Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
The border checkpoint between Ingushetia and North Ossetia on the main route between Nazran and Vladikavkaz is usually a busy spot. Four roads meet at a crossroads on what is also the main highway from Moscow to Baku.
In the last few days, the crossing-point has been practically deserted. The police have not been allowing vehicles from Ingushetia to pass since the hostage seizure in the school in Beslan on September 1. “We are not letting anyone cross unless they have an Ossetian residence permit – not to Ossetia, and not to Ingushetia,” said a policeman.
On September 4, President Vladimir Putin ordered the closure both of North Ossetia’s – and Russia’s – frontier with Georgia and of its administrative borders with other Russian regions.
While the official reason for sealing the borders was to prevent suspects getting away, locals believe the crossing was closed to prevent a repeat of the inter-ethnic violence that engulfed the Prigorodny district of North Ossetia in 1992, when around 800 people died.
The Prigorodny district became part of North Ossetia in 1944, when the Ingush were deported to Central Asia by Stalin along with the Chechens and their “autonomous region” was wiped off the map. This one district was not restored when the Chechens and Ingush returned in the Fifties, and as the Soviet Union fell apart it became an object of dispute between Ingush and Ossetians.
It is now common currency in North Ossetia that there were Ingush amongst the Beslan hostage-takers. During the siege, the Russian television channel NTV showed relatives of two Ingush men said to be among the militants - the wife and five children of a man named as Iznaur Kodzoyev and the mother of Magomed Aushev. All of them called on the men to release the children.
There are now fears that some in North Ossetia might carry out revenge attacks on Ingushetia.
“People are holding back for the moment because it’s a time of mourning,” said Tamila Tabolova, a 35-year-old Ossetian resident of Beslan, whose sister Alina, a mother of three, died in School No. 1. “But the funerals will end and no one knows what will happen next. Everyone has weapons at home.”
In Ingushetia, people are highlighting suggestions that there were Ossetians amongst the terrorists.
“The authorities are covering this up, but many people heard the hostage-takers speaking Ossetian,” said Aslan Barkinkhoyev, who drives a taxi in Ingushetia’s main town of Nazran. “I don’t know why – maybe it’s because there’s going to be an act of provocation.”
The standing of Ingush president Murat Zyazikov has been badly undermined by the crisis, as has that of North Ossetian leader Alexander Dzasokhov. At a time of rising inter-ethnic tensions, people in each community are blaming both leaders.
Zyazikov was away when the crisis broke – rumour had it that he was on holiday – and only returned as it was ending.
“This is all the fault of the authorities,” said Tabolova indignantly. “Where was that Zyazikov, which island was he on holiday on, that they couldn’t find him? And where was Dzasokhov?
“Now they are saying that Putin wouldn’t let them go [into the hospital] because they [hostage-takers] had asked them to come in order to kill them. It would have been better if they had killed them. At least they would have died as decent men. And maybe they would have saved someone.”
Zyazikov has defended himself in the one interview he has given, to the Moscow newspaper Kommersant.
Agreeing with the view that one of the attackers’ aims was to stir up ethnic hatred in the North Caucasus, he said, “recently there has been progress in relations between the two republics. I think there are some forces who don’t like this. It’s quite possible that those behind the hostage-taking in Beslan want to drive a wedge between Ingushetia and North Ossetia, and to light a new fire in the Caucasus.”
“Nothing will come of this,” he added.
The Russian security services have now changed their position on the origin of the Beslan hostage-takers. Initially they said that they included people of six nationalities, but that they were predominantly Ingush. Later on, they said that they came from all over the Caucasus.
“We can’t just look for an Ingush lead - there were Kabardinians and Cherkess, and even Russians from Stavropol,” an FSB captain named Pavel said in Beslan.
The presence of nine or ten Arabs, reported immediately after the storming of the school, has not been confirmed.
“They probably weren’t Arabs, it looked like they were from the Caucasus,” said Larisa Sokayeva, one of the hostages. “Some of them had beards, some didn’t. They were all completely different. One of them had a very educated look, he could have been a PhD student. I’ve lived all my life in the Caucasus – I can tell Caucasians from Arabs.”
Mystery surrounds the identity of one of the leaders of the group, who went by the name of “Magas”. Earlier Magas was identified as Magomed Yevloyev, an Ingush from Grozny believed to have joined with Chechen rebel commander Shamil Basayev to organise a raid on Nazran on June 22 in which more than 90 people died.
However this man’s identity remains sketchy, and he may not have been such a significant figure as was first presumed. Russian media reported on September 8 that he was in fact not Yevloyev, but an Ingush policeman named Ali Taziev, who was previously thought to have died in 1998.
Ingushetia is now in a state of fearful expectation. Police checkpoints have been set up on all the main roads. Soldiers of the Russian federal army go out on patrol jointly with local policemen.
The local authorities in Ingushetia are saying nothing, apart from official statements of condolence to relatives of the dead.
Some people are simply hoping that so much blood has already been spilt in the North Caucasus that no one would want to shed any more.
“Who needs this?” said Ingush businessman Magomed Barakhoyev. “We have already been through this before, why should we make the same mistakes again? Everyone should just get on with his own life.”
Timur Aliev is IWPR’s coordinator for Chechnya, based in Nazran
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