Monday, September 24, 2018

Setting the North Caucasus Ablaze is Easy; Putting Out the Flames is Hard

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 23 – Because of its earlier bitter experience, Moscow’s policy in the North Caucasus over the last decade has been to use subsidies and force to make sure that ethnic and religious conflicts do not break out in the region since setting the North Caucasus ablaze is easy – there is a lot of “dry tinder” around – but putting out the conflagration is hard.

            That makes some of Moscow’s recent actions, including both intentional moves and failures, surprising and has led some to ask this week “why did the powers that be allow the outburst of the Kabardino-Balkar conflict?” (

                According to OnKavkaz journalist Zarema Khasanova, “the entire Caucasus for several days has been attentively following the events in the village of Kyodelen of the Elbrus district of Kabardino-Balkaria.”  She asked two specialists, Vladimir Kudayev of the Republic-Common Affair community and Kantemir Khurtayev, head of the All-Russian Inter-Ethnic Movement of Youth, for the reasons why this clash happened and why officials allowed it to.

            Kudayev said that the clashes did not arise suddenly or because of the commemoratino of the Kanzhal battle. The real causes are a longstanding complaint by the Balkars about Karachay use of their historical lands and because many Balkars think that the whole issue of the battle has been invented by the Karachays to subordinate the Balkars.

            Khurtayev said that “the Balkars consider the action not as a cultural one but as a political one, the goal of which is the symbolic marking of territories on which they live” by invoking a long ago battle to claim that these lands have somehow always been Karachay rather than Balkars despite the fact that the Balkars have been there at least as long.

            Officials intervened only after the first clashes, Khurtayev continued, and after two days, the fighting quieted down. “At present, the situation has stabilized,” with the participants in the clashes returning to their homes.  According to him, “the law enforcement organs and republic authorities performed effectively.”

            Kudayev for his part suggested that “there always will be forces interested in specific outbursts in the population and this card will be played quite often.” And that is possible because “the authorities are incapable or do not want to regulate such clashes” instead of addressing the issues behind them and removing them.

            Khurayev agreed. He said that he is “deeply convinced that this was an artificially provoked conflict,” intended either to destabilize the republic or to put a black mark against republic head Yury Kokov who will be up for possible reappointment next year.  If there are problems, he might not be.

            Kudayev, in contrast, suggested that the powers that be were happy enough to allow the conflict to occur to distract the attention of people from current problems and especially the shortcomings in the work of local and regional officials. The authorities have not spoken out about the conflict, but neither have the national movements of either side. 

            “The population of the republic on the whole understands,” he continued, “that Kabardins and Balkars are fated to live together, that there are no alternatives to that;” but there are always some who think otherwise and they can spark conflicts.  The authorities could help by promoting discussions involving representatives of both nations.

            Indeed, Kudayev argued, the authorities have a definite self-interest in doing so lest these conflicts grow in number and spread to a larger share of the population. But at present, they are not capable of doing so; and they think that police power is enough. After all, Kokov, a former policeman, has surrounded himself with officials, 80 percent of whom have the same origin.

            And Khutayev for his part said that the current developments are worrisome because Kabardino-Balkaria had remained relatively calm in the tense 1990s but now “suddenly has begun” to fracture along ethnic lines. 

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