Wednesday, March 20, 2019

To Forestall New Ingush Protests, Yevkurov Temporarily Pulls Plan to Limit Referenda


Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 20 – Having triggered more than a month of massive public protests by his decision to transfer 26,000 hectares of land from Ingushetia to Chechnya last fall, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov has tried to avoid a repetition by a combination of increasing repression and occasional hints of compromise.

            One of the latter happened today: After introducing legislation that limiting any referenda that could be held in the republic, something the Ingush constitution currently requires for such things as land transfers and that the Ingush opposition wants, Yevkurov has pulled it for from immediate consideration (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/333192/, fortanga.org/2019/03/evkurov-otozval-zakonoproekt-iz-kotorogo-vypal-abzats/, and kommersant.ru/doc/3917399?from=main_3).

            It is not clear just how much of a concession this is. On the one hand, Yevkurov has offered several different explanations for why he pulled his proposal including the suggestion that a paragraph had been dropped from the text. And on the other, he says he will reintroduce in sometime in the next several months.

            This may buy him some time, but the opposition is still planning to resume protests calling not only for the annulment of the September 26 border accord but also the ouster of Yevkurov himself.  If anything, the divisions in Ingushetia appear to be deepening (capost.media/special/obzory/politobzor_skfo_s_11_po_18_marta_raskol_v_obshchestve_skfo_vse_glubzhe/).

Rape by Immigrant Occasion Rather than Cause of Unrest in Sakha, Yakutsk Mayor Says


Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 20 – Russian media have overwhelmingly treated protests in Yakutsk as an exclusively ethnic phenomenon, the outpouring of anger among the indigenous population at reports that an immigrant from Kyrgyzstan had raped a local woman, and officials have taken steps to suppress what they see as an outburst of dangerous nationalism.

            And there is certainly plenty of evidence over the last three days which shows that Sakha residents are angry about the increasing presence of immigrants and are prepared to engage in actions that can certainly be described as pogroms.  (For a relatively balanced report on what has taken place, see lenta.ru/brief/2019/03/20/yakutsk/).

                But as so often is the case, the report that a Kyrgyz had raped a Sakha was more the occasion for this display of popular anger than its fundamental cause, a point that has been made by several local people, mostly prominently and pointedly by the major of Yakutsk, Sardana Avksentiyeva, on the Yakutsk city portal (якутск.рф/press-tsentr/news/?ELEMENT_ID=81962).  

            She says that “anti-immigrant” actions in Yakutsk are rooted in economic rather than nationalist problems. “The economic situation in the country as a whole, inflation, the low incomes of the population, and the high level of unemployment have generated dissatisfaction among a significant part of society.”
           
            “I have frequently said and repeat once again,” the mayor told a visiting Kyrgyz delegation, “that crime has no nationality. Any people unfortunately includes those who commit horrific crimes and also those whom every people can be proud of.” But those who commit crimes must be punished by the judicial system and not by lynch mobs.

            Avksentiyeva’s argument is almost certainly true, but one can fully understand why Russian officials and the Russian media don’t want to hear it.  It is far easier to blame the national feelings of a numerically small people far away from Moscow for problems than to face up to the fact that the Russian government’s economic policies have hurt so many.

            To stress the latter as the Yakutsk city head does is to raise the possibility that what happened in distant Sakha could happen anywhere in Russia. All that is required is some action that can serve as a trigger to what is an increasingly explosive situation and one that will only grow worse if the government gets its way and brings in millions more immigrants.

Jehovah’s Witnesses Now Outnumber All Other Minority Faiths in Karabakh Combined


Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 20 – Ninety-eight percent of the residents of Nagorno-Karabakh, Yevgeny Vyshegorodsky of the Caucasus Post reports; but Jehovah’s Witnesses have more than half of the 3500 followers of other faiths, including Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Protestantism.  Significantly, today, there are no Muslims at all.

            Three aspects of these numbers are significant. First, they show that the Armenian authorities in control of Karabakh have successfully driven out or underground all the Muslims, a term that in the case of that region means virtually all the Azerbaijanis, the kind of ethnic displacement that Baku has long complained about.

            Second, they indicate that despite its efforts, the Russian Orthodox Church has made little headway in what is for Moscow one of the “frozen” conflicts on which the Kremlin depends.  Given the Moscow Patriarchate’s losses in Ukraine, this is yet another stinging debate for its claims to be a politically useful ally of the Russian powers that be.

            And third, these figures indicate that in such troubled times, activist religious groups like the Witnesses have a much better chance of gaining support than do traditional faiths, yet another reason why the Kremlin seems so committed to suppressing them but a fact of life that others interested in conflict resolution should not fail to take into consideration.

            In today’s Caucasus Post, the journalist surveys the religious situation in a region where most analysts focus only on ethnic issues.  He notes that at present “98 percent of the population of Karabakh” are followers of the ancient Armenian Apostolic Church” (capost.media/special/obzory/komu_molitsya_karabakh/).

            The Armenian cathedral there was built in the 1860s, harmed during the conflicts after 1917, and used as a garage and storage facility under the Soviets.  During the active phase of the Karabakh war, the journalist continues, the cathedral was used by Azerbaijani forces as an arms dump. It was restored only in 1998.

            The religious community of Karabakh which has disappeared in this century consists of the Muslims, mostly Azerbaijanis, but also Kurds and Persians.  At the start of the 20th century, they formed 62 percent of the region’s population. But by the end, they ad contracted “in fact to 0 percent.” 

            The Agdam mosque was one of the few structures in the ghost town of Agdam that was not destroyed ruing the Armenian-Azerbaijani war, Vyshegorodsky says.  Like the Armenian cathedral, it was built in the 1860s, fell into disuse and was damaged in the various wars. By 2010, it was being used to house animals, although that reportedly has ended since that time.

            At the present time, he continues, “there are 11 religious organizations in addition to the Armenian Apostolic Church.” These have “approximately 3500 members, of whom more than 2,000 are Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Other minority faiths include Baptists, Catholics and Russian Orthodox.

            In 2012, the ROC MP began to build an Orthodox church in Stepanakert; but in 2016, construction stopped because of a lack of funds. “To this day,” Vyshegorodsky reports, “construction has not been restarted.”