The disturbing news circulated in the mass media on Sunday, August 31, forced many to think again about the North Caucasus, a region where assassinations have long become the norm of the political landscape. The murder of the owner of Ingushetia’s most popular independent website Ingushetiya.ru (with daily visitor traffic of 8,000 to 10,000) Magomed Yevloev looks set to become Russia’s most infamous assassination since the killing of the journalist Anna Politkovskaya. A prominent businessman and philanthropist, Yevloev preferred to stay out of the spotlight, yet for the last few years he has been a target of attacks by the government of Ingushetia, a small enclave of just over four thousand square kilometers. Yevloev won public respect by being different – that is, by his demonstrated lack of political ambition, his desire to stay in the background and his dislike of publicity. Human rights defenders have already called his murder a political assassination (Regnum, August 31), and the wave of protest meetings has rippled through Ingushetia and some European cities (Nazran, Moscow, Brussels, Paris – see www.ingushetiya.ru, September 1).
Magomed Yevloev, 37, an attorney by training, left Ingushetia’s State Prosecutor’s office after his conflict with then-President Ruslan Aushev (www.ingushetiya.ru, August 24). According to Yevloev, he regretted his role in helping the current President Murad Zyazikov rise to power. After entering the private sector in 2001, Yevloev became a successful businessman, yet he continued monitoring the developments in Ingushetia and actively supporting the editorial team of Ingushetiya.ru, asking in return only that their coverage of events in Ingushetia stays fair and accurate.
Yevloev frequently had to defend his website in court in lawsuits that were not always resolved in his favor. His father was asked to talk his son out of opposing the government, and his erstwhile friends and colleagues threatened him, which became a concern for Reporters Without Borders (www.rsf.org, May 29).
In an interview with this writer on August 22, he spoke of his desire to re-introduce the Vainakh (a collective term for the Chechen and Ingush) people to the world through a satellite television channel, which he had already acquired and started to set up, thus demonstrating that he had no intention to leave the mass media world, and, on the contrary, wanted to elevate the issue to a truly global level.
Yevloev’s assassination can be seen as a public example, given that his arrest and death occurred very quickly, probably within minutes of each other (www.vremya.ru, September 1) and with the full knowledge of Ingushetia’s top government officials. The republic’s leadership has surely been aggravated by the steady stream of critical articles published on Yevloev’s website, which contested every statement Murat Zyazikov made in Russia’s central press and offered facts and figures to demonstrate that Ingushetia’s president was deliberately misleading Russia’s government. Ingushetiya.ru has consistently challenged the operations to detain young men suspected of involvement with the rebels, using personal witness statements disproving the official language of the charges filed by Ingushetia’s State Prosecutor’s Office and Interior Ministry.
Reporting on the North Caucasus has always been a hazardous job, yet during Vladimir Putin’s term it became downright lethal. The list of incidents in the region involving the media includes the arrest of Andrei Babitsky in Chechnya in February 2000, the shooting of 24-year-old Reuters cameraman Adam Tepsurkaev later that year (www.rol.ru, November 24, 2000), the disappearance of Agence France-Presse reporter Ali Astamirov after his arrest by Russia’s law enforcement agencies (Novaya Gazeta, July 17, 2003), the murders of Anna Politkovskaya in October 2006 (www.newsru.com, October 7, 2006) and Aleksandr Litvinenko in December 2006, the forced exile of Fatima Tlisova of the Regnum news agency’s North Caucasus bureau and Radio Liberty reporter Yury Bagrov to the United States in July 2007, Ingushetiya.ru chief editor Rosa Malsagova’s escape from Russian government prosecution and petition for asylum in France (Novaya Gazeta, August 11; North Caucasus Weekly, August 15) and many others.
In the meantime, the story of Magomed Yevloev is unfolding against the backdrop of multiple rebel attacks against the Interior Ministry, Federal Security Service (FSB) and other Russian law enforcement agencies in Ingushetia. Oddly enough, the key figure of this story, although better known as Emir Magas (aka Akhmed Yevloev) shares the last name with the assassinated website founder. For the second year running, the leader of the Ingush Jamaat and commander of the Caucasus Front (which includes all units representing the Caucasus Emirate vilayets of Chechnya, Ingushetia, Kabarda, Balkaria and the Nogai Steppe) Emir Magas has made no public statements, nor did Islamist resistance movement leader Dokka Umarov make mention of his commander-in-chief, in contrast with his frequent references to Acting Chairman of Supreme Sharia Court and Emir of United Vilayet of Kabarda, Balkaria and Karachai, Emir Seifullah (Anzor Astamirov). One can only wonder why this key player of the resistance movement has faded into the background. Most likely, the core issue has to do with the announcement of the Caucasus Emirate, although Yevloev’s ostensible support was implicit in the statement Dokka Umarov made during his field inspection trip to Chechnya and Ingushetia in December 2007, when Umarov reiterated his personal support for the Emirate’s military leadership (http://generalvekalat.org/content/view/21/30/).
However, despite the absence of Emir Magas from the airwaves, the military units under his command continue their relentless raids against the Republic of Ingushetia. In their last public statement, commanders of the Ingush units (www.kavkaz.tv, August 29) informed the public about the tactics and identities of the organizers of attacks on Ingushetia’s law enforcement personnel. According to the statement, the resistance movement has formed special operations groups that primarily target employees of Ingushetia’s UBOP (security and public order department). The statement also claims that up to 1,000 employees of Ingushetia’s Interior Ministry have recently resigned. Although this number is fairly high and should be taken with a large grain of salt, the departure of Interior Ministry employees en masse was indirectly confirmed by the ministry itself, which tried to package the news as a “routine personnel turnover” (Ekho Moskvy radio, August 24).
In summary, recent events in Ingushetia clearly indicate that the military rebel movement personified by its leader Akhmad Yevloev (Emir Magas) is active, and developments in August suggest that the activity levels will spike again due to the Russo-Georgian conflict. It is well known that the sympathies of the Ingush are, without reservation, with the Georgians and their operations against South Ossetia. Therefore, in addition to the religiously-driven members who make up the majority of the North Caucasian resistance movement today, rebel recruitment will also benefit from those motivated by nationalist sentiment.