Leading politicians and other observers have issued fresh warnings that tensions between Ossetians and Ingush, exacerbated by the September 1 school siege in Beslan, could soon explode into violence. Ingushetia’s former president, Ruslan Aushev, whose early mediation efforts with the Beslan hostage-takers, who reportedly included several Ingush, freed 15 babies and ten women, told a Moscow press conference, “I am receiving information that there are certain forces in North Ossetia that want, urge, and say that after the 40-day mourning period for the victims of the Beslan tragedy ends, it is necessary to deal with the Ingush somehow.” Should this come to pass, he added, “The objective of the terrorists to destabilize the situation in the North Caucasus will have been achieved. There are hotheads who are ready to play the Ingush card . . . . We know what the political situation is in North Ossetia. Probably, there are politicians who want to play this conflict in their interest. But this cannot be allowed under any circumstances.” The 40-day mourning period ends on October 13.
Aushev said that the federal authorities must take tough measures to prevent violence from breaking out between North Ossetia and Ingushetia, and quoted President Vladimir Putin as having already said that anyone “who falls for provocations will be regarded as accomplices of the terrorists.” Should an Ingush-Ossetian conflict break out, it could engulf much of the Caucasus region, Aushev warned. “A huge cauldron is simmering there, in which there is Chechnya, and Dagestan, and Ingushetia, and Kabardino-Balkaria, and Georgia, and each will be seeking its own interests,” he said (Kommersant, Nezavisimaya gazeta, New York Times, Newsru.com, September 29; Interfax, September 28).
Alexei Malashenko of the Carnegie Moscow Center echoed Aushev’s concerns. “If nothing happens before the end of the year, then it will be possible to believe that nothing has fundamentally changed in the Caucasus,” he told journalists. “But first it is necessary to wait for October 13.” “We remember well how the clashes in the Prigorodny district of Ossetia began,” Malashenko said, referring to the brief but violent territorial dispute between Ingushetia and North Ossetia in 1992, which left hundreds dead and thousands of Ingush homeless. “And the news coming from there now does not instill optimism,” he added, apparently referring to reports of sporadic violence between the two ethnic groups in the wake of the Beslan siege, which killed more than 300 Ossetians, over half of them children. Malashenko noted that in such situations, a small incident could trigger large-scale violence, as was the case with the inter-ethnic violence in Uzbekistan’s Fergana Valley in 1989-90. “In Fergana, there was at first just a fight in a market, which was followed by carnage,” he said (Vremya novosti, September 29).
According to some reports, the authorities in the Ossetian villages of the Prigorodny district, from which many Ingush were driven out in 1992, continue to prevent Ingush from returning to their homes. The number of Ingush seeking to return to their homes in the disputed territory is conservatively estimated at several thousand. And where they have returned, tensions between the two ethnic groups are high. Both sides keep weapons in their homes, and Islamic fundamentalism is exerting a growing influence on young Ingush, raising fears among the Orthodox Ossetians (Newsru.com, September 29).
Perhaps the most troubling assessment came from Oleg Panteleyev, a Federation Council member who traveled to Beslan as a member of the parliamentary commission set up to investigate the tragedy. Asked how large is the possibility of a conflict breaking out between the Ossetians and Ingush, he answered, “Very large.”
“Unfortunately, I have to say that I heard many times with my own ears from people in Beslan the promise: as soon as the mourning [period] ends, we’re going to raid,” Panteleyev said. “We have repeatedly said that the band of terrorists included people of different nationalities. As for the Ingush, there were no more of them [among the hostage-takers] than representatives of certain other nationalities. If pogroms begin again, then it can be said that [Chechen rebel warlord Shamil] Basayev has fulfilled his task, and we will all end up hostages of a new bloody conflict. This cannot be allowed to happen” (Rossiiskaya gazeta, September 29).