The ‘Quietude’ of Kabardino-Balkaria

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 13 Issue: 22

Once a renowned resort republic, Kabardino-Balkaria nowadays is more often mentioned in the news not as a resort region known across Russia, but as a territory in which counter-terrorism operations are regularly conducted.

Drawing on the example of the neighboring republics of Chechnya and Dagestan, authorities in Kabardino-Balkarian have tried to create commissions to prevent young people from joining the insurgents or return those who already joined them. A republican commission for the peaceful adaptation of the militants was established earlier this year on January 24 in Kabardino-Balkaria. Similar commissions were set up in Dagestan on November 2, 2010, and in Ingushetia on September 9, 2011 ( However, just as in neighboring Ingushetia, the commission in Kabardino-Balkaria has largely been inactive, since not one single rebel has been willing to surrender. Although the commission asserts it has received 38 appeals, it recognizes that none of the applicants is directly linked to the insurgents (

The Kabardino-Balkarian government pretends it is an outside observer, given that it simply keeps calling on the residents of the republic to protect their children from the influence of extremism and terrorism. Based upon the view of local authorities, radical ideas are being preached by foreigners and outsiders who seduce republican youth into unwittingly joining the insurgency ( The Kabardino-Balkarian authorities even adopted the experience of neighboring Chechnya, where parents were forced to address their children publicly, condemning their choice and pleading for them to return home under the personal guarantees of the head of the republic ( However, even these appeals did not work. At the same time, the government severely prosecutes people who are suspected even of relatively minor offenses, such as illegal weapons possession. A public appeal by Alim Mashezov’s mother to her son to return home illuminates the dynamics of the process. Having been conditionally sentenced for illegally possessing arms, this person apparently realized he was under continuous surveillance by the police and security services and chose to join the insurgency (

In a style reminiscent of the Soviet era, the current leader of Kabardino-Balkaria, Arsen Kanokov, frequently visits various areas of the republic and talks to members of the government commission on the rebels’ adaptation to civil life and relatives of militants. The subject of these talks is always the same—how to persuade the militants to surrender. On October 4, Kanokov held a talk about this with the relatives of suspected rebels in the city of Baksan (,CHTOBVERNUTMOLODHLIUDEIKMIRNOIJIZNI%C2%BB?OpenDocument&cat=1). A public discussion about the true motives of the people who join the insurgents is nonexistent. These people are not playing Robin Hood, but are ideologically opposed to the government of Kabardino-Balkaria and reject its policies. In fact, this is a crisis for the authorities, who simply have failed to understand the causes motivating political dissent by part of the republic’s population. It is no wonder, then, that no real militant has surrendered to the commission. No guarantee for freedom of conscience has been promised to those who surrender.

Meanwhile, the situation in Kabardino-Balkaria remains tense. According to Kanokov, just in the first eight months of 2012, political violence affected over 200 people in Kabardino-Balkaria, nearly half of whom were killed. In addition, 80 suspected militants were arrested. In comparison, 160 people were killed in the republic in 2011 ( Around 40 active militants are listed on the most wanted list ( At a meeting with residents of Baksan, Kanokov recognized that economic grievances were not responsible for young people’s desire to join the insurgency. Thus, the head of Kabardino-Balkaria admitted that people were joining the rebels out of personal beliefs and convictions, not because of the republic’s corruption and backward economy, as other republican leaders in the North Caucasus and many Russian experts on the region like to argue ( For example, the head of the human rights center in Nalchik, Valery Khatazhukov, agrees with Kanokov, stating that “lately we have detected cases when young people went ‘to the forest’ [a euphemism for joining the insurgency] not because their rights were abused particularly harshly, but because they join the insurgency consciously, following the ideology of the armed jihad” ( Realizing this fact will help the government to better understand the insurgent movement it is fighting. At the same time, the Kabardino-Balkarian parliament asked the Russian State Duma to allow convicts in the republic to serve their sentences within its territory. This appeal was sparked by numerous cases involving the hazing of Kabardino-Balkarian convicts in Russian prisons, including those sentenced for extremist-related crimes (

Following Kanokov’s visit to Baksan, the militants decided to respond to his offer of surrender in their own way. On November 1, two unidentified assailants killed police lieutenant Mukhamed Chechenov at a car service station in the city. Chechenov’s arms were taken away, while another police officer and a 20-year-old man were injured in the attack ( A counter-terrorism operation regime was introduced in the city following the attack, but it had no tangible results and was lifted a day later.

On November 3, Russia’s Unity Day holiday, police warned the republic’s residents that “in connection with the complicated situation and the probability of terrorist attacks in places of mass concentration of citizens” they should remain vigilant ( The militants ignored the warning. At the entrance to the village of Zalukokoazhe in Kabardino-Balkaria’s Zolsky district, a colonel with the Russian police command headquarters in the North Caucasus Federal District was attacked in his car and killed (

Against the backdrop of frequent allegations of the falsification of evidence ( and torture ( of suspected rebels and their accomplices, chances are increasingly slim that there will be a dialogue between the authorities and the armed resistance any time soon. The situation in Kabardino-Balkaria is developing along the same lines as in Dagestan. This means that educated young people will consciously join the militants as a way to protest against the close union between the local authorities and the Kremlin. Therefore, there will be more and more counterterrorism operations in Kabardino-Balkaria and more victims of the confrontation in the republic, creating an endless cycle of violence.