MINELRES: Caucasus Reporting Service No. 289: Balkars Begin to Protest

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Sun Jun 5 17:57:41 2005


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WELCOME TO IWPR'S CAUCASUS REPORTING SERVICE, No. 289, June 02, 2005

CAUCASUS NEWS UPDATE JUNE 2

CHECHEN REBELS DECLARE NEW FRONT  Is Chechen rebel pledge to widen their
fight an escalation of the conflict or a sign of desperation?  By Umalt
Dudayev in Grozny

BALKARS BEGIN TO PROTEST  The Balkar minority in Kabardino-Balkaria
takes
to the streets following murder of local leader.  By Fatima Tlisova in
Nalchik

ARMENIA-S BIG DANCE  Tens of thousands of Armenians literally embrace
their country-s highest mountain.  By Gegham Vardanian under Mount
Aragats

GEORGIA: SAD PLIGHT OF UNDERAGE BRIDES  Teenage Azerbaijani girls in
Georgia often have no choice but to marry young.  By Ramilya Alieva in
Kaspi

NO RIGHTS FOR SHARIA WIVES  Dagestani women who enter into polygamous
marriages risk losing everything - even their children - when their
husband
tires of them.  By Polina Sanayeva in Makhachkala

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............................

BALKARS BEGIN TO PROTEST

The Balkar minority in Kabardino-Balkaria takes to the streets following
murder of local leader.

By Fatima Tlisova in Nalchik

Hundreds of people from the Balkar ethnic minority defied a security
crackdown at the weekend to hold a rally in Nalchik, the capital of the
North Caucasian republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, in protest at what they
describe as persistent discrimination by the authorities.

Some of the 1,500 people at the May 28 demo called for the recreation of
Balkaria within its 1944 boundaries v a time when the Balkars were
deported to Central Asia en masse by Stalin, shortly after the mass
deportation of the Chechens and Ingush. The demonstrators also
complained about police intimidation and abuses in Balkar villages in
Kabardino-Balkaria.

The immediate trigger for the protest was the murder of a leading Balkar
politician who had opposed a new law which redraws all the territorial
boundaries inside the republic. The legislation is encountering mass
opposition. 

More trouble broke out on May 30 in the town of Tyrnyauz when a
spontaneous rally was held to protest against attempts to sack Elbrus
district head Khizir Makitov, another strong opponent of the territorial
law. A
delegation of ministers arrived in the town to announce the dismissal of
Makitov and the appointment of his successors, but failed to persuade
deputies in the local assembly of their decision.

Balkars, a Turkic ethnic group, currently comprise around ten per cent
of
the population in Kabardino-Balkaria, being outnumbered by Kabardins and
Russians. 

The authorities made strenuous attempts to obstruct the initial rally,
cutting off access to mountain villages from the early morning of May 28
and even cancelling public transport. The square in front of the
government building was surrounded by a triple cordon of police and
interior ministry troops. The spot where the protest actually took place
- a memorial to victims of political repression - had an even higher
concentration of troops. 

The residents of the Balkar village of Khasanya, on the edge of Nalchik,
got through the cordons with difficulty and walked into the centre of
the city. "The actions of our authorities cannot be explained," said
Ramazan Friev, deputy head of administration of Khasanya. "You can-t
call it anything but provocative.

"We made an application to hold the rally ten days in advance, as is
required by law, and met the interior minister on the day before. He
promised that they would not obstruct us. We are capable of providing
our own security and we have a group of 250 trained sportsmen who keep
an eye on things."

On May 15, Friev's boss Artur Zokayev, head of administration in
Khasanya, was gunned down outside his house. No one has been arrested
for his murder but many Balkars immediately said they thought it was a
political assassination.

Zokayev was the unofficial leader of the Balkars at the time of his
death.
The city authorities of Nalchik had twice tried to prevent him being
elected to his post in Khasanya, but had backed down after public
protests. Recently, he had been an outspoken opponent of the draft
border legislation.

Under this bill, Khasanya will stop being a village and will turn into a
suburb of Nalchik. Zokayev had demanded that the villagers be allowed to
hold a referendum on their future. 

Zokayev was killed eight days before the scheduled start of court
hearings
on the legality of the proposed referendum and nine days before a
hearing
on the constitutional status of the law. Both hearings went ahead after
Zokayev's death and the Balkar side lost both of them. From June 1,
Khasanya and three other villages lost their status as municipal
entities and Friev was sacked as deputy head of administration. 

The Balkar inhabitants of Khasanya fear that the loss of autonomy will
lead to the loss of their national identity and lead to assimilation. 

However, the mayor of Nalchik Khaziratali Berdov has rejected these
claims. He told local television, "By joining Nalchik, the people of
Khasanya will get a number of advantages: city transport, city telephone
numbers, the education system and social welfare of a big city." He
added that the nationality issues being raised were artificial and
irrelevant. 

The protesters were not convinced by this. The new committee formed at
the rally in Nalchik has set itself the task of seeing the law "on the
rehabilitation of the victims of political repression" of April 1991
implemented. This would restore to the Balkars two regions that they
lost after the Stalinist deportations of 1944. Another goal is the
suspension and then abolition of the law on municipalities that led to
the change in
status for Khasanya. However, the protesters stopped short of
proclaiming as a final aim the proclamation of a republic of Balkaria. 

Ten years ago, there was a more active separatist movement for an
autonomous Balkaria, led by former Soviet general Sufian Beppayev, who
talked about forming an army of Balkars and Karachais - another
once-deported Turkic people from the neighbouring republic of
Karachai-Cherkessia - which would "liberate Balkaria from the Kabardin
yoke". Beppayev had good relations with former Chechen pro-independence
leader Jokhar Dudayev.

However, Beppayev is now accused by Balkars of being a traitor, having
joined the administration of local president Valery Kokov as his human
rights commissioner.

Balkars are showing discontent not only in Khasanya but in the
republic's impoverished mountain villages as well. Uzeir Kurdanov, head
of administration of the village of Elbrus v underneath the famous Mount
Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe v is also strongly opposed to the
new municipal law. 

"This law redraws the boundaries for population centres in the republic
in such a way that the Balkar population is completely deprived of
recreational land and resources for development," said Kurdanov.

The proposed new territorial divisions sometimes cut through the middle
of villages. For Balkar villagers, this means that someone may not have
the right to use land located on the other side of his fence or graze
sheep on nearby pastures. For people who live entirely off the land, the
consequences could be catastrophic.

Fears are being expressed that these protests could lead to inter-ethnic
tension between Kabardins and Balkars. Some observers say there are no
quarrels on ethnic grounds but this factor could be manipulated by the
authorities to strengthen their own regime.

"Both Kabardins and Balkars are living equally badly, because they have
been left out by the ruling clan," said Ismail Boziev, a member of the
municipal council in Khasanya. "There were lots of reasons why the
Balkars came out on to the streets. But the patience of Kabardins has
reached a limit too."


Fatima Tlisova is editor-in-chief of the information agency Regnum in
the
North Caucasus and contributes to IWPR from Kabardino-Balkaria.

........................

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ISSN: 1477-7959 Copyright (c) 2005 The Institute for War & Peace
Reporting 

CAUCASUS REPORTING SERVICE No.
289

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