Markelov: Ingushetia and the Caucasus

From time to time, we receive occasional contributions from the highly respected Russian human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov, who heads up Russia’s Rule of Law Institute. His most recent piece focused on the Olympics and the war. Mandatory disclaimer: Markelov’s article does not necessarily represent my opinion, this blog, or its editors. Ingushetia – the missed opportunity of the Caucasus? By Stanislaw Markelov A killing – is always more than just death. A killing raises the most painful and acute questions: “Who is at fault?”, “How will they answer?” and “Is the aggrieved party of relatives and like-minded people prepared likewise to cross the line of blood and death?” ingush091208.jpg The Ingushetian flag flies over a summer camp for children from different parts of Russia’s turbulent North Caucasus play during a summer camp near the village of Michurino, about 30km (19 miles) south of the Caspian Sea city of Derbent, in Russia August 18, 2007. (Reuters)

This they know best in the North Caucasus, where besides the general pain of an unjust death there exists also the purely personal duty of blood vengeance. This duty very rigidly regulates all relations of disagreement and dispute. On the one hand, a person will think ten times before pulling out a weapon, inasmuch as not just he alone will answer for it, but also his children and dear ones; on the other, vendetta has so many times decimated entire kin-groups that direct war has probably looked more humane and peace-loving than the eternal slaughter of teyps [a unit of kin-tribe organization of the Chechen people consisting of several kin-group communities—Trans.] who despise one another.With the killing of Yevloyev, something unexpected and horrible has taken place – something we were unable to assess right away, and are only gradually starting to feel on ourselves the result of the «Caucasusization» of all Russian politics. Into the orbit of blood vengeance now enter not only individual kin-groups or an entire people, the killing has touched upon all of Russian society, and, irrespective of the silence of our mass information media, real politics are already dictated both by the interests of the killers and by the question about the choice of the actions of those who will take vengeance.You don’t even need to know the morals of the Caucasus in order to understand that there will be vengeance. The killing of Politkovskaya shocked, and, maybe, led immediately to big political consequences. But even with all her constant work in the Caucasus, she was still an outsider person, who had grown up in another milieu and in an absolutely different culture. The consequences of her killing for the Caucasus can be political, but not personal. With the killing of Yevloyev, personal consequences may turn into political ones for us all.In life, Yevloyev exceeded his significance as simply a respected person having his own business and sphere of influence. Even with all the contradictoriness of this personality, with his name are associated two phenomena which have become new pages in the development of the civic life of the Caucasus.The first and most noticeable of his progeny – this is the literate organization of the information war. He was not the first in the Caucasus to understand the importance of media portals, including in the nets of the Internet. The separatist Chechen «Kavkaz-centr» always was a noticeable instrument of war. But still this was a decidedly secondary argument of the conflict, where first place was clearly given to the machine-gun and explosive devices. Yevloyev’s portal «» was self-sufficient and did not fulfill the functions of serving an already erupted conflict.On the contrary, this site itself became a center of the conflict, having transferred it into the informational plane and having made it much more significant than any other source of reports on Ingushetia. It is interesting that this was taking place in a republic where the majority of the inhabitants have only the vaguest idea about what the Internet is.Unfortunately, in response to the informational attack there followed anything but informational retaliatory actions. The house of Yevloyev himself and of his comrades in arms was strafed with gunfire on numerous occasions, while the site they tried to cover up [the power attempted to shut down—Trans.] by decision of a court. I as a lawyer am not attempting to contest this decision, all the more so given that there were formal grounds – the publication examined by the court is indeed fiercely anti-Ossetian. But practically all of the political publications of Ingushetia printed anti-Ossetian material. Exactly the same way as in Ossetia the mass information media are no less strongly fired up with an anti-Ingush directionality. There have yet to be any incidents where some publication was shut down due to attacks by neighboring peoples on one another. This means, the publication being examined by the court too was not the reason, but the excuse. That same excuse because of which formally one could cover up [shut down] just about every one of the mass information media of both Ingushetia and Ossetia.ingush2091208.jpgRussian fire fighters are seen at a burned building of a local newspaper set on fire by protesters in Nazran, Ingushetia, Russia, Saturday, Jan. 26, 2008. (AP Photo by Musa Sadulayev)The second action of Yevloyev’s is less noticeable, because he did not stand at its sources, but precisely the significance of this factor greatly exceeds the boundaries of little Ingushetia, and, most likely, even all of the North Caucasus. I have in mind the organization and creation of a legal opposition.In Russia there is no legal opposition. The so-called parliamentary opposition parties – are either the leading sycophantic toadies, like the CPRF, or don’t even attempt to declare about their oppositionality, jostling with the other parties at the feeding-trough of power (like «A Just Russia»). All the rest of the oppositioneers have been thrown overboard from official politics and are doomed to the destiny of remaining fringe groups.In the North Caucasus there is also no legal opposition. Everyone whom the power has gotten its hands on in the Caucasus has an alternative: to immediately head for the forests and the hills or to pretend that you’re maintaining true allegiance, helping those who have headed for the forests and the hills with money, food, shelter.So why should there suddenly appear a legal opposition in Ingushetia? And all the more so one that functions using classical opposition methods, i.e. gathering the people on the street, conducting information wars, audaciously criticizing the power, which, to put it mildly, has aught it can be criticized for. This legal opposition found itself a legal and respected leader in the person of Aushev, its businessmen, its civic support – everything about which a legal – and, most importantly, a peaceful – political force ought to be thinking about. But about what kind of phenomenon of a legal opposition can one speak in a republic where shots and explosions take place every day, while any operation by the special services turns into a pogrom, where it is already impossible to tell who is the “bandit” and who is the employee of the organs?The appearance of a legal opposition in a republic of the North Caucasus, which has now become key at the intersection of political interests, could have become a chance. A legal opposition, by definition, must be open and officially advertise itself. It can not switch over to violent actions, inasmuch as this will create for it a most negative image. A legal opposition draws off all of the disaffected and all protest sentiments, transforming the steam of dissatisfaction into rallies, pickets, civic protest actions, in the extreme case into the closing of streets and peaceful takeovers of state buildings, but not into weapons and guerrilla brigades.One should not even determine who was right in the dispute of Zyazikov and Yevloyev in order to understand how important was the Ingush example of civic protest for the whole of the North Caucasus. They killed Yevloyev at that moment when the forces standing behind him had united with Aushev and created their own literately constructed opposition vertical.In consideration of the fact that it was precisely in Ingushetia that they had been intensively provoking the Russian community in recent years, jettisoning its informal leaders and arranging constant attacks on Russian houses, one could have expected that whether it wanted to or not, the opposition would have to reach out and make contact with the Russian community, at the very least on the principle of “against a common enemy”. And this would signify at least gradual distancing from the influence of radical Islamism and mountain nationalism.The Ingush siloviki assert that the radical Islamism and armed underground in Ingushetia – are from Chechnya. The militants supposedly redeployed from the place of destroyed bases, in order to terrorize a neighboring republic. This is a pretty fairy tale for those who don’t know the Caucasus. For an entire underground to redeploy unnoticed from one republic into another is impossible. And besides, the majority of the objects of the operations of the siloviki – these are local Ingush people, who have come into the underground relatively recently.Just yesterday they had a choice – to take up arms or to try to attain the truth at rallies and opposition gatherings. Will they have such a choice tomorrow?Or will the blood vengeance announced by the father of the killed begin to be carried out not only by relatives of Yevloyev, but by the multitudinous army of the disaffected?In the Caucasus there is a rule that if a person has pulled out a weapon, then he’s got to shoot already. And there, unlike in the Chechovian theatrical principle, the weapon is not a prop and it does not wait for the third act to be discharged – they fire from it right away. In this sense, the words of Zyazikov about how the killing of Yevloyev could be directed against the Ingush power look positively prophetic. His cousin has already added to the bloody score.Having read this, many will ask if there is a way out or if the author is scaring readers, practically presaging a picture of massive machine-gun fire? Nothing of the sort; there is a way out and it was thought up long ago right in the Caucasus, so there is no need to invent anything new. If every blood feud did not stop, then the North Caucasus would long ago have become deserted and its slopes would be strewn with the graves of the blood-feuders.When the fulfillment of blood vengeance would already start to infringe on the interests of society, the elders would “separate the kin-groups”, that is they would give an indication to one kin-group of blood-feuders to abandon native places and move to another place, so that the other kin-group would no longer have anyone to take vengeance on. Thus the vendetta would cease on its own.As the culprit in the killing of Yevloyev they are naming only one person, and we will not even clarify if he is directly involved in the killing or not; this is not all that important any more now. To exonerate himself he can make any declarations, but as the leader person, responsible for everything in the republic, the death of the leading oppositioneer nevertheless remains on him.The prevention of the banditization of Ingushetia – this is already not an Ingush task and even not a North Caucasian one, but a Russia-wide one. And there is not even any need to talk about the public interest in preventing collective vengeance for the killing of Yevloyev. This means, that person whom they call responsible for the killing must leave the republic, all the more so because he’s got somewhere to go. Prior to enthronement in Ingushetia, he had calmly lived in another region, remaining in the cadre reserve of the current power. Isn’t it about time for him to set off there into the reserve? This will be the most rational of the things he could do. And we will heave a sigh of relief and, maybe, we won’t receive reports quite as often about the latest bombings or killings in a region that threatens to become the “bandit underbelly of Russia”.