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

Ossetia Refuses to Disarm

Tensions remain high in heavily armed North Ossetia, where few trust the authorities to keep the peace.
By Murat Gabarayev

As the 40-day mourning period for the victims of the Beslan school tragedy expires, both Ossetians and Ingush in the region say they do not trust the authorities sufficiently to heed calls to disarm.


Fearful of trouble between Ossetians and Ingush in the troubled Prigorodny Region of North Ossetia, the Russian authorities have deployed extra numbers of security forces there ever since September 2, the second day of the siege in Beslan.


There were several ethnic Ingush amongst the extremists who took over the school, in which more than 330 people died, a fact that has inflamed tensions between the two neighbouring communities.


Both the central and republican authorities say they want to see locals hand in their weapons, but it now seems that the Beslan events have persuaded householders that they want to hang on to their firearms rather than give them up.


In the village of Oktyabrskoe in Prigorodny Region Alan, an Ossetian businessman, who keeps his own rifle and grenades at home, told IWPR, “We live in a region where the authorities cannot guarantee the security of its citizens. The tragic events in Beslan proved this, in my view. Today the time has arrived when a person has to defend himself and his family by all available means.”


Earlier this year, the Ossetian authorities made a new attempt to buy up weapons. Many residents of Prigorodny Region agreed to participate in the scheme.


However, the deputy prosecutor of the region, Zelim Karsanov admitted that those who had complied with the request had not received any remuneration so far.


“As yet they haven’t received anything,” Karsanov said. “The government of the republic simply doesn’t have money which they could transfer to their private bank accounts.”


Alan, the businessman, said that those who had responded to the government call had acted “hastily” – a view shared by many others.


The disputed section of Prigorodny Region is a fertile district on the right bank of the River Terek. Up until 1944 it belonged to Ingushetia, but when the entire Ingush population – around 90,000 people – were deported to Central Asia it was made part of North Ossetia.


When the Ingush returned from exile in the late 1950s many started returning to their old villages and trying to reclaim lost land. Fighting broke out suddenly there between the two communities in the autumn of 1992. Eight hundred people died and thousands of homes were burned and looted. Tens of thousands of people fled, most of them Ingush who headed for Ingushetia.


Before Beslan, relations were slowly improving and around 17,000 Ingush now live in the region out of a total population of just over 100,000.


Yury, a 22-year-old Ossetian law student, said that the authorities would try in vain to procure weapons. “The police are trying to buy up weapons once again to disarm a population, which after the Ossetian-Ingush conflict of the autumn of 1992, has hundreds of machine guns and automatic weapons,” he said. “They shouldn’t do that, ours is a border region and you can’t guarantee the safety of its residents by the police.


“Naturally, at home, we have everything we need in case to meet Chechen, Ingush or other terrorists.”


Isropil G, an ethnic Ingush living in Chermen, one of the largest villages in Prigorodny Region, echoed the same view. He said he would not give up his own rifle and grenades. “Peace is very fragile, there are forces who try to make us Ingush quarrel with the Ossetians,” he said.


Villagers on both sides shared the view that the local authorities were too weak and corrupt to be trusted with enforcing security, while saying arms were easy to obtain in a republic which is bristling with army units.


Vyacheslav, a 30-year-old Ossetian bus driver, said, “In our village there are weapons in practically every house. It’s impossible now to live peacefully without it, you just can’t rely on the police force and other security structures. There are different sorts of people working in them and many of them, we know, would sell their own mother for money.


“Bandits armed to the teeth wander through our forests and we have to be ready to fight them if need be. That’s why I keep a gun I bought a couple of years ago – quite legally by the way. Besides that my family has other weapons but I won’t say anything else about them.”


Magomed K, an Ingush in the village of Dachnoe, was just as pessimistic. “They say we are building a democratic society,” he said. “But in this society the only people who feel comfortable are criminals who are dictating their own terms, the rules of the game. People feel they are undefended and are forced to protect themselves somehow and they’ve thought of nothing better but keeping weapons at home.”


Another Ingush in the village of Kurtat, who identified himself as Ramazan K, said, “We are living on a tinderbox. These are explosive times.”


Murat Gabarayev and Aleta Gapbayeva are correspondents with the Ossetian newspaper Glashatai.


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