Karachaevo-Cherkessia Faces Renewed Militant Activity

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 9 Issue: 36

The new president of Karachaevo-Cherkessia Boris Ebzeyev inherited the old problems from his predecessor Mustafa Batdiev. The new head of the republic is a very famous person. As a member of the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation, he has had the reputation of a bright person unmarred by corruption allegations. It is possible that all of Karachaevo-Cherkessia’s nationalities for the first time accepted the Kremlin’s choice, because his candidacy satisfied Karachays, Cherkess and Russians alike. However, even before assuming the presidency, the new head of the republic had to face militant activities in the region. In particular, three police officers were assassinated in the capital of the republic, Cherkessk, on July 17 (Kavkaz.tv, July 18). On the evening of September 13, the head of the Karachaevo-Cherkessia Interior Ministry’s department for extremist crimes, Colonel Alibek Urakchiev, was gunned down by automatic weapons on the doorstep of his residence in Cherkessk. He died later in the local hospital from gunshot wounds sustained in the attack (Regnum.ru, September 14). Literally within hours, members of the republic’s traffic police came under fire. Two police officers were wounded in the attack. On September 17, Karachaevo-Cherkessia’s law-enforcement structures carried out an operation in the capital to apprehend the suspects. As a result, two militants were killed and one arrested (Skavkaz.rfn.ru, September 18).

It should be noted that such a level of militant activity in Karachaevo-Cherkessia has not been seen since 2006-2007, when, as a result of special operations in the Teberda resort town, the village of Storozhevaya and Cherkessk, the authorities managed to eliminate a number of militants, including members of the republic’s Jamaat and its leader, Vakhtang Aliev (Kavkaz-uzel.ru, September 17). After sustained losses, the Karachay Jamaat was no longer active and the very fact that this region was included in the United Vilayat (Oblast) of Caucasus Emirate (a virtual state entity based on the resistance movement) by the separatist leadership headed by Dokka Umarov was an explicit confirmation of the weakening positions of the Karachay Jamaat, which was actually one of the earliest associations formed on the basis of Salafi viewpoints during the twilight of the USSR in 1991.

Thus, Karachaevo-Cherkessia President Boris Ebzeyev has had to start his term by facing a very real threat that the republic’s Jamaat is renewing its militant activities. This will undoubtedly have a negative impact on his image as an impartial judge, given that he will be forced to confront his Salafi compatriots, for whom he will be as implacable a foe as his predecessor, Mustafa Batdiyev.

At the same time, the authorities in Karachaevo-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria were forced to solve the problems of interactions between Kabardins and Balkars—or, to be more precise, their different attitudes towards a particular historical date. The issue here is the commemoration of the Kanzhal battle of September 1708, when the 7,000-strong Kabardin army defeated the numerically superior forces of the Crimean Khan Kaplan-Girei. The Turkic-speaking Balkars and Karachays are alarmed by any appeal to history that deals with the linguistically-related Crimean Tatars. The Kabardins view this date as a declaration of independence from the Crimean Tatars, while the Balkars and Karachays are convinced that there was no battle to begin with. Moreover, the battle is never mentioned in either the history of the Crimean Khanate or the Russian state (Regnum.ru, September 18). With the authorities’ approval and support, the Kabardins organized an equestrian march through cities across the North Caucasus to Mount Kanzhal, which is located in a Karachay-populated area. When the equestrian march reached the Balkar-populated village of Kendelen, the local residents blocked the road and refused entry for passage to the Kabardin equestrians. The standoff between the Kabardins, who were actively supported by the authorities of Kabardino-Balkaria, and the Balkars, who were supported by the Balkaria national association headed by Ruslan Babaev, lasted for two days. In the end the Kabardin equestrians had to abandon their original route and chose to ride along the bypass road. Kabardino-Balkaria President Arsen Kanakov denounced the protest organizers and called for their punishment to the fullest extent of the law (Regnum News Agency, September 18). The Balkars once again made it clear that the issue of interaction between the two titular ethnic groups comprising the republic is still very much alive and is now simply a slowly smoldering conflict that could turn into a full conflagration at any time, as was the case in the early 1990s, when the Kabardins and Balkars demanded the republic’s partition along ethnic lines.

Meanwhile, the authorities in Kabardino-Balkaria have been trying for five months to form a jury for the trial of those of accused of participating in the rebel assault on Nalchik on October 13, 2005, and close to one hundred people have refused to become jury members. People simply do not believe the trial will be conducted in a fair manner and this is why nobody wants to take responsibility for that in front of their relatives and friends of the defendants. According to experts, the court proceedings will likely take years, given the scale of the case and the sheer number of witnesses and victims (Kavkaz-uzel.ru, September 18). The militants’ October 2005 operation triggered anti-Russian attitudes in the republic, due mainly to the actions of the Russian authorities against suspected participants in the Nalchik assault.

Several ethnic and territorial conflicts are currently smoldering in the North Caucasus. These include the Ossetian-Ingush conflict over the Prigorodny District of North Ossetia; the Chechen-Laks conflict over the Aukhov District; the Kumyk-Dargin conflict over the lands of the Kumyk Plain; the Kumyk-Laks conflict over the resettlement of Laks in the Makhachkala District; the Karachay-Cherkess conflict over national representation in the government based on ethnic affiliation; the Avar-Chechen conflict over the lands in the Khasavyurt District (Dagestan) and mountainous Cheberloy (Chechnya); the Cossack-Chechen conflict along the Terek River; the Cossack-Adyg conflict over the disproportionate distribution of government positions; the Cossack-Shapsug conflict in the Sochi District; the Kabardin-Balkar conflict over the lands around Nalchik; the Nogai-Dagestani conflict over the lands in the Nogai Steppe; the Nogai-Chechen conflict over the lands in the Shchelkov District; the Nogai-Cossack conflict over lands in the Stavropol Territory; and the unresolved “Lezgin question,” which involves the problem of an ethnic group divided between Russia and Azerbaijan. So it is truly premature and groundless to talk about the absence of urgency regarding the problem of ethnic separatism in the North Caucasus region (Kavkaz-uzel.ru, September 12).

Ethnic separatism is most highly advanced among Chechens while it is at best in its infancy among other peoples of the North Caucasus. This state of affairs dates back to the beginning of the second military campaign in Chechnya in 1999: that is, the Chechen conflict should be considered the single factor that contributed the most to the emergence of separatist attitudes among the peoples of North Caucasus, because it expanded across the region and spread the virus of separatism.

The most direct confirmation of this state of affairs can be seen in the militant activities in different parts of the North Caucasus, because their overarching objective is formulated in an unequivocal manner and it does not allow for multiple interpretations. The goal is to overthrow the Russian lackeys and declare an Islamic state across the entire North Caucasus. Perhaps the concept of Islamic justice scares a majority of the population, because it experienced decades of militant atheism before the breakup of the Soviet Union and is therefore far less religious. Nonetheless, the resistance to the authorities by the armed opposition represented by the militants makes it more attractive for the population than the Moscow protégés in the region. Presently, only Ingushetia’s president, Murat Zyazikov, remains in power among the leaders ousted or replaced in the North Caucasus since 2002, and it appears that his fate will be determined very soon, given that it is impossible to continue to ignore the massive disturbances taking place in this tiny North Caucasus republic.