North Ossetia Tensions Escalate

Ethnically-mixed community in the Prigorodny Region on high alert.

North Ossetia Tensions Escalate

Ethnically-mixed community in the Prigorodny Region on high alert.

Wednesday, 15 September, 2004

The last two weeks have seen a series of rallies in North Ossetia. Most tense has been the ethnically-mixed Prigorodny Region on the border with Ingushetia and the scene of fighting in 1992. The demonstrations have mostly been spontaneous and out of official control, and have heard calls for the punishment of ethnic Ingush.

Timur, a 20-year-old student, took part in a demonstration in the village of Sunja in Prigorodny Region. He said excitedly, “In these days of grief for Ossetia we ought to say openly that it wasn’t just Arab and Chechen terrorists who are guilty of the death of the children and their parents and teachers in Beslan, but Ingush as well. It’s already been proved that our neighbours were in the gang [that took over the school] and the hostages say they were really cruel.”

Timur said that the Ossetian authorities had “not made the right conclusions” after the violence that occurred twelve years ago.

In the autumn of 1992, Ingush and Ossetians clashed in the Prigorodny Region, which had belonged to Ingushetia until 1944 and then become part of North Ossetia after the Stalinist deportations of the Ingush and Chechens. After five days of fighting around 800 people died and thousands of homes were burned and looted. Tens of thousands of people fled, most of them Ingush who headed for Ingushetia.

Since then many Ingush have returned and there are now around 17,000 Ingush living in Prigorodny Region out of a population of just over 100,000. However, the events of Beslan have put the whole district under strain once again. Interior ministry troops are patrolling the district jointly with local police and federal army units are on the border between Ingushetia and North Ossetia.

Locals in the district say that Ingush began leaving their homes in Prigorodny Region on the evening of September 2, the day after the school siege began. Some have returned since then, but many homes remain shuttered and empty.

Zarema, 23, is Ingush. She lives in the village of Dachnoe and studies in the Ingush State University just across the administrative border. In an anxious voice she said, “Once again the organisers and masterminds of a terrible tragedy have set up the Ingush living in North Ossetia. People died and it was not our fault. The roots of all these acts of terror are in Chechnya and while [Chechen rebel leaders Aslan] Maskhadov and [Shamil] Basayev are alive, there won’t be any end to the explosions, the violence, the hostage taking.”

Sociologist Alexander Dzadziev, who specialises in Ossetian-Ingush relations, argues against the view that the seizure of the school in Beslan was deliberately planned to sabotage relations between the two communities.

Dzadziev said that there was no need to stage a major terrorist incident to whip up tensions between Ossetians and Ingush in Prigorodny Region. That goal could have been achieved with "100 times less effort" by provocateurs. He said the school seizure was in fact "the latest act of mass intimidation by Chechen separatists, just like the ones in Budyonnovsk and Kizlyar [in 1995 and 1996] albeit perhaps with graver consequences”.

An outbreak of violence was narrowly averted on September 4, when a crowd of Ossetians marched on the Ingush-populated settlement of Kartsa near Vladikavkaz. The only person who could persuade them to halt their march was South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity.

Public anger towards both the local and the federal government remains strong. Following a mass rally in Vladikavkaz on September 8, North Ossetian leader Alexander Dzasokhov sacked his government, although he did not resign himself, as many had predicted. On September 11 President Putin sacked North Ossetia’s interior minister and security service chief, Kazbek Dzantiev and Valery Andreyev.

Rallies are continuing, as are calls for Ingush to be expelled from the republic. For their part Ingush have taken part in rallies “against terrorism”. Many people are warning against a repeat of ethnic violence.

Vitaly, a 28-year-old Ossetian lawyer in the village of Sunja, said, “Today we keep hearing calls by young people to take revenge on our neighbours. I think we mustn’t do that. We have to solve these issues peacefully. The land of Ossetia is soaked in blood already. We should always remember that murderers have no nationality.”

Aslanbek, a 30-year-old Ingush in the village of Maiskoe, pointed out that Ingushetia itself had been attacked in June and dozens of policemen and civilians had died. And he blamed the previous and current Russian presidents for the troubles of the region.

“It was Yeltsin who bred [Chechen rebel president Jokhar] Dudayev and all the other terrorists in the south of Russia,” said Aslanbek. “And now the current Russian leader, Putin, cannot bring order to the country. Ossetians and Ingush ought to do everything not to let the Wahhabis start a war in our two republics.”

The head of the administration in Prigorodny Region Pavel Tedeyev appealed for calm, in an interview with IWPR.

“Yes there are a lot of questions for the authorities, both the republican ones and the Russians, but it does not mean that we should unconditionally call for the resignation of the president of the republic and plunge our common home, Ossetia, into chaos and anarchy,” Tedeyev said. “We have to keep together, unite, get through this experience we have suffered with dignity and stay human for the sake of those who died a martyr’s death for us.”

Life in North Ossetia is still a long way from getting back to normal. Schools and other educational institutions are still half-empty, even though they have armed guards. Parents come to the school gates to meet their children and many children are simply missing classes under various pretexts.

Murat Gabarayev is a correspondent for Glashatai newspaper in North Ossetia.

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