The tragedy in Beslan left local Ossetians with the question, “Who is to blame?” After terrorists seized the school, the first reaction from Beslan’s residents was to take revenge on their neighbors — the Ingush. Official statements that the hostage-takers came from Ingushetia immediately lit the smoldering fire of the Ossetian-Ingush conflict that broke out over ten years ago.
In 1992 Ossetian militants, helped by the Russian army, forced all ethnic Ingush living in the disputed Prigorodny district to leave Ossetia. Several hundred people died in the conflict. Not until 2002, after several Ossetian-Ingush summits, did the Ingush refugees begin to return to Ossetia. In August 2004, the Migration Service of Ingushetia started to register all Ingush refugees from Ossetia, explaining that this would help organize their return to Prigorodny in the future (Kavkazky uzel, August 18). But after the Beslan crisis, return will be impossible for at least a decade. The Ingush who have already returned are in great danger now, and they are preparing for a new flight to Ingushetia.
The first anti-Ingush act was committed by Ossetians on September 2 when, according to the Ingushetiya.ru website, several Ingush going to Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia, were detained by Ossetian policemen at a checkpoint on the Ossetian-Ingush border (Ingushetiya.ru, September 9).
When the Beslan siege ended with the death of hundreds of hostages, outraged and armed Ossetians rushed to the Ingush village of Karts, but were stopped by local police. The President of the self-proclaimed Republic of South Ossetia, Eduard Kokoiti, calmed the crowd and made them retreat. At the same time, an Ingush man was beaten to death in Beslan. Official Russian media said he was one of the terrorists who had tried to escape in civilian clothes, but Minkail Ezhiev, a Chechen human-rights activist who was in Ossetia at that time, said that the man killed by the mob was actually a businessman who had come to Beslan to repay money owed to his Ossetian partner.
The Ingush factor was immediately used by political forces opposed to the North Ossetian President, Alexander Dzasokhov. Zaur Tygiev, a young Ossetian nationalist leader, called for expulsion of all Ingush, Jews, Chechens, and Armenians from Ossetia. He also announced that his movement seeks to proclaim an Ossetian state independent of Russia (Kommersant, September 9). He was arrested by the police but freed the next day when his supporters threatened to occupy the Government Palace in Vladikavkaz (Kommersant, September 9).
Anti-Ingush slogans were in the air during the first opposition rally held in the center of Vladikavkaz on September 8. People were accusing local authorities of allowing ethnic Ingush to return to the Republic (Kommersant, September 8).
The rising anti-Ingush feelings in Ossetia have seriously frightened the Ingush people. According to the Caucasus Times website, they have almost stopped traveling to Ossetia, and some of them even sent their families deep into Ingushetia and further from the Ossetian border.
The Russian and Ossetian presidents now find themselves in a difficult position. While they would like all the hostage relatives to blame only the Ingush — and not them — they also realize that a new Ossetian-Ingush war, added to the conflict in Chechnya, could push the eastern part of the North Caucasus into total chaos.
The Kremlin’s indecision could be clearly seen from conflicting statements by the security services, which kept changing their description of the ethnic content of the terrorist gang and of their leader, going from Doku Umarov, a Chechen field commander, to Magomed Yevloev, an Ingush, to Khodorov, an Ossetian Muslim.
But as more and more Ossetians blamed the authorities, the Ingush version finally prevailed. On September 17, Vladimir Kolesnikov, an aide to the Russian Prosecutor General, identified an Ingush, Ruslan Khutchbarov, as the commander of the terrorist group (Interfax, September 17).
At times it even seems that the security services are trying deliberately to direct people’s anger toward the Ingush population. For example, an unidentified FSB officer told the Kommersant-Vlast magazine that the main goal of the Beslan attack was “to initiate a war between the Ingush and Ossetians and now everything is going according to the gunmen’s plan” (Kommersant-Vlast, September 13). This version is hardly true, considering that the Beslan terrorists, as we know now from the recent statement by Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, were demanding the withdrawal of Russian troops and recognition of the independence of Chechnya.
The situation in Ossetia is becoming increasingly complicated, as the Ossetians look for more targets for revenge for Beslan. The authorities in Moscow or Vladikavkaz cannot give them more political concessions than the resignation of the government of North Ossetia and the chiefs of local security services. But well-armed people are unlikely to retreat until their demands are really satisfied.