also adds that fellow inmates rarely bothered political prisoners unless the wardens made them.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Zeynalli-Courtroo.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Zeynalli-Courtroo.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="295" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Avaz Zeynalli, editor in chief of Khural newspaper, at his court hearing in 2013. He was found guilty of tax evasion and initially sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment, though his critical articles targeting high-ranking officials were widely believed to be the real reason. Photo courtesy of IRFS / Obyektiv TV. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>For Zaur Gurbanli and Avaz Zeynalli, prison was a formative experience that many ways has strengthened their resolve. They’re prepared, too. For many activists and dissidents of all stripes, the threat of a jail sentence is never far off.&nbsp;</p><p>After Zeynalli’s arrest in 2011, the <em>Khural </em>newspaper where he worked as editor in chief was shut down. Two years later, he was sentenced to nine years behind bars, and released in December 2014 by presidential pardon. Zeynalli adds that he had plenty of time to read and write during his sentence — and even managed to smuggle out his prison diaries. “The time passed as there was so much to do, and I prepared myself for freedom,” he reflects.&nbsp;</p><p>Celebrated academic <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/thomas-de-waal/freethinker-loses-his-freedom-in-azerbaijan" target="_blank">Arif Yunus had quite a different experience</a>. Even though he was first arrested in 1976, the ordeal was no easier. In 2014, Arif and his wife Leyla were arrested almost simultaneously. Their only daughter was abroad and could not return to Azerbaijan — though if she had, she wouldn’t have seen him. Yunus says that meetings with relatives and even lawyers were restricted. For more than a year, he lived in solitary confinement (according to reports by Juan Mendes of the UN, a person cannot survive such a condition undamaged for more than 15 days).&nbsp;</p><p>“You know that your wife is also in jail and is probably being tortured, but you can’t see her. You can’t get any information to your daughter,” Yunus begins. “Just imagine that you’re on an uninhabited island. It’s very small, perhaps six square metres. But you don’t see animals, neither birds nor trees. All you see are white walls and a blazing 150-watt light, which is on for 24 hours.”&nbsp;</p><p>“For the first eight days, I didn’t even see the guard,” Yunus continues. “He just opened a small window and left some food for me. I had no contact. In this situation, lots of people start to hallucinate. Some even commit suicide. I couldn’t control myself and just started beating my head against the wall. In order to make things easier, I forbade myself to think about my wife and daughter, trying to escape the depression.”&nbsp;</p><h2>Is there life beyond bars?&nbsp;</h2><p>Arif Yunus was released in November 2015 on grounds of deteriorating health, though wasn’t allowed to leave Baku. Adapting was hard. He couldn’t sleep at home for six days, so used was he he sleeping beneath a 15-watt light. Sleeping pills were a remedy, but he soon became dependent on them.&nbsp;</p><p>The popular blogger and youth activist <a href="http://www.freedom-now.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Omar-Mammadov.pdf" target="_blank">Omar Mammadov</a> had been arrested in January 2014 (he also ran a satirical Facebook page mocking pro-government media). Mammadov, who was also pardoned by the president in 2016, says that upon his release he saw “nothing around [him] but emptiness.”&nbsp;</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">Disillusionment with activism is just one consequence of jail time. Far more pressing is the utter lack of prospects, given Azerbaijan’s economic downturn</span></p><p>There were no protests in Baku, no demonstrations. “I realised that nobody cared. I felt like I had stepped into a void,” he sighs. “There was no activity as there was before. Even the opposition was doing nothing.”&nbsp;</p><p>This was a freedom for which neither Mammadov nor Zeynalli could prepare.</p><p>Disillusionment with activism is just one consequence of jail time. Far more pressing is the utter lack of prospects. Last year, Zaur Gurbanli won a Chevening Scholarship and is now a student at Glasgow University. Following his release from jail, he applied for several jobs. His arrest worked against him — some employers knew exactly who he was, while others found out when he had to explain the two-year gap in his employment history.&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Gurbanli_Free.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Gurbanli_Free.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="301" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Meet me at the prison gates. Youth activist Zaur Gurbanli walks free in December 2014. Image still via YouTube / Turan Agentliyi. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>“I couldn’t lie to them,” Gurbanli tells me. “I also couldn’t tell them that I was arrested as a common criminal, but perhaps telling them that I was instead arrested for my political views is an even worse idea. Either way, they refused to hire me.”&nbsp;</p><p>Mammadov tells of similar experiences. After one employer gave him a job, he suddenly left the room and told his new employee to wait for five minutes. Mammadov was then told he was no longer hired, because somebody had ordered the management to drop him immediately. He has now lost hope in finding a job in Azerbaijan, and plans to get an education abroad.</p><h2>Who not to hire&nbsp;</h2><p>Azerbaijan is in the midst of a protracted economic downturn. Educated young people are <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/how-azerbaijan-is-losing-its-brains" target="_blank">leaving the country</a>, and nepotism is rife in filling sought-after positions. With work hard to come by for everybody, these circumstances alone work against all former prisoners, political or otherwise.</p><p>While Azerbaijani law forbids former prisoners from working in a police department or as a prosecutor, it’s highly unlikely that the state officially orders other employers not to hire former political prisoners. After all, there’s no need — poor economic prospects and a stigma towards “criminals” of all kinds work perfectly well in excluding them from the labour market.&nbsp;</p><p>When faced with such a candidate at a job interview, junior managers and small business owners alike don’t have many other choices. The ex-con may profess their innocence, blaming the state for bought courts and crooked cops. Who would you believe?&nbsp;</p><p>In these cases, many in authoritarian Azerbaijan would rather hedge their bets with the authorities, whatever deeper misgivings they may have. This is partly due to lack of alternative sources of information, and partly a cultural predilection. As they say in Russia, <em>vor dolzhen sidet’ v tyurme</em> (“a thief should sit in jail”) — so if you’ve spent time behind bars, you must’ve done something wrong, whether you know it or not. After all, there has to be some logic to the way of things.&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center"><span>Employing political trouble-makers is just a headache; the state has a thousand ways of getting back at you before breakfast.</span></p><p>Zeynalli also stresses that known members of many political parties cannot be hired in state positions. “I have friends who are doctors and teachers who have had to resign from the Musavat and National Front parties. They still work only because they’ve joined the ruling New Azerbaijan Party.” Of course, there are those who have broken ranks with former opposition comrades with gusto -- though in today’s economic realities, “seeing the error of your ways” may not automatically lead to employment.&nbsp;</p><p>Arif Yunus says that his daughter managed what he and Leyla had failed to do for 22 years. While they were imprisoned, she registered the Institute of Peace and Democracy abroad, as a foreign NGO (the organisation was founded in Azerbaijan in 1994 - ed.) “We now know where we’ll work, and what we’ll work on,” Yunus says. “My wife will work on political prisoners’ issues, and I’ll work on my own projects related to Islamism and terrorism.”&nbsp;</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Arif_Yunus_Free.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Arif_Yunus_Free.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="298" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Arif Yunus gives an interview to the press after his release from jail in November 2015, on grounds of deteriorating health. Yunus was initially barred from leaving Baku after his release, and had to wait until December before the release of his wife Leyla. Image still via YouTube / RFE/RL. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Arif and Leyla Yunus left Azerbaijan for the Netherlands to seek health treatment and join their daughter in 2015. Arif Yunus insists that had they stayed in Azerbaijan, even the sum of their impressive work couldn’t have helped them&nbsp;<span>– </span><span><span>and in May, a Baku court <a href="https://www.rferl.org/a/leyla-arif-yunus-forcible-return-azerbaijan-court-order/28493480.html" target="_blank">demanded their return to Azerbaijan to face charges</a></span></span>. Since 2014, Baku has added many hurdles to the law related to NGO work: “opening a bank account is a nightmare, you cannot register, you cannot get a grant for a project unless the state gives you permission. Practically, you depend on the state. You cannot run an NGO as an NGO anymore.”&nbsp;</p><p>That also goes for business. Almost all independent companies of any significance have to have relationships with the state or with figures who do. Even a company which functions without much interference will probably not employ somebody who has publicly criticised the government. If that’s practically impossible in the state sector, it’s definitely impractical for the private sector. Employing political trouble-makers is just a headache — and from the taxmen to that new job your cousin’s just applied for, the state has a thousand ways of getting back at you before breakfast.&nbsp;</p><p>Then there’s one final practicality — sometimes a court verdict can remain valid well after a presidential pardon. There’s no telling whether your employee will be hauled over the coals and brought before a judge yet again.</p><p>When they walk out of the prison gates, Azerbaijan’s dissidents find that the children, trees and skyscrapers of Baku have grown taller. But the landscape for freedom of expression and professional advancement remains as bleak as ever, with their criminal convictions a heavy burden to bear.</p><p><strong><em>Find out more about Azerbaijan’s slide into authoritarianism in <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/behind-azerbaijan-s-facades" target="_blank">Sergey Rumyantsev’s essay on the birth of a political dynasty</a>&nbsp;— how the Aliyev family rose to power, and where it’s headed next...&nbsp;</em></strong></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/gulnar-salimova/forced-limbo-how-azerbaijan-prevents-journalists-from-leaving-country">Forced limbo: how Azerbaijan prevents journalists from leaving the country</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/sergey-rumyantsev/behind-azerbaijan-s-facades">Behind Azerbaijan’s facades</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/how-azerbaijan-is-losing-its-brains">How Azerbaijan is losing its brains</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/ilgar-mammadov/open-letter-from-inmate-of-southern-gas-corridor">A letter from an inmate of the Southern Gas Corridor</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/arzu-geybulla/exclamation-mark-that-terrified-azerbaijani-authorities">Meet N!DA, the exclamation mark that terrified the Azerbaijani authorities</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Gulnar Salimova Uncivil society Human rights Caucasus Azerbaijan Mon, 26 Jun 2017 14:41:37 +0000 Gulnar Salimova 111898 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Do you speak Mingrelian? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/nikolaus-von-twickel/do-you-speak-mingrelian <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A major language in western Georgia could struggle for survival&nbsp;<span style="color: #222222; font-family: arial, sans-serif; font-size: 16px;">–</span>&nbsp;because it’s not considered one.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/dadianipalace_0.png" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/dadianipalace_0.png" alt="" title="" width="460" height="297" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Dadiani Palace in Zugdidi, residence of the last princes of Samegrelo (Mingrelia). Photo CC-by-NC-2.0: Silber_Mel / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>When you raise a glass with Edemi Izoria, you can practice the fine art of toasting in Georgian or Russian, but he will be most pleased if you add his native language, Mingrelian.</p><p>Izoria, a short man with a white beard, is in many ways a typical host in Zugdidi, the quiet plains town that serves as the administrative centre of Samegrelo. After sitting down on his vine-covered veranda, it only takes a few minutes and he will convince his guest this western province of Georgia is not merely the cradle of Georgian civilisation, but of mankind as a whole. And while his wife will serve local delicacies like lamb stewed with tarragon and <em>ghomi</em>, steaming white polenta with chunks of cheese in it, the retired doctor will expand his theory that the ancient Egyptians spoke a proto-Mingrelian language when devising their hieroglyphs.</p><p>But Izoria is atypical in that he actually speaks up for Mingrelian, having established a small regional advocacy group called “Aia”. During an hour-long interview earlier this month, he argued that the ongoing “Georgianisation” of his homeland needs to stop. “We need Mingrelian in kindergartens and schools. Not as a subject but as language of instruction,” he says.</p><p>Mingrelian is a strange phenomenon, not only for linguists. Despite the fact that the language is probably spoken by probably more than 300,000 people, mostly in Samegrelo and the neighbouring breakaway state of Abkhazia, it remains to this day a largely unwritten language and enjoys practically no institutional protection in education or culture. It is hard to think of another language in Europe that has so many speakers and so little status.</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Linguists point out that Mingrelian and Georgian parted ways in the eighth century BC – more than 2,700 years ago&nbsp;</p><p>For centuries, speakers of Mingrelian have used their language as a vernacular for home and village, while Georgian was reserved for cultural purposes like reading, writing and praying. Georgian governments, both Soviet and post-Soviet, have taken pains to stress that Mingrelian-speakers are part of an indivisible Georgian nation.&nbsp;</p><p>An explanation often heard among Georgian officials and intellectuals is that Mingrelian is a “dialect” – because it doesn’t possess a literature or writing system. While it is universally accepted that Mingrelian is part of the Kartvelian language group, which apart from Georgian includes Laz (spoken in northeastern Turkey) and the more distantly related Svan language, linguists point out that Mingrelian and Georgian parted ways in the eighth century BC – more than 2,700 years ago.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_right caption-medium'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Izoria_Book.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_medium/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Izoria_Book.jpg" alt="" title="" width="240" height="291" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-medium imagecache imagecache-article_medium" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Edemi Izoria, a Mingrelian-language activist, displays one of his books on the local idiom. Photo courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>Mingrelian certainly sounds different from Georgian — and speakers like to boast that it is richer or “purer” than its larger neighbour (Georgian has an estimated four million native speakers). For instance, the verb “to pluck” (from a piece of bread) has at least four variants, <em>tskitskonua</em> meaning “to pluck off lightly”, <em>ts’k’its’k’onua</em> “to nip off squeamishly while eating”, <em>zgizgonua</em> “to pluck off bigger pieces” and <em>zhgizhgonua</em> “to tear off brutally”.</p><p>But despite this precision, the use of Mingrelian appears to be declining. While there are no reliable figures available, teachers and parents in both Zugdidi and Senaki, the biggest Mingrelian-speaking cities, say that children no longer speak the language when they enter school. Nato Inalishvili, who teaches Georgian at Senaki’s fourth school, says that just 20% of first graders are currently fluent in Mingrelian. And Izoria, the activist from Zugdidi, admits that even his own grandchildren have “tragically” failed to learn the language.</p><p>When asked why, locals point to a lack of prestige. “People are ashamed of speaking Mingrelian, they are even ashamed of sounding Mingrelian,” sighs Zviad Pachkoria, a truck driver turned activist from Senaki. </p><p>This problem is not new. Back in the mid-nineteenth century, Niko Dadiani, a local nobleman, <a href="http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09668136.2014.906934?scroll=top&amp;needAccess=true&amp;journalCode=ceas20" target="_blank">wrote to his Bishop</a> that Mingrelian was a “despicable worm language” and that “even the peasants call Mingrelians worms”. </p><p>But it is hard to tackle, because Mingrelians have almost developed a habit of becoming great Georgians. The most famous example is Zviad Gamsakhurdia, the country’s first president after the Soviet break-up in 1991.</p><p><span class="mag-quote-center">“People are ashamed of speaking Mingrelian, they are even ashamed of sounding Mingrelian”</span></p><p>Although Gamsakhurdia was of Mingrelian descent, he hardly spoke the language. His nationalist slogan “Georgia for the Georgians” triggered ethnic strife and ultimately led to war with separatists, backed by Russia, in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. As a result, Georgia lost control of both territories, which to this day remain largely unrecognised Russian protectorates.</p><p>Because of the situation in Abkhazia, promoting Mingrelian as a separate language has become intrinsically linked to separatism in Georgia. Most of the roughly 200,000 Georgians that were expelled or fled the Black Sea region in the early 1990s were Mingrelian speakers, and up to 60,000 remain in the southernmost Gali region.</p><p>The Abkhaz authorities there produce a newspaper in Mingrelian, Abkhaz and Russian. This small bimonthly, <em>Gal</em>, has been published on and off since the 1990s and may never had much impact on public opinion. But as of spring 2017, there are plans to make the new channel Gal TV <a href="https://www.ekhokavkaza.com/a/28491752.html" target="_blank">broadcast in Mingrelian</a>&nbsp;(link in Russian).</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/gal-gazette.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/gal-gazette.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>The “Gal” newspaper is published in the breakaway territory of Abkhazia, in the Abkhaz, Mingrelian, and Russian languages. It is partly due to these initiatives by the separatist authorities that many Georgians view Mingrelian language activism with suspicion. Photo courtesy of Iko / LiveJournal. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>The first attempts to produce a standardised written Mingrelian came in the 1860s, when the Russian Empire had conquered the region and Tsarist scholars analysed local languages. Attempts to create a writing system, initially on the basis of Cyrillic, soon triggered heavy opposition from Georgian elites, who suspected the Russians of carrying out politics of “divide and rule”.</p><p>Then in the 1930s, authorities in Soviet Georgia experimented with a Mingrelian script based on the Georgian alphabet. The experiment, known as the “<a href="http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09668136.2014.906934" target="_blank">Mingrelian Question</a>”, foundered after Lavrenti Beria won the upper hand in a political struggle. After becoming leader of the Communist Party Georgian branch in 1931, Beria, who was himself of Mingrelian origin, decided that it was better not to lobby for what would easily be seen as his own nationality.</p><p>That script was revived in the 1990s, when feeble attempts were made to publish Mingrelian texts.</p><p>Georgian suspicions that Moscow harbours plans to weaken their country by dividing up its titular ethnic group into smaller components were seemingly confirmed in 2010, when the <a href="http://www.gks.ru/free_doc/new_site/perepis2010/croc/Documents/Vol4/pub-04-02.pdf" target="_blank">Russian census listed Mingrelians as separate from Georgians</a> (along with Svans, Adjarians, Ingiloys [Georgians from north-western Azerbaijan - ed.] and Laz).&nbsp;</p><p class="mag-quote-center">Even in Russia, most Mingrelian speakers reject the notion of an ethnic identity distinct from Georgian&nbsp;</p><p>But the fact that almost 158,000 respondents stated that they were Georgians, while just 600 (less than 0.4%) identified themselves as Mingrelians (45 as Svans), shows that even in Russia, most Mingrelian speakers reject the notion of an ethnic identity distinct from Georgian.</p><p>While this shows that Mingrelian nationalism or even separatism is extremely weak, the Georgian government does not seem ready to change its official stance, which prevents Mingrelian and the <a href="http://dfwatch.net/support-and-resistance-for-svan-language-activism-38834" target="_blank">neighbouring Svans, whose spoken language is even more distinct from standard Georgian</a>, from receiving any significant assistance from state institutions.</p><p>Ketevan Jakeli, an adviser on minority issues to Georgian education minister Alexandre Jejelava, was adamant that while the government was doing everything necessary to protect national minorities, there was no way that speakers of Mingrelian and Svan should be included in these efforts. “These are not ethnic minorities. Therefore, they cannot fall under the provisions of the <a href="http://www.coe.int/en/web/european-charter-regional-or-minority-languages" target="_blank">European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages</a>,” Jakeli tells me at the education and science ministry in Tbilisi.</p><p>The Charter aims to protect minorities from discrimination and requires states to actively promote minority languages. It was adopted by the Council of Europe in 1998, one year before Georgia signed up to the European human rights watchdog. Yet Tbilisi has not ratified the Charter, which would give rights to 15 languages, including Armenian, Azerbaijani and Russian.</p><p>Giorgi Bobghiashvili, a project coordinator at the European Centre for Minority Issues, a German think tank, says that attempts to achieve ratification were stymied in 2013, when Patriarch Ilia II, spiritual leader of <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/od-russia/eka-chitanava/georgia-s-politics-of-piety" target="_blank">Georgia’s immensely influential Orthodox Church</a>, issued a <a href="http://www.civil.ge/eng/article.php?id=25908" target="_blank">statement</a> saying that the Charter was “unacceptable, because it will strengthen separatist movements and create new grave problems for the country.”</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none caption-xlarge'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Zugdidi_Globe_Monument.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553429/Zugdidi_Globe_Monument.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="287" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload caption-xlarge imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>According to the Rosetta Project, some 457 or 9% of all living languages now have fewer than ten speakers. Language death appears to be accelerating - which will pass away in the South Caucasus? Globe statue in Zugdidi, Mingrelia, Republic of Georgia. Photo CC-by-NC-ND-2.0: Orientalising / Flickr. Some rights reserved.</span></span></span></p><p>When asked how Mingrelian and Svan could be protected, Jakelia, the Education Ministry adviser, warns against promoting these idioms formally in schools. “[In order to do so], you would have to tell these people that they are not Georgians. I do not advise you to do that,” she says. Jakelia was adamant that the only agency that could give such support was the ministry of culture. However the ministry’s spokeswoman Tiko Janjghava tells me that her colleagues did not have any such plans right now, referring all questions back to the education ministry.</p><p>When institutional support is lacking, perhaps modern technology can provide the answer. Although the internet often catalyses the usage of larger languages at the cost of smaller ones, it has also enabled Mingrelian speakers to publish more material than probably ever before in the language’s 2,700 year old history. The <a href="https://xmf.wikipedia.org/wiki/%25E1%2583%25A1%25E1%2583%259E%25E1%2583%2594%25E1%2583%25AA%25E1%2583%2598%25E1%2583%2590%25E1%2583%259A%25E1%2583%25A3%25E1%2583%25A0%25E1%2583%2598:%25E1%2583%25A1%25E1%2583%25A2%25E1%2583%2590%25E1%2583%25A2%25E1%2583%2598%25E1%2583%25A1%25E1%2583%25A2%25E1%2583%2598%25E1%2583%2599%25E1%2583%2590" target="_blank">Mingrelian Wikipedia</a> had more than 10,100 articles in mid-June. More and more Mingrelian posts are being published on Facebook.</p><p>However, there are shortcomings. Nona Kobalia, a journalist who writes a blog in Mingrelian on the website of Zugdidi’s Odishi radio and TV station, describes the Mingrelian Wikipedia as “terrible”. She complains of basic mistakes in vocabulary, syntax and grammar. “Some of it is so bad that it would be better had it been written in Georgian,” she concludes.</p><p>Kobalia added that the language urgently needs a state commission to standardise both spelling and lexicon. She believes that “currently there is absolutely nobody who cares about [Mingrelian].”</p><p>Nevertheless, the younger generation keeps publishing Mingrelian online. The Facebook group “<a href="https://www.facebook.com/megrelianlanguage" target="_blank">Megrelian language</a>” has garnered 24,000 likes since its inception in 2010. Mingrelian poems and songs by Gali-born performer Temur Eliava and Vienna-based jazz singer Teona Mosia have garnered tens of thousands of views on Facebook and YouTube. The Mingrelian learners’ group “<a href="https://www.facebook.com/%25E1%2583%25AD%25E1%2583%2590%25E1%2583%25A0%25E1%2583%2592%25E1%2583%2590-%25E1%2583%25AD%25E1%2583%2590%25E1%2583%25A0%25E1%2583%2592%25E1%2583%2590-1646339432318899/%2520" target="_blank">Charga-Charga</a>” has 14,000 likes.&nbsp;</p><p>A like may not be much, but it is a start. And with an <a href="http://rosettaproject.org/blog/02013/mar/28/new-estimates-on-rate-of-language-loss/" target="_blank">accelerating rate of global language loss</a>, Georgians may need to reconsider institutional intransigence towards such an important part of their national heritage — whether they consider Mingrelian a dialect or a language.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/georgi-derluguian/on-25-years-of-postmodernity-in-south-caucasus">On 25 years of postmodernity in the South Caucasus</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/eka-chitanava/georgia-s-politics-of-piety">Georgia’s politics of piety</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/mari-nikuradze/georgia-exiles-election">Georgia: the exiles’ election</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/email/zugdidi-will-i-ever-go-back">Zugdidi: Will I ever go back? </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/ksenia-turkova/words-and-war-russian-and-ukrainian-linguists-struggle-to-find-common-groun">Words and war: Russian and Ukrainian linguists struggle to find common ground</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ourkingdom/adam-ramsay/many-languages-native-to-britain">The many languages native to Britain</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Nikolaus von Twickel Georgia Education Caucasus Mon, 26 Jun 2017 08:19:32 +0000 Nikolaus von Twickel 111810 at https://www.opendemocracy.net