The rout of the Ingush opposition
By Alexander Voron, special to Prague Watchdog
After the killing of Magomed Yevloyev, owner and creator of Ingushetiya.ru, the first Ingush opposition web site, his friend and colleague Maksharip Aushev took over its running, thus automatically placing himself at the top of the list of President Murat Zyazikov’s enemies.
Reports published by Ingushetia.org say that on October 5, 10 and 15 searches of Maksharip Aushev’s home and office were carried out, involving the participation of between 100 and 400 FSB and interior ministry officers. At the time of the last search Aushev was not at home – the night before, a source close to Zyazikov had informed him that during the raid the law enforcers might make an attempt to abduct him for allegedly resisting arrest with armed force.
Aushev went into hiding, switching off his mobile phone so that his whereabouts could not be determined. His location at present is unknown. The search resembled an act of open harassment. Law enforcers turned the whole house upside down: they stripped the wallpaper from the walls and pulled up the floorboards, allegedly in search of weapons caches. In their efforts to make Maksharip’s parents give them information on their son’s whereabouts they aimed shots at their feet. When the search produced no results and no incriminating evidence could be found, the enforcers left Aushev’s house. No search warrant or other official authorization was presented.
According Magomed Khazbiyev, Aushev's colleague and a protest organizer, during the search of Aushev’s office the interior ministry soldiers told Aushev what he should do: "What are you so unhappy about? Why are you organizing rallies, like a woman? Go into the forest with the young guys - then at least you’ll die like a man. Otherwise we’ll shoot you like a dog." Before his forced departure, Aushev commented on these searches as attempts to intimidate him and everyone else who planned to hold a rally on October 19.
Three days after the search of Aushev’s house, police and interior ministry troops broke into the home of another opposition leader – Akhmed Kotiyev, deputy head of Ingushetia's alternative parliament. On the morning of the search all the entrances to his house were blocked by military vehicles. During the search itself, which was also conducted without any legal foundation, some unsealed religious sermons were seized. The enforcers immediately rushed to declare them “extremist literature”, and after the search Kotiyev himself was detained, but released again at 9pm the same day.
It is obvious that the authorities planned to conduct a large-scale campaign of harassment of opposition figures in order to disrupt the national rally that had been scheduled for October 19. To its standard list of demands – Zyazikov’s removal, an end to the arbitrary violence of the law enforcers, an objective investigation of the abductions of people, the resolution of the problems of refugees from the Prigorodny district of North Ossetia – the opposition intended to add a new slogan: reject the plan to merge Chechnya and Ingushetia.
By formulating the issue in this way the opposition has a chance of drawing a large number of people to take part in the public protests, as most Ingush are now opposed to the idea of unification. The opposition’s earlier attempts to hold mass demonstrations met with little success, as the authorities used the whole arsenal of means at their disposal to disrupt them. But the main reason for the organizational failure was the absence of a clear positive agenda and transparent logic in the opposition’s actions, and a lack of hope that Zyazikov’s opponents would be able to formulate any effective strategy of non-violent resistance.
Even though a majority of the population is ready to endorse all the opposition’s demands, some would like to have an alternative, while many others believe that the opposition leaders are not much better than Zyazikov’s officials – they lack organization, yet have usurped the right to speak on behalf of the entire Ingush people, and under pressure from the federal government have even flirted with it.
However, it is possible that the protest against the plans to merge Chechnya and Ingushetia could breathe new life into the weak and peripheral opposition project. The prospect of a merger of the two republics is so frightening to the vast majority of Ingush that they are ready to unite even under the banners of an opposition that is none too popular. Realizing this, the authorities in Magas are taking severe preventive measures against the organizers of future protests.
After two pro-unification rallies in Chechnya, Zyazikov made a televised speech. For almost an hour he attempted to convince his audience that he took an extremely negative view of the idea of reunification. Later, the President gave his backing to the Ingush national parliament’s chairman, Makhmud Sakalov, who had called the unification initiative a “nonsense”. But these statements produced an effect that was opposite to the one intended.
People in Ingushetia, who are now accustomed to the fact that the government’s statements are usually meant to be interpreted exactly in reverse, had all their suspicions confirmed: the decision to merge the two republics had already been taken by the Kremlin, and Zyazikov would try to implement it by any means possible. All the more so as such a turn of events would provide him with an opportunity to leave his post in a dignified fashion.
The attack on a federal convoy in the mountainous part of the republic and the drafting in of additional troops late last week forced the opposition to cancel the rally. The opposition leaders explain their decision by a desire to demonstrate to the federal centre their willingness to cooperate. They say that they understand the difficulty of the situation in which the federal government now finds itself: on the one hand, Zyazikov is leading it up the garden path with his false assurances that the situation in the republic is stable, while on the other the armed underground, as it gathers strength, gives no respite to the federal army units operating in Ingushetia. In such a problematic situation, the opposition does not want to do anything that will further aggravate it.
It is unlikely that this extravagant peace gesture will be appreciated by those to whom it is addressed. Unofficial reports from Zyazikov’s entourage say that during his recent visit to the Chechen Republic Vladimir Putin gave the Ingush authorities the go-ahead for a crackdown on the opposition.
The opposition is evidently well aware that the tactic of making obeisances in the direction of Moscow is not a particularly effective one. Therefore, at a time when the storm-clouds continue to gather above their heads, they are seeking and finding new ways to maintain a dialogue with the authorities in the language of despair. A letter from Maksharip Aushev, who is now a fugitive from the law, has appeared on Ingushetia.org. The message contained in the lengthy appeal which Aushev has addressed to President Zyazikov and interior minister Medov seems to boil down in essence to a threat to activate the mechanism of inter-clan hostility. In the aftermath of Yevloyev’s death it is another, more intensive and direct attempt to involve traditional Ingush law – adat – in the political conflict. Earlier Yevloyev’s relatives made efforts to place the primary blame on the direct perpetrators of the murder and considered Zyazikov and Medov indirectly responsible.
In his letter Maksharip Aushev points a finger straight at Zyazikov and Medov, and also makes it clear that the clans of neither of these two men can compete in numbers and authority with his own. He says that many thousands of people will take revenge in its name. And, therefore the President and the interior minister, as well as their families, should now be seriously concerned about their own welfare and personal safety. Fighting between clans in Ingushetia is very rare, as such a conflict is likely to involve major loss of life. The Ingush try to reduce the number of blood feuds to a minimum, focusing attention on the specific individual responsible for the death of a relative. In traditional Ingush diplomacy the main priority is to avoid unnecessary bloodshed.
It is possible that by publishing this letter Maksharip Aushev has been able to guarantee his own security. Most importantly, however, it has in a single instant enabled him to reduce to the rules of Ingush etiquette the whole of the game which the authorities have been covering up behind a facade of “big politics”. Now there is no room for talk about how government officials or politicians are untouchable because of the duties that have been entrusted to them. Instead, there is a specific headcount of the dead and wounded – by the day, the week, the month...
Magomed Yevloyev may have been murdered, but his supporters have not fled in terror to save their own lives. Ingushetia.org continues its work, which means that Maksharip Aushev and the other opposition leaders do not intend to abandon the struggle.
There are, however, serious grounds for believing that the opposition’s fate has been predetermined. The increasing pressure on opposition politicians demonstrates the direction in which the authorities plan to move. As in neighbouring Chechnya, it is likely that lawful, public protest will soon be totally banned.
Today, dissenters have a clear alternative: either to take up arms or forever hold their peace.
The American philosopher Edward Abbey wrote: "A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government."
It is evident that in Ingushetia there will soon be no more unarmed patriots.
The photograph is borrowed from the website Vremya.ru.
(Translation by DM)