MINELRES: Caucasus Reporting Service No. 345: Hard Times for Caucasians in Moscow

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Sat Jul 1 18:50:25 2006


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WELCOME TO IWPR'S CAUCASUS REPORTING SERVICE, No. 345, June 23, 2006


CAUCASUS NEWS UPDATE JUNE 23

NEW CHECHEN LEADER TO PUSH NATIONALIST AGENDA  Doku Umarov expected to
try to curb radical Islamist influence over the rebel group.  By Timur
Aliev in Grozny

HARD TIMES FOR CAUCASIANS IN MOSCOW  Residents and migrants say they are
under increasing pressure from nationalist thugs.  By Vage Avanisian and
Samira Ahmedbeili in Moscow, and Sofo Bukia in Tbilisi

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HARD TIMES FOR CAUCASIANS IN MOSCOW

Residents and migrants say they are under increasing pressure from
nationalist thugs.

By Vage Avanisian and Samira Ahmedbeili in Moscow, and Sofo Bukia in
Tbilisi

Armenia is still reeling from the brutal murder of 18-year-old Artur
Sardarian last month. Sardarian, an Armenian migrant worker, was taking
a commuter train home from work on May 25 when a group of lads set on
him, stabbing him in the neck and then five more times in the chest. 

Each knife thrust was accompanied by cries of "Glory to Russia!"
eyewitnesses said. 

The attack took place on the day celebrations kicked off for "Armenia
Year" in Russia. 

In the Caucasus, there was shock at a murder whose motive was so
patently the ethnic origin of the victim. Nor was Sardarian the first
foreigner murdered in Russia since the beginning of the year - a
Senegalese student and another Armenian were killed in April. 

The sense that xenophobic violence is on the rise is supported by data
from Sova, a British non-governmental group that monitors racist attacks
in Russia, which indicated that 18 people have been killed and more than
100 injured in hate crimes so far in 2006.

Doudou Diene, the United Nations special rapporteur on racism and
xenophobia who has just completed a report on Russia, told a press
conference in Moscow on June 16 that he was concerned not only at the
rising number of assaults on foreigners, but also by the increasingly
brutal nature seen in these attacks.

President Vladimir Putin roundly condemned the phenomenon when he met
with Russian interior ministry staff on February 17.

"Belligerent nationalism and attempts to provoke inter-ethnic conflict
endanger the life and constitutional rights of citizens, hamper the
stable existence of the state, and undermine its integrity. And, of
course, it does immense damage to Russia's image worldwide," he said.

Although there are no precise data, non-government groups estimate that
there are around three million Armenians living in Russia, the same
number of Azerbaijanis and over a million Georgians. 

A Russian foundation called Public Opinion had done a survey which shows
that about half of all Muscovites polled tends to dislike people from
the Caucasus. Interestingly, those surveyed also said they thought other
Russians in the capital held even less tolerant views. 

And as Levon Ananian, who heads the Armenian Writers' Union, points out,
that is just Moscow,  "We learn from the press about the high-profile
killings in the capital, but it's clear the same is happening in remote
places throughout Russia."

Moscow's first ethnic murder this year happened on April 7 in Saint
Petersburg, when a group of skinheads attacked some dark-skinned
students. A student from Senegal, Samba Lampsar Sall, was shot dead, and
a gun marked with a swastika was found at the crime scene. 

Two weeks later, skinheads dressed in black uniforms stabbed Armenian
student Vigen Abramiants in the heart at Moscow's busiest underground
station, Pushkinskaya. 

Elhan Mirzoyev, who works as a producer with the well-known television
station NTV and is of Azerbaijani origin was beaten within an inch of
his life at another Moscow underground stations on April 3. The gang who
attacked him said he had no right to live in Russia. The doctors who put
seven stitches in his head told him it was a miracle he had survived.

Although these cases clearly bore the hallmarks of racist crime,
prosecutors only included the Russian criminal code clause covering
ethnic crimes in their indictments only after strong pressure from
lawyers for the two Armenians.

"The fact that people are being killed in Russia because of their dark
hair, swarthy skin or the shape of their eyes is harming the country's
image," said Moscow-based lawyer Simon Tsaturian, who is acting for the
two murdered Armenians. "That is why some officials might be tempted to
change the way the cases are presented, and put them in a different
light." 

Vigen Abramiants's father Rafael agreed with this view, citing an
investigator on the case who told him he had nearly lost his job after
bringing the criminal action under Russian legislation covering "murder
on ethnic grounds".

"What marked me most during the encounters and conversations I've had?"
the UN's Diene told reporters. "It is the feeling of fear and of
solitude expressed by a number of foreign communities and ethnic
minorities - the Africans have been very vocal about it, as well as
people from the Caucasus and Central Asia... This is a very alarming
sign."

Diene warned that the wave of racist attacks, if unchecked, could soon
target not only ethnic minorities, but even those who lobby to protect
them. 

He noted that Russia still lacked clear laws on discrimination, and
urged the government to demonstrate a stronger political will to fight
racism and xenophobia.

The mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, claims the authorities in the capital
are doing their best to curb xenophobic sentiment. "We have over 100
nationalities living here, and things do happen," he told IWPR. "But
there are also cases like one where one of our policemen died protecting
an Armenian family from raiders."

Ella Pamfilova, who chairs the Civil Society Institutions and Human
Rights Council, a body which answers to President Putin, said the growth
of xenophobia was mainly a consequence of corruption and flawed
migration laws. 

"Adopting an intelligible law would go against the interests of corrupt
groups, which exist everywhere including in government agencies,"
Pamfilova told IWPR. "It's far more convenient to have illegal people
deprived of their civil rights, to rob them in markets, than to have
legalised citizens who would pay taxes to the state and observe all the
laws. Because in the latter case the state would have to protect their
rights."

Despite President Putin's and Mayor Luzhkov's assurances, there are
politicians and analysts in Russia and in the southern Caucasus who
believe the Russian authorities are in fact encouraging radical
nationalism.

"In most cases, ethnically motivated crimes in Russia either go
unpunished or the punishment is inadequate," said Grigory Yavlinsky, who
heads the Yabloko opposition party in Russia. "I'm sure the authorities
have an interest in xenophobia being unleashed. I have no facts or
evidence to prove this, but it's quite possible that the authorities
have some influence over the skinheads, and that they support and
manipulate them." 

The link between the gangs of youths and nationalistic political groups
is clearer. Such organisations as the Great Russian National Party, the
Union of Slavs, the National Bolshevist Party and the Movement Against
Illegal Immigration, and others too, are all active in and around
Moscow. 

Alexander Chervyakov, a spokesman for the Great Russian National Party,
set out his group's views in remarks to IWPR, "We are not going to let
foreigners humiliate us. We are fighting against those who are trying to
take our homeland away from us. We... are able to defend what belongs to
us and take revenge on our enemies."

Chervyakov would not respond to questions about why young men like
Sardarian and Abramiants should be considered enemies of Russia. 

According to Eduard Limonov, the head of the National Bolsheviks, "Being
a skinhead is fashionable in Russia these days. Young people are
attracted to crewcuts, black gear, big boots and a particular kind of
music. It's a modern youth movement." 

Alexander Prokhanov, editor of the Zavtra newspaper which promotes
nationalist views, said resentment among Russians was spurred by the
hardship of daily life "People have to think about how to earn their
meager daily bread at a time when foreigners are milling to and fro
before their eyes. And there are many [foreigners], too many of them
now," he told IWPR. 

It is unclear whether such views are affecting migrants from the three
south Caucasian countries as they make decisions about coming to Russia
or staying there. 

Ara Abramian, who heads the Union of Armenians in Russia, said that
following the recent attacks on his countrymen, he had noticed a decline
in the number of people coming from Armenia to look for jobs. At the
same time, he said, few people were actually deciding to leave once they
arrived. "The situation is difficult to judge," he said. "People are
unlikely to leave for fear of encountering skinheads in the street.
Although that too plays a part."

Georgian political analyst Mamuka Areshidze pointed to the deteriorating
diplomatic relationship between Moscow and Tbilisi as an additional
factor affecting migrants from Georgia. 

"Of course political relationships play a very important part in this,
and the worsening of relations between Georgia and Russia has done a
great deal of damage to the many Georgians living in Russia, who are now
having problems with their jobs and businesses. In terms of morale, it's
very hard," he said. "Still, the extents of this are not so global as to
force Caucasians now living in Russia to start returning home. I don't
think anyone in Russia will dare set up a united front against
Caucasians."

Meanwhile, people from the Caucasus now living in Moscow either
permanently or as migrant labour continue to find their own ways of
dealing with hostile attitudes.

Sixteen-year-old Ruslana Samedova copes by concealing her ethnic
identity. She counts herself lucky to look more like her Russian mother
than her Azerbaijani father. "Even my closest friends don't know I'm
Azerbaijani," she admitted. "None of my schoolmates has ever seen my
father - I'm literally hiding him from everyone. As for my Azerbaijani
surname, I have to invent all sorts of stories to explain it. 

"If they find out I'm Azerbaijani - even on one side only - at school,
that'll be the end of me. I've seen how one of my classmates was driven
close to suicide. Her family had to move to Baku. I don't want to suffer
the same fate."


Vage Avanesian is director of the Moscow office of the TV-company Shant.
Samira Akhmedbeili is a correspondent for the newspaper Azerros in
Moscow. Sofo Bukia is a correspondent for 24 Saati in Tbilisi.

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ISSN: 1477-7959 Copyright (c) 2006 The Institute for War & Peace
Reporting 

CAUCASUS REPORTING SERVICE No.
345

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