On September 23, a delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) visited Ingushetia. The head of the PACE delegation, Nikolaos Dendias, called the refugees’ living conditions in the republic “unsatisfactory.” Dendias is a member of Pace’s committee on migration, refugees and population. Ingushetia hosted tens of thousands refugees who fled Chechnya during the first and second Russian-Chechen wars as well as the ethnic Ingush displaced after the Ossetian-Ingush conflict in neighboring North Ossetia in 1992. The number of refugees currently in the republic is estimated at 15,000-20,000, and many of these people still live in improvised refugee camps (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, September 22-23).
The refugee issue in Ingushetia underscores the problem of immense overpopulation of this small republic, which is often overlooked. Ingushetia has the smallest area in Russia – only 1,356 square miles, slightly greater than that of the US state of Rhode Island. The republic’s population is about 500,000, half of Rhode Island’s. However, three-fourths of Ingushetia’s population lives on 10 percent of its territory – the Sunzha river valley, where population density reaches over 1,500 people per square mile. This is the highest population density in Russia and is comparable to the world’s the most densely populated countries like Bangladesh. Ingushetia is the most mono-ethnic region in the Russia, with an estimated 97.7 percent of its population being either Ingush or Chechens, their ethnic cousins. Ingushetia has one of the highest birthrates in the country, as well as one of the highest rates of infant mortality (http://atlas.socpol.ru/portraits/ingush.shtml). Official estimates of unemployment in the republic are about 50 percent of the working age population, which is also among the highest rates in Russia (http://ingushetiyaru.org, September 22, 2011).
Meanwhile, the security situation in Ingushetia remains tense. On September 23, two powerful explosions took place in the republic near the Kavkaz federal highway. Although no casualties were reported from this incident, it was a reminder of the continuing wave of violence in Ingushetia (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, September 23). In 2010, Ingushetia had the greatest per capita number of casualties of the law enforcement agencies in the North Caucasus, despite a decrease in the number of attacks (http://www.memo.ru/2011/02/17/1702111.html).
The well-known Russian analyst, Stanislav Belkovsky, recently commented on the situation in Ingushetia: “[I]t is hard to say where peaceful residents of Ingushetia end and the armed militants begin. In a republic with total unemployment, in a region where criminal activities are one of the primary or the main source of income, the underground movement is constantly recreated with the help of the so-called peaceful residents.” Belkovsky alleged that Moscow is disappointed with the performance of the head of the republic, Yunus-bek Yevkurov, and is looking for a replacement (http://ingushetiyaru.org, September 14).
The seizure of a government building in the capital city of Magas by an Ingush special police unit on September 3, may have been circumstantial evidence of Yevkurov’s waning authority in the republic. The policemen were protesting against the replacement of their commander with a Yevkurov protégé. Ingush policemen in the city of Karabulak had reportedly earlier protested against a similar move by Yevkurov, who replaced their chief with one of his relatives. The Karabulak policemen complained that Yevkurov’s relative forced them to shell civilian houses, kidnap and kill people (http://ingushetiyaru.org, September 3).
The latest scandal in Ingushetia’s government circles took place on September 18, when Ali Dobriev, an assistant to the Sunzha district prosecutor general, was arrested on charges of involvement with the militant underground. According to investigators, 26-year-old Dobriev had set up an illegal armed group in 2010 “to destabilize the situation in the republic.” Investigators suggested that Dobriev was connected to the rebel group headed by Said Buryatsky (aka Aleksandr Tikhomirov), who was considered to be the underground movement’s ideologist. Buryatsky was killed in a police operation in March 2010. Dobriev allegedly supplied the insurgents with ammunition, valuable information and was even involved in preparations for an attack during Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s planned visit to Ingushetia (http://kommersant.ru, September 20). People from Ali Dobriev’s home village of Ekazhevo were divided on his possible involvement in the militancy. Some blamed general lawlessness in the republic while others questioned his motives (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, September 25).
Meanwhile, on September 21, a Moscow court upheld the sentencing an Ingush blogger to six years imprisonment for illegal drug and arms possession. Aleksei Dudko, known among the bloggers under the nickname ingushetiya_ru, is a Ukrainian convert to Islam who spent the last 10-15 years living in Moscow. Dudko was close to late Magomed Yevloev, the Ingush opposition leader killed by police in Ingushetia in 2008. Dudko insisted on his innocence and was reportedly preparing an appeal to the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, September 21).
Maksharip Aushev was another outspoken leader of Ingushetia’s opposition and a rights activist. He was killed while driving on a highway near Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria, on October 25, 2009. After the investigation of Aushev’s killing stalled, his relatives addressed the Russian leadership, stating that they would appeal to international organizations to defend their rights if the murder case was not investigated properly. The investigation of Aushev’s death was reopened on September 2, and Aushev’s colleagues are also conducting their own independent examination of his murder (http://ys.novayagazeta.ru, September 24). Maksharip Aushev received two posthumous awards for his human rights-related activities from both Russian authorities (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, December 11, 2009) and the US Department of State (http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2009/dec/133356.htm). On December 16, 2009, a car in which relatives of Aushev were traveling blew up near a police checkpoint in Ingushetia; two people in the car died. On December 25, 2009, Aushev’s relatives traveled to St. Petersburg for post-bombing rehabilitation and four of them disappeared (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, December 28, 2009).
The backlog of human rights offenses in Ingushetia is alarmingly extensive, and new cases of kidnappings and related public protests have been reported in Ingushetia in 2011 as well. With the authorities displaying little concern over human rights violations, there is little hope the situation in Ingushetia will improve radically.