Friday, August 28, 2020

Zarifa Sautiyeva: From Student of Russian Political Oppression to One of Its Victims

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 24 – None of the 44 Ingush activists arrested for protesting Yunus-Bek Yevkurov’s giveaway of ten percent of their republic’s land to Chechnya has attracted as much attention as Zarifa Sautiyeva, the only woman among them and someone who went overnight from being a student of Russian political oppression to one of its victims.

            Despite what is obviously a trumped-up case, despite her health problems and despite her being identified by Memorial as a political prisoner, the former museum worker has remained behind bars since July 12, 2019. ( and

            Earlier this summer, Sautiyeva asked Izabella Yevloyeva, a childhood friend and fellow activist Izabella Yevloyeva to write about her, but Yevloyeva, despite being another heroine of the Ingush resistance ( says she found that hard because she is safe in emigration while Sautiyeva is in prison.

            Now, however, she has managed that. And in an essay posted on the North Caucasus feminist portal Daptar, Yevloyeva has provided some important new details about Sautiyeva and equally important reflections about what is happening in Ingushetia and indeed throughout Putin’s Russia (

            Sautiyeva and Yevloyeva grew up in the same village and studied in the same school, albeit in different shifts – because the birthrate in that republic is so high, most schools operate on two or even three shifts. But they became friends, and Yevloyeva says she learned how close Sautiyeva had become to her father after her mother died in Kazakhstan during the deportation.

            Later, Sautiyeva and her father returned to Kazakhstan to try to find the grave. They were unsuccessful. But Sautiyeva who even then had found her calling as someone who would keep alive the memory of the horrific past of her people under the Soviets collected materials about the deportation and what it did to the Ingush.

            After university, Sautiyeva joined the Ingush Museum on the Victims of Political Repressions where she organized lively activities and exhibits that attracted people young and old to what might have been a musty institution. But then came the protests and her arrest, a pattern increasingly typical of Putin’s Russia.

            Indeed, Yevloyeva writes, “life in Russia” today is such that “yesterday you may be a worker at a museum of victims of political repression and then today became in fact an exhibit for such a facility by your own fate.”

            Because of her concern for the Ingush nation. Sautiyeva could not stand aside when the protests against the border accord with Chechnya began. She was not a speaker at meetings but rather a quiet presence who often bucked up her friends with a kind of understated gallows humor.

            Together with other protest leaders, she often assembled at a café in Nazran which she would enter with the words “What are all those favoring handing over the land doing here?” – an expression that played on the words peredast which means “handing over” and pederast which means homosexual and a term many in the Russian regime use for liberals.

            As conditions worsened at the end of Yevkurov’s reign, activists in many cases fled the republic. Yevloyeva whose Fortanga news portal was already under attack emigrated to Europe. Sautiyeva went to Moscow but found it impossible to stay away from her native country; and when Yevkurov was removed, she went back to Ingushetia.

            Unfortunately, she was swept up in the arrests of early July. She realized her time was coming and sought to flee but was stopped in her car on the border between Ossetia and Kabardino-Balkaria. It is clear, Yevloyeva says, the siloviki knew what her plans were and were lying in wait.

            “From that minute, another life began for her, a horrific one that has lasted already more than a year,” one of prison, repeated court hearings, and the fears that an uncertain future inevitably produces. Much about her can’t be written yet, Yevloyeva continues. Prosecutors would misuse it against Sautiyeva.

            All indications are that she is holding up, but prison leaves a mark on people, and Sautiyeva’s friends are worried about what kind of an impression more than a year in a jail cell will leave on her. 

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