Ossetian-Ingush Tensions Escalate Into Series of Clashes

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 18 Issue: 183

(Source: Kavkavsky Uzel)

During the first two weeks of November, ethnic Ossetians and Ingush in the Russian North Caucasus republic of North Ossetia–Alania skirmished on three separate occasions. No casualties were reported, but in the most violent of these incident, two Ingush individuals were hospitalized after a shootout. All conflicts took place in the Prigorodny district of North Ossetia and the eastern end of its capital, the city of Vladikavkaz.

This area is currently part of North Ossetia, but that administrative order is disputed by some Ingush activists. The year 1992 saw a short but bloody Ossetian-Ingush conflict. More than 600 people died in the armed clashes, while thousands lost their homes and suffered other losses. The majority of the Ingush population of North Ossetia fled or was expelled to the modern-day Republic of Ingushetia. Since then, many Ingush refugees have returned, especially to the rural parts of the Prigorodny district; but the coexistence of Ossetians and Ingush remains tenuous.

According to some Ingush activists, the Ossetian-Ingush tensions are hushed up while the core problems are not resolved. The Ingush population of North Ossetia does not feel protected, because it is not adequately represented in the local government or the law enforcement agencies. Conflicts usually appear to be trivial on the outside; nevertheless, the public tends to see them through the ethnic prism. Some local experts claim that such conflicts have become more frequent recently. Others assert that the number of unfriendly encounters between Ossetians and Ingush has not changed but they became more visible as the media increased coverage of such incidents (Kavkazsky Uzel, November 19).

Online social media became a new battleground for the conflicting sides. Users analyze leaked videos of scuffles, trying to identify the culprits (YouTube, November 13). But official representatives also sometimes became involved. Vladikavkaz municipal deputy Soslan Didarov, for example, appealed last month to the deputies of the republican parliament of Ingushetia, addressing them as “so-called colleagues.” According to Didarov, instead of promoting a peaceful resolution, the Ingushetian parliamentarians act as “provocateurs, destabilizing the situation.” The Vladikavkaz official warned, “We will not let our young people be offended and we will not keep quiet” (Instagram, November 13). The Ingushetian side, in turn, accused Didarov of nationalism. The Ingush say that 20,000 of their co-ethnics in North Ossetia are excluded from public life in the places they live in. “Until everyone defends their own, we will progress nowhere,” point out some Ingush speakers (YouTube, November 14).

As with many other disputes in the Caucasus, the Ossetian-Ingush conflict has deep historical roots, and history is often used to prove to whom the contested land “truly” belongs. A YouTube video that explained how the capital of North Ossetia, Vladikavkaz, was founded on Ingush lands in the 18th century illustratively caused an uproar in both republics. The initial video was taken down, apparently after a complaint. It had received over 50,000 views in one day—quite a significant number these small republics. But after its removal, the video was redacted and re-uploaded. Within five days, the new edition garnered more than 100,000 views (YouTube, December 3).

The official founding year of Vladikavkaz is 1784. The Russian Empire built a range of fortresses across the North Caucasus as Moscow slowly but surely conquered the local Caucasian mountaineer nations and the adjacent lowlands. Vladikavkaz was an important point on the map of the Russian conquest since it controlled the Georgian Military Highway, which connected the Central North Caucasus and the South Caucasus (first of all, Georgia). The line of fortresses also divided the Northwestern Caucasus (Circassian forces) from the Northeastern Caucasus (Shamil’s Imamate). In imperial Russia, Vladikavkaz grew to become an important city and at one point served as the capital of Terek Province, which included, along with the Ossetian and Ingush districts, also the Kabardin (Circassian) district, several Chechen districts, and some neighboring territories.

Soon after the October 1917 revolution, the Bolsheviks abolished the Terek Province. For a while, Vladikavkaz became the capital city for both Ossetians and Ingush. However, after the Stalinist deportation of the Ingush and Chechens to Central Asia in 1944 for their alleged collaboration with Nazi Germany, most Ingush lands were distributed among Ossetians, including those from Georgia, as well as other settlers from all over Russia. Following Joseph Stalin’s death in 1953 and the ascension to power of Nikita Khrushchev, Ingush and Chechens were rehabilitated and allowed to return to their homeland. The administrative borders were changed once again, but the Ingush remained dissatisfied, believing that part of historical Ingushetia remained outside the administrative borders of the newly created joint republic Chechen-Ingushetia. The tensions between Ossetians and Ingush have persisted ever since and have included revolts by both Ingush and Ossetians, even during the Soviet times.

Following the Ossetian-Ingush conflict of 1992, Moscow invested substantial funds to rebuild the infrastructure and provide housing to refugees and other victims of the violence. However, the administrative borders have remained untouched, which left many Ingush disappointed. Many Ingush refugees have returned to North Ossetia, except for Vladikavkaz, but they remain largely unintegrated. Even though thousands of ethnic Ingush now reside in North Ossetia, they primarily travel to nearby Ingushetia for work, study and leisure. Relations between the two communities have remained uneasy despite the passing of nearly three decades since the war. Some Ingush activists dispute the belonging of the right bank of the Terek River in Prigorodny district and Vladikavkaz to North Ossetia. However, few observers see changing borders in this area as a realistic option in the current environment. Moscow does not seem to be interested in altering the local status quo. And yet, despite the best efforts of the Russian government, the Ossetian-Ingush frictions seem reemerge again and again.