Staunton, Oct. 26 – The ethnic conflict between Ossetians and Ingush in the Prigorodny District adjoining the capital of the North-Ossetian Autonomous Republic in Soviet times that led to a full-scale war in 1992 and continues to be a source of tensions between the two nations and their republics arose because of Soviet policies, Yevgeny Krutikov says.
As the Vzglyad commentator points out, at the end of October 1981, mass disorders broke out, forcing Moscow to send in military units, a measure that “for the era of late Brezhnevism was something almost impossible to believe” but that was almost entirely predictable given Moscow’s approach (vz.ru/society/2021/10/26/1126135.html).
Tensions in North Ossetia had been rising throughout the 1970s because the Ingush were returning from their deportation and given special privileges in Ossetia in part in compensation for the fact that the Prigorodny District near the republic capital, then Ordzhonikidze, now Vladikavkaz, was not given back to Chechnya-Ingushetia.
This led to a series of increasingly vicious unsolved murders carried out by Ingush who felt that they were immune to prosecution and by Ossetians who were outraged by what they considered official discrimination against them. The latter were especially outraged that Moscow gave Ingush more money, unlimited access to higher education, and more jobs in their republic.
Indeed, according to Krutikov, Moscow operated on the assumption that no Soviet official must interfere with the return of the deported peoples and that any ethnic problems arising from their return could be solved by sending more money to them but not necessarily to the populations they were living among.
Following the murder of Kazbek Gagloyev, an Ossetian, the Ossetians decided they had had enough of official indifference or even support for the Ingush against them. Several thousand of them, led by women and with participants carrying the casket, marched on CPSU headquarters to demand change.
The obkom secretary appeared, but it would have been better if he had not. Instead of meeting the crowd half way, he denounced its participants as “a collection of marijuana users and alcoholics.” As Krutikov says, “this was a big mistake,” especially since the only defenders in place were students from an interior ministry training school.
The crowd, sensing weakness in the unwillingness of these students to shoot them, crashed into the headquarters of the communist party and rapidly took control of all key institutions in the city. Moscow then intervened, dispatching armed units from Chechnya, itself a mistake because the Chechens and the Ingush are closely related.
Moscow allowed the use of poison gas that had not been authorized for anything except risings in prison and dispatched senior officials, including a member of the Politburo, to take control. They succeeded in reclaiming the city for Soviet power, but they then took a step that ensure that what happened in 1981 would happen again.
The Moscow officials sacked the party leadership in Ossetia and then installed a party official from Daghestan to run things who had become notorious for his anti-non-Russian views and who promptly carried out a massive crackdown that alienated further both Ossetians and Ingush in Ossetia.
This “Soviet-party attitude to international relations” quickly made things worse, leading party officials to behave even more cruelly toward the population and the population become increasingly angry at the party. Had officials adopted a different approach, the events of 1981 might not have happened and certainly would not have been repeated.
But they didn’t, and 1981 became not only for the Ossetians and Ingush in the republic but for many non-Russians across the North Caucasus, a trigger for the rise in nationalist sentiment that ultimately cost Moscow its effective control of the region and led to more fighting among various groups and the Chechen declaration of independence.