Political Violence Flares In Karachai-Cherkessia

Recent assassination attempt on Russian deputy Magomet Tekeyev was part of a pattern of escalating political violence in Karachai-Cherkessia.

Political Violence Flares In Karachai-Cherkessia

Recent assassination attempt on Russian deputy Magomet Tekeyev was part of a pattern of escalating political violence in Karachai-Cherkessia.

Thursday, 12 September, 2002

Police have failed to arrest anyone for the attempted killing last month of one of Karachai-Cherkessia's deputies in the Russian State Duma, but a political motive seems the most likely explanation for the crime, given the increasingly volatile situation in one of Russia's most ethnically diverse regions.

Duma deputy Magomet Tekeyev escaped with his life after the assassination attempt on August 26. His aide and former classmate, Alim Sarov, was not so lucky and died of his wounds outside Tekeyev's house in the village of Rimgorskoye.

Three masked men wearing camouflage uniforms pounced on Tekeyev and Sarov late in the evening as they were arriving at Tekeyev's house and began beating them with metal objects. Both men resisted and then tried to run away, at which the attackers opened fire, hitting Sarov. Tekeyev managed to summon help, but his friend died almost immediately of gunshot wounds, while the assassins fled.

Tekeyev was the only witness to the incident. He said that the attackers spoke to each other in Russian - an important detail in a multi-ethnic autonomous republic. But so far neither he nor any of his aides and relatives have discussed possible motives for the attack. A press release from the prosecutor's office, however, has outlined two main lines of enquiry.

One is that Sarov, not Tekeyev, was the intended victim because of his commercial activities. The other is that Tekeyev was being targeted for political reasons. The deputy was the victim of a previous attack in October 2000, when he was still working as a journalist and standing in the Russian parliamentary elections.

At the moment, the former is the favoured theory of the prosecutor's office, because it was Sarov who was killed and the attackers had the opportunity to murder Tekeyev as well. However, those who know Sarov say that his business interests were small; he had no criminal record; and was known to be an honest man.

The secretary of the republic's security council, Boris Batchayev, subscribes to the latter motive for the attempted killing. "We should regard any attack on a State Duma deputy precisely as an attack on a State Duma deputy," Batchayev told a press conference the day after the attack, laying emphasis on Tekeyev's high-profile political position. "This crime has a political character."

Batchayev himself has been the target of a violent attack, as have a number of prominent politicians and journalists in the republic over the past four years. This makes it all the more plausible to see the attack on Tekeyev as part of a pattern of politically-motivated violence in Karachai-Cherkessia.

In the last year, three public figures have been murdered: the leader of the opposition movement Vozrozhdenie (or Revival) Keram Semyonov and two deputies in the local parliament, Aznaur Suyunchev and Arasul Atabiev,

After Dagestan, Karachai-Cherkessia is the most ethnically diverse region in Russia, with no single group forming a majority. In 1989, more than 40 per cent of the population were Russians, around 30 per cent Karachai, 10 per cent Cherkess, with small communities of Abazins, Nogais and Ukrainians. The current president, former army general Vladimir Semyonov, is half Karachai and half Russian.

Some analysts say the violence can be explained in terms of a struggle between different clans for control of the republic's political and economic resources.

The power struggle, they say, was triggered by the decision taken in Moscow in 1999 to remove Vladimir Khubiev, who had headed the region since 1979 and was the last un-elected regional leader in Russia. Elections for his replacement sparked violence throughout Karachai-Cherkessia.

Khubiev was defeated in the first round of the poll and the run-off vote was contested between the mayor of Cherkessk, Stanislav Derev and Vladimir Semyonov. Semyonov's victory led to a complete overhaul of the political elite and a new division of the economic, political and criminal spheres of influence in the republic.

In the fallout of this dirty struggle, many former supporters of the president broke with him and formed the Revival opposition party, whose leader Keram Semyonov, one of the subsequent murder victims, had been one of the masterminds of Vladimir Semyonov's presidential campaign.

Tekeyev also split from President Semyonov last winter, when he took control of the regional branch of the pro-Putin political party One Russia away from the head of state and became its local head. As a result, Tekeyev's sister Khojat lost her job as Semyonov's press secretary. She told the Moscow newspaper Kommersant, however, that her brother had "not quarrelled with Semyonov and is not in opposition to him".

The power struggle - and the violence associated with it - is likely only to intensify as Karachai-Cherkessia gears up for the next set of presidential elections in 2003.

In the meantime, the police have failed to arrest anyone for at least a dozen high-profile crimes. Two men put on trial charged with trying to assassinate the chairman of the republic's supreme court Islam Burlakov, were both acquitted.

Fatima Chekunova is a journalist with Vozrozhdenie Respubliki newspaper in Cherkessk

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