MINELRES: Caucasus Reporting Service Nos. 332, 333: excerpts

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WELCOME TO IWPR'S CAUCASUS REPORTING SERVICE, No. 333, March 30, 2006

CAUCASUS NEWS UPDATE MARCH 30

INGUSH REFUGEES PROTEST RESETTLEMENT  A Russian plan to create a new
settlement for Ingush displaced in a conflict with North Ossetia is
dismissed as a broken promise.  By Asya Bekova in Nazran and Maysky

ARMENIA: INDEPENDENT TV STATION FACES RENEWED PRESSURE  Embattled
channel sees political motives behind eviction order.  By Gegham
Vardanian in Yerevan

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INGUSH REFUGEES PROTEST RESETTLEMENT 

A Russian plan to create a new settlement for Ingush displaced in a
conflict with North Ossetia is dismissed as a broken promise. 

By Asya Bekova in Nazran and Maysky

Ethnic Ingush people forced to flee their homes in North Ossetia more
than a decade ago are protesting against plans by the Russian government
to resettle them in what they call a “reservation”, saying it has
reneged
on a commitment to let them go home. 

The refugees, or more accurately IDPs (internally displaced persons),
are backed by the authorities in Ingushetia, North Ossetia’s neighbour.
Some have lived in Ingushetia since they were displaced by the short but
bloody conflict in 1992, but the group that will be most immediately
affected is the community living in a makeshift shantytown near the
village of Maysky, just inside North Ossetia.

Last week, the Ingush parliament passed a toughly-worded resolution
accusing both North Ossetian and Russian officials of undermining
President Vladimir Putin’s pledge to resolve the refugee issue by the
end of 2006.

Ingush legislators said a plan devised by Dmitry Kozak, who heads the
Southern Federal District - which includes both these North Caucasian
republics - would obfuscate the issue by evicting the refugees from
their current temporary accommodation at the Maysky camp and resettling
them in one designated area inside North Ossetia, close to their current
temporary homes.

Most of the Ingush  IDPs say they want to return to their ancestral
homes. 

"This is the latest round in the deception of the Ingush people, and the
protection of the interests of one of the other entities of the
[Russian] Federation,” said the Ingush resolution, referring to North
Ossetia. 

Stalin gave the Prigorodny district - originally an Ingush territory -
to North Ossetia after he deported the Ingush and Chechen peoples en
masse to Central Asia in 1944. When the Ingush republic was created in
1992, the lingering territorial dispute erupted into clashes between
Ossetian and Ingush forces. Lasting just six days in October and
November that year, the fighting killed at least 500 people. 

The ethnic Ingush fled, and although some have returned, many have been
prevented from going back to their homes. The authorities in Ingushetia
say there are 19,000 people involved, while those in North Ossetia put
the figure at no more than 4,000. 

Whatever the actual number, an opinion poll by Russia’s Federal
Migration Service indicated that close to 100 per cent of the Ingush
IDPs want to return to their original homes. 

In theory, Moscow is committed to allowing the IDPs to go home. But it
has to contend with considerable resistance to the idea from North
Ossetia.

Many of the Ingush villages in North Ossetia still remain officially
off-limits to the IDPs, but others are designated “open” and people have
been able to return.

Ingushetia’s government, meanwhile, alleges that the North Ossetian and
Russian authorities are deliberately making conditions difficult in
these villages so as to discourage IDPs from coming back. Some villages
have no employment opportunities, medical services or educational
facilities.
Ingush authorities say at least ten returnees have been abducted and
have disappeared without trace over the past few months. 

The Kozak plan calls for the closure of temporary townships like the one
at Maysky by April 1 this year. The IDPs would be moved to a settlement,
called Novy (New), currently being built by the Russian and North
Ossetian authorities, close to the existing camp at Maysky. 

The new site is in Ossetia’s Prigorodny district, but it is not what the
IDPs have in mind when they dream of going home. And in order to be
granted a plot of land in Novy, they must renounce all claim to their
old home.

Mukhtar Buzurtanov, who chairs the Ingush parliament’s legal affairs and
security committee, believes the Kozak plan is an admission of defeat by
Moscow.

More than that, if implemented the scheme would mean “a massive
violation of constitutional rights and freedoms of [Ingush] citizens of
Russia”, he says. It would “inevitably lead to the kindling of strife
between the [Ossetian and Ingush] nations".

In Maysky, the mood is a mixture of unease, belligerence and weariness.
Most of the IDPs here say they will refuse to leave, whatever the
authorities tell them to do.

Ruslan Kushtov, 43, who fled his home near Vladikavkaz in 1992, lives
with his wife, two sons and his 19-year-old disabled daughter in a
disused railway carriage. He says three Ossetian families have been
occupying his home in the village of Yuzhny since the Ingush conflict.
Ironically, these families are themselves refugees from another
conflict, between Georgia and the breakaway republic of South Ossetia. 

Kushtov has been offered a plot of land in Novy, but he says he is not
interested.

"I can only envision my life as being in Yuzhny. That is my home place,"
he said.

The authorities have threatened to disconnect electricity and gas
supplies to Maysky on the April 1 deadline. But Kushtov says, “That’s
nothing. My ancestors lived without electricity and gas. There’s a lot
of firewood." 

Magomed Tsurov, 58, a father of four, is the informal head of the
community in Maysky. 

His 14-year-old daughter has a serious heart ailment, which doctors in
Moscow have attributed to hypothermia caused by winter draughts. 

Nonetheless, he does not intend to leave Maysky.

"Why should I leave one field for another, one reservation for another,
one carriage for another?" he asked.

Tsurov says the North Ossetian authorities have promised to let him go
back to his own village of Oktyabrskoye, but that they said the huge
pile of construction waste near his home would need to be cleared away
first. Somehow, that has never happened.

Some IDPs have accepted the offer of land in Novy, but they face
disapproval from their neighbours for breaking ranks.

Fatima, 23, trades from a roadside booth on the outskirts of the Maysky
township. Her family received a land plot in Novy, but in exchange they
had to give up their claim to their old home in the village of Dachnoye,
which they fled in 1992. 

She is often reproached by neighbours and relatives who accuse her of
betraying her home soil by accepting the land. But she says the deal is
better than the uncertainty of trying to go back to Dachnoye. 

"Here we’ll at least have our own land and we won’t be afraid of being
evicted,” she said. 

The resettlement from Maysky to Novy was supposed to start in January,
but a protest by IDPs blocked the start of demolition.  

Tsurov says the authorities have delivered an ultimatum to residents,
saying they owe 15 million roubles, about 500,000 US dollars, in unpaid
utility charges and threatening to cut off services. 

“But there is still firewood and candles,” he said, insisting that
residents will not allow Maysky to close. "After all, we have… a
constitutional right to live wherever we want. 

“I will not sell my ancestors' homeland."

Asya Bekova is a pseudonym used by a freelance journalist in Ingushetia. 

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

--------------------------
WELCOME TO IWPR'S CAUCASUS REPORTING SERVICE, No. 332, March 25, 2006

CAUCASUS NEWS UPDATE MARCH 24

PROPERTY RESTITUTION DEAL FOR SOUTH OSSETIA  The Georgians have a plan
for refugees on both sides of the South Ossetian conflict to receive
compensation at last, but simmering political mistrust will make it hard
to deliver.  By Victoria Gujelashvili in Tbilisi

CHECHEN LEADER URGES WOMEN TO COVER UP  Moscow-backed prime minister
says women should wear headscarves, in a move that human rights
activists fear brings the country one step closer to Sharia law.  By
Timur Aliev in Grozny

CURBING ARMENIA’S DEATH CULT  Parliament steps in to stop people taking
up more space than they can possible use after death.  By Marianna
Grigorian and Gayane Mkrtchian in Yerevan

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PROPERTY RESTITUTION DEAL FOR SOUTH OSSETIA

The Georgians have a plan for refugees on both sides of the South
Ossetian conflict to receive compensation at last, but simmering
political mistrust will make it hard to deliver.

By Victoria Gujelashvili in Tbilisi

The Georgian authorities have come up with a piece of legislation
designed to compensate people who lost property in the South Ossetian
conflict 15 years ago. But although the plan has been deemed fair by
Council of Europe experts, its fate is uncertain because the poor
relationship between Georgian and South Ossetian leaders makes any issue
highly contentious.

The law, still in draft, is intended to start a process where tens of
thousands of people - Georgians and Ossetians alike - will be able to
reclaim flats, houses, and other property lost in the short but bitter
war of 1991-92, or else receive financial compensation. 

In theory, the process could get under way this year. On March 17-18,
the bill was approved by the European Commission for Democracy Through
Law, better known as the Venice Commission, which is an advisory body to
the Council of Europe, CoE, and is providing neutral oversight of the
document’s legal provisions. Tbilisi accepted the amendments recommended
by commission experts, so the law will soon be ready to go to the
Georgian parliament. 

But the draft has yet to be seen by the administration in South Ossetia,
which has claimed independence since the conflict ended, though is not
recognised by Georgia or other states. The potential beneficaries -
people who fled on both sides - also remain largely unaware of its
contents.

After brewing since 1989, the dispute over South Ossetia’s ambition to
secede from Georgia spilled over into hostilities in 1991. Some 2,000
people died in the fighting and about 100,000 became refugees. 

It was a traumatic time for everyone caught up in the conflict. 

Liana Elbakidze, an Ossetian who worked as a teacher in the Kareli
district (not part of South Ossetia), found her life and that of her
husband and children were suddenly turned upside down. 

"On February 25, 1991, we were forced to leave our home. We did not even
have sufficient time to get anything together so we took just one bag of
clothes," she recalled. "They came to our [Ossetian] neighbours even
earlier, threatening to take their children away and taking their money
and gold. One of our relatives was badly beaten up; we initially thought
he was going to die."

Like many Ossetians from Georgia, Liana moved not to South Ossetia, but
across the border into North Ossetia, which is part of the Russian
Federation. Instead of teaching, she earns a living as market trader in
the local capital Vladikavkaz and - a decade and a half on - is still
living in a temporary centre set up to house the forced migrants. 

Gia Gigauri, a Georgian from the South Ossetian capital Tskhinval (known
as Tskhinvali in Georgian) who now lives in Tbilisi, was similarly
uprooted from his home. 

"We left in the winter of 1990, a snowy winter,” he recalled. “We could
only take what we were able to carry.”

The way the Georgian restitution plan would work would be that anyone
with a potential claim could submit it to a joint commission made up of
Georgian and South Ossetian officials plus representatives of
international organisations. The Venice Commission has suggested that
the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, should play a central role,
along with the European Union, the OSCE and the CoE. 

The Georgians have offered to provide funding for the compensation
scheme, although the Venice Commission believes international donors
will probably have to come up with some of the money. 

But would the refugees take up the offer of compensation – or even the
chance of getting their homes back? 

"Life is hard on the refugees... and they will return," said Giorgi
Gogia of the Brussels-based think tank International Crisis Group. "Even
if they come just to sell the homes that are returned to them, the very
fact that their rights have been restored will help revive trust."

However, many of the refugees on both sides interviewed by IWPR appeared
less upbeat that the plan will go well. 

"I don’t believe the authorities in Tbilisi will return anything to us,"
said Liana Elbakidze in Vladikavkaz. "I’ve been back to the area
district on many occasions over the years, but they’ve only ever tricked
me – and threatened my husband."

Inessa Bolotayeva, an Ossetian who was displaced from the Georgian town
of Gori and now lives in Tskhinval, is similarly pessimistic. 

"The Georgians drove us out; they took our home and now they’re living
in it themselves,” she said. “Yes, I have heard something about this law
but we will definitely not go back there even if they give us big money.
Sooner or later, they’d trouble us again.”

In his small Tbilisi flat, Gia Gigauri appeared hopeful, saying, "If it
proves possible, my wife and I will definitely return to Tskhinvali."

The CoE experts identified a number of areas where the Georgian
legislation could be worded more precisely, such as the criteria for
awarding compensation and the scale of the money involved, and ways of
differentiating between those people who owned their own homes and
others who rented them from the state – a distinction which has proved a
major bone of contention in Croatia, another state which has had to
grapple with post-war restitution issues.

The experts also said the Georgian authorities appeared not to have
assessed the likely scale of compensation - how many people would make a
claim, and how much it would cost. 

But these technical issues pale before the real obstacle to progress -
the fact that the fundamental territorial dispute remains unresolved 15
years on, and that the two leaderships find it hard to agree on
anything.

Georgian deputy justice minister Konstantine Vardzelashvili told IWPR
that Tbilisi has repeatedly asked the South Ossetians to take part in
drafting the law. "We first sent them a blueprint, then the draft
itself,” he
said.. “We waited for a response, but it never came.”

South Ossetian leaders have so far refused to look at the bill.

"We do not intend to participate in drafting the laws of a different
country," South Ossetia’s first deputy prime minister Boris Chochiev
told IWPR.

But Chochiev did leave open a window for possible collaboration, saying
that South Ossetian representatives might take part in reviewing the
legislation in the capacity of “international experts". 

Vardzelashvili said Georgia would continue taking the legislation
forward, “Whether the de facto South Ossetian authorities want to
cooperate with us or not."

As the Venice Commission experts noted, "Dialogue between the two sides
to the conflict seems to be very limited."

The commission said there was a risk the South Ossetians would not
cooperate if “serious efforts” were not made to consult them. But it
added, "On the other hand, a refusal to co-operate by one side should
not be a reason to delay rehabilitation and restitution for the benefit
of the victims of the conflict."

The often-fierce nature of the wider political discourse between the two
sides - and Moscow as well - is not conducive to a calm discussion about
property restitution. 

Georgia’s relationship with Russia has gravely deteriorated over the
last six months. As part of the war of words about political and
economic differences, there has been more discussion of a long-mooted
plan under which South Ossetia would join its North Ossetian neighbours
to become an integral part of Russia - a territorial change which
Tbilisi will not countenance. 

On March 22, South Ossetian president Eduard Kokoiti announced that his
territory planned to bring a legal action - based on a treaty dating
from 1774 - claiming that it rightfully belongs to Russia. 

Georgia’s parliament, meanwhile, has focused on seeking damages from
Moscow which it claims has illegally supported the separatists in South
Ossetia and Abkhazia. In a resolution passed on March 17, lawmakers
demanded that the cost be reckoned up. 

A more positive step forward is set to take place at a meeting in
Vladikavkaz on March 30-31, at which representatives from both sides
will sit down to discuss the question of compensation. 

"Everyone will participate in the meeting as private persons
irrespective of their official positions," said Oksana Antonenko,
director of Russia and Eurasia programmes for the London-based
International Institute for Strategic Studies, which is behind the
meeting. 

The aim is for the Georgians and South Ossetians to each get an idea of
the other’s vision of what the problem is, and to talk about what they
would each consider to be fair compensation, Antonenko told IWPR,
adding, "There are very few people today who know who should receive
compensation, what their sentiments are, who is ready to return and who
is not, and what demands they have... there has been no dialogue with
the refugees."

According to Paata Zakareishvili, a well-known Georgian political
analyst, the main thing is to get the process rolling and address the
South Ossetians’ lingering mistrust. 

“The future will show the results,” he said. “Restitution is an
obligation and a question of dignity for us."

Victoria Gujelashvili is a freelance journalist in Tbilisi. Independent
journalists Irina Kelekhsayeva in Tskhinval and Alan Tskhurbayev in
Vladikavkaz also contributed material for this article.

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

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IWPR's Caucasus Reporting Service provides the international community
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ISSN: 1477-7959 Copyright (c) 2006 The Institute for War & Peace
Reporting 

CAUCASUS REPORTING SERVICE No.
332

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