Yazidis, an Iraqi minority, have started arriving as refugees in Europe, where they encounter people who are supposedly causing their problems back at home, including the Chechens. A conflict between such refugees and Chechens erupted in the small German town of Celle, which is close to Hannover, the administrative center of Lower Saxony (ndr.de, October 7). Kurds held protests across Germany on October 5, and two days later, on October 7, dozens of Yazidis beat up three Chechens in the town, telling them they knew their addresses and threatening to kill their spouses and children, the same way that Chechens kill their people in Syria and Iraq (YouTube, October 7). It was clear from videos of the incident that the German police were powerless to protect the three Chechen men and two women who were trying to fight off the attackers. A YouTube video of the Yazidis threatening reprisals against Chechen women was a signal for Chechens across Europe to gather in this small town (rykov.ru, October 7).
One of the victims, named Kazbek, said: “Clashes with the Kurds have become routine in our town recently. We have grown used to their provocations. Previously, the incidents were sort of minor, but this time they did something particularly despicable and people really suffered. Several people were beaten up and ended up in intensive care. They did not even spare an elderly man who suffered a fractured skull and knocked out teeth. There are few Chechens in the town, so our kin from nearly all over Germany came to our rescue. We are seeing here a lot of aggressive young people. The elders went to meet with the Yazidi side, the authorities and journalists. We are waiting for their decision. The situation is highly unstable” (kavpolit.com, October 7). The local Yazidis miscalculated by underestimating the Chechens’ ability to mobilize. A couple of hours after the incident, hundreds of Chechens from all over Europe attempted to make their way to the town.
Harboring little hope that the problem could be resolved peacefully, Chechens from all over Germany started arriving in the sealed-off town. According to eyewitnesses, two hours after the video was published, about 200 Chechens entered the town (kavpolit.com, October 7). The Chechens armed themselves with wooden spears in case there were clashes with the Yazidis (YouTube, October 7). That evening around 11 p.m., the Chechens, having not received any word from the Yazidi community, came out into the streets and tried to break through to the Yazidis. One video showed a crowd of Chechens who had gathered in one of the city’s districts trying to march, and chanting “Allahu Akbar!” The police blocked the crowd and asked them in German and Russian to maintain order and disperse immediately. However, the crowd did not listen and instead searched for masks so that the police could not photograph their faces (YouTube, October 7).
At some point, the groups of Chechens and Yazidis nearly broke through the police lines, but the police used force against both groups to keep them separated (Deutsche Welle, October 8). The situation was threatening to spin out of control of the Chechen diaspora in Germany itself (YouTube, October 7). The Chechens who reside in Celle then addressed all Chechens via social networks, asking them to stop coming to the town and those on their way to return to their home towns and countries (vk.com, October 7).
The German authorities apparently asked the Chechen elders to influence the Chechen side, so the elders called on the Chechens who had come to Celle from outside to allow the residents of the town to settle their issues with the Yazidis on their own. At a meeting between the two communities mediated by the town authorities and the police, the Yazidi community completely admitted their fault and apologized, promising that such an incident would not be repeated. The police said they would not allow anyone, either Yazidi or Chechen, to incite riots in the town.
The presence of the German military in the area was an indicator that the situation in the town was highly precarious. Some Chechens who did not know the bypass roads and used GPS devices to travel to Celle were reportedly stopped on the outskirts of the town not by the police, but by the German military.
Close to midnight, on October 7, a European Chechen website (d1alac.com) called on the Chechens to go to Hamburg, where a Chechen female had reportedly been injured by the Yazidis. In reality, protesting Yazidis clashed in the city with members of the Turkish and Arab communities and reports that a Chechen female had been stabbed near the railway station was not confirmed. The injured woman appeared to be a Muslim, but not a Chechen. This apparently calmed down those Chechens who wanted to travel to Hamburg to punish the Yazidis who had dared to touch a Chechen woman.
Rumors tend to spread where there is a basis for instability. The conflict between Yazidis and Chechens in Celle is likely to continue and will echo in other European countries. As a destination for refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq, Europe has opened up a Pandora’s Box of inter-ethnic relations, but appears completely unready to tackle the problems pouring out of it.