Situation in Stavropol Remains Tense

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 8 Issue: 24

Stavropol prosecutors announced on June 7 that they had detained a suspect in the murder of two ethnic Russian students who were stabbed to death on June 2. The Moscow Times reported on June 8 that the identity of the suspect was not made public but that police had earlier said they were looking for a suspect with a Slavic appearance. In spite of this, ultranationalists have alleged that the two students were killed by Caucasus natives to avenge the death of a Chechen student killed in a brawl in Stavropol on May 24 (Chechnya Weekly, May 31). About 1,000 people marched in Stavropol on June 5, some demanding that Caucasus natives be expelled from the region. The march was broken up by police and more than 50 people were detained. According to the Moscow Times, prosecutors believe that before being detained, the murder suspect took part in that march.

Meanwhile, the For Human Rights movement said in a statement on June 7 that the Chechen killed on May 24 had been beaten to death by police. Citing the victim’s uncle, For Human Rights stated that police officers at the brawl had dragged the victim into a police car while he was still alive. The group said that the victim’s wrists bore signs of having been handcuffed and that he had other injuries indicating he had been beaten with a blunt object.

Kavkazky Uzel, on June 11, reported that Chechens are viewing the events in Stavropol, against the backdrop of rising xenophobia in Russia’s regions, with alarm. The website quoted an anonymous Chechen political analyst as saying: “Over the past 10-15 years the Russian authorities have done much to create a negative image of the Chechen in the eyes of the country’s population. All of these reports about ‘the Chechen mafia,’ ‘Chechen letters of credit’ [a reference to fake letters of credit that Chechen criminals allegedly used in the early 1990s to steal Russian Central Bank funds], and, since the start of military operations, [about] ‘Chechen bandits,’ ‘Chechen terrorists,’ ‘Chechen shahids’ and so on, have taken root quite deeply in the mass consciousness. Back then, of course, definite goals were being pursued: serious justifications were needed for the military operations. Russian society accepted the ideological stock phrases the authorities thrust on them.”

The anonymous Chechen political analyst continued: “For the inhabitants of Russia’s regions, such as Chechens as well as other Caucasians, they have today become ‘churki’ [literally, block of wood; a derogatory term for Central Asians and Caucasians], ‘chernomazy’ [literally, blackface; another racial epithet], ‘bandits,’ ‘terrorists’ and so on. The mass media has played and is playing a huge role in creating a negative image of Chechens in particular and Caucasians in general. For example…in the coverage of any crime, even a domestic crime, correspondents without fail emphasize the ethnic affiliation of the criminal if he is a native of the Caucasus…Why do that? A criminal is a criminal; he has no nationality, faith, or anything else. The case in Stavropol, in which an everyday fight became a prologue to a manifestation of inter-ethnic hatred, is highly significant. And I am convinced that someone is deliberately inflaming the situation. A Chechen student is killed during a fight on May 24; nine days later, two murdered local students are found and information is immediately thrown around that what happened was probably an act of revenge by Chechens for the murder of a compatriot. Even though, in my view, there is no basis for such conclusions. But the flywheel is already unwound. And stopping it is very difficult, if not impossible!”

Markha Edilgerieva, a 49-year-old Grozny resident, told Kavkazky Uzel: “I have a son who is studying at an institute in Stavropol. Since the incident there, I am thinking that he will have to transfer to another VUZ [college]. I very much fear for his life and health, since on television they are only talking about the anti-Chechen feelings in that city, possible clashes and inter-ethnic conflicts. Why the Russian authorities are permitting such things, I don’t know.”

Earlier, Nurdi Nukhazhiev, Chechnya’s human rights ombudsman, commented on the situation in Stavropol: “Russia is trying to implant the virus of xenophobia, chauvinism and fascism. And if anyone believes that these attempts will not be noticed, they should know that this will not succeed. Russia’s specific ethnic and religious character is such that self-deception and complacency can end in a catastrophe for all of our country. Society does not have the right to watch indifferently as appeals leading to the destruction of a multi-ethnic state are sounded.”

Kavkazky Uzel reported that in the wake of the violence in Stavropol, officials of the Spiritual Board of Muslims of Chechnya traveled to the city and met with Chechens studying at higher learning institutes there, calling on them not to participate in disturbances or yield to provocations.

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov played down the situation in Stavropol in an interview with the website published on June 8. “Russia has foes,” he said. “Nationalists, skinheads. What happened in Stavropol is not war. It was strictly an everyday fight. But journalists raised a clamor. I was there; I spoke with the special services and various structures and ascertained that the conflict was the result of ordinary circumstances. Russians killed Russians. And afterwards, a clamor was raised that Chechens had killed [the students]. We are always accused, wherever we are.”

Kadyrov accused the international media of using the events in Stavropol, like last year’s unrest in Kondopoga, Karelia, to portray Chechens as “bandits.” Asked whether this was in the interest of unspecified people or forces in Moscow, Kadyrov responded: “No, certainly not in Moscow. If it wasn’t for Vladimir Putin, we would not have succeeded in anything. He saved us. I am sure that 95 percent of the Chechens in the republic consider him a hero – the father and savior of the peoples. And these are not simply words: we had 50,000 lads from all across the Caucasus who gathered among us, wore T-shirts with Putin’s image and sang Russia’s anthem.”