On March 30, an estimated 50 relatives of the murdered member of Karachaevo-Cherkessian parliament, Islam Krymshamkhalov, staged a protest near the office of Moscow’s envoy to the North Caucasus, Aleksandr Khloponin, in Pyatigorsk. Krymshamkhalov was killed near the Karachaevo-Cherkessian Supreme Court in Cherkessk in January 2009. A man with the last name Bostanov, whom the investigators identified as the perpetrator of the attack, is allegedly hiding abroad. Krymshamkhalov’s relatives told the Kavkazsky Uzel (Caucasian Knot) website that officials from Karachaevo-Cherkessia’s administration were behind the murder. The protesters were infuriated by the inaction of the law enforcement agencies and promised to continue to stage public protests (http://karachaevo-cherkesia.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/203987/, March 30).
Investigations of three high profile murders in Karachaevo-Cherkessia have stalled, and this, according to local experts, is generating a wave of public criticism in the republic. Apart from the Krymshamkhalov murder, a young Circassian activist, Aslan Zhukov, was murdered in March 2010, and an official, Fral Shebzukhov, was murdered in May 2010. On March 26, Zhukov’s confessed murderer, Rasul Ajiev, was acquitted. Shebzukhov was an adviser to Karachaevo-Cherkessia’s president and a likely candidate from the Circassian community to the post of republican prime minister when he was brutally beaten and then shot dead. On March 1 of this year, three people were arrested on suspicion of involvement in Shebzukhov’s killing (http://karachaevo-cherkesia.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/204096/, April 2).
Experts say that the number of disgruntled well-connected people in Karachaevo-Cherkessia may have reached a critically high level. Anti-government rebellions are not unknown in the republic’s history. In the fall of 2004, when people discovered that the son-in-law of then President Mustafa Batdyev had been implicated in the murder of seven prominent local businessmen and the authorities were reluctant to act, the local government building was ransacked. Batdyev fled his office, which was occupied by protesters for days until Moscow’s then envoy to the region, Dmitry Kozak, convinced them to leave the building.
“In a very small society, [people] always feel the difference,” local journalist and expert Murat Gukemukhov told Kavkazsky Uzel. “When a criminal dies, even if he held a government position, his death is perceived as logical, because he had involvement in criminal dealings. But people also distinguish when a person is killed for nothing and this evokes a wave of protests.” Gukemukhov said he does not expect the situation to escalate to the level of 2004. However, Mukhammed Cherkesov, the head of Adyge Khase, the Circassian organization in the republic, said that events resembling the mass riots of 2004 could happen again. He said that people in the republic live in constant fear (http://karachaevo-cherkesia.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/204096/, April 2).
Rumors were rife in Karchaevo-Cherkessia last month that a dispute had erupted between the head of the republic, Rashid Temrezov, and his primary ally, former president Batdyev. A conflict in the republic’s governing circles may have led to information being leaked to those affected by the murders (http://www.ekhokavkaza.com/content/article/24514741.html, March 14).
Deliberately or not, Moscow may have played a decisive role in initiating the series of conflicts and changes in the republic. On February 9, Vyacheslav Derev, a delegate from Karachaevo-Cherkessia to the Russian Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament, used an interview with the government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta to launch a scathing surprise attack on the powerful businessman Raul Arashukov. A businessman as well as a state bureaucrat, Arashukov was involved in the natural gas distribution business, which in Russia is state-controlled. In December 2011, Arashukov resigned his position. Derev called his resignation a relief for people in the North Caucasus, accusing Arashukov of creating a family mafia. Derev implied that Arashukov was involved in the killing of Shebzukhov and a number of other crimes (http://www.rg.ru/2012/02/09/derev.html, February 9). In response, some Circassian organizations called for Derev’s resignation from the Federation Council (http://karachaevo-cherkesia.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/204135/, April 2).
Arashukov and another powerful businessman within the state monopoly, Magomed Kaitov, resigned shortly before Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin lashed out at corruption in the country’s energy sector, specifically the electricity generation business. At a government meeting on December 19, 2011, Putin said that the “energy system of the North Caucasus region is controlled to a large extent by one family, the family of Mr. Kaitov.” Putin said Kaitov was using illegal schemes to divert some of the clients’ payments to his private accounts (http://government.ru/docs/17435/, December 19, 2011).
The crucial question is whether the elites in Karachaevo-Cherkessia will carry on their efforts to quell the rebel movement in the republic with the same zeal as before if they are deprived of income generating positions. Feeling threatened by Moscow, they could revert to giving a free pass to the radicals or simply turn a blind eye to them. A few key terrorist attacks in Russia’s modern history, such as the apartment building bombings in Moscow and other parts of Russia in 1999, were attributed to ethnic Karachays who came from Karachaevo-Cherkessia. The trial of a group of 13 suspect rebels will begin in Cherkessk on April 4. The suspects are accused of plotting a coup and forming an illegal armed group (http://www.ekhokavkaza.com/content/news/24533059.html, March 31).
Karachaevo-Cherkessia may easily follow the path of destabilization if the regional elites lose their incentives to invest into preserving stability. In Karachaevo-Cherkessia, the situation may be even further aggravated by the republic’s ethnic diversity. Apart from the Karachays, Circassians and Russians, the republic also has a substantial native populations of Abaza, who are related to both the Circassians and the Abkhaz. The Nogais, who are a Turkic-speaking people but are highly distinct from the Turkic-speaking Karachays, also claim this republic as their home. Thus, the serious reshuffle of the government in Karachaevo-Cherkessia looming ahead may well provoke significant changes in the security situation in the republic.