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Ingushetia: Russians Urged to Return

A community of Russians defies threats and resettles in the North Caucasus.
By Asya Bekova
The impoverished North Caucasian republic of Ingushetia is stepping up plans to persuade ethnic Russians to resettle or settle there, but a spate of violent attacks is undermining the efforts.

The Ingush authorities hope that an increase in the number of ethnic Russians or other non-Ingush Russian speakers, many of them well-educated professionals, will improve the socio-economic state of the republic, one of the poorest in Russia.

“The return and residence of Russians is an indicator of stability and economic growth of Ingushetia,” said government official Akhmed Sultanov.

The republic-wide programme “The Return and Settlement of the Russian-Speaking Population, Formerly Resident in the Republic of Ingushetia” for 2004-2010 has allocated 109 million roubles (around four million US dollars) to provide homes and apartments and other economic incentives for ethnic Russians.

Natalya Bortko, a teacher, returned with her family to Ingushetia from the city of Chelyabinsk. “I wanted to come home,” she explained. “My friends, classmates, acquaintances, traditions and customs are all here.”

Following the Ingush-Ossetian conflict of 1992 and the conflict in Chechnya that began in 1994, most Russians fled Chechnya and Ingushetia, which were joined together as one republic in Soviet times.

Of the more than one million inhabitants of Chechen-Ingushetia, the majority of the ethnic Russians lived in the city of Grozny, once comprising around half of its population. But in 1992 there were some 18.094 Russians living in Ingushetia – a comparatively large figure for this mostly rural region.

Many had already started to leave the North Caucasus in the Seventies and Eighties due to the decline of the oil sector and lack of employment opportunities.

The Ingush government says that since 2004 around 1,000 have been persuaded to return and that 17 apartments have been given out. Currently more than 5,000 Russians live in Ingushetia - in a population of almost half a million - of whom 2,500 live in the Sunja region on the border with Chechnya. The plan is that 30 apartments will be given out every year to returning families.

Galina Gubina, a teacher, is a Russian native of the Ingush mountain village of Galashki and now deputy head of the administration of Sunja region. She is one of those actively persuading Russians to resettle in the republic.

“Around another two thousand people have written saying they want to return, but this is a young republic and it lacks the funds,” she told IWPR. “I hope that the centre will hear us and [President Vladimir] Putin will allocate money for the returnees.”

A more serious problem than lack of money however may be a series of violent arson attacks and shooting incidents against Russian families this year in which three people have died and three have been wounded.

Ingush interior ministry official Zaudin Daurbekov told IWPR that on April 11 policemen had killed two militant fighters who had killed two Russians and attacked others.

Gubina said that the violence had not intimidated Russians living in the republic.

“Of course the murder of people is a tragedy but everyone understands that these are contract crimes and that is why people are not protesting,” she said.

Marina Bugayeva, a 19-year-old student, said that her family had lived in Ingushetia for 30 years. “The recent attacks are frightening and we did think of leaving,” she said. “But Ingushetia is my home and I find what is happening in the centre of Russia dreadful.”

Not all the locals are happy with the programme. Mikail, a 44-year-old Ingush refugee from North Ossetia, complains that by spending money on resettling ethnic Russians, the local government has neglected its own Ingush citizens who were displaced by the Ingush-Ossetian conflict of 1992.

“The widespread advertising of a programme to return Russians really annoys local people, thousands of whom don’t have their own houses,” he said. “So it’s not surprising that there are some ‘interested parties’ in provoking attacks on Russians.”

“Why bring them back to subject them to danger and put them in the way of bullets?” wonders aloud Ruslan, a local journalist.

The resettlement programme has also thrown up cases of corruption.

Earlier this month, a 50-year-old Russian woman named Varvara Serikova was arrested and charged with extorting money from gullible citizens for the use of her services in receiving interest-free credits as part of the programme.

Nonetheless, there is now a sufficiently large Russian community in Ingushetia that the authorities are examining the state of Orthodox places of worship.

The Pokrovsky church, built 150 years ago, is very dilapidated and the government is helping them build a new church in its courtyard, as well as a new church in the town of Magas.

Asya Bekova is the pseudonym of a freelance journalist working in Ingushetia.

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