Divide and rule in the Caucasus

Issue 

A mission from the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO) visited Chechnya and the neighbouring republics of Ingushetia and North Ossetia in December. The delegation investigated the November 1992 conflict over the Prigorodni Rayon region between North Ossetia and Ingushetia and the role in it of the Russian central government. Following are excerpts from its report.

In November 1992, Russia and the international press reported that ethnic fighting had broken out between North Ossetians and Ingush over a territorial dispute. Russia announced it was sending peacekeeping troops to separate the two sides.

The Mission found this version of events to be false. The many Ingush from the North Ossetian region of Prigorodni Rayon interviewed, all told the same story: that entirely unexpectedly Russian tanks and armoured vehicles attacked Ingush homes on November 2, 1992. The Russian mechanised units were followed by North Ossetian OMON (Interior Ministry troops).

In a number of cases, eyewitnesses stated that signs had been painted on houses of Russians and Ossetians in their village, so that the troops would not attack those houses. In other villages, all Ossetians were evacuated just before the troops came.

In all cases, Ingush were massacred or beaten or chased away by the Russian and North Ossetian troops. Their homes were destroyed and the contents plundered. Terrible cruelties were committed by Russian and Ossetian soldiers and also civilians. A number of Ingush refugees told of children who were cut up and women whose intestines were ripped out. Eyewitnesses also said that Ossetians (who are Orthodox Christian) had deliberately insulted Islam, for example by tying Muslim prayer hats to pigs.

What happened in the Prigorodni Rayon can only be described as ethnic cleansing. The Mission is convinced that this military action was well planned in advance and that the cleansing process was deliberate. Far from fulfilling the role of peacekeepers, Russian forces led the operation, accordingly to all eyewitnesses interviewed.

It appears that the Russian objective was twofold: (1) to provoke a Chechen intervention in support of the Ingush, thus giving Russia an excuse to invade and occupy Chechnya; and (2) to clear the disputed North Ossetian territory of Prigorodni Rayon, which was traditionally Ingush territory, of the Ingush, thus strengthening the position of North Ossetia, Russia's best ally in the North Caucasus.

Virtually all the Ingush who survived the Russian/North Ossetian attack did so because they fled. Some were imprisoned for weeks or months, and were then chased out of North Ossetia. A number of refugees, especially children and the elderly, died while fleeing over the Caucasus mountains from exposure to cold or fell to their death in mountain ravines.

Today, there are between 60,000 and 70,000 Ingush displaced persons in Ingushetia. The solution to the displaced person problem is, we were consistently told, their repatriation to Northern Ossetia. This is also the wish of the displaced persons, whose ties to their land are strongly felt.

Although Russian President Yeltsin has issued a decree concerning the return of the displaced persons, the Mission found that Russian authorities are not actively encouraging its implementation and North Ossetian authorities and people are vigorously opposing it. Thus, some Ingush who have tried to return to their villages in the Prigorodni Rayon have been harassed, attacked or forced back by local Ossetians, or the authorities.

The military operations against civilians are part of a deliberate policy of divide and rule of the Russian federal government. Conflicts such as those in North Ossetia in 1992 and in Chechnya at this time are the direct results of this policy.

The danger is real that today's massive attack on Chechnya, in the course of which Ingush people have been killed and wounded in Ingushetia, will create a broader war in the Caucasus, which could be long and bloody. Already volunteers from other Caucasus republics are coming to the aid of Chechens.

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