HRW: Chechen Women Abused If Refuse To Cover Head

HRW: Chechen Women Abused If Refuse To Cover Head

by The Associated Press
GROZNY, Russia March 10, 2011, 12:38 pm ET



Associated Press

A woman examines headscarves on a stall at Grozny’s central market, Chechnya, Thursday, March 10, 2011. Chechnya’s strongman Ramzan Kadyrov has imposed an Islamic dress code on women, and his feared security forces have used paintball guns, threats and insults against those refusing to obey. In a 40-page report released Thursday, Human Rights Watch condemned the campaign as a flagrant violation of women’s rights and urged other nations to raise the issue with Moscow.


Associated Press

A salesclerk adjusts a headscarf on a mannequin in a shop at Grozny’s central market, Chechnya, Thursday, March 10, 2011. Chechnya’s strongman Ramzan Kadyrov has imposed an Islamic dress code on women, and his feared security forces have used paintball guns, threats and insults against those refusing to obey. In a 40-page report released Thursday, Human Rights Watch condemned the campaign as a flagrant violation of women’s rights and urged other nations to raise the issue with Moscow.


Associated Press

FILE – In this Sunday, April 25, 2010 file photo, wearing traditional costume of the Caucasus’ people, Chechny’s regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov, center foreground, walks with local top officials during the Chehchen Language Day celebration in the Chechnya’s regional capital Grozny. Chechnya’s strongman Ramzan Kadyrov has imposed an Islamic dress code on women, and his feared security forces have used paintball guns, threats and insults against those refusing to obey. In a 40-page report released Thursday, Human Rights Watch condemned the campaign as a flagrant violation of women’s rights and urged other nations to raise the issue with Moscow.

Associated Press

FILE – In this Sept. 16, 2010 file photo, Chechen students from an Islamic university wearing Islamic veils, with the city’s main Mosque in the background, during events marking a newly established holiday called ‘The Day of Chechen Women’ in Chechnya’s regional capital, Grozny. Chechnya’s strongman Ramzan Kadyrov has imposed an Islamic dress code on women, and his feared security forces have used paintball guns, threats and insults against those refusing to obey. In a 40-page report released Thursday, Human Rights Watch condemned the campaign as a flagrant violation of women’s rights and urged other nations to raise the issue with Moscow.


Associated Press

FILE – In this Sept. 16, 2010 file photo Chechen students from an Islamic university wearing Islamic veils, during events marking a newly established holiday called ‘The Day of Chechen Women’ in Chechnya’s regional capital, Grozny. Chechnya’s strongman Ramzan Kadyrov has imposed an Islamic dress code on women, and his feared security forces have used paintball guns, threats and insults against those refusing to obey. In a 40-page report released Thursday, Human Rights Watch condemned the campaign as a flagrant violation of women’s rights and urged other nations to raise the issue with Moscow.



The cars pull up in broad daylight. Security forces point guns at terrified women and shoot. It turns out they’re paintball pellets, but still harsh punishment in Chechnya for leaving home without a headscarf.

Chechnya’s strongman Ramzan Kadyrov has imposed an Islamic dress code on women, and his feared security forces have used paintball guns, threats and insults against those refusing to obey. In a 40-page report released Thursday, Human Rights Watch condemned the campaign as a flagrant violation of women’s rights and urged other nations to raise the issue with Moscow.

“The enforcement of a compulsory Islamic dress code on women in Chechnya violates their rights to private life, personal autonomy, freedom of expression, and freedom of religion, thought, and conscience,” the report said.

“It is also a form of gender-based discrimination prohibited under international treaties to which Russia is a party.”

Kadyrov rules with the support of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who has counted on him to stabilize the mostly Muslim region in southern Russia after two separatist wars in the last 16 years. Russian authorities have turned a blind eye to the treatment of women and other rights abuses in Chechnya.

Human Rights Watch interviewed dozens of women who have experienced or witnessed attacks or harassment for their refusal to adhere to the Islamic dress code.

One of the victims, identified as Louiza, told the rights group that she and a friend were attacked while walking down Putin Avenue in Grozny on a hot day last June, wearing skirts a little below the knee, blouses with sleeves a bit above the elbow and no headscarves. Suddenly a car without a license plate pulled up, its side window rolled down and a gun barrel pointed at them.

“I thought the gun was real and when I heard the shots I thought: ‘This is death,'” she recalled in the report. “I felt something hitting me in the chest and was sort of thrown against the wall of a building.

“The sting was awful, as if my breasts were being pierced with a red-hot needle, but I wasn’t fainting or anything and suddenly noticed some strange green splattering on the wall and this huge green stain was also expanding on my blouse.”

The 25-year-old woman said her friend was hit on her legs and stumbled to the ground. Men dressed in the black uniform of Kadyrov’s security forces looked out of the car’s windows, laughing and sneering.

“It’s only at home that I could examine the bruise and it was so huge and ugly,” Louiza recalled. “Since then, I don’t dare leave home without a headscarf.”

Another target, a 29-year-old woman whose name was not given, said she was walking down the same central avenue in June with two other women, all without headscarves, when two cars stopped nearby and bearded men in black uniforms fired paintball guns at them, screaming: “Cover your hair, harlots!”

The woman told Human Rights Watch that she knows 12 women who were shot at with paintball guns in June. Overall, at least 50 or 60 women were targeted, the rights group said.

Threatening leaflets also appeared on the streets of Grozny, warning women that those who fail to wear headscarves could face “more persuasive measures.” The women interviewed by Human Rights Watch interpreted that as a threat to use real weapons.

Kadyrov’s security force has been blamed by rights activists for abductions, torture and extrajudicial killings in Chechnya.

In July 2009, the director of the Chechen office of Russia’s Memorial rights group, was abducted near her home in Grozny and found shot to death along a roadside a few hours later. Natalya Estemirova had publicly criticized the Islamic dress campaign as a violation of Russian law, angering Kadyrov who had threatened her with repercussions.

A few weeks after the paintball shootings, Kadyrov told local television that he was ready to give awards to the men who carried out the attacks and that the targeted women deserved the treatment. There was no response from the federal authorities.

The paintball attacks ended in mid-June, having achieving Kadyrov’s objective. The majority of women are now too scared to enter the center of Grozny without headscarves or dare to complain against the “virtue campaign.”

At Chechen State University in Grozny this week, all females students wore headscarves and, toeing the official line, defended the practice as part of local tradition and a sign of respect for Islam.

“The headscarf is part of our religion, part of our faith,” said Seda Sabarova, 18.

Kadyrov also scoffed at criticism of his effort to enforce an Islamic dress code, telling foreign reporters that headscarves make women beautiful.


Doku Umarov: Dead or Alive

Doku Umarov: Dead or Alive?
Both Authorities and Insurgents are Becoming More Active in the North Caucasus
By Andrew Roth
Russia Profile | 03/30/2011

Doku Umarov, Russia’s answer to “Osama Bin Laden”, is dead, government sources told Interfax on Tuesday. In a special military operation which included a massive airstrike from an unmanned drone, a helicopter attack, and a ground operation, Russian special forces say they killed 16 guerillas in a terrorist camp in Ingushetia. Some of Umarov’s top lieutenants have been identified among the dead, but the body of Russia’s most-wanted terrorist has yet to be found. While investigators continue the grisly work of examining the “biological remains” at the site, authorities have backpedaled on their early predictions of Umarov’s demise.

Umarov’s death was first reported by Interfax citing unnamed sources in Russian security forces agencies in the North Caucasus. Yet while heady statements were made on Tuesday about Umarov’s body being likely to be found among the dead, a preliminary investigation was unsuccessful in identifying the body. The follow-up investigation may take some time. Descriptions of the scene say that investigators have found “parts of bodies together with scraps of sleeping bags on nearby tree branches,” reported Kommersant.

Russian local and national leaders have taken the lead in underlining the importance of the recent raid. “That they were able to catch these creeps in their den is good,” said President Dmitry Medvedev, reported RIA Novosti. “They managed to inflict considerable losses.” The head of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, took a cautious line on the pressing question of the death of the terrorist leader. “It has been confirmed that there were a series of [terrorist] leaders. Right now they are not being named.” Bodies of terrorist leaders that have been identified included Sulyan Abdullayev and Aslan Butyukaev, who were expected to have been close to Umarov by Russian special forces.

This is not the first time that Umarov’s death has been prematurely announced. He was suspected dead multiple times after gun battles with security forces in 2005, for instance, and was said to have been seriously injured after stepping on an anti-personnel mine in the same year. Yet each time Umarov has reemerged, much to the frustration of Russia’s anti-terrorist operatives. The insurgency web portal, which has hosted videos made by Umarov and other rebels in the past, wrote that “the Kavkaz Center does not have any confirmed information about a possible martyrdom of the Mujahedeen leaders,” in an article on the website which attacked “occupying forces for providing contradictory information” about Tuesday’s battle.

The raid and subsequent leaks on Umarov’s death took place one year to the day after a series of bombings in the Moscow metro killed 40 and sent a shockwave of panic through the capital. Questions have emerged about the timing of the attacks, which could be seen as a public relations ploy to exhibit progress in dealing with the rising trend of terrorist attacks in the past year.

Yet such a connection seems tenuous, said Andrei Soldatov, the head of, a website that provides analysis on Russia’s special forces, because the impetus for an operation like that would require serious public pressure. “I think that’s an exaggeration of the role of Russian public opinion and the demand to stave off any future terrorist attacks. Who in the special forces, on the eve of the first anniversary, would even try to do such a thing? They would only do that when they felt like they were under extreme public pressure concerning the attacks, and right now we don’t really see that.”

Shortly after news of the operation broke on Tuesday, Umarov was charged by Russia’s Investigative Committee with masterminding the terrorist attacks at Domededovo airport earlier this year, a bombing that he publicly took credit for not long after the attack. Yet why wait until the death of the leading suspect in the bombings to make the accusations against him public?

This, said Soldatov, is probably a response by the Investigative Committee to the announcement by Russia’s National Anti-terrorist Committee that among the dead were some who had planned the attack against Domededovo. “We should take into consideration that there are some conflicts between the law enforcement agencies, and the Investigative Committee has always demonstrated its wish to show itself as very active in the war on terrorism. They made loud announcements after terrorist attacks, such as the bombing of the Nevsky Express [in 2009]. I think that in this case they also wanted to make an announcement of some kind.” The Investigative Committee itself has been embroiled in a long turf war with the General-Prosecutor’s office, concerning an underground gambling ring tied to local police officials in the Moscow region.

As the investigation into Umarov’s possible death drags out over the next week, the lack of information will likely lead to greater doubt about whether Umarov was actually among those killed in the attack. However, considering Moscow’s grisly experiences with terrorism, the death of terrorist leaders does not necessarily mean a reduction in attacks against Russia in the future, said Soldatov. “2010 was paradoxically the most successful year for Russia’s special forces, in terms of the number of successful operations to liquidate the leaders of the guerillas, and at the same time it was the worst year in terms of the rise in terrorist attacks. As you can see, the two have not really influenced one another; both sides have just been increasing their activities.”

Qaddafi Tries to Secure Loyalty of Circassians of Misrata

Qaddafi Tries to Secure Loyalty of Circassians of Misrata

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 12

March 24, 2011

Category: Terrorism Monitor, Global Terrorism Analysis, Home Page, Foreign Policy, Military/Security, Africa, The Caucasus

By: Murad Batal al-Shishani

Forces loyal to embattled Libyan leader Mu’ammar al-Qaddafi have battled for days to take the coastal city of Misrata. Qaddafi’s efforts to take Misrata shed light on the little known role of Circassians in Libya, descendants of the Muslim tribes of the northwest Caucasus region who gathered themselves around this settlement in the 19th century.

On March 8, Qaddafi delegated a diplomat to meet Circassian community leaders in the Jordanian capital of Amman. The leaders were asked to mediate in order to convince the Circassians in Libya to take Qaddafi’s side in the ongoing struggle for Libya. Jordan is home to a significant Circassian diaspora community with close ties to the Jordanian royal family.

An informed source told Jamestown that after the Libyan ambassador to Amman resigned in protest of Qaddafi’s actions, the deputy ambassador contacted members of the Circassian Tribal Council of Jordan (CTCJ), stating that a private jet was ready to fly them to Libya to mediate between the regime and the Circassian community in Misrata, which lies 210 km east of Tripoli. The source told Jamestown that an airplane belonging to Qaddafi spent two nights in Amman’s Queen Alia International Airport. Most Circassians in Libya dwell in the area around Misrata, where their numbers are estimated at roughly 15,000. There are also substantial communities in Tripoli and Benghazi [1]

Although there are several theories on the first Circassian settlement in Libya, the roots of the Circassian presence in Libya most likely go back to Muhammad Ali Pasha’s treacherous 1811 massacre of most of Egypt’s Mamluks at the Citadel in Cairo. Most Circassians in the Middle East are descendants of the vast migration of Circassians at the point of Russian bayonets from their traditional Caucasus homeland in the 19th century. However, there was also a substantial Circassian community in Egypt, where Circassian Mamluks ruled from 1382 to 1517. The Circassians remained part of the Egyptian military and political elite until the Arab nationalist revolution of 1952.

Most of Egypt’s Mamluk warrior class were purchased as slaves in Circassia and brought to Egypt to undergo intensive martial training before being given their freedom as part of Egypt’s foreign-born ruling class. Of those Mamluks not present at the treacherous massacre at the Citadel, some headed west to found the settlement of Misrata (lit. “those who migrated from Egypt”) while others escaped Muhammad Ali’s troops and unsympathetic Arab tribesmen to head south to the Dongola region of the Sudan. Muhammad Ali, however, was determined to destroy the Mamluks to the last man, and nine years later sent an army under his son Isma’il to flush out the 300 or so surviving Mamluks at Dongola, who were by that point at war with the powerful Sha’iqiya tribe. On hearing of the approach of Isma’il’s army, the remaining Mamluks dispersed in several directions. The largest group headed west, where the Sudanic sultanates took their turns depriving the warriors of their goods and armor before expelling them. In desperation, the survivors struck out into the desert, headed for Ottoman Libya. Some apparently succeeded in reaching their comrades in Misrata, where they are remembered by the prominent family name Dankali [i.e. Dongolawi]. [2]

The Circassians in Libya are organized into several families and they are well integrated into the Libyan social and tribal system. A Libyan woman originally from Misrata, who spoke on the condition anonymity, told the author that Circassians are well-respected people in Misrata, where they are prominent as merchants. Their features are different than other Libyans, particularly their hair and eye color. [3] However, it appears that the Circassian language and most of the customs and traditions have been lost. [4]

Qaddafi received a delegation from Jordan’s Circassian Tribal Council in 2009, headed by Circassian community leader Adnan Mawloud. Qaddafi showed a deep respect for the Circassians and their historical suffering, as he called it, praising their role in host countries such as Jordan and describing them as brave and faithful people while noting their preference to be called by their traditional name, Adigya.

Qaddafi mentioned the Circassians’ contribution in all countries in which they settled, but failed to note the Libyan Circassian ethnic minority. [5] A source aware of that meeting told Jamestown that Qaddafi refused the Jordanian Circassian delegates an opportunity to visit their brothers in the Libyan cities. The Qaddafi-worshipping Libyan state press recorded that the Circassians regarded Qaddafi “as a national leader with deep vision and philosophy that is worth appreciating and listening to” (, June 2, 2009).

Unlike Circassian communities in other parts of the Middle East, Libyan Circassians do not hold high ranking positions in Qaddafi’s military and security structure. Drawing on their martial traditions, Circassians became and remain an important part of the security and military structures in many of the countries to which they immigrated in the 19th century, such as Jordan, Turkey and Syria. This, however, has not been the case in Qaddafi’s Libya.

Anis al-Sharif, a London-based member of the political committee of the Libyan Islamic Movement for Change, explained this situation as arising from Qaddafi’s fear of creating “centers of power” inside his military and security intuitions. He has, therefore, relied on special units of the military led by his sons, such as the 32nd Mechanized Brigade, popularly known as the “Khamis Brigade.” Al-Sharif also described militias based on individuals loyal to Qaddafi personally that allow the Libyan leader to avoid relying on particular tribal or ethnic groups. The rest of the military has been kept weak in order to avoid a repeat of the coup attempts that have attempted to overthrow his rule.

As an example, al-Sharif cited the 1975 military coup attempt by some 20 officers, most of whom were from Misrata and led by ethnic-Circassian Major Umar al-Meheshi. An original member of the 12-man Revolutionary Command Council that took power in 1969, he formed the conspirators’ first cell in Misrata. [6] Meheshi fled to Tunisia and eventually to Morocco, where he was unsuccessful in rallying resistance to Qaddafi. Al-Meheshi was handed back to Qaddafi in 1984 as a good-will gesture preceding the signing of an accord between Morocco and Libya. He has not been heard from since, though he is alleged to have been kicked to death by Qaddafi’s aides while Qaddafi waited in the next room. [7]

It seems that Qaddafi sent his delegate to Jordan in order to gain the support of Circassians in Misrata, which would have helped him consolidate his position in Tripolitania (northwest Libya) by eliminating a stronghold of resistance. The move confirmed the social-political importance of the Circassian community even though they are not influential within the military and security structures of Libya. In the meantime, the struggle for Misrata continues; a battle that Qaddafi himself has described as “decisive” for the future of Libya.


1. Nart Magazine 63(27), Circassian Charity Society, Amman, September 1998.
2. See Andrew McGregor, A Military History of Modern Egypt: From the Ottoman Conquest to the Ramadan War, Praeger Security International, Westport Conn., 2006, pp.59-70.
3. Author’s phone interview, March 18, 2011.
4. Amjad Jaimoukha, The Circassians: A Handbook, Curzon, Surrey England, 2001, p.119.
5. See the transcript: June 4, 2009.
6. Author’s phone interview with Anis al-Sharif, March 19, 2011.
7. Lillian Harris, Libya: Qadhafi’s Revolution and the Modern State, Westview Press, Boulder, 1986; New York Times, November 13, 1985.

Mt. Elbrus’ Slippery Slopes

Mt. Elbrus’ Slippery Slopes
Kabardino-Balkaria’s Insurgents Have Changed Their Tactics – Do the Authorities Think It Is Time to Change Theirs?
By Tom Balmforth
Russia Profile02/21/2011

The Russian security services on Sunday beefed up security in two parts of the southern region of Kabardino-Balkaria with a new “counterterrorist operation” regime, in response to a rash of insurgent attacks directed at tourists over the weekend. Analysts say that the insurgents were not just trying to blight the region’s fledgling tourist industry, but were also trying to deal a blow to the preparation for the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi.

On February 18 insurgents opened fire on a minivan carrying tourists from Moscow on a highway in the Elbrus region, killing three Russians and hospitalizing two. The following day, a car laden with explosives equivalent to 70 kilograms of TNT was discovered next to a hotel in the nearby town of Terskol. The three homemade bombs in it were defused before they detonated, but a police spokesperson later said it would have been “impossible to avoid a considerable number of victims and considerable destruction” had they gone off. Hours later, a cable car at the foot of the highest peak in Europe was blown up, although no one was injured.

The most recent spike in terrorist attacks in the troubled republic is the latest incidence of a growing trend in Kabardino-Balkaria in recent years. Last November the Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev said that terrorist crimes rose five times in the predominantly Muslim republic of 900,000 in 2010 alone. Kabardino-Balkaria was also rocked last year by an explosion at the Baksanskaya hydroelectric power station in July, at the time seen as a bold attack on the region’s ailing infrastructure.

The latest shift in the terrorist strategy, which appears to be targeting the tourism industry, will undermine the local government’s program to stimulate the region’s struggling economy, said Irina Borogan, a security expert and deputy editor of the Agentura.Ru Web site. “Everyone knows that huge amounts have been invested. Attacking tourists is the best way to halt the tourism industry’s development in the North Caucasus.”

The assailants may also have been trying to draw attention to the problems of security in the tourism industry as the authorities start to worry about the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games, said Nikolai Petrov, an expert in regional politics with Carnegie Moscow Center.

Petrov pointed to last week’s government meeting dedicated to the Sochi games, which came a day before the spate of attacks. President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin personally visited the ski resort at Krasnaya Polyana, where a test run was later supposed to take place. In the end, it was abandoned due to heavy snowfall, although the visiting chair of the International Olympic Committee still gave the games’ preparation his full backing.

Medvedev in January ordered five resorts to be built in the region at a projected cost of $15 billion, and the North Caucasus’ mountains already boast a famous ski resort at Elbrus. However, continuing violence and instability have prevented a steady stream of tourists from visiting the region, and even the recent appointment of Alexander Khloponin as the Presidential Envoy to the North Caucasus, which had produced some optimism among analysts, has had little to no positive effect.

By Monday the insurgents had already appeared to have got their way when Khloponin told tourists to stay away from the republic while the counterterrorist operation is ongoing. The Agentura Web site writes that the weekend attacks show that the republic’s President, Arsen Kanokov, has had little success fulfilling his campaign pledges from 2005 to expand the local tourism industry.

The terrorists may lose what little credibility they once had among the local population, however. “The insurgents in Kabardino-Balkaria have always said they do not harm peaceful people. The only exceptions to this were people going into the woods who they said they would assume were FSB agents. Now they’ve changed tactics to firing at tourists and locals,” said Borogan.

In the Kabardino-Balkaria insurgency there is thought to be more of an ethnic component than in the pan-Caucasus Islamized jihad avowed by Doku Umarov, the terrorist who claimed responsibility for the January bombings at the Domodedovo Airport in the Moscow Region. Historic animosity between the two dominant ethnic groups in the region, the Balkars and the Kabardins, has been aggravated by the region’s leaders both being Kabardins, most colorfully illustrated when a small band of Balkars came to Moscow to petition the federal authorities to intervene in a local dispute over land rights. Petrov played down the relevance of the ethnic question to the weekend’s attacks.

Voters’ Low Interest in Elections Casts Doubt on Their Legitimacy


Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 8 Issue: 52

March 16, 2011

By: Valery Dzutsev



Dagestan’s President, Magomedsalam Magomedov


On March 13, Dagestan and Adygea elected their respective regional parliaments. There were reports of serious violations of electoral rules from both republics. At the same time, sources reported an extremely low turnout of the voters, which may indicate a growing political crisis. There are two days designated by Russian legislation for holding all elections, one in the spring and the other in the fall. According to the Russian non-profit association for voters’ rights, 10 percent of all complaints across Russia during these elections came from Adygea (, March 13). In Adygea, 457 candidates sought election to the republic’s 54-seat parliament (, March 11). In Dagestan, 1083 candidates ran for the seats in the 90-member parliament of the republic (, March 14).

On February 13, Khajimos Kachetsukov, a candidate for a seat in Adygea’s regional parliament from the Just Russia party, was gunned down in the republic’s principal town Maikop. Authorities said the murder was related to Kachetsukov’s previous business activities. However, the attack on a party candidate in quiet Adygea came as a stark reminder of increasing volatility in North Caucasus politics (, March 3). On March 11, the car of a Russian Communist Party candidate running for a seat in Dagestan’s regional parliament, Alibulat Gasanov, came under fire. The candidate was wounded but survived; his brother, however, died in the attack (, March 12).

In Adygea the ruling United Russia party received 58 percent of the vote, 13 percent down from 2007, when it received 71 percent. The communists received 19 percent of the vote, while the Liberal Democrats (aka Zhirinovsky’s party) and the Just Russia party each received 10 percent (, March 14). In Dagestan, United Russia received the same percentage of the vote – 66 percent – as in the 2007 elections, while the Patriots of Russia party and the Just Russia party each received 11 percent and the communists received 9 percent. Others performed below the threshold that would have allowed them to win seats in the regional parliament (, March 14).

Several cases of fistfights near the ballot boxes and ballot-stuffing were reported in Dagestan during the elections and vote counting. The chairman of the independent union of businessmen and drivers of Dagestan, Isalmagomed Nabiev, told the Kavkazsky Uzel (Caucasian Knot) website that voter turnout was extremely low in Makhachkala. Nabiev said he spent all day at one of the ballot stations in Makhachkala as an observer and counted 131 visitors, or 6.6 percent of the registered voters at the district. “There is no doubt [that] the elections throughout the capital of Dagestan [Makhachkala] went according to the same scenario, while the republican electoral commission reports a turnout of about 80 percent.” On Election Day, a Kavkazsky Uzel reporter visited several ballot stations in Makhachkala and saw not a single visitor during his visits. Even the head of the electoral commission admitted that for half of the day his ballot station received only 100 voters (, March 14).

Dagestan’s President, Magomedsalam Magomedov, hailed the parliamentary elections which, according to him, proceeded in accordance with existing legislation and without any major problems (, March 13). On March 15, President Magomedov met the deputy commander of the Russian Interior Ministry troops, General Yevgeny Lazebin, and several other Russian military officials. Magomedov thanked the Interior Ministry troops “for providing conditions for the electoral campaign to conclude peacefully and orderly.” General Lazebin, in his turn, stated that he received “clear orders to increase [the troops’] level of alert, but avoid a confrontation with the civilian population [in Dagestan]” (, March 15). The massive presence of the Russian troops in Dagestan may have contributed to the relative peacefulness of the Dagestani elections, but it hardly made them more legitimate, if turnout really was as low as reported by observers.

Meanwhile, United Russia reported significant losses in the majority of the electoral districts throughout the Russian Federation. At the same time, several Russian regions, like Tambov and Chukotka, displayed “North Caucasian” electoral behavior, with authorities reporting a clearly fictitious voter turnout of turnout of 90 percent. In fact, some Russian regions, like the Nizhny Novgorod region, were even more oppressive against independent organizations monitoring the elections than the authorities in Dagestan and Adygea. Experts warned that the old electoral techniques used by the United Russia party to win elections were wearing thin, increasingly ineffective and even harmful to the party itself (, March 14).

In Dagestan, the public continues to discuss the effects of the Arab revolutions in North Africa. The popular Dagestani observer Akhmednabi Akhmednabiev warned that the republican intelligentsia’s optimism that a revolution in Dagestan is in the offing is premature. He noted wistfully that the Arabs are able to peacefully overthrow their governments in North Africa while the level of development of civil society back home in Dagestan is low. “Our [Dagestani] courage is very peculiar,” Akhmednabiev said. “Of course, each person in the republic is ready to fight anyone to the death; if, for instance somebody pushed him in the street accidentally or said to him something unpleasant … But our courage evaporates when it comes to [defending] the common interests of the whole Dagestan” (, March 11).

The apparently “quiet and orderly” parliamentary elections in Dagestan, in which fewer than 10 percent of the voters participated, may in fact be the most palpable judgment of the current political regime in the country and in this particular republic. The high degree of the public’s separation from political life can hardly last for a very long time in Dagestan. If it does, the republic is doomed to endure instability and export violence to other regions of the Russian Federation.



Caucasian prisoners (or how not to deal with militancy in Dagestan)


Tanya Lokshina, openDemocracy, 02nd March 2011


· oD Russia [1]

· openSecurity [2]

· oD Russia [3]

· Conflict [4]

· Russia [5]

· russia & eurasia [6]

· russia [7]

· conflicts [8]

· Polit.Ru [9]

· Internal [10]

· Human rights [11]

· Conflict [12]

· Tanya Lokshina [13]

clip_image002The southern republic of Dagestan is now Russia’s most violent flashpoint. Besieged by militants from one side, the republic is no better served by its security services on the other. Indeed, the brutality and lawlessness of these government forces actually risks motivating yet more young men to ‘go to the forest’ and join the fighters.

About the author
Tanya Lokshina is Russia Researcher, Human Rights Watch

Magomedkhan wanted to get married. He really did. He had identified a possible bride, but it was not his job to start the ball rolling! He asked his elder sister Zaira to visit the girl and tactfully establish whether she wanted to be married. Zaira agreed – after all, her brother was already 23, just the right age to bring home a bride.

On 30 November, 2010 Zaira went off to see the girl. Magomedkhan couldn’t wait to find out if it was all going to work. It was 7.15 in the evening. He knew his sister must already be back home, so he rang her to get the news. She didn’t pick up the phone. They live near each other in the village of Komsomolskoe on the edge of the Dagestani town of Kizilyurt, so he decided to go and see her. He arrived at her house at 7.30 to find her, of course, at home – she has small children, so where else would she be? It appeared she hadn’t answered the phone, because it had fallen out of her pocket without her noticing.


The Republic of Dagestan is the largest, both in area (50,300 sq km) and population (2.7 million), republic in Russia’s turbulent North Caucasus region. Recently acknowledged as Russia’s new most dangerous hot spot, Dagestan is also known for its great ethnic and linguistic diversity.

Zaira had visitors. Some female relatives had dropped by, so he couldn’t ask her what had happened. Brother and sister went into a huddle to discuss the matter in hand and then Zaira saw her brother out. They stood together in the street, eating sunflower seeds; a neighbour went by on his way home from work. It was about 7.45.

“Dagestan has become Russia’s No 1 hot spot these days and the authorities talk a great deal about stabilising the situation, the need for dialogue with various forces inside society and for a consensus. They are apparently trying to weaken support among the population for the militants who are becoming ever more active in the region.”

Tanya Lokshina

Magomedkhan finally went on his way. He couldn’t know that at about 7.30 that same evening in the village of Stalskoe, not far from Kizilyurt, some militant wishing to defend Islamic morals had fired on a shop selling spirits, and set fire to it. Or that the police would come to his house later that night and arrest him as a suspect; that if he hadn’t gone to ask Zaira for news and been seen by the relatives and the neighbour at just the time those unknown people were attacking the shop, he would have had no alibi and would be in a very tricky situation all things considering. Not, of course, that he has had an easy time of it anyway, but there are grounds for hoping that he will be released by a court of law.

On 30 November Magomedkhan went to bed just after 11. Thirty minutes later, there was a loud, insistent knocking at the gate. Magomedkhan and his older brother Shamil were awakened by members of their family, but they had been so deeply asleep that they couldn’t understand what was happening. Their courtyard was full of people in military fatigues and in civvies. Some of them came into the house and seized Shamil. They stood him face to the wall and kept him covered. He was still trying to understand what was going on, but the night-time guests didn’t answer any questions and just screamed threats.

Magomedkhan was dragged past Shamil by his hair, and their 16-year old nephew was pushed out into the street barefoot and half dressed. Patimat, Shamil and Magomedkhan’s mother, was begging the police not to touch her sons or at least to explain what they were supposed to have done. When she saw Magomedkhan being dragged by his hair, the elderly woman fainted. Shamil requested assistance for her and that a doctor be called, but in vain. Finally he too was taken out with his brother and his nephew. They were shoved into a police van and taken to the Kizilyurt district police station.

Shamil and his nephew were held for most of the night in a cellar. They were not beaten, or even properly interrogated. They were asked a couple of questions: name, year of birth and address. So why had they been arrested?

Magomedkhan and another local guy, Rashid, who had been arrested that evening as his accomplice in the attack on the shop, were interrogated in an office – and they were well and truly ”gone over”. Shamil and his nephew could hear them screaming at the tops of their voices; they could hear the blows too. Before Shamil was taken down to the cellar, he had seen two policemen with electric shock machines going into the office where Magomedkhan was being interrogated. Shamil had a very good idea of what was going on there and could only pray that his brother would survive.

At about 3 in the morning Shamil was briefly taken into the investigating officer’s study. He saw his brother, who had been very badly beaten up and was barely able to move his tongue. A couple of hours later, just before he and his nephew were taken home, Shamil persuaded one of the guards to allow him out to pray. He was taken out into the yard just as Magomedkhan was being led somewhere. Magomedkhan managed to whisper to Shamil that he had been badly beaten all night, tortured with electric shocks and had a gas mask put over his face, almost suffocating him. The same had happened to his friend Rashid. The police were attempting to beat a confession out of them, but both refused to accept any blame. Nevertheless, a week later the local TV programme «Dagestan News» showed pictures of them both, describing them as criminals who had been caught and confessed.


One of President Magomedsalam Magomedov’s main projects is the creation of a “Commission for the social rehabilitation of former militants”.

Magomedkhan Saipudinov was fairly lucky: his negotiations over a possible marriage had provided him with an alibi. Rashid Magomedov also turned out to have one: neighbours had seen him at home that evening. Both were fortunate that their relatives reacted quickly and hired good lawyers, who succeeded in having both young men medically examined and the electric shock torture marks on their hands officially recorded. The lawyers also established that the investigating officers had falsified the report on the identification of their clients by so-called witnesses to the crime. They discovered a series of procedural infringements and have no doubt that the case will collapse in court.

One would like to be able to believe that it will. But what can be going on in the heads of the two young men who were dragged off to the police station in the night, tortured until morning, threatened for several days, given virtually no food and told to stop complaining or things would only “get worse?” They remain in custody until their case comes up in court.

The preliminary hearings only took place on 21 February, so the case will not be concluded until the spring. They’re not being beaten any more, they’re allowed to receive parcels and are not being ill treated, it seems. But they’ll have been in prison for months: time hangs heavy on their hands, a new year has started, Magomedkhan’s mother has become ill from stress and his fiancée has probably stopped thinking about his offer of marriage. Even if she hasn’t, her family is surely none too pleased at the idea of a suitor who’s spent time behind bars, especially as he’s been shown on TV as an Islamist extremist and arsonist. Even if the court completely clears him, it’s obvious to anyone that the security services will have their eye on him and he’ll be on their list of extremists, which can only lead to difficulties in the future. Once you’ve got into the system, there’s no longer any possibility of a normal life.

But what about the “officers” who did all this to you – beat you, administered electric shocks to your fingers and maltreated you? Will nothing happen to them? Nothing at all? Probably not. The request by Magomedkhan Saipudinov and Rashid Magomedov to institute criminal proceedings for illegal methods of interrogation was refused, after all. They’re not the first and they won’t be the last.

Dagestan has become Russia’s No 1 hot spot these days and the authorities talk a great deal about stabilising the situation, the need for dialogue with various forces inside society and for a consensus. They are apparently trying to weaken support among the population for the militants who are becoming ever more active in the region. One of President Magomedsalam Magomedov [14]’s main projects is the creation of a “Commission [15] for the social rehabilitation of former militants”. This Commission was formed at the beginning of November last year, just a few weeks before Magomedkhan Saipudinov and Rashid Magomedov were taken in to the Kizilyurt District Police Station.

“It is essential to ensure that no reinforcements go into the forest: everything should be done to see that young men are not motivated to join the militants.”

Tanya Lokshina

The Commission is headed by Rizvan Kurbanov [16], First Deputy Prime Minister, who is responsible for overseeing the republic’s security agencies. Members include heads of republican law enforcement bodies and other high-ranking officials; also the Dagestani Ombudsman, the head of the Chamber of Lawyers and even a well-known Salafi scholar. The Commission aims to assist people who want to come out of the forest, to give guarantees of legal protection and physical safety to those prepared to lay down their arms. This is, of course, important. Better with the Commission than without it.

But attempts to return people who had joined the militants to normal life are of themselves insufficient. It is essential to ensure that no reinforcements go into the forest: everything should be done to see that young men are not motivated to join the militants. If they have been treated like Magomedkhan and Rashid at the Kizilyurt police station, then it’s hardly surprising that they do.

Dagestan’s security services carry on in this fashion, and the officers are confident that they are above the law. If torture is widespread and no one has been brought to court for it, then why not carry on that way? All those commissions can do their work: they won’t stop arrested people being beaten up, or even their lawyers if they are too active in the defence of their clients. Everyone knows that the young woman lawyer Sapiat Magomedova [17] was beaten up by the police in Khasavyurt. They know who did it too and that these people still working in the police. In the six months after Sapiat was beaten up, another three women lawyers were to experience rough handling. Why should this be happening to the women? Well, a man can give as good as he gets, but what can a woman do? If she doesn’t go along with it, all she can do is write complaints, but they have never got anyone anywhere, and still don’t.


Sapiat Magomedova, who lodged several cases with the European Court of Human Rights during the past few years, was assaulted while attempting to visit a defendant at the police station.

Before I left Dagestan I spoke to Sapiat Magomedova and to her lawyer colleagues who have suffered at the hands of the men in uniform. One of the lawyers I talked to had actually gone to the Kizilyurt police station to represent someone who had been arrested – not for terrorism or extremism, just for a petty crime. A senior local police official was not pleased she had come and asked, “Where do you think you’re going, you bitch?” She started explaining her rights as a lawyer and that “there is a law in operation”. At this the police chief really lost it and started to threaten in sexually explicit terms what he would do to her, “You whore, I’ll make you suck me.” As she was leaving, she swore through her tears that she would complain all the way up to the top. The police chief only redoubled his foul-mouthed threats. She did, of course, complain, but that was six months ago and nothing has happened.

These days the answer to any question from officials in Dagestan promises that the Social Rehabilitation Commission will resolve all the current problems and lead the republic out of its crisis. But incidents like those I have described cannot but bring to mind the quote from Jaroslav Hasek’s Svejk: “Did you think, you scoundrels, that the Commission would help you?” said the colonel. “Like hell it will!”

It hasn’t so far……


‘Read On’ Sidebox:

Dagestan Tries to Win Popular Support for Its Struggle with Insurgents [18], by Valery Dzutsev, North Caucasus Analysis Volume: 11 Issue: 9, November 11, 2010, Jamestown Foundation

War on Terror: North Caucasus Federal District [19], by Ivan Sukhov, web site, 03.09.2010

The Post-Soviet Wars: Rebellion, Ethnic Conflict, and Nationhood in the Caucasus, by Christoph Zurcher, NYU Press, 2009, 304 pages

The Caucasus: An Introduction, by Tom de Waal, Oxford University Press, 2010, 272 pages

State Building and Conflict Resolution in the Caucasus (Eurasian Studies Library), Charlotte Mathilde Louise Hille, BRILL, 2010, 344 pages

Chechnya: tombstone of Russian Power, by Anatol Lieven, Yale University Press, 1999, 436 pages

War and Peace in the Caucasus: Russia’s Troubled Frontier [20], by Vicken Cheterian, Columbia University Press, 2009, 288 pages

Caucasian Knot [21], web site



The Republic of Dagestan is the largest, both in area (50,300 sq km) and population (2.7 million), republic in Russia’s turbulent North Caucasus region. Recently acknowledged as Russia’s new most dangerous hot spot, Dagestan is also known for its great ethnic and linguistic diversity with over 30 officially recognized ethnicities, most of which speak either Caucasian, Turkic, or Iranian languages. Largest among the ethnic groups are Avars (29.4%), Dargins (16.5%), Kumyks (14.2%), Lezgins (13.1%), Laks (5.4%), Russians (4.7%), Azeris (4.3%), Tabasarans (4.3%), Chechens (3.4%). Other ethnic groups only account for up to 4.7% of the population. It should be noted that such groups as the Botlikh, the Andi, the Akhvakhs, the Tsez and about ten other groups were reclassified as Avars between the 1926 and 1939 censuses. The capital of Dagestan is Makhachkala with the population of roughly 465,000 people. Other large cities are Derbent, Kislyar, Izberbash, and Buynaksk.

Dagestan has international borders with Georgia in the South-West and with Azerbaijan in the South, internal borders with Republic of Kalmykia in the North, Chechen Republic in the West, and Stavropol Krai in the North-West. The eastern border of Dagestan is the coastline of the Caspian Sea. The average salary for February 2010 was 9,059 rubles (the last 83rd place among Russia’s regions). In March 2010, the republic counted 239,800 unemployed persons (20.1% of economically active population, 79th place in Russia).

Islamist insurgency has been particularly active in Dagestan in the past few years. In countering it, law enforcement and security agencies continued to commit grave violations of fundamental human rights such as torture, enforced disappearances, and extrajudicial killings. The appointment of Magomedsalam Magomedov as the republic’s new president in early 2010 has had no noticeable impact on the human rights and security situation in the republic.

The use of unlawful counter-insurgency methods coupled with rampant impunity for abuses antagonizes the populations of Dagestan and results in widening the gap between the public and the government, thus indirectly paying into the hands of the insurgency whose attacks are becoming more daring.

Tanya Lokshina

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Created 03/02/2011 – 15:42



The Secret History of Beslan

From the outside, the violence in the Caucasus looks like a religious war or an independence struggle. In this installment from a month long travel diary, our correspondent finds that in North Ossetia, ethnic tension adds a deadly twist.


VLADIKAVKAZ and BESLAN, Russia — In these sleepy towns in the Russian republic of North Ossetia, it’s no surprise that fury against the Islamist militants who plague the North Caucasus runs deep. Beslan is, of course, the infamous site of the most savage and terrifying militia attack in recent memory, the raid on School Number One that left hundreds of people dead on the third day of the fall semester in 2004. Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia, has seen a series of suicide attacks in its crowded city center.

But when you ask people here who they really blame for these tragedies, you hear something unexpected: Instead of viewing the war as one fought between guerrillas and security forces, with civilians as collateral damage, the Ossetians see it through the prism of a festering ethnic conflict. The real enemy, they say, lives just across the nearby border, not a 20 minute drive away, in the republic of Ingushetia.

This conviction derives partly from history and partly from a series of fatally misguided decisions from Moscow on how best to fight the violence that’s plagued its southern border for decades.

The Ossetians are a largely Orthodox Christian nation at the center of the Greater Caucasus mountain range. Vladikavkaz is just 15 miles from Nazran, the largest settlement in Ingushetia, which is predominantly Muslim.

Tension between the two nations goes back for hundreds of years. During the 19th century, the Ossetians were Russia’s key regional allies in its battle to conquer the surrounding Muslim highlanders, including the Ingush, Chechens, and Circassians.

Then at the end of World War II, Joseph Stalin deported several North Caucasus nations en masse to Kazakhstan and Siberia for allegedly siding with the invading Germans (in fact, only a minority did so). Among them were 92,000 Ingush. When the Ingush were rehabilitated and allowed home in 1957, they returned to find that a chunk of their territory, the Prigorodny district, had been handed to North Ossetia.

Through the late Soviet period the Ingush lobbied for Prigorodny to be reattached to their joint republic with Chechnya. Then, after the USSR crumbled in 1991, the lid was off. A year later, fighting broke out in Prigorodny. The Russian army sided with the Ossetians. At least 600 people died in the hostilities, and between 30,000 and 60,000 Ingush fled their homes.

The conflict officially ended with Boris Yeltsin decreeing that the district should remain a part of North Ossetia. But the pain and anger associated with that mini-war almost two decades ago — and the absence of any concerted Kremlin effort to resolve its consequences — continue to poison ties between North Ossetia and Ingushetia.

More recent events have only made matters worse. In the minds of many here, the critical moment in the modern history of Ossetian-Ingush relations was in September 2004, when a team of Islamist gunmen stormed School Number One at Beslan, a town close to North Ossetia’s airport famous for its vodka factory.

The men took 1,100 pupils, parents, and teachers hostage as they celebrated the beginning of the school year, issuing a demand for Russia to withdraw its troops from Chechnya. Fifty-two hours of unimaginable horror ensued. The captives were herded into the school sports hall, which the guerrillas wired with explosives. Several hostages were summarily executed. At least 370 died after two blasts, a fire, and a gun battle ended the siege. According to Russian authorities, 19 of the 33 attackers were residents of Ingushetia (which borders Chechnya to the east and whose people share strong cultural and language links with the Chechens).

Beslan left many observers thinking that armed conflict would reignite between the Ossetians and Ingush. I was there as a reporter, and I remember standing at the freshly dug graves on the edge of the town as scores of victims were buried after the siege. Three Ossetian men next to me were cursing under their breath.

“Bitches, cowards,” said one, when I asked him about the hostage-takers. “They’d rather torture children or hide like rats in a hole than fight with real men.” Another added: “They are jackals, not humans.” That visceral hatred has not faded. A few days ago, an Ossetian friend told me, “The boyeviki were mostly Ingush, and they gathered at a base in the forest in Ingushetia before the attack. It’s a shame we didn’t catch them alive. Then we could have given them to the bereaved mothers so they could rip the bastards to pieces.”

Ingush militants have also been named in more recent suicide attacks. In 2008, a woman detonated explosives in a minibus near the central market in Vladikavkaz, leaving 13 people dead. Witnesses said the woman was an Ingush in her 40s, though her identity was never established.

Then in September 2010, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a car near the same market, killing 17 people and injuring more than 160. Police later identified the bomber as Magomet Malsagov, a 24-year-old from Nazran who had smuggled the explosives across the checkpoint between the two republics, possibly hidden in the gas cylinder that many drivers here use as fuel. The suicide bomber who killed nearly 40 people at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport in January was also from Ingushetia.

Susanna Dudiyeva, chairwoman of the Beslan Mothers Committee, put a common view succinctly when I visited her last week. “The Ingush say that not all Ingush are terrorists,” she told me. “But we can’t help noticing that all the terrorists are Ingush.”

Both sides in the war between Islamist insurgents and Russian forces in the North Caucasus over the last decade have tended to play down the role of ethnicity.

In the 1990s, separatists in Chechnya framed their struggle along national lines, making reference to the battle against czarist Russia a century and a half before. Today’s militants are part of the Caucasus Emirate — a regionwide Islamist coalition for whom faith and camaraderie supersede national and ethnic ties. In turn, the Kremlin insists that the insurgents get funding from abroad and are plugged into a global jihadi network — a fair accusation but one that ignores the crucial role of local factors.

In truth, ethnic cleavages remain a powerful intensifier of conflict in this sweep of steppe and mountain, a patchwork of many small nations. In Dagestan, where there are more than 30 indigenous groups, ethnicity can provide a common bond for mafia groups (whose interests, in turn, may blur with those of Muslim fanatics). The Ossetian-Ingush standoff, however, is the grittiest in the region because it combines ethnic, territorial, and religious differences.

Today, the Ossetians’ historical sense of being an embattled nation surrounded by ill-intentioned neighbors is revived by militant attacks and the growing Islamist insurgency to their west in Kabardino-Balkaria.

“It is only our tolerance that has stopped something worse happening with the Ingush,” Sveta Dzhioyeva, a reporter at the Osetia Segodnya (Ossetia Today) newspaper, told me last week. “Even now, after all the explosions, they come to our bazaar to shop, and nobody bothers them. But I don’t know an Ossetian who would go to Nazran. It’s far too dangerous.”

She added, “Do you see you any Christian suicide bombers? The Muslims need to ask themselves that question before they demand sympathy. We have a right to be afraid of them.”

A couple of days later in Vladikavkaz, I was sitting in the Wild Hacker Internet cafe on Baturina Street, watching a gaggle of boys — none more than 12 years old — play a hyperviolent group computer game. As they blasted pixelated enemies into lumps of bloody pulp, the boys shouted commands to each other in Russian expletives. “Smotri, Ingush, terrorist — mochi ego!” cried one as he spotted a foe: “Look, an Ingush, a terrorist — waste him!”

In Beslan, the enmity is felt even more sharply. Seven years after the attack on School Number One, the charred shell of the hall where hostages sat for days is a shrine. Pictures of the dead line the walls. There are wreaths, an Orthodox cross, and bottles of water symbolizing the fact that the hostages were denied anything to drink.

Down the road on Oktyabrskaya Street, I visited the Beslan Mothers Committee, a group run by victims and victims’ relatives. Dudiyeva, whose son Zaur, 13, died at the school, said: “Terror is still with us. The day after that Ingush blew himself up at the market in Vladikavkaz in September, my husband had a heart attack from the shock.” (He survived, but is bedbound.)

When I asked Dudiyeva what lacked in the Kremlin’s strategy for quelling the Islamists, she said, “It’s too soft. I’m in favor of punitive methods. If a terrorist can kill innocent people, can kill children, why shouldn’t the whole family that brought up that terrorist be executed?”

Such statements do not necessarily transform into violence. Yet Ossetia has seen a number of recent incidents involving attacks or discrimination against its 20 percent Muslim minority. After a mosque was restored in Beslan last year, the mothers asked mosque leaders not to amplify the call to prayer. Some locals were against the mosque re-opening altogether. “How can we have people in our town crying Allahu akbar, when that’s what the boyeviki shouted over our dying children?” asked Svetlana Tsgoyeva, 69, whose 9-year-old granddaughter was killed.

Last month, in a village in the southern part of North Ossetia, a wealthy Muslim businessman decided to build a prayer room and a minaret in his garden. Before the minaret had reached 3 yards high, locals — who are overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian — organized a protest meeting that attracted 300 people, then broke into his home, slashed the tires on his car, and demanded he tear down the minaret. Four hundred and ninety-three people have since signed a letter to Russia’s president, Dmitry Medvedev, arguing that fundamentalists will take up residence in the village if the minaret stays. (So far it’s still standing.)

Alan Tskhurbayev, a popular Ossetian blogger whose post on the minaret controversy attracted a flood of comments, said the issue played to wider prejudices than purely anti-Islamic sentiment. “The problem is not just interreligious; it is, of course, inter-national; that is, Ossetian-Ingush.”

He added: “Many people in Ossetia are ready to put the words Islam, Ingush, and terrorist in a single chain. Equally, I’m sure that in Ingushetia just as many think of Ossetians only as ‘the fighters who murdered us.'”

And indeed, the Ingush still nurse their pain over Prigorodny. The Ingush allege that Ossetian fighters slit the throats of civilians, raped women, and fed Ingush corpses to pigs — accusations now difficult to corroborate.

Magomed Amirkhanov, an Ingush I know, was kidnapped with his semiparalyzed father by Ossetian irregulars in 1992 and held captive with scores of other civilians for 14 days before being released. “I’m not in favor of terrorism,” he told me in 2008. “But the Ossetians never talk about how we were driven from our burning homes, how we were killed and beaten.”

Timur Akiyev, an Ingush human rights advocate, said the Kremlin attitude toward Prigorodny has been one of “total neglect” — a strategic error that only plays into the hands of the militants. “The boyeviki use facts to get their recruits,” he said. “Here they can say, ‘Look, your people were forced out of their homes and then forbidden from returning. You are a Russian citizen, but the government does not protect you.'”

So then what can be done to break the cycle of hatred and suspicion?

Moscow has long failed to grasp the nettle. But recently the governments of the two republics have embarked on a new attempt to solve their differences, holding a series of encouraging bilateral talks last year. A working group discussed security issues and the return of Ingush. About 30,000 have already gone back since the end of the conflict but, there are disagreements over returns to villages that saw the harshest fighting. (North Ossetia says they could provoke a new conflict, while Ingush activists insist this is an excuse to prevent another 10,000 going back.)

Meanwhile, on the ground, individuals from both sides are making tentative steps toward peace. Magomed Makiyev, 28, an Ingush from Kurtat, a mixed-population village in Prigorodny, works in a center financed by NGOs that provides training sessions and funding for small businesses to buy equipment: beehives, a sewing machine, a refrigerator for a grocery store. At the training workshops, he encourages people of both nations to meet and find common ground. The center also organizes events for children from the several villages in Prigorodny where Ingush and Ossetian pupils attend separate schools.

“We see how quickly these kids forget their suspicions when they come together,” said Makiyev. “A couple of years ago we sent a group by train to a holiday camp near Moscow. On the way there, the Ossetian kids and the Ingush kept totally separate in different compartments. But on the way back the two nations were completely mixed up throughout the wagon, chatting and laughing.”

Tom Parfitt is a fellow of the London-based Royal Geographical Society and a former public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center. His trip is supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.