October 12 marked the end of the 40-day Orthodox mourning period for victims of the Beslan siege in North Ossetia. The period following a funeral is sacred for Orthodox believers, and tradition prevents anyone from calling for revenge during this time. But now that the mourning period has ended, scores can be settled. Indeed, numerous rumors have suggested that Ossetians would go to Ingushetia to reap their vengeance. Despite the fact that there were only a few ethnic Ingush among the 30-plus terrorists, some residents of North Ossetia find this reason sufficient to kindle the 10-year-old conflict between the two populations.
According to the Prima news agency, a new organization called “The Patriots of Ossetia” is planning an attack on Ingush settlements at the beginning of November (prima-news.ru, September 20).
The first serious clash happened in the Prigorodny district of North Ossetia, not far from the Ingush border, on October 3 (Kavkazcenter.com, October 3). According to the “Memorial” human rights center, a group of Ossetian policemen detained an Ingush, Hamhoev Magomed, and severely beat him while trying to make him confess that he had been one of the terrorists.
On September 20, FSB Chief Nikolai Patrushev told members of the Russian Federation Council that most of the terrorists in Beslan were Ingush and Chechen. He said this explained why Ruslan Aushev, the former president of Ingushetia rushed to Beslan. Patrushev warned that the end of the mourning period would be a critical turning point, after which the Ossetian-Ingush conflict could explode (Kommersant, September 21).
As October 12 approached, Russian media ran more and more stories alluding to anti-Ingush sentiments and the allegedly planned vengeance. The hysteria became so tense that Aushev organized a press conference in Moscow where he called upon authorities to do everything possible to prevent a new explosion in the North Caucasus (RIA Novosti, September 28). The parliament of Ingushetia also expressed its concern about the “anti-Ingush publications in the press” (polit.ru, October 12).
However, while some media sources worried over growing anti-Ingush feelings in North Ossetia, other outlets consistently reported that most people held completely different views. According to the Yufo agency, when the Commission for the Investigation of the Events in Beslan visited Ossetia in late September, locals told its members that they did not need humanitarian aid but would rather know the details of the assault of September 3 (yufo.ru, October 3).
Alexander Dzasokhov, President of North Ossetia, whose position was weakened after the siege, added his opinion on October 9: “Our nation must know what really happened in Beslan . . . There are no anti-Ingush feelings in Ossetia.” The North Ossetian parliament backed the president’s statement (yufo.ru, October 9).
In late September two independent media sources, Caucasus Times and Prague Watchdog conducted a survey in Beslan. Their poll shows that the majority of respondents are highly critical of the authorities’ performance during the siege; 75% blamed poor decisions for the horrible death toll; 41% of North Ossetian respondents blame Kremlin policy in the Caucasus; while another 19% believe that the terrorist act was the result of the war in Chechnya (Caucasus Times, October 1).
One of the reasons people increasingly blame the Kremlin is new information about the tragedy. It is becoming more and more obvious that the September 3 assault to free the hostages was not spontaneous, but a planned operation. Novaya gazeta has reported that several casings from rocket-propelled flameÐthrowers (shmel) were found on the roof of the building opposite the school. Some witnesses say that the flame-throwers were used to set the roof of the school on fire at the beginning of the attack. In addition, one of the walls of the gymnasium, where the hostages had gathered, was destroyed by a rocket-propelled grenade (Novaya gazeta, October 7).
But the authorities have continued to focus public attention on the Ingush factor in the Beslan tragedy, as if trying to add fuel to the fire. On October 8, Nikolai Shepel, an aide to the prosecutor general in Russia’s Southern Federal District, said that some of the terrorists were Ingush from the Maglobek region of Ingushetia (yufo.ru, October 8). On October 12, Yuri Saveliev, a member of the Investigation Commission, said that the truth about who was behind the Beslan terrorist attack was so terrible that it could cause new bloodshed if it became public. He added that the Commission would like to ask Aushev exactly which hostages he had released on September 2 (yufo.ru, October 12).
Saveliev’s statement appears to be an attempt to discredit the Ingush leader. Human rights activist Valery Khatazhukov visited Beslan and told the Caucasus Times that the residents of the town blame Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Ossetian President Dzasokhov but praise Aushev, calling him “a real man” because he was not afraid to meet with the terrorists and managed to persuade them to release at least some hostages (Caucasus Times, October 8). For now, it seems that the Kremlin is trying to make the North Ossetians hate the Ingush more than they hate the federal government.