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

Mozdok Russians Complain of Discrimination

Russians living in Mozdok have won little support for their bid to secede to the neighbouring Stavropolsky Kray
By Valeri Dzutsev

A simmering hotbed of separatist tendencies, the Mozdok region has always been a thorn in the side of the Vladikavkaz government.

Situated in the extreme north of the republic, Mozdok is connected to the rest of North Ossetia by a narrow isthmus. The land here is flat with rich soils and a well-developed irrigation system which guarantee Mozdok the highest agricultural yields of any part of the republic.

However, of a population numbering around 80,000, only 6,000 are ethnic Ossetians. And the predominantly Russian population nurses ambitions to secede to the neighbouring Stavropolsky Kray.

In fact, Mozdok only became part of North Ossetia shortly after the Second World War when the Soviet leadership decided the region "did not have enough ploughed land to sustain its population".

The move was part of a general trend in the North Caucasus during the 1950s. Each of the potentially mutinous republics was "awarded" a stretch of Russian- or Cossack-populated land in a bid to dilute its ethnic make-up.

A few Ossetian settlers had moved down to Mozdok in the late 18th century but they never made up more than 10 per cent of the population. And, after Mozdok was assimilated into North Ossetia, the proportion of ethnic Ossetians across the republic dropped to 50 per cent - a level that remained consistent until the 1980s.

The Vladikavkaz government of the time was quick to accept the offer of fertile land. Like many North Caucasian states, North Ossetia is densely populated and prime farmland has always been at a premium in a society which relies heavily on subsistence farming.

In the early 1990s, the district authorities in Mozdok were gripped by the fever of self-determination which was then sweeping through the former Soviet Union. They openly trumpeted their desire to be reintegrated into the Stavropolsky Kray and sever all ties with Vladikavkaz.

Separatist leaders - including the mayor, Adamov - complained that Mozdok was not represented in the North Ossetian parliament and felt that the clan loyalties which dominated local government discriminated against the Russian population.

Both geographically and politically, Mozdok had always enjoyed a large degree of autonomy from the regional capital and, shortly before the Ossetian-Ingush conflict of 1992, the strip of land joining Mozdok with North Ossetia became almost impassable for ethnic Ossetians and has remained so ever since.

However, since it was founded in 1763, Mozdok never developed into an industrial centre and has little to offer the vast Stavropolsky Kray - which boasts more than enough agricultural land. Consequently, the authorities in Stavropol have been loathe to encourage the separatist movement.

The separatists also ran into strong opposition from the non-Russian nationalities living in Mozdok - mainly Kumyks and Ossetians. In the mid 1990s, thousands of Kumyks living in the town of Kizlyar signed an official protest against the separatist murmurings.

And Moscow itself is unwilling to support the cause for fear of straining traditional Ossetian loyalties to the Russian state.

The war with Chechnya has heralded new problems for the Mozdok region. The influx of Russian military personnel and an estimated 15,000 Chechen refugees has tested the local infrastructure to breaking point.

And many of the Chechens apparently have little intention of leaving. The sympathies of the local population and the proximity to the border have encouraged thousands to settle in and around Mozdok.

News that Chechens are buying up local properties has driven many Russians away - and, although they still make up two-thirds of the local population, there are fears that such dramatic changes in the region's ethnic balance could trigger civil unrest.

Valeri Dzutsev is the coordinator for a non-governmental organisation in Vladikavkaz

More IWPR's Global Voices

Georgia: Perils of the Enguri Crossing
With the checkpoint closed, some residents of Abkhazia are risking their lives to access services.
Georgia: Perils of the Enguri Crossing
Trapped in Eastern Ukraine