The explosion that was noticed too late
By Alexander Cherkasov, special to Prague Watchdog
In the summer of 2007 Russia suddenly remembered Ingushetia, and people began to say that the situation there was very bad. Then they decided it was not even a situation, but a real crisis, almost like in Dagestan eight years earlier. It will be recalled that the invasion of Dagestan marked a unique watershed from which a new phase in Russia’s political life began: the second Chechen war, “Operation Successor” (i.e. the search for Yeltsin's successor), and the change of Russian government, with the formation of an anti-democratic regime.
The year 2007 was certainly rich in events, but was it in any way special or decisive? Probably not. The fact is that the skies began to darken over Ingushetia much earlier. It is possible to date the beginning of the events there from at least as far back as 2006, and even earlier.
For example, the media reported about the murders of Ingushetia’s Russian-speaking inhabitants, with 24 people of non-Ingush ethnicity killed in the space of only a few months last year. But the attacks on Russians in the republic began in the winter of 2006.
Then there was the introduction of Russian troops. Yes, additional federal army units were indeed drafted in to take part in the hunt for guerrillas. But nothing has really changed since then, except that the guerrillas have started to kill more federal servicemen – for the simple reason that there are now more targets. In my view, there are no grounds to talk of epoch-making changes having taken place in 2007. The situation in Ingushetia has remained in a stable condition of unrest since 2006, especially when compared to neighbouring Chechnya, where the towns and villages, though not the mountain areas, have been much more calm.
The suddenly-awoken media have begun to compete with one another in writing about “underlying processes” that may lead to global catastrophe in the North Caucasus. But in reality there are no such processes. There are heinous, horrible crimes that are never investigated.
Let us take the murder of six-year-old Rakhim Amriyev (see Prague Watchdog's report). He was shot dead in November 2007 during the course of a special operation. The special forces claimed that they were trying to catch a fearsome guerrilla who had been ruthlessly murdering Russians, and that operational intelligence suggested he would be spending the night in the Amriyevs’ house. Attempts to seize the guerrilla resulted in the murder of a child. As is usual in such cases, a weapon was placed beside the child’s corpse, but in this instance it became all-too obvious evidence of a complete breakdown in the ability of the Ingush FSB to make a correct assessment of the circumstances. It is typical that having killed the child, the FSB officers felt no anxiety about what they had done and made no attempt to show respect for the parents’ grief. No, they made the father, mother and two children go outside in their bare feet (it was November, you will recall) and kept them there, not allowing them to move, for half an hour.
Was anything done about this? Not even the bullets removed from the child’s skull were identified. Why do I dwell on this in such detail? After all, it’s something that happened a long time ago. For the reason that other episodes, too, are rife with details no less heinous and bloody. But that will not lead to the crimes being solved more quickly - on the contrary, they will be stored up and will lie there in a dead, intractable pile, while the perpetrators avoid all responsibility. As a result, an enormous stratum of grief, anger and discontent will accumulate. People have lost hope of obtaining justice. They are starting to think about alternative methods of punishing the criminals.
The sensational crimes that have been committed one after another in the last two years have brought the republic to the brink of an explosion. But not even that is really true. The explosion has already happened, and we are simply dealing with a special form of it, after the event. If water is heated, steam is produced, and when it reaches a critical volume an explosion takes place. But at high pressure there is no difference between water and steam, and what we have is not liquid but condensed gas, in which the transition of water from one state to another can no longer be observed.
In Ingushetia, the transition to a state of permanent crisis has had no clear or visible border. The abductions and murders have also provoked a political crisis in the republic. It is a crisis that continues to develop. However, neither the federal forces nor the local authorities have proposed any methods for its resolution. The opposition is still merely trying to form a language of its own, to find the tools that might help it to articulate its goals and to make an effective protest. In this it is not achieving much success, since all legal possibilities of action have been closed off by the republic’s leaders, the law enforcement agencies and the special services… But the point is that the authorities themselves have indicated the way that must be taken. It has become clear that only street protest, only direct action, can lead to any result.
For years, people were abducted, and they disappeared forever. But then last September, for the first time, two men who had been kidnapped were actually returned. The rally that was held immediately after the disappearance of the Aushev brothers in Chechnya blocked Nazran’s main highway and its railroad. This swift reaction was a very important factor here, as the special services did not have time to kill the men they had abducted. The brothers were released just over a day later. And people realized that only by taking to the streets were they able to achieve anything. No other means existed, or exist.
Another aspect of the situation in the republic is the campaign of sabotage which began its active phase at the same time, in 2006. Elusive, invisible and faceless, the armed underground continues to inflict its blows. Though in fact sometimes its face can be glimpsed.
One small episode from the month of May: a special operation in Nazran. A basement rented by a young family was surrounded and cordoned off. The owners of the house tried to prevent the start of military operations, which would very probably result in the partial or total destruction of their property. The owner’s wife attempted to persuade the FSB officers to delay the beginning of the assault for ten minutes. Perhaps she could talk the young couple into surrendering. She went into the house, talked to the guerrilla, returned empty-handed and once again asked the spetsnaz officers to give her time to continue the negotiations. The guerrilla saw her talking to the officers and shot her. She died.
From this it is obvious that the federal law enforcement agencies are not the only source of the violence – the armed underground also acts without mercy, sparing neither their own nor anyone else.
Then the assault was carried out, and both the guerrilla and his wife were killed. An interesting detail: the owner of the house was saved from death by a special forces officer, who literally pulled him out from the line of automatic weapons fire. Then, when a search of the house began, a large amount of money and valuables disappeared. The woman had earned a living by trading in mass-market goods imported from abroad. Was this some extraordinary kaleidoscope, in which everything was stood on its head? A guerrilla who shot his own kinswoman, a Russian officer who saved the owner of a house at the risk of his own life. The tragic, heart-rending circumstances of the story are perceived as such right up to the moment that the banal robbery, usual in such situations, begins.
As before, the men who go off to join the underground resistance are those who no longer find it possible to live on a legal basis. Another incident. On May 10 this year a special operation took place in the village of Troitskaya. A bath house was cordoned off. Two men were killed, and one was captured. Who were they? One of them, Movsar Oziyev, had come to the attention of the law enforcers back in February. He was put under so much pressure that he had no option but to join the illegals in the underground. His relatives had applied to “Memorial” long before the events described, requesting legal assistance. They argued that Movsar was ready to testify, attend interrogations and cooperate as long as he was not harassed, beaten or forced to confess to things he had not done. And then only a few months later, after becoming a guerrilla, he was killed in Troitskaya.
Ingushetia is tiny. If there are no obstacles on the road, one can drive across it in half an hour. Small episodes like the ones described are now building a local Ingush history which the Ingush themselves do not perceive as history. For them it is a slow explosion frozen in time, under colossal internal pressure.
In conclusion I would like to say that if we are indeed too late in our diagnosis of what is happening, in our realization that a catastrophic situation has developed in Ingushetia – that its a very bad sign. Perhaps when the real war starts we shall only come to our senses after consequences of that war are already irreversible.
Alexander Cherkasov is a member of the board of the “Memorial” human rights group.
(Translation by DM)
(P/T) RELATED ARTICLES:
· Ingushetia as the last line of defence in Russia's Caucasus War (PW, 13.6.2008)
· Tension continues in Ingushetia (PW, 23.11.2007)