By Andrei Babitsky, special to Prague Watchdog
For some reason, when I learned of the death of Magomed Yevloyev I immediately went to the list of contacts on my mobile phone and looked to see if his number was there. The line containing his name came up on the screen as though nothing had happened, and as though he could still be reached as a living person. For a second I even thought that if I pressed "Dial", in a moment or two I would hear his familiar voice. But I didn’t make the call, because at my age I know enough to realize that a phone call is not going to bring anyone back to life.
We first met a few months ago at a human rights forum in Helsinki, though we had often talked on the phone together before that. I remember that before meeting him I had imagined a tireless fighter, uncompromising and courageous, one who was selflessly loyal to a single narrow truth and who could not imagine an existence beyond its limits. The Ingushetiya.ru web site, whose creator, owner and de facto editor Magomed was, could hardly serve as a model of tolerance and balanced approach, especially in the field of international relations. So I thought that the flame-filled forums and angry rebukes to the Ingush authorities that characterized the site were the creation of a specific temperament, analogous to what I had seen of the character of the revolutionary fighter Eduard Limonov of the National Bolshevik Party.
But it all turned out to be quite different. Off the plane from Moscow that landed at Prague airport, where I met him, stepped a man who has no longer young. He looked slightly bewildered and extremely intelligent. Wearing a suit and tie, carrying a briefcase, he reminded me more of the half-forgotten type of civil servant one encountered in Soviet times – even-tempered, delicate, anxious not to create any problems for those around him. An engineer from a provincial research institute, or even the foreman from some run-down factory.
But that first impression was also wrong. Behind the modest external appearance of the former prosecutor’s office employee were concealed an immense vitality and an incredible tenacity. During the few days that we spent in a hotel room, astonished himself at how it had all turned out, he explained the circumstances of his parallel political career. Most importantly, the fate of an opposition leader was for him a goal neither desirable nor deliberate. Having given up his job at the prosecutor's office and taken up business, he never even dreamt that his life would unfold in that direction. His business went well, and at some point he decided to create a web site that would be able to disseminate information on the history, culture and customs of the Ingush people. Nothing more than that.
But events had a logic of their own. Very quickly the site, especially its forums, acquired a political flavour, as after the very recent conflicts problems of history and even culture had acquired topicality and an explosive political context. What were the discussions about? One thing is clear: above all, Ingushetiya.ru became a forum for the voicing of endless grievances against the Ossetians and debates on the consequences of the Ossetian-Ingush conflict. There was more to come. Gradually the main topic of discussion became Russia’s counter-terrorist operation, during which special service officers and local law enforcement agents abducted and killed people in their dozens. Information about torture, "mop-ups", arrests of opposition figures, the accidental deaths of people during special operations – all of that were instantly available in the web site’s online news.
Ingushetiya.ru rapidly became the most frequently visited web resource in the North Caucasus. Meanwhile, the authorities began a serious struggle with the site, trying to close it down under any pretext. Magomed and his brainchild were faced with a constant stream of accusations, he was put on the wanted list, there was a real manhunt for him in Ingushetia. And yet without much effort at concealment he continued to fly home to visit his parents. His father made him promise to give up his opposition activities, and he promised he would, because by Ingush tradition he could not go against the wishes of his parents. But he kept his word only superficially. In fact, his political initiatives were already somewhat cramped within the confines of the Internet site. Magomed took part in a campaign which had as its slogan the words "I didn’t vote!", and involved the gathering of data about people who didn’t take part in the parliamentary elections, he organized and financed the collection of signatures for a petition demanding the resignation of Ingushetia’s President Murad Zyazikov and the return of Ruslan Aushev to the republic in his place. The opposition’s most recent campaign – the collection of signatures for the separation of Ingushetia from Russia – was not an act of political provocation, or a lurch into rampant radicalism. It was the way in which Magomed Yevloyev saw the situation: he felt that the only means to stop Zyazikov and the special services killing Ingush people was to call for national independence.
The Ingush President hated Magomed with a blend of hysteria and schizophrenia. He was unable to close down the site by taking legal proceedings. His team offered 1.5 million dollars for the web site and were willing to increase the price. Recently, Zyazikov launched public recriminations against his subordinates in the law enforcement agencies. At cabinet meetings he accused them of having no "real men" among them who were capable of stopping Yevloyev. And then, he finally found such men, who did not hesitate to fire two shots at point-blank range into the head of an unarmed man.
Magomed was not a fighter by nature, a knight without fear and reproach. Politics captured him by chance, and did not release him until his death. I always found it very amusing that Ingushetia’s chief opposition figure was quite reconciled to the lack of order on his web site and among his followers. He was unusually tolerant of the human foibles of his staff who for various reasons, often frivolous ones, failed to turn up for work on several days of the week, and he thought nothing of taking over their responsibilities. He would merely give a little cough and throw up his arms in surprise, with never even a thought of reproaching or punishing anyone. I told him that the forums on his site, especially the ones devoted to the Ossetian-Ingush conflict, were rather depressing to read because of the abundance of extreme nationalist views and opinions. He readily agreed, but couldn’t do anything about it. He had none of an editor’s the professional skills, and had no idea how to deal with people. How could such a man have become Murad Zyazikov’s worst headache? The answer is very simple. In spite of all his gentleness he refused to reconcile himself to what he believed was the genocide of the Ingush people, for all the disputable nature of such a legal categorization.
All his problems are now in the past. Magomed has been murdered. Dozens of people were sent to arrest a man whose only weapon was a briefcase full of documents, and they shot him in broad daylight, in full view of all Ingushetia. However, the problems of the Ingush and Russian authorities not only remain unsolved, they have been multiplied many dozens of times. Magomed Yevloyev’s initiatives, including the republic’s independence, have now acquired a price in blood and have turned from being abstract political projects into a cause that has been paid for with a life. Now those initiatives have flesh of their own, and a far-reaching, sombre future.
As for Zyazikov, neither as a politician nor as an Ingush will he survive Yevloyev’s death. Even by the lawless standards of today, the shooting of political opponents without trying to cover one’s traces is an exceptional matter. The Kremlin still does not think it possible to take responsibility for the violent deaths of those it considers its enemies, and here is a blatant, shameless murder of the most cowardly kind. They must either recognize this behaviour as a norm, or do something with the person who occupies the post of President of Ingushetia.
The Ingush people will not forgive, simply because it is not their custom to forgive such things, whether they were committed by a tractor driver or by a state official with the army and the law enforcement bodies behind him.
Farewell, Magomed! I am very sorry that you’re not here any more.
Farewell, Murad Zyazikov! A man with this name is not likely to have a successful future.
Photo from the Ingushetiya.ru web site.
(Translation by DM)