As such, she continues, “it is also an indicator of distrust in other methods of struggle with injustice. This is an outburst of popular anger. People don’t believe that in Russia and in Chechnya legal methods for achieving justice are possible.” And they thus celebrate those who act on their own to achieve what the system cannot.
Temirkhanov’s victim, Colonel Budanov, was “one of the few who was condemned” for his crimes by the judicial system, although he was treated far less harshly than Temirkhanov was. Ramzan Kadyrov, Sokiryanskaya continues, “said that the group assembled because Temirkhanov was unjustly condemned but this isn’t so.”
“Temirkhanov is a hero precisely because he took revenge and killed someone” who had committed crimes against the Chechen people, the rights worker says. This is “a very worrisome signal,” she continues, because it shows that the Chechens aren’t willing to wait for the slow and quiet work of activists to bring Russians to justice.
“The tradition of blood feuds has not become part of history in the North Caucasus,” she says, but rather as before operates as a real social mechanism. This custom, evolved under the clan system as a means of defending the honor and property of the clan includes the obligation of relatives of those who are killed to take revenge” of a similar kind.
Such revenge need not be immediate, Sokiryanskaya says. It can occur “even 30 years” after the original crime. “Temirkhanov committed an act of blood revenge, but hundreds of other families still cannot do this … But in this act of revenge, they also identify themselves with Temirkhanov” and that has to be disturbing for the Russian powers that be.
Aleksandr Cherkasov, the head of the Memorial Human Rights Organization, agrees, saying that “the heroization of Temirkhanov is the result of ‘hatred for military crimes’” committed by Russian forces in the post-Soviet wars against the Chechen people. Temirkhanov is the first to take revenge, but he is unlikely to be the last.
And Irina Starodubrovskaya of the Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy shares these views at least in part. She says that many in the North Caucasus look at what Temirkhanov did as “a restoration of justice” in the absence of other possibilities; but she disagrees that this was an act of blood feud as Temirkhanov did not know Budanov’s victim personally.
“In a survey which we conducted among Daghestanis,” Starodubrovskaya continues, “the possibility of restoring justice by force also received quite high support. More than 40 percent of those sampled said yes; only about 16 percent were categorically against” the use of such methods.
She concludes that this is what can happen “if the state monopoly on force is viewed by people as illegitimate” because it is “used not in their interests.” In that event, violating the law to restore justice is treated “not as an act of illegality but as a heroic act and an opportunity to somehow oppose the Leviathan when other variants appear not to be working.”