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July 28th 2006 · Prague Watchdog / Alikhan Batayev · PRINTER FRIENDLY FORMAT · E-MAIL THIS · ALSO AVAILABLE IN: RUSSIAN 

Ossetian-Ingush dispute: old conflict, new fears

By Alikhan Batayev, special to Prague Watchdog

"On July 5, 2006, a group of twelve Russian cizitens of Ingush nationality, temporarily residing in the settlement of Maysky in the Prigorodny Region, North Ossetia, declared a hunger strike against the delay  in returning the forcibly evicted Ingush to their homes. The protestors are on the verge of death.  The Ingush NGOs called on the Russian President, the State Duma, Constitutional Court, Prosecutor General's Office, Public Chamber, and the leaderships of the Southern Federal District, and of Northern Ossetia to promptly intervene and save these desperate and dying people, as stated in Article 2 of the Russian Constitution."

("Appeal by Ingush NGOs to federal authorities in connection with the refugees' hunger strike").

The Prigorodny Region has always been regarded as being inhabited by the Ingush and part of Ingushetia and remained so until 1944 when it was ceded to North Ossetia. This occurred during the time the Ingush were being deported to Siberia and Central Asia. Although they were allowed to return to their homes in 1957, the Prigorodny Region was never returned to Ingushetia.

The current plan to resolve the dispute met with the approval of Dmitry Kozak, President Putin’s envoy to the Southern Federal District. Kozak had been assigned the job of returning all Ingush refugees to their former homes in North Ossetia by the end of 2006. However, the Ingush accuse Kozak of having taken a pro-Ossetian position, and they’ve threatened to hold mass protests if his plan is not revised.

The problem seems to be that while more than 12,000 Ingush refugees are set to return to North Ossetia, they won’t be going back to their native villages but to settlements that are being specifically built for them. This is the Ossetians way of preventing the Ingush from viewing these settlements as ancient Ingush villages; plus it will also sever the connection between the Prigorodny Region and Ingushetia.

Nevertheless, despite the Federal center’s sudden decision to resolve this age-old conflict, experts predict that along with the old problems that will still have to be dealt with, new ones will arise. And both have a common denominator -- the historical enmity between Ingush and Ossetians.

Even Ingush President Murad Zyazikov, who rarely criticizes the actions of the federal leadership, recognizes that the plan does not uphold the rights of Ingush citizens.

Years of futile agreements

During the past 13 years, numerous governmental commissions signed agreements about this conflict, the majority of which were never put in practice. This was due either to Moscow’s disinterest in the matter or in not understanding its aspects. So these mountains of paper now reside in the archives, gathering dust.

While relations between these two nationalities are still complicated, the pinnacle of inter-ethnic hatred has been reached: even Beslan was unable to restore the level of their once mutual animosity. The Ingush and Ossetians sincerely want stability and peace, yet how can this be achieved without the political will of the Kremlin?

With the departure of Ingush President Ruslan Aushev (former Soviet general and critic of Moscow’s policies towards North Caucasus), another general, the pro-Moscow Murad Zyazikov from the Federal Security Servcie (FSB), took over. The Ingush, of course, hoped he would help resolve their problem.

However this was not to be; tensions increased instead. The various military and police forces were given the green light to use repressive methods against guerrillas in the republic, even though their guilt or participation in the insurgency was highly doubtful. Needless to say, this has swept the Prigorodny question off the immediate political agenda.

After the events in Beslan, the federal authorities were finally reminded of the existence of the old Ingush-Ossetian conflict, which had again awakened serious fears. Were it not for the terrorist attack, this problem would have surely remained buried and forgotten. But now the situation threatened to spill over and lead to an explostion in North Ossetia and then in Ingushetia. This was probably part of the plan designed by the Beslan raiders, although many experts feel it is still too early to state that this plan failed.

Meanwhile, the ardor of the radicals has cooled, primarily because of the personal intervention of President Putin who threatened that condoning ethnic conflict would be regarded as terrorism. But how long will this last? After Beslan, the Ingush began preparing for a new war against Ossetians. While in 1992 the Russian army supported the Ossetians, today they say that both sides are equally to blame. Thus one could now defend oneself without having to fear Russian retaliation.

Is there a solution?

Current realities compel the authorities to find a solution, yet how exactly does the Kremlin intend to solve this conflict? The Ingush are certain the Prigorodny Region will be returned to them within a year, while the Ossetians are equally certain the question will never be raised. By doing so, this would set a dangerous precedent that would lead other regions within Russia to make similar claims.

On one hand, the Ingush are justified in demanding the return of land snatched from them in 1944. It basically appears to be a simple matter of returning their territory. However, that doesn’t resolve the problem of the 50,000 Ossetians now in Prigorodny who would never tolerate living under Ingush rule. And the Ingush are also unlikely to back down. After all, their constitution states that “The restoration of (Ingushetia’s) territorial integrity via political means is one of the tasks of the Ingush state.”

This irritates the Ossetians, of course, who respond with slogans about the impossibility of Ossetians and Ingush living together in Ossetia. But in reality, they continue to live together, albeit cautiously, proving that slogans and appeals are worthless.

In my opinion, returning Prigorodny to Ingushetia is not so much a best solution, but the fairest one. But it is unlikely Moscow will opt for this solution because if they did, they would eventually face many similar problems elsewhere. For example, Chechnya would demand the return of territory from bordering areas of Daghestan and Ingushetia, and Stavropol would insist on getting back the two areas of Chechnya it lost in 1957.

The danger of setting precedents has compelled the Russian government to freeze all territorial laws concerning so-called “repressed nationalities” (i.e. anyone deported en masse in the past). This was the policy under Boris Yeltsin and it’s highly unlikely that his successor, with his “stability at any price”, will change that.

Furthermore, there is also a serious legislative constraint. According to the Russian constitution, border revisions between republics require mutual agreement, confirmed via a referendum. For Ingushetia, this is an insurmountable obstacle since the Ossetians refuse to discuss Prigorodny’s return.

Russian human rights activists regard conflicts of this kind unsolvable if the problem is seen from the point of view of collective rights. However, from the point of view of individual rights, one could at least solve the problem of the refugees and set aside territorial conflicts. But in order to achieve this, far more sophisticated methods are needed than those being used today.

The Commission for the return of refugees should be composed of all interested parties, not just one as it now is. And the people should be able to return to their original homes rather than newly-constructed ones. The federal authorities are capable of insisting on this.

Note:

During the five days of Ossetian-Ingush conflict in 1992, 583 people were killed; 939 injured, 261 disappeared without trace, and more than 40,000 became refugees.

(MG/E,A,T)

  RELATED ARTICLES:
 · Ingush-Ossetian Dispute Worsens (IWPR, August 9, 2006)
 · Pyrrhic victory for refugees from Maysky (Ingform Byuro, August 3, 2006)
 · The Ingush-Ossetian powder keg (PW / Timur Aliyev, September 17th, 2004)



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