Rebels in Kabardino-Balkaria Apologize for Accidental Killings

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 15 Issue: 4

Since the start of the year, the security services have been waging a powerful counter-insurgency campaign in Kabardino-Balkaria and Dagestan. There are reports about the killing of a militant or a group of militants from these republics practically every week (

Despite this pressure, the rebel emir of Kabarda, Balkaria and Karachay (KBK), Tengiz Guketlov, shed light on the enigmatic murders of residents of Stavropol region in the run-up to the Sochi Olympics ( The 30-year-old emir of KBK is an ethnic Kabardian (a.k.a. Circassian) from the village of Kenzhe. Guketlov is on the police wanted list for allegedly trying to kill a law enforcement officer ( If convicted of this crime, a suspect can receive life in prison or even the death penalty (

The KBK emir made it clear that the murders in the Stavropol region were not committed in connection with the Olympics. In Guketlov’s words, the killings were in retaliation for the fact that police in Kabardino-Balkaria were with increasing frequency killing young men and then declaring them ex post facto to have been militants. The police usually claim that suspects fire shots at officers who were forced to shoot and kill them in response. However, according to the militant leader, all 35 people who have been killed by the police recently had no relation to the insurgency (

Thus, the version of events implying a connection between the murders in Stavropol and the Olympics in Sochi collapsed, although it may also be the case that the militants were unable to infiltrate the Olympics zone. So, in order to hide their failure to carry out their vague promises about possible surprises at the Olympics, they came up with this explanation.

It is unclear whether the killing of the 35 young men is connected to the coming to power in Kabardino-Balkaria of Yuri Kokov, a police colonel-general and security services professional. Kokov’s appointment by President Vladimir Putin could have been seen as evidence of a transition to the use of crude force in the republic (–2013-.html).

However, the change in leadership of the republic is considered to be a reshuffling of the two powerful clans in Kabardino-Balkaria. Arsen Kanokov, who Kokov replaced, belongs to the clan that competes with Kokov’s clan. Kokov reportedly did a lot of work in Moscow to cast Kanokov’s entire entourage in a negative light—as mired in corruption and thinking only about piling up wealth. The belief that the new head of the republic will do better in fighting the insurgency is highly dubious, since it is the national government’s responsibility (

Changes have also been made in the ranks of the militants lately. They have suddenly started worrying about their image, something that they were not interested in before. Lately, the emirs unexpectedly began posting post video addresses about civilians being killed by mistake. Given the fact that this did not happen previously and that the militants in both Kabardino-Balkaria and Dagestan are issuing such apologies, it must have been the initiative of the Caucasus Emirate’s qadi (Muslim judge), Abu-Muhammad.

Astemir Berkhamov, the emir of the North-Eastern sector of the Velayat of Kabarda, Balkaria and Karachay, comes from the city of Baksan. He is 25 years old and has been on the Russian federal wanted list since 2011. The fact that a criminal case was opened against him back in 2011 shows that Berkhamov, despite his relative youth, has been in the insurgency for several years. Thus it can be assumed that he joined the insurgents immediately after finishing school. His age also testifies to the fact that the Kabardino-Balkarian jamaat has again become manned by younger people, as it was back in 1999–2002.

Berkhamov started off his nearly nine-minute video ( with an apology for the accidental killing of someone named Aslanbek, a resident of Kabardino-Balkaria, who was killed along with an alleged informer—a car mechanic named Aslan. The emir of the North-Eastern sector also warned someone named Yuri Kodzokov, who he said used to work for the Federal Security Service (FSB) and now continues what Berkhamov described as anti-Islamic activities. Berkhamov warned Kodzokov that death was awaiting and that the militants would make sure that his relatives would not even be able to find his body. Berkhamov also addressed his followers and those who doubt the purity of his thoughts, and promised to explain his plans and operations more regularly so that the population of the district knew who was behind various operations in the area.

The emir’s video address is interesting because it shows that the insurgents are prepared to admit their mistakes. For such errors as accidentally killing a person, the militants pledged to pay the compensation equivalent to nearly $57,000. Until now such moves were unheard of among the insurgents.

Thus, the militants in the North Caucasus have decided to change their attitude. Since this step coincides with the government campaign of persecuting relatives of the militants, this can be considered a PR move by the militants. Compared to the state, which has never admitted its mistakes, the militants will look better, but this will not be enough. The idea of a worldwide jihad scares the population, which lived for decades in a country ruled by aggressive atheism. The civilian population will continue to be scared of the insurgents if they do not display a more liberal side of Islam and tolerance toward those who are not prepared to accept the ideology of an Islamic state.

Moscow’s actions are prompting changes in the armed underground movement, which shows the latter’s ability to adapt to changes in the local environment. This will make the government’s task increasingly harder as it tries to disrupt the ties between the militants and the general population.