Ingushetia as the last line of defence in Russia's Caucasus War
By Gennady Skorin, special to Prague Watchdog
For the sake of dramatic effect it could be said, as some experts have done, that Ingushetia is now on the brink, and that on the other side lie open disobedience and disloyalty to the federal centre, armed struggle running parallel with civic protests which are assuming an increasingly ambitious and large-scale form, Salafism, Wahhabism, and so on. All of these factors are already present, and the dynamic they create as they grow is an explosive one. Yet it is premature to draw the conclusion that events in Ingushetia will inevitably follow the Chechen pattern.
The depth of Ingushetia’s loyalty to the federal centre, something for which the republic has always been famed, is rather difficult to measure. But neither the Ossetian-Ingush conflict, during which Moscow, in the opinion of the Ingush, provided exclusive and disproportionate armed support to the Ossetian side, nor the Chechen wars, which passed like a fiery, inhuman mangle across the territory of fraternal Chechnya, were able to shake the foundations of the Ingush people’s civic identity. Most Ingush continued to see themselves as citizens of Russia and did not even think about the possibility of living a separate existence, despite the fact that the Chechens had been trying to draw Ingushetia into its separatist project ever since the days of Dudayev.
Today the situation has radically changed. Magomed Yevloyev, owner of the "Ingushetiya.ru” website, says: "In Karabulak there is an old man who keeps a watchful eye on people’s moods – especially the moods of the young. On public transport and in the streets he listens carefully to what people are saying. He recently told me: ‘We’ve lost Ingushetia. Young Ingush have a very narrow field of ideas. On the buses and minibuses the only conversations you hear are about guerrillas, emirs, the Emirate, where road-mines were laid, where federal troops came under fire, where police were killed. The armed underground is an example to be emulated, and armed struggle is now seen not merely as something normal, but as a necessity. To die in battle means to fulfil the lofty destiny of a man, a warrior and a Muslim.’”
When in 2004 groups of guerrillas under the leadership of Shamil Basayev took control of a significant portion of Ingushetia, local residents greeted them as liberators and earnestly implored them to stay. This can hardly be regarded as evidence of anti-Russian sentiment. In the Caucasus, abrechestvo [“noble” banditry, tr.], even in its modern separatist or radical Muslim forms, is perceived by a great many people as a struggle for justice. For the vast majority of Chechens and Ingush, who do not share the goals and objectives of the resistance, the guerrillas are akin to a rural police force which may do something to limit the arbitrariness of the local authorities and the federal law enforcement agencies.
In recent years the situation in Ingushetia have begun to change rapidly. Abductions and law enforcement operations had turned the small republic into a place where no one could feel safe. The authorities’ claims that they were hunting for extremists sounded here like an open lie, as it is well known that in a significant number of cases the people who suffer during the so-called “mop-ups” [zachistki] are innocent. They are often young Ingush men who are suspected of having links with the underground, and who are members of Salafist Muslim protest groups. The special services are unable to furnish proof of their involvement in the illegal armed units, and so these young men become the victims of brutally inhuman provocations or of open and arbitrary violence. They are abducted from their homes or on the street by unidentified persons, after which they disappear forever – or they are murdered in public places or by ambush, and afterwards weapons or ammunition are placed beside their corpses so that they can be officially declared to have been guerrillas.
Here it needs to be observed that for the local population the men who are killed or abducted are wholly innocent, because their guilt has not been proved in any court. The law enforcers’ behind-the-scenes logic dictates the need to act with the maximum of harshness and beyond the limits of the law, since the collection of the material required by Russia’s penal code to inflict punishment on those involved in armed struggle is frequently impossible. Such logic is naturally rejected by people who consider that in conditions of the arbitrary extra-legal assertion of power anyone may turn out to be its prey, on the slightest unfounded suspicion.
During the "mop-ups", civilians who inadvertently find themselves on the scene of the special operations often become victims. The most egregious case of this kind was the murder of a six-year-old boy, Rakhim Amriyev, in November 2007. The pillaging and theft of personal property which are a mandatory element of the law enforcement operations, give rise to disgust with the federals and lack of trust in them, forcing people to doubt that these troops have any serious motivation at all.
Generally speaking, some 200 kidnappings and over 500 murders in the space of a few years are too many for a republic with an entire population of only about 300,000. Account needs also to be taken of the archaic way of life of the Ingush, whose degree of kinship goes beyond even that of a gigantic family in which affiliation is counted only up to the seventh generation. They consider as relatives all members of the same teip who had common roots at the beginnings of the emergence of the Ingush ethnos. This means that each murder or abduction causes pain in the hearts of thousands. Moreover, reports of any law enforcement operation immediately spread throughout the republic, become surrounded by amass of gory details and rumours, grow enlarged and hypertrophied. The sadism and cavalier behaviour of the uniformed executioners is a permanent source not only of fear, but of anger.
During the first war, in his capacity of Ingushetia’s leader, Ruslan Aushev succeeded in paralyzing the activity of the special services on the republic’s territory, despite their constant attempts to deploy their forces here. Although by the onset of the second war he had almost no resources left with which to protect the residents of the Ingush mountain villages on the border with Chechnya, and later the refugees who were accommodated in camps, he continued vehemently to resist the federal centre which, considering Ingushetia to be the military rear zone of the Chechen guerrillas, was gradually establishing control over a republic that was a suspicious rebel base.
Another general, Murat Zyazikov, who was himself a product of the special services, to all intents and purpose delivered the republic up to looting. To this day it is the special services, and not the local authorities, that are the true owners of Ingushetia. This is the reason for the extraordinary popularity of the poll the opposition is now conducting for Aushev’s return. Let us merely note that a campaign of this kind is a reflection of the hope that the situation can still be rectified by the use of legitimate, legal means to replace an unjust ruler. In other words, these campaigns, like the meetings and protest rallies, are in their way an appeal to Russian law and likewise point to the inertia of the desire of the Ingush to live in union and peace with Russia.
A special object of discontent is the incredible corruption in which the republic’s government is mired. This is a large and separate subject, and one we shall not address here.
Today more and more young Ingush are taking up arms and going off to fight. In the forest they have no option but to act within the framework of radical Salafist doctrine, which declares Russia to be criminal state of infidel kufrs who are imposing their way of life, religion and values on Muslims, who by accepting them become apostates.
For the time being the spread of this ideology is severely curtailed by the contempt the Salafists feel for the traditional Ingush way of life – Adat – which they have maintained for centuries. It is even claimed that many young Ingush, unwilling to fight under the banner of the Wahhabists, are conducting military operations independently of the underground, shelling federal positions and organizing the placing of road-mines.
But it is all changing. If Magomed Yevloyev’s old man is right, and anti-Russian sentiments are covering Ingushetia like a snow-ball, the assertions of a few particularly radical experts who predict that it is precisely from here in the North Caucasus that that the fire will start to burn may turn out to be prophetic.
Vremya novostei archive photo.
(Translation by DM)