North Caucasus / Ingushetia – Russia

Focus: the North Caucasus, Ingushetia, origins

In custody for over 2 years. Political prisoners from Ingushetia urgently need our help!

The diversity of peoples during the period of colonisation on the high-mountain isthmus between Asia and Europe.

INGUSHETIA is the smallest republic within the Russian Federation, with a population of only about 400,000, and includes almost 100 per cent ethnic Ingush people. It is part of the North Caucasian Federal District, which consists of six autonomous republics and Stavropol Krai.

The North Caucasus region is almost unknown in the West, and small Ingushetia is even more. Nowadays this area is best known as a “difficult” Russian epicentre of Islamist terror due to the neighbouring Chechen wars (1994–1996, 1999–2009).

Difficult, not least because the high-mountain isthmus between Asia and Europe has for centuries seen the development of many ethnic groups and small peoples as part of the expansion of the great colonial powers, such as Persia, the Ottoman and then the Russian Empire.

The history of the North Caucasus is full of arbitrary boundaries drawn by the great powers, their policies of settlement and resettlement, traumatic flight, expulsions and deportations of not only individual groups but of entire peoples.

Even nowadays in Dagestan, the southernmost and largest of the six republics of the North Caucasus, with a population of around 3 million, which is roughly equivalent to Lower Saxony, there are 12 official languages and more than 30 languages, each of which has its own dialect.

The Ingush people are in turn divided into small tribal clans (teips), which from the beginning of the colonial settlement history up to the present day (about 350 teips) have provided protection, loyalty and defence, and thereby have contributed to the survival of the small people.

Islamic, but not united

Despite centuries of Islamic expansion from south to north by the Ottoman and Persian empires, it so happened that on the mountain range between East and West, with so many small peoples, ethnic groups and family links, with constant competition between Christianity and the prevailing natural religions, and with good geographic demarcation capabilities characteristic peculiar to mountainous area, no major Islamic Caucasian state structure was formed.

Tightening of Russia’s colonial policy generates a resistance movement ready to fight

This happened only in the 19th century under the Sufi Imam Shamil, when the Russian Tsarist Empire attached greater importance to the strategic importance of the Caucasus. As pressure from the Russian Empire increased, a militant resistance movement emerged among Sufi communities of different ethnic groups, eventually led by Imam Shamil, and known in Russian history as the Caucasus War (1817–1864, in which it is estimated that up to 15,000 Russian soldiers and up to 100,000 Russian civilians were killed on the battlefield). Shamil eventually surrendered, the fighting was brutal and required high casualties (much larger than those of the Russians, nowadays it is difficult to estimate them), the Russians had the upper hand and the population was depressed, divided and fatigued by the war.

The peace-loving Ingush

Only few Ingush took part in that war; there were more followers of the North Caucasian Sheikh Kunta-haji, who, unlike Shamil, favoured an ascetic, creative form of Sufi Islam and opposed war with Russia as long as it was allowed to practise religion and observe customs.

Expulsion of peoples in the Russian Tsarist Empire

Thus the Ingush were hardly affected by the subsequent large-scale violent expulsion by the victorious Russian power. Up to a million Caucasians were uprooted, and tens of thousands died. First of all, almost the entire Circassian people suffered, who to this day calls that expulsion as genocide, that, for example, in 2011 was officially recognized by Georgia (South Caucasus). But several thousand Chechen large families, for example, who made up about 10 per cent of the neighbouring peoples associated with the Ingush people, also suffered.

Expulsion of the people under Stalin

Like countless ethnic groups and peoples of the East who wanted to establish themselves as an independent state after the collapse of the old world order at the end of the First World War, the Caucasus was also “captured” by the Red Army and incorporated under the aegis of the new political world order into the largest association of states in the world – the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Under the leadership of the great (South Caucasus) Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, new borders were established, under which the South Caucasus was divided into three independent Soviet republics (with a special arrangement for Karabakh), and the North Caucasus (both territories are equal to about half of Germany’s territory) was subordinated to the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic.

The Ingush (about 90,000 people) were collectively deported to Kazakhstan in 1944 as part of Stalin’s terror, along with Chechens (about 400,000 people) as alleged Nazi collaborators. The deportations were personally led by the (South Caucasian) infamous head of the NKVD (the terrorist intelligence service of the USSR) Lavrentiy Beria. Almost half a million people were brutally expelled in less than a week, fugitives were shot, people were burned alive. It is estimated that almost a third of the Ingush people died after being deported to Central Asia because of the extreme living conditions there.

The Ingush returning home

Only 13 years later they were rehabilitated and allowed to return to their homeland. Their home was divided between neighbouring republics, and after their return the central part of Ingushetia (more than one quarter), Prigorodny District, remained in neighbouring North Ossetia to the west, and since then the Ingush have been demanding the return of this territory.

Prigorodny conflict

This territorial conflict escalated into open war with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992, not least because the then Russian President Boris Yeltsin gave the Ingush high hopes with a new draft law, which he presented at a speech in Nazran in autumn 1990 and which he then failed to adhere to, and two years later declared a state of emergency and sent there 10,000 fighters who ended the war in 10 days. Nevertheless, numerous clashes continued to happen for many years, claiming hundreds of lives on both sides and creating many tens of thousands of refugees, especially among the Ingush (70,000 according to Ingush figures). Only in 2005 Yeltsin lifted the state of emergency, leaving Prigorodny District as part of North Ossetia. The Ingush demand the return of this territory to this day.

Soviet secularised society

Extremist Islamist conflicts with military clashes were unknown to the 70-year-old Soviet Union. The prevailing Sufi Islam, which implies withdrawing from the world, and the repressive religious policy of the Soviet Union created a widely secularised society.

Spirit of optimism in one’s own identity

This all changed with the collapse of the Soviet Union, when the word “independence” suddenly became relevant. But while all the independent Soviet socialist republics (11 without the Baltic countries) as well as the three republics of the South Caucasus were able to immediately exercise this independence legally, this was less true for the North Caucasus, which was assigned to the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic.

The peace-loving Ingush

While the Ingush, who together with the Chechens were part of the Checheno-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic as part of the Russian Soviet Republic, continued to be subordinated to the post-Soviet Russian Federation, Chechnya unilaterally declared its independence.

Rise of Ramzan Kadyrov, an Islamic dictator from neighbouring Chechnya promoted by Putin

The resulting separatist conflict with Russia attracted more and more radical Islamists from the region and abroad. Among them was the Chechen Mufti Akhmat Kadyrov, who in 1994 called for a jihad against Russia. Two all-destroying wars followed in the next 15 years, accompanied by brutal crimes against humanity (on both sides) and deaths of about 200.000 people, mostly civilians, as well as hundreds of thousands of Chechen refugees.

Most fled to neighbouring Ingushetia. At the beginning of 2000 there were about 250.000 refugees, mostly women and children, most of whom were taken privately by the approximately 340.000 Ingush living there that time.

The Chechen Mufti Akhmat Kadyrov, who called for jihad against Russia and whose bodyguards, the “Kadyrovtsy”, spread fear and terror as jihadist death squads, became particularly known for his terror and atrocities.

With the beginning of Vladimir Putin’s term as a Prime Minister of Russia in 1999 and the Second Chechen War, Kadyrov made a 180-degree turn and started fighting on Russia’s side, with the support of which he was appointed as an administrative head of Chechnya in 2000, in 2001 he headed the local office of “Rosneft” (a Russian oil company) and finally was crowned as the President of the Chechen Republic within the Russian Federation in 2003.

After Akhmat Kadyrov’s death due to a bomb explosion in 2004, Russian President Vladimir Putin supported his son Ramzan Kadyrov, paving the way for him to succeed his father as president of Chechnya.

Peace through Kadyrov’s death squads: the “Kadyrovtsy”

Having personally lead his father’s bodyguards, composed of about 2.000 professional jihadists, and with the full support of Russia, Ramzan Kadyrov ultimately brought Putin victory over the Islamist epicentre of Russia in 2009. The devil was expelled not without the help of Beelzebub, and to this day Beelzebub is considered to be Putin’s guarantor of a certain calm in the region of the North Caucasus conflict.

In fact, the number of terrorist acts in the region has decreased significantly. However, Kadyrov is building an Islamist dictatorship with a cult of leadership mainly through his personal terrorist groups in Chechnya within the Russian Federation.

Same-sex marriages are constitutionally prohibited in the Russian Federation, polygamous and early marriages are allowed in Chechnya (a neighbouring subject of the federation, North Caucasian Federal District), at least they close their eyes to this situation

While same-sex marriages are banned under Russia’s new constitution, Kadyrov has publicly stated that he wants to enshrine polygamy in the country’s constitution. Early marriages are also not a significant issue for him. Women should cover themselves with colourful hijabs, they are the property of men. Any germ of resistance among the population is nipped in the bud by the most brutal means (among them tortures, murders, executions, family responsibility).

Time for Kadyrov’s proclaimed desires to expand national borders

And as long as Putin’s governor, Ramzan Kadyrov, is in control of the situation in Chechnya, he may fulfil his long-standing desire to “adjust” the borders with neighbouring Dagestan and Ingushetia, which have already been changed many times under Stalin.

Land grabbing in neighbouring Ingushetia: under cover of night and in heavy fog

The fact that the people in question should at least have been informed about this operation remained beyond his imagination for a long time, and so in late August 2018 some Ingush NGOs discovered quite by chance that this operation was in full swing as Chechen construction workers were busy cutting down trees to build a road on the border territory of Ingushetia, which is a nature reserve according to the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment of the Russian Federation. In response to questions about this situation, the spokesman for the head of Chechnya explained that the road destroyed during the war was being rebuilt, and that both sides were allowed to use it. There was no comment from the Ingush government.

Ingushetia maintains civil resistance and signals totalitarian oppression from the neighbouring republic

Despite the outbreak of protests among the Ingush population, Ramzan Kadyrov and the President of Ingushetia Yunus-bek Yevkurov, appointed by Russia in 2008, signed an agreement on the establishment of new borders on September 26, 2018. Yevkurov noted that under the agreement they exchanged lands of equal value.

But according to the data of the independent cartographic institute and all the information we now know, Ingushetia concedes 26.800 hectares and receives only 1.000 hectares from Chechnya in return. The smallest Russian republic, which already lost a quarter of its homeland after returning from Stalin’s deportation, has therefore decreased by another 7 per cent.

Protests by the civilian population in Ingushetia against the agreement continued

The President of Ingushetia Yevkurov was heavily criticised, saying that he should have informed his own population and should not have negotiated such an important agreement with Kadyrov himself. A lot of people demanded his resignation.

The Constitutional Court of Ingushetia declared the agreement illegal under Article 111, since on issues of this nature it is necessary to get the opinion of the population and hold a referendum.

At the following protests in early October 2018, attended by tens of thousands of people, the first President of Ingushetia (1993–2001) Ruslan Aushev, former Interior Minister of Ingushetia Akhmed Pogorov (2002–2003), Chairman of the Council of Teips of Ingushetia, representatives of the Ingush National Unity Committee and many other representatives of politics and society appeared.

Kadyrov personally threatens protest organisers

Kadyrov’s indignation at the speakers was evident in particular at an extended ministerial meeting in Grozny on October 16th, an excerpt of which was shown on the evening television news. Here he referred specifically only to the organisers of the rally, saying that if they were real men they should hold these rallies on the land which is now his, and declare there that it belongs to them. The only question is whether these men of honour would then be able to walk away later on their own two feet.

In particular, he threatened the former Interior Minister of Ingushetia Pogorov, who had made a number of inappropriate remarks about him, for which Kadyrov promised to “hold” him and his family accountable.

How this accountability might turn out to be at best is shown by his late-night “visit” to the elder of the Teip in the Ingush village of Surkhachi on 16 October 2018 for calling Kadyrov a “shepherd”. He arrived in a motorcade of several dozen cars and with armed guards and traditionally settled the matter in private with mutual forgiveness.

Other personal visits were also made, such as that to the Chairman of the protest committee, Akhmed Barakhoyev, in the village of Novy Redant, who was visited by the Сhairman of the Chechen Parliament, Magomed Daudov, at around 10 p.m. on October 24 and told him that Ramzan Kadyrov was inviting him and former Interior Minister Pogorov to the Sharia court in Chechnya. Two days later an entire Chechen delegation led by Kadyrov appeared at Pogorov’s home in the Ingush town of Karabulak. Here, too, the traditional reconciliation with prayer was allegedly achieved.

Putin-appointed President of Ingushetia, Yunus-bek Yevkurov, against the Ingush people

Nevertheless, the principled position of the Ingush on this issue demonstrates their rejection of the new border agreement. On the day of the World Congress of the Ingush People, October 30, 2018, when several hundred representatives of the Ingush people from the near and far abroad gathered in Nazran (Ingushetia’s largest city with a population of over 100.000), the official decision of the Constitutional Court of Ingushetia declaring the agreement as an unconstitutional one was also published. This decision was welcomed by the Congress participants.

While the whole Ingushetia cheered, its own President Yevkurov questioned the jurisdiction of the Constitutional Court of Ingushetia and sent the agreement to the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation on November 8. On December 6, 2018, the court declared that the agreement was legal and that a referendum was not necessary. The President of Ingushetia stated that the agreement was absolutely legal, full stop, and Kadyrov noted that the Ingush and the Chechens remained brotherly nations.

But the Ingush did not want to put a full stop in this situation and warned of a totalitarian onslaught from the brotherly neighboring republic. They resumed their protests and, as before, the organizers paid close attention to ensuring that the protests took place peacefully and within the legal framework.

The peaceful Ingush

Each protest was registered and approved, and the speakers, all of whom had been highly educated and committed to the common good for many years, repeatedly pointed out how important it was to hold peaceful demonstrations. Ingush and Russian flags were flown, people prayed together, no one was armed or wearing masks, transport routes were not blocked and so on – traditionally the participants of the civil protest were mostly men.

Protest on March 27, 2019: a stumbling block of the fateful wave of arrests in Russia

Eve of March 27, 2019 in Magas, the capital of Ingushetia, with a population of less than 3.000, which was proclaimed as such by the Russian Federation in 2000, in the immediate vicinity of Nazran. A protest in the square in front of the Ingush television station, which had been announced several days in advance, has so far only been agreed for 26.03 until 10 p.m. About 40.000 people gathered that day, and everything went on as peacefully as usual. They demanded the president’s resignation and did not recognize the border agreement. However, many participants stayed overnight or joined during the morning prayer.

And right during the sacred morning prayer, Deputy Interior Minister of Ingushetia Mikhail Poleshchuk, who had recently been the head of the Center for Counteraction of Extremist Activity of the Main Directorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia for the Siberian Federal District, ordered to disperse the crowd.

Role of Mikhail Poleshchuk, an expert on counteraction of extremist activity in the Russian Federation, in dispersing the protest

Suddenly, brief riots broke out, some participants, especially young people, grabbed the nearby chairs and stones and threw them at the police. Sixty-seven police officers were injured, including three officers who were seriously injured but not life-threatened.

Akhmed Pogorov, a former Interior Minister and LL.D., stated shortly after the dispersal of the protest that the incident had in fact been provoked by Poleshchuk. Later, in an open letter to the responsible Russian federal authorities, in which he called for a legal assessment of those events, he justified this accusation by referring to the law on the grounds and procedure for suspending public events and defiantly stated that the Russian expert on counteraction of extremist activity had absolutely not contributed to the de-escalation of the conflict situation, but rather the opposite.

Honorable organizers of peaceful civil resistance against Kadyrov’s land-grabbing are still in custody

Yet it was this brief escalation in the early hours of March 27, 2019 in Magas that subsequently led to 60 arrests with an average term of deprivation for two years.

The seven organizers, who clearly never used violence at the protest and who stood up for peaceful free expression of opinions both at that protest and before it, have been in custody to this day, that is, for more than two years! They are all highly educated, committed citizens of the Ingush civil society with impressive biographies.

They were all lumped together, presented and punished as “extremists” and “criminals”.

For example, the repeatedly mentioned Akhmed Pogorov, a former Interior Minister of Ingushetia, and Akhmed Barakhoyev, a 67-year-old philologist, whom Ramzan Kadyrov personally visited a few months before their arrest. Or 69-year-old Malsag Uzhakhov, who suffers from heart disease, having worked his way up from carpenter to qualified pharmacist and, during his work as the head of the state health service, expanded the network of pharmacies. But also a 42-year-old historian and deputy director of the museum Zarifa Sautieva, who deals with complex women’s issues. 30-year-old lawyers Bagaudin Khautiev and Ismail Nalgiev, who work on youth and human rights protection. In addition, Musa Malsagov, a chairman of the Ingush Red Cross, and Barakh Chemurziev, an economics professor at St. Petersburg University, both have small children at large.

The desperate Ingush

Moreover, to the great despair of the families, none of the prisoners are in Ingushetia itself, they are all scattered in the neighboring North Caucasus republics (in Nalchik in Kabardino-Balkaria, in Vladikavkaz in North Ossetia or in Pyatigorsk in Stavropol Krai).

Now Putin has “one more wish” from Ramzan Kadyrov

Ramzan Kadyrov owns Ingush lands, Ingush protesters have been behind the bars for two years, and Yevkurov is Deputy Defence Minister of the Russian Federation. It is obvious that the Islamist dictator Ramzan Kadyrov can rely more on genuine male friendship than on Islamic brotherly friendship. Thus Kadyrov’s land wishes were quickly fulfilled, and even the difficulties caused by a protesting civil society, which were not really expected, were removed in less than a month through the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation in St. Petersburg. “Ingush President” Yunus-bek Yevkurov, who was forced to resign in June 2019 after recording a 99 per cent loss of confidence in his country, was appointed by Russian President Vladimir Putin as Deputy Defence Minister of the Russian Federation a month later.

On the other hand, the organizers of the still existing civil society in Ingushetia, who have dared to declare that these are not Kadyrov’s lands, have been unable to go anywhere on their own feet for over two years now (in fact, as Kadyrov threatened them earlier), they are still in detention centers, behind the bars.

And again, in Russia, anyone who stands up for them already finds themselves with one foot in jail. With the huge number of additional clauses to the vague laws “On Foreign Agents” and “On Counteraction of Extremist Activity”, which the popular “mad printer” spews from the State Duma of the Russian Federation, nowadays in Russia anyone can be “legally” put behind the bars.

It may still be possible to file a claim with the European Court of Human Rights, which will certainly happen in the current case of Zarifa Sautieva, but for all those who have not followed so closely the absurd drama of the great constitutional amendments in Russia, let us explain: Russian law will take precedence over international agreements.

The Ingush people urgently need our help!

That is why Western democracies must pay attention to this issue, despite the fact that the North Caucasus is “difficult”, and make it clear that their knowledge of Russia is not limited to the word “Navalny”, and they care about the fate of political prisoners all over Russia!

Details on political prisoners in Ingushetia