Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Balkars Voice Separatist Ambitions

Balkar leaders claim the Nalchik authorities are deliberately driving them from their ethnic homeland
By Boris Akbashev

Balkar nationalists have renewed calls for independence nearly five years after the Nalchik government effectively crushed their powerful separatist movement, Tere.

The Tere "old guard" chose a national holiday commemorating the victims of Stalin's deportations to launch a blistering attack on the local authorities earlier this month.

Activists claim the Kabardinian leadership is actively driving the Balkars from their ethnic homeland and barring them from the corridors of power. And they are demanding a meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin to highlight their grievances.

It was no coincidence that the Tere leaders chose this national holiday to bang their political drum. In 1944, the entire Balkar population was accused of collaborating with the Nazis and deported overnight to Central Asia. The survivors and their descendants believe the Kabardinians took advantage of their enforced absence to appropriate the richest parts of the republic.

At a ceremony in Nalchik, top Kabardinians including President Valery Kokov and Nalchik mayor Khazretali Berdov laid wreaths on a monument to those who died during the deportations. Many Balkars saw this as the ultimate insult.

Tere seized the opportunity to accuse the Kabardinians of rewriting history to cover up "the rape of Balkaria". They called for the creation of a Balkar republic, within its own administrative centre in Tyrnyauz.

Leading activists include Rasul Dzhappuev, editor of the Balkaria newspaper, who has previously hit out at the Nalchik leadership for failing to rebuild Tyrnyauz after it was partially destroyed by massive mudslides last year. During Soviet times, the wealthy Tyrnyauz region provided 80 per cent of the nation's tungsten and molybdenum.

The Balkaria editor says that a round table on the Rehabilitation of Repressed Peoples which took place in Moscow on January 25 agreed that "the national regions of the Balkar people which existed before the deportation have yet to be restored to their rightful owners".

However, the ranks of the Balkar nationalist movement have been seriously weakened in recent years. Established in the early 1990s, the organisation was led by the influential General Stefyan Beppaev who spearheaded Tere's first independence bid in 1996.

On this occasion, President Kokov's regime arrested all the leading Tere activitists and effectively neutralised their support. Kokov went on to win over many of the Tere leaders, including General Beppaev, by offering them top jobs in the Nalchik government.

The Tere old guard now accuse their erstwhile leader of "betraying" their cause. Beppaev's faction, the Malkar Auazy, has since joined forces with ALAN, an ethnically-linked organisation from Karachaevo-Cherkessia.

The move provoked angry protests from Tere leaders Bakhautdin Etezov and Muhhamad Buday who accused Beppaev and his cohorts of selling out to the Kabardino-Balkarian leadership.

Many older Balkars fear that the rift in Tere could spark bitter inter-tribal vendettas but the younger generation has enthusiastically embraced the independence movement. Many claim they have been deliberately denied university places and government jobs by the Kabardinian authorities.

Boris Akbashev is a regular IWPR contributor

More IWPR's Global Voices

FakeWatch Africa
Website to provide multimedia training and resources for fact-checking and investigations.
FakeWatch Africa
Africa's Fake News Epidemic and Covid-19: What Impact on Democracy?