Staunton, April 4 – Yesterday a large group of Chechen horsemen carrying Chechen flags road into the Aukhov District of Daghestan to visit the grave of Baysangur of Benoa, one of the deputies of Imam Shamil during his fight against the Russian empire in the 19th century. They apparently acted spontaneously but lacked permission from Daghestani authorities.
Baysangur is a Chechen hero, and many in Chechnya venerate his memory. But visits to his grave have a more contemporary meaning as well. His grave is in the portion of Daghestan that belonged to Chechnya before the deportation and the Chechens have sought its return. But Makhachkala has dragged its feet because people there don’t want to move.
At the end of February, the Chechen government acting on Ramzan Kadyrov’s order organized a visit by more than 10,000 Chechens to the district and Baysangur’s grave to underscore that Grozny considers the district Chechen and wants it returned (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/02/kadyrov-again-highlights-his.html).
Because of that experience, many in Daghestan viewed the incursion this week as another move by Kadyrov to put pressure on Makhachkala to return the land. But experts on the region say that that almost certainly is not the case. While Kadyrov wouldn’t have opposed such a visit, he didn’t need to organize this small one because Chechens all feel strongly about this land.
The specialists pointed out that the Chechen horsemen did not put up any resistance, were entirely polite, and withdrew after being allowed to visit the grave. The Daghestanis told them that they were always welcome to come but that they should do so in small groups after asking permission (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/362519/, kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/362491/, nazaccent.ru/content/35473-v-dagestane-policejskie-ostanovili-shedshih-k.htmlpdmnews.ru/20254/).
What makes this incident worthy of note is precisely the fact that no official hierarchy had to organize it: the Chechen people themselves support the recovery of this land and are demonstrating their commitment to that goal not because they have been told to but because that is what they believe.
Such attitudes and commitments may seem strange to those who follow protests elsewhere in the Russian Federation where very few things happen unless on orders from above. But in the North Caucasus – and not just in Chechnya – the peoples themselves have very strong views. They are in fact often ahead of the leaders in that regard.
And that is a reminder that no matter whom Moscow installs in the top positions in these republics, the nations there remain committed to many things and will act on that commitment even if it brings them into conflict with the leaders of their own republics or, as in this case, of neighboring republics as well.