On November 5, a massive fistfight broke out between Ossetians and Ingush in the city of Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia, following a car accident. The violence involved relatives of the accident victims, residents of nearby villages and the North Ossetian police. According to the Ingush side, dozens of North Ossetian policemen targeted the Ingush participants in the clashes. At least six people, including one teenager, were hospitalized. Bekhan Khazbiev, a Russian agency for drug control serviceman who is an ethnic Ingush, was reportedly also beaten up by the North Ossetian policemen (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, November 10). The Russian drug control agency is an important part of the Russian security services and closely affiliated with the Federal Security Service (FSB). The division between ethnic Ingush and Ossetians is apparently so strong that even professional solidarity fades when ethnicity comes into play.
The brawl between Ossetians and Ingush was the latest incident in the region surrounding the 19th anniversary of the 1992 Ossetian-Ingush conflict. Even though Moscow and leaders of both republics have long proclaimed the Ossetian-Ingush conflict to be over, in reality animosity remains quite strong and regularly produces violent incidents between the two ethnic groups. On November 10, for example, two Ingush people were hospitalized in Ingushetia following a street fight in the neighboring North Ossetian town of Chermen (Interfax, November 10). On October 28, a car from Ingushetia was fired on near the North Ossetian village of Brut by four assailants who reportedly used a gun with a silencer. A woman was injured in the attack (www.regnum.ru, October 28).
As a result of the Ossetian-Ingush conflict of 1992, most of the estimated 30,000-60,000 Ingush living in North Ossetia fled or were forcibly sent to neighboring Ingushetia. Since then, many Ingush refugees have returned to North Ossetia, but many others have not. Even those who returned mainly live in segregated communities and commute to nearby Ingushetia for most of their activities. The issue at the heart of the conflict – a territorial dispute between Ossetians and Ingush – remains an important factor that has political repercussions. Ingush activists believe that part of the city of Vladikavkaz, which is the capital of North Ossetia, and land east of the city, should belong to Ingushetia. The charismatic first president of Ingushetia, Ruslan Aushev, was a staunch supporter of that view, but both of his successors, Murat Zyazikov and Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, tried to strike a more conciliatory tone with the North Ossetians.
Aushev still believes that the 1992 Ossetian-Ingush conflict was only remotely related to the actual Ossetian-Ingush tensions. According to Aushev, some people in the Kremlin at the time provoked the conflict in order to involve independence-minded Chechnya in it and thereby give the Russian army a good pretext for intervening in Chechnya. After a conflict between the Ossetians and the Ingush erupted, the Chechens were presumably supposed to back their ethnic cousins, the Ingush, against the Ossetians, and Moscow would have received a good reason to oust then Chechen president Dzhokhar Dudaev. However, Dudaev, apparently seeing through this simple Russian trick, abstained from intervening. “That is an internal affair of Russia,” Dudaev reportedly said in reaction to the conflict in North Ossetia. “We are not part of Russia; settle your affairs by yourself.” By 1992, Dudaev’s Chechen Republic of Ichkeria was already de-facto independent from Moscow, and Dudaev reportedly asked the Ingush to decide whether they wanted to stay in the Russian Federation or join the Chechen quest for freedom (http://ingushetiyaru.org/news/22506.html). Ingush leaders chose to stay in Russia and part of the reason for that decision was the territorial dispute with North Ossetia.
On October 31, Ingush activists held a conference on the aftermath of the 1992 conflict. Nazir Kotiev, head of the Union of the Deported from North Ossetia, accused Moscow of supporting North Ossetia against its rival Ingushetia, and of selective justice. According to Kotiev, Russia displayed a great deal of resolve during the August 2008 war with Georgia, proving that Moscow could also resolve ethnic conflicts in the North Caucasus if it wanted to. However, the Ingush activist said, in the Ossetian-Ingush conflict Moscow clearly favors the Ossetians over the Ingush (http://ingushetiyaru.org/news/22506.html, November 3).
At the end of the conference, the participants issued an appeal condemning Ingushetia’s current leadership for allegedly betraying Ingush interests by recognizing the existing administrative borders between North Ossetia and Ingushetia. “Statements about the ownership of the Prigorodny district (the disputed territory), the cradle of the Ingush people, by anyone other than its legal owner is a confirmation of the treacherous polices of the leadership and state power bodies of the Republic of Ingushetia,” the appeal stated (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/blogs/posts/9609).
One reason for the growing disaffection of the Ingush people with head of the republic, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, is that he does not claim rights over the disputed territories or at least raise the issue of Ingush refugees from North Ossetia. Instead, Yevkurov contemplates resolving the refugee issue by resettling them inside Ingushetia, something that outrages Ingushetia’s civil society leaders (http://www.ri-online.ru/index.php/2009-11-07-18-24-34/2255-problemy-bezhenczev-v-ingushetii-pytayutsya-reshit-po-princzipu-qnet-cheloveka-net-problemyq-ekspert).
The Caucasus Emirate may have been more attentive to aspirations of the Ingush activists than the Ingush authorities. In September 2010, a blast near the central market place in Vladikavkaz claimed the lives of 19 people and injured over 200. In October and November of this year, two people from Ingushetia were sentenced to lengthy prison terms for involvement in the Caucasus Emirate’s armed group in Ingushetia, which was reportedly responsible for the 2010 attack in Vladikavkaz (www.kommersant.ru, November 12).
The latest violence in North Ossetia strongly demonstrates that Ossetian-Ingush relations remain quite tense and further violence could easily erupt. The situation is aggravated by the fact that the existing republican authorities, especially those in Ingushetia, do not seem to possess enough legitimacy to speak on behalf of their people.