Ekaterina Sokirianskaia

Getting Back Home?

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  Getting Back Home?
Towards Sustainable Return of Ingush Forced Migrants
and Lasting Peace in Prigorodny District of North Ossetia


Executive Summary
Armed Conflict of 1992: Roots, Preconditions and Outcomes
Current State of the Problem: State Policy on Peace Building and Return
Peace Plan and Recommendations:


Ingush- Osetian conflict (осетино-ингушский конфликт) has been the only armed ethnic conflict in post-communist Russia.  A small-scale regional conflict, which lasted for 7 days from October 31 to November 6 1992 and caused the displacement of 30-60,000 people received virtually no coverage in the media in 1992 and has been quickly forgotten about. Tens of thousands IDPs from North Osetia struggling for survival in the substandard conditions in Ingushetia  with no aid from the state likewise slipped from the attention of international humanitarian and development organizations, which arrived to the region two years later to assist IDPs from Chechnya. The international community learnt of this "small emergency" after the hostage-taking tragedy in the North Ossetian town of Beslan of September 1-3 2004.

In the first hours of hostage taking, when 1200 children and parents were captured by terrorists in school #1, the  local media announced that the school had been taken by members of the 'Ingush dzamaat'1. Later the choice of the school (during the Ingush-Ossetian conflict of 1992 the sports gym of Beslan school #1 accommodated Ingush civilian hostages taken by the Osetian fighters), and the fact that there were eight Ingush among terrorists in the group, allowed local authorities and journalists, and echoing them Moscow-based experts to link the tragedy of Beslan to the Ingush-Ossetian conflict of 1992.

The link between Ingush-Ossetian territorial dispute and the horrendous crime of Beslan has been constructed by nationalist politicians and incompetent ethnologists - the demands of the terrorists in the Beslan school were related to war in Chechnya and the terrorist group was multinational. Nonetheless, Beslan tragedy provoked another spiral of ethnic hatred between the Ingush and the Ossetians. Moreover, in the recent years Ingushetia has turned into the area of intense combatant and terrorist activity, which suggests that protracted displacement, unresolved ethnic conflict and systemic discrimination of Ingush create fruitful soil which breeds extremism. Leaders of guerilla and terrorist groups, whose agenda is to spread the war to entire Caucasus, successfully employ local grievances to recruit young men into their networks.

I argue: when it comes to ethnic violence, there can be no 'big' and 'small' emergencies. 'Frozen' ethnic conflicts, systemic rights violation, discrimination and protracted displacement destabilize regions and radicalize youth.  Terrorism and combatant activity in parts of a country radicalize the population at large, which becomes racist and intolerant towards minorities.

Russia, as the most multi-ethnic state of contemporary Europe should take responsibility for the destructive processes in the North Caucasus and adopt a problem solving approach to the nationality problems within its borders. International community should help Russia tackle these problems, lest this largest Eurasian state should slip into large-scale chaos and violence.

Moreover, this project advocates international regime for IDPs, which will strengthen the international institutional arrangements to help dislocated within national borders. 'Small emergencies' can develop into major problems; this can be avoided by a more systemic approach towards people in flight.

Armed Conflict of 1992: Roots, Preconditions and Outcomes [next] [previous]

The roots of the Ingush-Ossetian conflict are in inconsistent, non-neutral policy of the state. The tempests and turbulence of the Great Empire were mirrored in histories of the Orthodox Christian Ossetians and Sufi Muslim Ingush, in the course of colonial and then Soviet state-building the former managed to develop cooperative relations with the Center and win the repute of 'reliable people', while the latter were treated as 'unreliable' and became an object of repeated repressions and discrimination on behalf of the state.

At the heart of the armed conflict was the territorial dispute over Prigorodny District, which was annexed from the Chechen-Ingush Republic in 1944 and transferred under the jurisdiction of North Ossetia. On February 23 1944, on the order of Stalin all of the Ingushis down to one person, were put on unheated cattle trains and deported to Central Asia on the accusation of "cooperation with Nazis". Thousands perished on the way or died subsequently in the inhuman conditions of the Stalinist exile. 25-30,000 Ossetians were resettled into the houses of the deported Ingush in a "voluntary - enforced" manner: each Ossetian district and kolkhoz was allocated a certain number of "volunteers", who had to be resettled to the "new districts". Refusal to go could entail administrative repressions; agreement entitled the settler to benefits: after 5 years of work on the Ingush farms, the Ossetian settler could possess of the house and cattle, which remained from the deportees.

After the deportation in 1957 the return of the Ingush to Prigorodny area was discouraged: Moscow treated repressed peoples with suspicion, while North Ossetian authorities, anxious of territorial claims, created difficulties with employment and domicile registration. In 1982 the Council of Ministers of the USSR issued an edict (№ 183) «On limitations of registration of citizens in Prigorodny district of North Ossetian ASSR», which denied registration to certain categories of citizens in the area. This edict was de facto enforced only in respect of the Ingush in Prigorodny Rayon. Nonetheless, the Ingushis, whose tradition treats the land of the forefathers as sacred, returned to their villages anyway, bought the houses, which belonged to their families before deportation back from the Ossetians; lived illegally (without registration) or bribed officials into registering them. Many integrated well, studied and worked in Vladikavkaz, and in spite of relatively high tensions with the Ossetians, the percent of mixed marriages was rather high.

With the liberalization of the regime in 1970s-80s Ingush tried to campaign for return of what they considered their historical homeland. "The nationalization" of politics in the region, emergence of free market of arms in the Caucasus, and inflow of refugees from Georgia created preconditions of growing ethnic tensions in Prigorodny District.  On April 26, 1991 the Supreme Soviet of the RF adopted a law "On rehabilitation of the repressed peoples". The 3d and the 6th articles of the law stipulated "territorial rehabilitation", i.e. those peoples, whose lands were illegally annexed from them, had the right to claim them back. The law outlined no mechanisms for practical implementation of the "territorial rehabilitation", which legitimized the Ingush demands to Prigorodny Rayon, drastically increased the feelings of insecurity with the Ossetians and catalyzed the breakout of conflict between them.

The full-scale armed conflict broke out at night of October 31. It was preceded by a series of armed clashes, killing both Ingush and Ossetian civilians. On November 1, the official position of Moscow delegation was verbalized by General-Colonel Filatov on the Ossetian TV:  "Today at 12: 45 arrived the first plane with airborne troops, equipment and ammunition, which will be located on the territory of Ossetia. Russia has not forgotten its faithful sons, the Ossetians, who served it with faith and honesty for many years. Already today... the airborne troops together with interior forces of RF and Interior forces of North Ossetia will start military action against the aggressors... I think it will not take us long to cleanse here all those who wants or disrupts the peaceful labor of Ossetia... (Quoted in Zdravomyslov: 1998: 65)

By November 6 the federal troops and the Ossetian interior forces, indeed, "cleansed" the Ingush combatants from Prigorodny Rayon and together with them 40-60, 000 Ingush civilians were forced to leave Prigorodny district of North Ossetia and its capital Vladikavkaz. Ingush were entirely dislocated from North Ossetia, including the villages where there were no fights (with the exception of Majski village at the border of Ingushetia ad North Ossetia inhabited by the Ingush; the Ossetian families who lived there fled). Over 3, 000 (mostly Ingush houses) had been destroyed.

Current State of the Problem: State Policy on Peace Building and Return [next]   [previous]

The policy of the federal authorities on the Ingush-Ossetian conflict can be characterized as "liquidation of consequences" rather than conflict resolution. The approach of the federal center was to overcome the main challenge of this ethnic war for the Russian government -forced migration and destroyed infrastructure. Transforming hostilities and reintegration of returnees upon return were not identified as independent issues on the agenda.

Understandably, both parties to conflict had their own strategies in the post-military phase of the conflict. The Ingush side pushed for return of IDPs, while the Osetian side came up with pretexts to restrain the return of the Ingush inasmuch as it was acceptable for the federal center.

The interviews with ethnologists, public figures and policy-makers from Ingushetia and North Ossetia carried out in May-September 2005 revealed full consensus of all major experts in the field in their evaluation of the current state of the Ingush-Ossetian conflict as unresolved.  "The conflict is not resolved, it is frozen, the level of hostility remains very high, the mutually excluding positions are there", - explained Dr. Arthur Tsutsiev of the North Ossetian Institute for Humanitarian Research. "This conflict has not reached positive resolution because the concluded agreements have not been implemented. The executives ignore the agreements reached between the parties. ", - said Dr. Leila Arapkhanova of the history department at Ingush State University.

At the same time, impressive positive changes have been on the way - thousands of Ingush IDPs have returned to 13 out of 29 villages of the Republic North-Ossetia-Alania where they had previously lived. According to the Country-Wide Census of the Population in 2002, 21, 442 citizens who identified themselves as 'Ingush' reside on the territory of Republic North Ossetia-Alania. The state policy satisfactorily managed disarmament and demobilization former combatants. The strategy of their reintegration into law enforcement agencies arises some doubts, however, since it creates fertile soil for police brutality and discrimination practices. The infrastructure, medical and educational facilities have been restored and in some villages Ingush and Ossetian neighbors visit each other for funerals and weddings, just as 13 years ago.

At the same time, thousands IDPs still remain in Ingushetia in inhuman conditions without humanitarian aid from the state or international NGOs. In 1992 the federal authorities provided them with temporary shelter (barracks, wagons), but did not assume responsibility for their other needs. The internally displaced from Prigorodny district, who have spent 13 years in substandard conditions far below the poverty level have turned into a marginalized segment of Ingush society, with shattered health and  frustrations testing the limits.

The level of hostilities between the two ethnic groups remains very high and Ingush returnees experience systematic discrimination in North Ossetia: their access to jobs, education and healthcare is seriously limited. In a mini-calendar of 2005 published by the Ministry for Nationalities of North Ossetia and dedicated to multicultural Ossetia, the second largest ethnic group in the republic - the Ingush - are not even listed at all. The calendar entitled "In Ossetia - As A Unified Family" mentions dozens of nationalities, including 610 avars, 232 poles, 114 turkmens, but totally ignores the 21 thousand of Ingush. Fighting discrimination against returnees has been very inefficient in North Ossetia. Again, as in the post-Stalinist times they are treated as pardoned, but not forgiven, which is extremely dangerous for regional stability and social peace. Breech of agreements and non-compliance with regulations by the Ossetian side, obstacles created to IDPs in their return were too often ignored by the federal center.

The primary reason for conflict perpetuation this is lack of political solutions. In the 13 years since the events of October-November 1992 the federal center did not attempt at addressing the underlying political cause of the conflict - the territorial dispute.  Moreover, the federal policy did not spare enough effort at ensuring good governance and political representation of Ingush. The fact that Ingush returnees have no representation in state institutions impedes re-integration and reconciliation.

The tragedy of Beslan was a severe test both for the two peoples and state policy towards conflict resolution and return. Although  the hostage-taking in Beslan had nothing to do with the Ingush-Ossetian dispute, the regional press invested consistent efforts at constructing this link.  The manipulation has been successful, the IDP return was terminated for 8 months, and the issue of opening new settlements for Ingush return has since then been seldom discussed ever since.

The current plan of the federal center is to solve the problem of IDP until 2007 by moving the remaining families to the specially allocated slots of land at the border of Ingushetia and North Ossetia on the Ossetian side. Thus, the IDPs will not return to the places of their origin, but will be settled in an enclave-like fashion at the border with Ingushetia.

Creating ethnic enclaves seems to temporarily solve the problem of security, which after Beslan has been again extremely vulnerable for the Ingush residents in Prigorodny district. In the long term the advantages of this solution seem to be questionable.

As my research has shown the most conflict prone solutions have so far been the villages where Ingush and Ossetian communities form ethnic enclaves. These settlements represent a conglomerate of insular districts, where ethnic communication is virtually nil, school education is segregated and ethnic hostilities are very high. The most favorable ethnic climate is where Ingush have returned to the places of origin and the two ethnic groups live in a dispersed manner, in the same street both Ingush and the Ossetian families.

Creating a patchwork of ethnic enclaves would institutionalized cleavage, perpetuate the conflict, and increase the frustrations of the Ingush population, who will take this solution as total a defeat for their cause. Not only will they loose the Prigorodny district, which "The Law on Rehabilitation of the Repressed Peoples" still guarantees their right to, but will see that the ethnic cleansing which happened in 1992 with support of the federal army as having permanent consequences, they would have been cleansed out of the area for good. This new grievance will be another blow on the legitimacy of the federal center, will confirm the suspicions of the Ingush that they are still being treated as 'unreliable people', which in the unstable conditions of the North Caucasus will work for the benefit of the propagandists of combatant activity and terrorism.

Peace Plan and Recommendations [next] [previous]

On the basis of this research I propose the following strategies for the government, national and international decision makers:

To all parties concerned: [next] [previous]

1. To acknowledge the importance of resolving the Ingush-Ossetian conflict, which remains a strong destabilizing factor in the North Caucasian Region, threatens with recurrent armed clashes and creates conditions conducive for radicalization of youth.

2. To launch programs aimed at lasting peace and sustainable return of Ingush IDPs to Prigorodny District

To the federal policy-makers: [next] [previous]

1. To look for political solutions of the Ingush-Ossetian conflict

I suggest one possible solution to the territorial dispute:

- Prigorodny District remains part of North Ossetia;
- All IDPs who wish to return are unconditionally returned to the exact places of their original residence. Those do not wish to return receive full compensation for their lost housing and land;

- Consonsiational system of local government is created in Prigorodny District, District Council uniting deputies from Ingush and Ossetian communities who represent proportionally their populations, has wide autonomy and sufficient budget from local taxes for its needs. The District Council elects the head of district administration on the basis of rotation, from representatives of Ingush and Ossetian nationalities. In the villages of mixed settlement create village councils. 

- Ingush get due representation in the state institutions of North Ossetia, including government, parliament, ministries and law enforcement.

- Former combatants do not occupy leadership posts in the local government.

- Amendments are made to the "Law on Rehabilitation of the Repressed Peoples", which change 'territorial rehabilitation' for 'property rehabilitation' and prescribes a mechanism of return or compensation for property lost as a result of Stalinist repressions. The law is implemented in Prigorodny District.

- Enlightening programs in the Ossetian media are carried out dedicated to crimes against humanity committed by Stalinism; Stalin's statues and portraits are banned from the public space.

- A unified federal agency for resolution of Ingush-Ossetian conflict is re-established, which continues to carry out return and strictly monitors the concluded agreements;

1. To allow for honest investigation of the tragedy of Beslan and strictly punish according to law those whose actions allowed to the tragedy to take place. To make public the demands of terrorists which they delivered to the headquarters through Ruslan Aushev.
2. To define the borders of "water protection zone" as soon as possible on the basis of expert, politically neutral opinion and to start the process of return to this area or develop a compensation scheme for those houses, which fall into the water protection zone.
3. To speed up resolution of property dispute concerning illegally captures flats and houses f Ingush forced migrants.
4. To stop the practice of separate education in schools of Prigorodny district.
5. To stop keeping Ingush prisoners charged with 'terrorism' in Vladikavkaz and prosecute instances of illegal treatment of Ingush prisoners in preliminary detainment in North Ossetia.
6. To transfer the tax inspection for Prigorodny district from Beslan back to the administrative center of Prigorodny District Oktyab'rskoye
7. To monitor discriminatory practices in North Ossetian institutions, including banks, where Ingush residents have to receive money transfers in separate banks.  To strictly punish the perpetrators according to law.
8. To provide humanitarian assistance to Ingush IDPs remaining in temporary residence facilities in Ingushetia: to give these facilities official status of temporary residence centers, provide assistance according to the usual scheme practiced by the Ministry of Emergency of the Russian Federation and the Migration Services.
9. To launch income-generating programs, especially encouraging enterprises with ethnically mixed personnel.
10. To develop programs aimed at youth vocational training and employment in Ingushetia and North Ossetia.
11. To create recreation centers for youth, including sport gyms in Prigorodny District.
12. To encourage exchange in the spheres of culture, sport, education, and economy between the two republics.

To humanitarian and development organizations: [next] [previous]

1.To urgently provide medical and humanitarian assistance to IDPs remaining in Prigorodny  district  and Refugees from North Ossetia and Inner Regions of Georgia in Prigorodny District of North Ossetia.

2. To launch development and income generating programs in Prigorodny district, targeting Ingush, Ossetian and North Ossetian communities. Specifically, programs aimed at creating small collective enterprises, which would involve Ingush and Ossetian employees (kibbutz-like small collective farming, fish farming, and bird factories)

3. To support Caucasus-wide higher educational programs for students from conflict zones, including creation of western-type liberal university (possibly located in Georgia).

4. To launch programs counting youth idleness in Prigorodny District.

5. To continue providing medical and psychosocial help to victims of Beslan tragedy

To human rights and peacemaking organizations: [previous]

1.  To monitor situation with human rights and discrimination in Prigorodny District

2.  To assist victims of rights abuse in finding redress through judicial institutions

3.  To launch programs aimed at conflict transformation and reconciliation, especially targeting youth. Methodology of peacemaking-through- activity will be most successful.

4. To launch human rights education programs aimed to promote tolerance, civic and democratic culture targeting media reporters, judges and law enforcement officers from Prigorodny District, from Ingushetia and Ossetia.


1 Terrorist network [back to text]


The project is supported by a 2004 IPF Fellowship - Last updated 20 January 2006
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