The first term of the governor of Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Rashid Temrezov, will end in 2016, and experts say the republic’s clans have been gearing up to forestall his reappointment by the Kremlin. While Temrezov has been quite successful in maintaining good relations with the federal authorities and creating a good image for the republic in the Russian media, some experts say the situation inside the republic has been quite tense. Economic and political challenges have gradually mounted in the republic. Soon after his appointment as governor, Temrezov battled the mayor of the city of Karachaevsk, Soltan Semyonov, but the two sides eventually reached a settlement agreement. It reportedly took Temrezov much effort to replace the mayor of the republic’s capital Cherkessk, Pyotr Korotchenko, with his friend Ruslan Tambiev (Onkavkaz.com, November 8).
Although Karachaevo-Cherkessia rarely makes headlines in Russia in connection to insurgency-related violence, the level of political violence in the republic is quite high. On October 16, a deputy in the Karachaevsk city council, Murat Batchaev (a.k.a. “Batchai” in the criminal world), assassinated the head of the administration of the village of Uchkulan, Kaplan Tebuev (Kavkazskaya Politika, October 17). In July 2014, the brother of Karachaevo-Cherkessia’s minister of culture, Psabyda Yevgamukov, killed a republican parliamentary deputy, Muhamed Kunizhev. Overall, six deputies of the republican parliament were killed between 2005 and 2014 (Politika09.com, July 16, 2014). Such a murder rate is comparable only to that of Dagestan in the North Caucasus, and is attributed to the constant battle between clans over resources and influence.
The influence of clans in Karachaevo-Cherkessia is an important component of the regional politics. One of the republic’s previous leaders, Boris Ebzeyev, reportedly tried to ignore the clans and challenge their influence. That did not end well, as he was ousted in 2011, prior to the end of his first term. Moscow had dispatched Ebzeyev to rule Karachaevo-Cherkessia because he was a scholar of constitutional law and seen as reliable since he had spent most of his life and career in Russia proper. However, soon after his appointment, Ebzeyev’s inability to deal with real world political issues led to his clash with the regional elites. When Rashid Temrezov replaced Ebzeyev in 2011, he was not particularly known in the republic. Temrezov’s rise was attributed to that fact that he was close to the son-in-law of former Karachaevo-Cherkessian president Mustafa Batdyev. However, after Temrezov came to power, he gradually distanced himself from his patrons and antagonized both the republic’s Karachay and the Circassian (a.k.a. Cherkess) elites (Onkavkaz.com, November 8).
Karachaevo-Cherkessia is the second most ethnically diverse republic in the North Caucasus after Dagestan. Turkic-speaking Karachays are the single largest ethnic group in the republic, comprising about 41 percent of the population, while ethnic Russians make up 32 percent and Circassians (Cherkess) comprise 12 percent of the republican population. Abazins, who are related to both the Circassians and the Abkhaz, make up another 8 percent of the population. There is also another Turkic-speaking ethnic group in the republic, the Nogais, who comprise only 3 percent of the total population. This diversity, combined with the absence of stable democratic institutions, makes ethnic mobilization in the republic nearly inevitable. In fact, local activists in Karachaevo-Cherkessia understand the nature of the problem quite well. The chairman of the Union of Karachay Youth, Vladimir Bijiev, told the Politika08.ru website: “The peoples that live in Karachaevo-Cherkessia do not like many things in the republic, but there is no point in posing questions to the officials, which is why people then go to their ethnic organizations.” Moreover, some regional scholars regard the ethnic organizations in the republic as actual political parties that signal their preferences to the authorities through various public actions (Politika09.com, November 10).
During the previous spikes in political tensions in Karachaevo-Cherkessia, ethnic groups often fought to attain the dominant position in the republic. Traditionally, the main conflict has been between the Karachays and the Circassians. However, the political conflict in Karachaevo-Cherkessia has become much more complex in recent years. Now, many Karachay activists criticize the republican government even though it is under Karachay control. It appears that the prominent Circassian clans—the Derev clan and the Arashukov clan—along with the clan of the previous republican president, Mustafa Badtyev, have united again to try to derail Temrezov’s reappointment in 2016, when his first term as governor runs out (Onkavkaz.com, November 8). Given their previous success in replacing Boris Ebzeyev and the worsening economic situation in the republic, they have high chances for success.
Interestingly, Karachaevo-Cherkessia, with its multiple ethnic groups, has features of a quasi-democratic polity, despite Moscow’s restrictions on direct elections of the governor. In 2013, Rashid Temrezov supported the idea of appointing the republic’s governor rather than direct elections (RIA Novosti, April 9, 2013), but it appears that the republic’s population—or, at least, its influential clans—may oust him from the office even in the absence of elections.