Ingushetia's cycle of violence
Political violence and killings seem to be daily occurrences in the tiny mainly Muslim republic of Ingushetia in the Russian North Caucasus, which shares a border with Chechnya. Dom Rotheroe explains why.
"Don't mention to our mother that he was tortured before he died," one of the sisters of the late Batyr Albakov whispers to us before we interview his family.
"She doesn't know about that and she has a weak heart."
They came in the early hours of 10 July to take Mamma Albakov's son away. Two carloads of security forces had barged their way into the family flat in Russia's Caucasian republic of Ingushetia.
Eleven days later, Batyr's family learned of his death through a report on the internet.
In that time, the 26-year-old aeroplane engineer had supposedly become an Islamic militant, acquired a gun and camouflage gear and been killed in a shoot-out with security forces.
The lie to this is given as soon as Batyr's mother is out of the room, and his siblings show us the mobile phone photos they cannot let her know about.
The photos of their brother's body reveal an array of gruesome injuries - multiple haematomas, knife wounds, an arm almost severed at the shoulder - that could hardly have been sustained in a gunfight.
Such incidents occur almost daily in Ingushetia. The territory with its 300,000 people has suffered for sharing a border with Chechnya during the latter's two wars for independence from Russia.
After Russia finally took control of Chechnya, extremist rebels proclaimed an Islamic Emirate Of The North Caucasus and spread the fight into Russia's other mainly Muslim republics, like Ingushetia.
Their jihadi ideology has not found much sympathy with the general population.
A few miles down the road from the Albakovs we meet another grieving family.
Some days before, two of their sisters were shot dead by militants in their roadside kiosk.
It was probably because they were selling alcohol, which is not a crime in conservative but secular Ingushetia.
Yet, like the Albakovs, the family of the murdered sisters lay the final responsibility on the Russian and Ingush authorities and their security forces.
The way these institutions have cracked down on not only the militants but many innocent people has made them the perfect recruiters for the insurgents.
Batyr Albakov's sister, Lisa, blames it on statistics. The security forces have to show they are actively combating the militants, she says.
But it is much easier to grab a civilian and dress his corpse up as a militant rather than go into the woods and actually fight the jihadis.
People here seem to think the only good thing the Russian authorities have done is replace Ingushetia's loathed President Zyazikov with the popular Yunis-Bek Yevkurov last year.
Mr Yevkurov cracked down on the previous regime's corruption and initiated talks with the militants, yet this June he was nearly killed in a suicide bomb attack on his car.
Since then the fight against the militants has indeed been stepped up, but so has the violence against civilians by the security forces.
More than 200 people have been killed so far this year, the same figure as for the whole of 2008.
More and more young men are going "into the hills", as joining the rebels is known.
Some may do so out of religious belief, yet Magomed Mutsolgov of human rights NGO, Mashr, believes that at least 80% leave home because of revenge.
Mashr's office is dominated by a board displaying photographs of the 174 people, including Magomed's younger brother, who have disappeared without trace during the past seven years.
The vast majority of them, Magomed says, were kidnapped by security forces.
In the other 500 cases of abduction and murder that are not on the board, not a single member of the security forces has been brought before a court.
It is a complaint we hear all over Ingushetia, that there is no law or justice.
In a society in which blood vendettas are part of a man's honour, young male relatives of the deceased have to seek their own justice.
They head into the hills to get a gun and take revenge. And while with the extremists, their ideology may shift accordingly.
Some may become suicide bombers, of which the North Caucasus has seen a resurgence this summer, culminating in an attack on Ingushetia's main police station in August which killed 21 and injured more than 100 more.
My most poignant memory of the Albakov family is of Batyr's younger brother, Beslan.
Beslan's rejects blood revenge and wants legal justice for his brother, a justice he knows will never come.
He also knows that the security forces will suspect him of seeking revenge and therefore may come for him at any time.
His quietly desperate face is the face of Ingushetia today, trapped between the rock and hard place of the militants and the authorities who seem intent on feeding the ever-growing cycle of violence.
Spiral of violence cripples Russia's Ingushetia
The Times of India
2 Nov 2008
near-daily killings and kidnappings, authorities in Ingushetia are bent on
convincing the world that their tiny, mostly Muslim region in southern Russia is
They point to Magas, the new regional capital where construction has taken off since the 2002 election of the region's Kremlin-backed president, Murat Zyazikov.
But like an embattled colonial fortress, Magas is off-limits to people without special permits. Armoured vehicles patrol the outskirts to defend against attacks that have killed more than 50 police and soldiers this year.
"Those who speak of a conflict are sick. The only war is the one to develop construction sites and potato fields," Zyazikov, a former KGB officer, told reporters on a recent visit to the region, which neighbours war-torn Chechnya.
"And those who are afraid should just stay in their houses, with their heads under the covers. I won't visit every house to ask what's wrong!" he said.
Disputing a common view of Ingushetia as a corruption-plagued basket case, Ingush Finance Minister Aset Ustilgova claimed the region was "stable" and said its economy had grown 186 percent from 2002-07.
"All indicators show the success of our policy," she said. "We have built a capital. Construction sites are bustling. The birth rate is very important; it is a sign the situation is stable."
But others paint a darker picture, citing attacks on law-enforcement officials that -- even according to official statistics -- have more than doubled since last year.
"Many policemen resign. Why should they risk their lives for 200 dollars a month? Everyone is afraid," said an official who oversees finances at the regional Interior Ministry, speaking under condition of anonymity.
-- 'Suspects' are eliminated on the spot --
The attacks are usually attributed to a shadowy movement of Islamists and pro-Chechen militants, but human rights activists accuse the authorities of compounding the problem with a heavy-handed crackdown.
Mashr, a local human rights organisation, lists 178 people it believes have been kidnapped by law-enforcement since the crackdown began in 2002.
Memorial, one of Russia's leading human rights groups, links the surge in attacks to abductions and summary executions by the Federal Security Service, the successor to the Soviet KGB.
"The methods have evolved over time. After criticism from NGOs and the media, kidnappings have dropped since mid-2007," said Timur Akiyev, a regional representative of Memorial.
"Now we have seen an increase in extra-judicial executions. The 'suspects' are eliminated on the spot."
In a typical operation, an armoured vehicle arrives in a village carrying a group of masked men who kill their "target," Akiyev said, citing testimony from dozens of witnesses.
The dead man is later described as a "fighter" killed in a shootout even though he was often unarmed, the Memorial representative said.
"Elimination is certainly simpler but less effective, since people no longer see it as just a blunder," he said.
Activists say such tactics only fuel the insurgency, pushing enraged young people to join the rebels in an impoverished region where they lack other opportunities, given unemployment of more than 50 percent.
"The problem is not the guilt or innocence of the victim, but that Russian forces no longer act legally and are incapable of carrying out a real investigation," said Magomed Mutsolgov, the director of Mashr.
"Over five years, there has been a rise in attacks against law-enforcement agencies," Akiyev said. "This is proof of the ineffectiveness of the policies of repression."