Columbia International Affairs Online: Policy Briefs

CIAO DATE: 03/2009

North Caucasus - Volume X, Issue 8

February 2009

North Caucasus Weekly (formerly Chechnya Weekly), The Jamestown Foundation


* Chechen-Ingush Deportation Anniversary Marked
* Five Militants Killed in Dagestan Operation
* Rebels Attack Servicemen, Police in Chechnya
* Briefs
* Wave of Unrests and Counter-Terrorist Operations Sweep the North Caucasus
By Mairbek Vatchagaev

Chechen-Ingush Deportation Anniversary Marked

February 23 was the 65th anniversary of Josef Stalin's deportation of the Chechen and Ingush-accused by the Soviet dictator of collaborating with the Nazis-to Kazakhstan and elsewhere in the Soviet Union. Kavkazky Uzel reported on the day of this year's anniversary that all of Chechnya's mosques would be marking the anniversary with religious ceremonies and prayers in memory of the victims of the 1944 deportation and that ritual sacrifices would also take place across the republic, with the meat from sacrificed animals donated to poor families.

In Ingushetia, several thousand people, including representatives of public organizations, government officials-among them Ingush President Yunus-bek Yevkurov-representatives from Chechnya and Kabardino-Balkaria, and ordinary residents of Ingushetia, gathered in the former Ingush capital, Nazran, to mark the deportation anniversary. According to Kavkazky Uzel, a telegram from Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was read to the gathering, in which the Russian head of state expressed his regret and condolences for the deportation.

The government of Ingushetia's website,, posted the text of Yevkurov's address marking the deportation anniversary. In it, he said, among other things, that the Ingush people today are "living and creating in a single family of people of Great Russia, with confidence in a bright future." The Ingush survived the period of deportation and exile "in large part thanks to the unselfish help of representatives of other people: Russians, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz," Yevkurov said. "We will never forget that help."

Kavkazky Uzel quoted Fatima Oligova, a resident of the Ingush village of Kantyshevo, who was 19 years old during the February 1944 deportation: "We were lucky we were a well-to-do family," she told the website. "We had a lot of live-stock -sheep, buffalo, horses and cows. A majority of the soldiers who took us away didn't [sic] allow people to take anything edible with them. But you sometimes ran across good people among them. And that happened to us. We were able to slaughter three sheep, the meat from which helped us a lot later on." Oligova told Kavkazky Uzel there were 14 members in her family at the time of the deportation, including eight daughters, three sons, her parents and her father's second wife; and that her father had some savings. "But many Ingush families had neither money nor animals, and they died," she said.

According to Kavkazky Uzel, witnesses said that on February 23, 1944, the start of the deportation of the Chechen and Ingush, Soviet security forces gathered all the males together in certain places, such as collective farms, fearing they might mount an armed resistance to deportation. After that, everyone was driven on trucks to the freight cars. Survivors recall that it was a cold day, with wet snow falling. "Three or four families wound up in one carriage" Fatima Oligova told the website. "There wasn't [sic] a single family that didn't have someone who died. People died en route, [or] immediately after arriving at the place of exile, [or] two or three years after their arrival, of various diseases-for example, typhoid fever."

Oligova said that when someone died en route to their place of exile, their body would be buried in the snow at a train stop. "Thousands of people died from hunger and cold," she said. "When we arrived in Kazakhstan, they didn't assign us anywhere; all of the Ingush were assigned to the expanses of snow. We had on galoshes but the snow went above our knees. The Kazakhs refused to take us into their homes. Only thanks to the persistence of my father, we ended up under the roof of one Kazakh home. It was awful."

On February 23, the official website of Chechnya's president and government,, quoted Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov as saying in an address marking the 65th anniversary of the deportation that the Chechens and "many other nationalities" were victims of Stalin's "anti-national" policy in 1944, but that despite deportation and 13 years of a "cruel ordeal in inhumane conditions," the Chechens "defiantly" survived without losing their "national pride or belief in the triumph of justice."

Today, the Chechen Republic is going through a "period of revival" in which "instability, deprivation and human suffering" are a thing of the past, Kadyrov said. "As guarantor of the constitution of the Chechen Republic, of the life and security of the citizens of this region, I will do my best to ensure every home lives in prosperity and well-being."

At the same time, Kadyrov said that he plans to introduce legislation in Chechnya's parliament creating a holiday marking the Chechen people's return from exile in 1957. "We don't have the right to forget the tragic dates in the history of our people, but it is no less important to remember the periods we connect with the triumph of justice, and one such day is the day of the return of our people after 13 years of exile in Kazakhstan and Siberia," Kavkazky Uzel quoted Kadyrov as saying on February 24. "I hope that the [parliamentary] deputies and society support my proposal and that on our calendar, along with the tragic dates, another national holiday will appear."

A group of around three dozen human rights activists held a demonstration in Moscow on February 23 marking the anniversary of Stalin's deportation of the Chechens and Ingush. Kavkazky Uzel reported that the activists, who included members of Memorial, the Anti-War Club, the Committee for Anti-War Actions and the Union of Solidarity with Political Prisoners, held placards reading (among other things): "Chechnya, Forgive Us," "The Tyranny of Kadyrov is a New Act in the Tragedy of the Chechen People," and "An Empire Means Constant Terror Against Your Own People." The website also reported that five young Ingush attended the demonstration but asked not to be photographed or interviewed.

The separatist Chechenpress website on February 24 published the text of an address given by Akhmed Zakaev, prime minister of the separatist Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (ChRI) in London on February 19, in which he called the deportation "one of the bloodiest and cruelest pages in the history of Russian-Chechen relations."

"It was on that day 65 years ago that the entire Chechen people, numbering a half million people, were evicted from their homeland and deported to Central Asia and Kazakhstan-including my family," Zakaev said. "As we know, the pain of the loss that the Chechens endured in that distant past turned out to be by no means the last, and unfortunately, our struggle continues up until now, in the tragic present. The truth is that the Kremlin's tactics today are more sophisticated, but the results are the same: the resettlement and persecution of the Chechens continues [sic] by means of new methods that are less obvious, but no less cruel."

An open letter published in Britain's Guardian newspaper on February 23 noted that the deportation anniversary has been designated "World Chechnya Day" and added that today, 65 years later, "the Chechen people are still suffering."

Noting that then-Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Chechnya in 1999, following the Russia's first military intervention in 1994, resulted in "the displacement of several hundred thousand refugees and the death of another 100,000 civilians," the letter stated:

"The Kremlin now claims that the war is over and that there is peace and stability in the region. The reality is that the intensive bombings have been replaced with a regime of fear and oppression which has eroded civil society in Chechnya and suppressed any open and democratic voice. Visits are carefully choreographed for western journalists and dignitaries. They do not see the daily realities of Moscow-imposed Ramzan Kadyrov's rule."

The letter further stated that the "facade of stability" in Chechnya is dangerous and that the only way to establish lasting peace is through free and fair elections, like those that took place in 1997. "On this World Chechnya Day, we urge President Medvedev to find a genuine political settlement that will finally put an end to an entire people's suffering," the letter concluded.

Among the signatories were Ivar Amundsen, director of the Chechnya Peace Forum; Malcolm Rifkind, a British Member of Parliament and former Foreign Secretary; Glen Howard, president of The Jamestown Foundation; and André Glucksmann, a French philosopher and writer.

According to the Memorial human rights group, during 1943-44, 485,000 people were deported from Chechnya and Ingushetia, 101,000 from Kalmykia, 70,000 from Karachaevo-Cherkessia, and 37,000 from Kabardino-Balkaria, along with 100,000 Meskhetian Turks and other people who were deported from the Caucasus.

Five Militants Killed in Dagestan Operation

Security forces killed five suspected militants in three separate apartment sieges during a two-day operation in Dagestan, the Associated Press (AP) reported on February 22. The news agency quoted Makhachkala Police Chief Shamil Guseinov as saying that one of the alleged militants was killed on February 21 when police and security forces mounted an assault on an apartment in the Dagestani capital where he had been holed up overnight. Four other militants were killed and three surrendered to the authorities on February 21 after standoffs at two other apartment buildings in Makhachkala. According to AP, Russian television networks cited unidentified security officials as saying that the victims may have been members of a local militant group whose leader was killed earlier this month.

The news agency reported that Russian television footage of the operation in Makhachkala showed a grenade blast, gunfire, a body on a rooftop and a woman in a headscarf descending a stairwell with her hands up, but noted that there was no way to immediately confirm the authorities' account or their claim that the victims were militants. AP noted that the victim of a fatal police shooting in Dagestan last week was initially described by authorities as a militant, but police later acknowledged he was a security officer for a town mayor, while a wounded victim of the same shooting turned out to be a policeman.

Kavkazky Uzel reported on February 25 that Alibek Abunazarov, a resident of Dagestan kidnapped by unidentified security forces on February 17 and released on February 20, has appealed to human rights activists for help, saying the authorities are trying to force him into saying he participated in "illegal armed formations."

Abunazarov's wife recalled that the unidentified security officers came to their house on February 17 while she and her child were at home and her husband was out food shopping. The security agents then detained a neighbor, whom they later freed, but Abunazarov did not return home because, according to Kavkazky Uzel, he is a follower of Islam of a "nontraditional" type and went to a mosque.

Abunazarov said that when the security agents found him, they forced him to enter his home first so he would serve as a kind of "human shield" in case they were attacked. He told the Memorial human rights group that during a search of his house, his abductors knocked everything over, broke furniture and stole money, along with computer discs containing material of a "religious nature" and a mobile phone.

After he was taken away, Abunazarov's relatives went to the police to try to locate him but were told that no such person was in custody. Meanwhile, one of his friends, Alil Amirkhanov, was also detained in Makhachkala. When Vladimir Lukin, Russia's official human rights ombudsman called Dagestan's public prosecutor, Igor Tkachev, on February 19 to ask about Abunazarov's whereabouts, Tkachev revealed that he was being held at a Makhachkala district police headquarters. After Tatyana Kasatkina, acting director of Memorial, called Tkachev on February 20, Tkachev told her that Abunazarov had been released. According to Memorial, Abunazarov returned home seriously injured from beatings.

Abunazarov himself subsequently told Memorial that his abductors were Dagestanis and that they beat him with their fists and rifle butts and threatened him in an attempt to get him to admit he was an "illegal armed formation" member. The beating continued after he was brought to an unidentified building, where he was held for a day before being transferred to the police headquarters in Dagestan's Kirovsky district and then to a jail where criminals and drug addicts were being held.

Kirov told Memorial that authorities are trying pressure his brother, a policeman, into quitting his job.

Meanwhile, Kavkazky Uzel reported on February 24 that authorities have charged the chief editor of the weekly Dagestani newspaper Chernovik, Nadira Isaeva, under the article of the Russian Criminal Code forbidding the incitement of national, race or religious hatred. The website noted that a Makhachkala court last November ordered the newspaper to issue a retraction and apology to the interior ministry for an article alleging that those seeking jobs in the ministry had to pay bribes for their posts. In July 2007, a criminal case was launched against Chernovik for allegedly supporting terrorism after it published an article that quoted the late Dagestani rebel leader Rappani Khalilov.

Rebels Attack Servicemen, Police in Chechnya

A serviceman with a Russian Defense Ministry special unit was severely wounded on February 23 when he stepped on a mine in Chechnya's Shatoi district. According to Kavkazky Uzel, the incident took place in woods near the village of Kharsenoi during a special operation targeting an area where rebels were believed to be located.

RIA Novosti reported on February 22 that two police officers were killed and one wounded in an attack by an unidentified assailant in Chechnya. The news agency quoted a local police source as saying that the attack occurred February 21 in a toy store in the town of Urus-Martan when the assailant opened fire with a pistol, firing six shots at the police.

These attacks took place just a few days after Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov held a four-hour meeting with several leading rebel officials who switched sides over the last several years. Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported on February 20 that representatives of Chechnya's intelligentsia and clergy also attended the meeting, which was broadcast not only in the republic on Chechen state television, but also abroad via satellite.

According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, during the meeting, Kadyrov once again called on his former enemies to "forgive one another for the sake of peace in the republic" and also again asked separatist leaders living abroad to return home. A famous Chechen actor, Dagun Omaev, appealed to Akhmed Zakaev, the London-based rebel prime minister and former actor, to return, calling him a "talented actor" and saying that if he is not indifferent to the fate of Chechnya, "his place is here." Kadyrov, for his part, said Zakaev's return would cause problems for him personally, but added that he cares about "the fate of each Chechen" and that his goal is to "bring people together" and "achieve peace and accord."

Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported that the audience for the meeting included young people who had recently left the rebels' ranks, and that Kadyrov noted the presence of dozens of former members of the "illegal armed formations" who had not been killed because they had "come to their senses" and switched sides. Many of these former rebels are today commanding police units and have been decorated, said Kadyrov, citing the example of Magomed Daudov, who is now a police lieutenant colonel and winner of the Hero of Russia award. Kadyrov said that there is no going back to the "period of Ichkeria" and that Chechnya has chosen "unity with Russia," but admitted that the rebels who remain at large in the republic are recruiting "unwise" youths into their ranks.

According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Ayb Khataev, described as a former close associate and "spiritual guide" of Aslan Maskhadov, claimed during the meeting that in October 2004, Maskhadov offered the Russian leadership a deal according to which the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (ChRI) would drop its separatist ambitions and join the Russian Federation. Khataev claimed the agreement, which he said was developed by Zakaev and approved by Zelimkhan Yandarbiev and Shamil Basaev, provided for the deployment of three Russian garrisons in the republic and the use of Chechens to guard Russia's border with Georgia. In addition, rebels would study at three Russian Interior Ministry educational institutions and then join the republic's police force. The rebels' condition was that Maskhadov be made the head of the republic.

The meeting was also addressed by Magomed Khambiev, former defense minister in the separatist ChRI government under Maskhadov, who accused the London-based exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky of financing radical Chechen rebel ideologist Movladi Udugov and Basaev and of broadcasting "Wahabbi ideas" (North Caucasus Weekly, February 20).


Aide to Ingushetia's Chief Prosecutor Murdered

Interfax reported on February 24 that Akhmed Torshkhoev, a senior aide to Ingushetia's chief prosecutor, was shot and killed in Nazran. A source in the Investigative Committee of the federal Prosecutor General's Office for Ingushetia told the news agency that the car in which Torshkhoev and his wife were traveling came under automatic weapons fire and that he died of gunshot wounds while his wife was seriously wounded. Interfax reported that on February 21, a sniper fired at policemen who were following up on reports that an explosive device had been discovered in Nazran's Gamurzievo municipal district. One officer was shot and wounded in the leg.

Polish Police Arrest Suspect in Murder of Ex-Kadyrov Bodyguard

Austrian prosecutors announced on February 23 that Polish police had arrested a suspect believed to have taken part in last month's killing in Vienna of a former bodyguard to Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, Umar Israilov. The Moscow Times on February 24 quoted Gerhard Jarosch, spokesman for prosecutors in Vienna, as saying that the suspect is a 31-year-old Russian citizen of Chechen descent who had lived in Austria as an asylum seeker "for some time." However, Jarosch said that it was unlikely the suspect had personally killed Israilov, who had accused Kadyrov of torture and murder and filed a lawsuit against the Chechen president at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Israilov was shot dead after being chased through Vienna by two men on January 13.

Wave of Unrests and Counter-Terrorist Operations Sweep the North Caucasus
By Mairbek Vatchagaev

Russia's special services and police this past week resumed anti-terrorist operations against the members of the armed resistance movement across the North Caucasus. A steady stream of news has been pouring in from Dagestan that the law enforcement authorities there have been striking back against the republic's Sharia Jamaat. On February 21, three special operations to neutralize members of the armed resistance movement were carried out in Makhachkala, Dagestan's capital. Russian sources report that during these operations, three jamaat members were killed and three captured (

The first operation was conducted in the Alburikent settlement on the outskirts of Makhachkala from 8:00 a.m. to noon, and over its course, one militant was killed and three taken captive. That afternoon, a group consisting of three militants was trapped in house No.14A on Tchaikovsky Street and then killed. Although the official mass media, using information provided by the Federal Security Service (FSB) directorate for Dagestan, asserted that there were no casualties among the law enforcers, RIA Novosti cited statements by Dagestan's Interior Ministry that three police officers were wounded ( This discrepancy suggests that on occasion each agency involved in special operations functions autonomously from the others, including the interior ministry, the FSB and the defense ministry. Finally, the third operation, which took place in another part of Makhachkala-on Engels Street-was finished before dawn. Here, two militants allegedly barricaded themselves in one of the apartments located in a five-story residential building ( When the law enforcement authorities stormed the building on the morning of February 22, one militant was killed and a woman, who was in the apartment, was detained. Thus, the aggregate result of the 24-hour operation was five militants dead and four captured.

News from Ingushetia about armed assaults on police officers and military has already become everyday reality. In Chechnya, two police officers were killed and two wounded in Urus-Martan. In Kabardino-Balkaria, seven members of the Yarmuk Jamaat were killed on February 11 (, and ten days later, on February 21, the militants retaliated by killing an investigator with the police department in the town of Tyrnyauz. In Ossetia, the Kataib al-Khoul Jamaat claimed responsibility for assassinating Vitaly Karaev, the head of administration for Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia-Alania, who was killed on November 26, 2008 (

Against the backdrop of these alarming and gloomy reports, the police in the entire region of the North Caucasus have been put on alert (Interfax, February 21). The acting head of the main directorate of the federal Interior Ministry for the Southern Federal District, Mikhail Shepilov, informed journalists about this measure at a press briefing held in Rostov-on-Don. "The situation in the south of Russia is constantly complex," Shepilov said. "Taking into account the impending holidays, the entire personnel of law enforcement bodies have been put on an enhanced variant of service ... Operations are planned to counteract illegal armed formations in several regions in the country's south" ( Thus, the authorities have been forced to acknowledge that the situation is far from the ideal picture that the Kremlin image makers have been trying to present to the rest of the world.

According to the commander of the Operational Group of Forces in the North Caucasus, Major General Nikolai Sivak, a total of 79 special operations were carried out against the armed resistance in the region in the month of January alone ( At the same time, it should be noted that the absolute majority of these special operations took place in Chechnya (Novosti TV [Grozny], February 16). This is surprising because, compared to Dagestan and Ingushetia, there has been very little information coming out of Chechnya lately. This can be attributed to the fact that Chechnya is still closed and the authorities there do not allow journalists unfettered access. Evidently the large-scale operations against the militants and the retaliation by militants against law enforcement authorities in Chechnya at present remain largely beyond the media's radar, which makes it difficult to follow the situation in the republic as it evolves.

The resumption of operations by the police and FSB forces became noticeable after the public admission by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that crimes of an extremist nature had begun to increase across the country. According to Medvedev, such crimes represent a systemic threat to national security and are "capable of destroying any society" ( Supplementary special operations detachments will be created within the structure of the federal Interior Ministry to fight against this threat, which may imply a new redistribution of spheres of influence between the Interior Ministry and the FSB in favor of the former. Earlier, during an expanded meeting of FSB officials on January 29, Medvedev was forced to note that the situation in the North Caucasus region "remains complex" and demanded "to seriously increase the coordination of work of all law enforcement agencies" (

The Russian authorities simply can no longer hide the fact from the public that not all is well in the North Caucasus, and another confirmation of this was Moscow's decision to categorize all means of transportation arriving from the national republics of the North Caucasus as potentially dangerous. This means that all transportation units must be submitted to mandatory inspection of cargo and passengers upon its arrival in Moscow. The first deputy chief of the Moscow Interior Ministry directorate for air and water transportation, Viktor Ivashchenko, stated that "such procedures are carried out with the purpose of preventing the accumulation of weapons, munitions and narcotics in the Moscow region, as well as for the identification of persons who intend to carry out terrorist acts and actions of an extremist nature" (Interfax, January 21). In other words, while only residents of Chechnya were subjected to such actions in the past, now they are also directed toward the residents of Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachaevo-Cherkessia and Adygea. This means that the Russian establishment is forced to admit that nine years after the beginning of the war in Chechnya, the North Caucasus region is far less secure and, on the contrary, there is an urgent need to toughen the inspection of everyone who arrives from a region of the country as undoubtedly unreliable as southern Russia.

The top priority for the National Anti-Terrorist Committee (NAC) this year is to guarantee constant and reliable control over the development of the situation in the North Caucasus and to exert a preventive positive influence on it, according to the NAC chairman, FSB Director Aleksandr Bortnikov ( This means that all power structures must deal with the reality that the situation is not only dangerous, but that it can escalate to a level that may involve large-scale attacks on law enforcement authorities and state representatives in different locales.

The admission at such a high level that the situation is dangerous for the country as a whole is evidence that the policy of terror toward the local population has failed. In other words, punitive actions based on the principle of collective responsibility (like those employed in Chechnya) have proved to be futile. The tactics have changed and the focus is now on playing up the nationality card. There are signs of a shift from emphasizing the religious differences to using ethnic divisions. The Ossetian-Ingush conflict is a case in point, a number of unusual steps have been taken lately toward resuming the dialogue between these ethnicities. In the North Caucasus, where there are many competing territorial claims, use of this factor could prove to be far more dangerous than the familiar gambit of playing the religious card (the standoff between the Salafists and Sufis). This initiative may backfire on the Kremlin, and Moscow may fall into the trap that it has set for the national minorities.

Moscow continues to suffer from the lack of a long-term policy vis-à-vis the North Caucasus, which is vividly seen in the clashes between different power structures in various locales of the region, as well as on the federal level.

Dr. Mairbek Vatchagaev is the author of the book, "Chechnya in the 19th Century Caucasian Wars."