On March 28, hundreds of people participated in a protest demonstration in Nazran, Ingushetia. The demonstration was organized by the Akhki-Yurt movement, which is led by an opposition member of the republic’s parliament, Musa Ozdoev. Kommersant on March 29 quoted Akhki-Yurt members as saying that their aim was to call on the administration of Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov to demand that a 1991 law on the rehabilitation of repressed peoples be fully implemented, particularly with regard to the disputed Pirgorodny district of North Ossetia that runs along Ingushetia’s administrative border. “We insist on the return to Ingushetia’s jurisdiction of the Prigorodny district, which was torn away to the advantage of North Ossetia in 1944 through an illegal decision by the Stalin regime,” one of the demonstration’s organizers, Murat Oziev, told Kommersant. Oziev is editor of the independent newspaper Angusht.
As Kommersant noted, similar demands by Ingush activists in 1992 led to armed conflict with Ossetians that resulted in hundreds of deaths and thousands of people being driven from their homes. Ingushetia claims that 19,000 of the 70,000 Ingush who lived in the Prigorodny district before the 1992 conflict have still not been allowed to return to their homes.
The demonstrators had planned to meet at the memorial to victims of political repression in Nazran’s Abi-Guv district, but were blocked from doing so by Ingushetian Interior Ministry OMON forces. As a result, the demonstration was held on a road near the monument, the grani.ru and ingushetiya.ru websites reported on March 28. According to the websites, the Russian military dispatched a column of military cars and armored vehicles from its base at Mozdok, North Ossetia, in the direction of Nazran. Kommersant reported that police detained Boris Arsamakov, a leader of Akhki-Yurt who headed the demonstration’s organizing committee, on his way to the demonstration on the pretext that his car needed to be inspected.
According to Kommersant, the demonstrators agreed to cut short the demonstration and hold it on another day after Ingushetian Security Council Secretary Bashir Aushev, brother of former Ingushetian President Ruslan Aushev, warned that the gathering would be declared illegal because its organizers had sought permission to hold the demonstration only four days earlier, not ten days in advance, as required by law.
What was interesting about the demonstration was the reportedly panicked official reaction to it, despite the fact that the demonstration’s organizers made it clear that they were not calling for the resignation of Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov. Indeed, Itar-Tass on March 28 quoted Murat Oziev as saying that the demonstration’s sole aim was the full implementation of the 1991 law on rehabilitating repressed peoples: “The Akhki-Yurt public organization had no intention of putting forward a demand for the resignation of the president of Ingushetia,” he said.
Yet, according to some observers, the Zyazikov administration’s reaction to the impending demonstration was almost hysterical. Indeed, grani.ru reported on March 28, the day of the demonstration, that Zyazikov had left the republic the previous evening, and that his inner circle was gripped by panic, with several of its members not going to work out of fear that the demonstrators might storm government offices. Zyazikov publicly denounced the demonstration as a provocation, Kommersant reported on March 29. “Behind it stands people who are pursuing the goal of destabilizing the situation in the south of Russia,” he said. Zyazikov conceded that the dispute over the Prigorodny district remains a “sore point” for Ingushetia, and noted that the republic’s parliament had asked the State Duma and Kremlin to create a commission to settle the territorial dispute.
Opposition leaders, however, said that the Ingushetian president, as Kommersant put it, fears an “Orange Revolution” in the republic. “Mr. Zyazikov is afraid that those who are gathering to discuss the most painful issue for the Ingush people will express no-confidence in him,” Murat Oziev told the newspaper. “We did not gather to discuss that issue, but the authorities have a good sense of the mood of the people.” Some observers in Moscow expressed a similar view. “The demonstration was a [kind of] appeal to President Putin to remove Zyazikov, who suits neither the local elite nor the [general] population owing to his helplessness,” gzt.ru on March 28 quoted Aleksei Makarkin, deputy general director of the Center for Political Technologies, as saying.
Ingushetiya.ru was more blunt: “Yesterday’s events showed that a revolution awaits Ingushetia,” the website wrote on March 29. “The people very nearly overthrew the rotten and corrupt regime of Murat Zyazikov. When, on March 27, the eve of the demonstration, Murat Zyazikov left the republic, a crisis began at the top, officials panicked. They feared that the Kyrgyz events would be repeated in Magas [Ingushetia’s capital].” The events of March 28 were a signal to the Kremlin, the website concluded. “The opposition forces are taking a break and are waiting to see whether Russian President Vladimir Putin will assess what has taken place. Whether he will understand that the hated President Murat Zyazikov’s continuation in power will blow up the situation in Ingushetia. The people of Ingushetia are on the brink of revolution.”
Dmitry Kozak, President Putin’s envoy to the Southern Federal District, claimed on March 28 that the situation in Ingushetia was “absolutely quiet,” Interfax reported. Kozak, who had chaired a meeting of the Council of the heads of the Southern Federal District’s constituent republics that day in Kislovodsk, said Zyazikov had not been able to attend because he had to stay in Ingushetia to talk with participants in “some kind of demonstration.” This, of course, contradicted the media reports that Zyazikov had left the republic on the eve of the demonstration. Zyazikov himself denied those reports, telling Ekho Moskvy radio on March 28 that he had not left the republic and that the claims to the contrary were being spread by “virtual figures” bent on destabilizing Ingushetia.
Meanwhile, marsho.dk reported on March 30 that the 126th regiment of the Russian Interior Ministry’s Internal Troops, numbering 700 men, is currently deployed in Nazran. The pro-separatist website reported that the 503rd motorized regiment of the 19th motorized division of the North Caucasus Military District’s 58th army – consisting of more than 1,500 officers and soldiers, 40 tanks and more than 100 armored personnel carriers – is currently deployed along Ingushetia’s administrative border with Chechnya.