Ekaterina Sokirianskaia

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

Project Proposal


In the second half of the 20th century ethnic conflict became a most frequent reason for war, forced migration and humanitarian crises. In the period of 1945-1990 in the world there occurred more than 100 cases of armed ethnic conflict, 50 cases of ethnic cleansing and genocide of ethnic and religious minorities.[1]  By the last decade of the 20th century the nature of ethnic conflict had markedly changed: since 1989 the majority of cases were intrastate protracted conflicts, the victims of which for 90 % were civilians.[2]

According to Goodhand and Hulme, the major distinctive  feature of modern ethnic conflict is its unprecedented social embeddedness: modern conflicts have deep roots in the societies, affect almost all aspects of social reality and are identity conflicts.[3]  "Today's battlefield has become the city or the village", the conflict is placed in the midst of human communities, conflict entrepreneurs  know perfectly the local situation and use this knowledge to achieve their goals.[4] Policymakers require similar competence to resolve modern ethnic conflicts and overcome the consequences of ethnic wars.

The proposed project is a policy research looking for strategies to overcome the consequences of the least studied conflict in the post-Soviet space - the Ingush-Osetian conflict. The project is aimed at developing a policy proposal for addressing a cluster of problems related to the return of Ingush forced migrants to Prigorodny District of North Osetia based on in-depth analysis of the local situation, drawing on the instructive experience of other countries, and incorporating traditional peacemaking mechanisms developed and practiced by mountainous North Caucasian peoples in the course of their historical co-existence.

The present policy research is based on the following assumptions drawn from the author's previous work with IDPs from Prigorodny District:

At the current stage of relations between the antagonists the effectiveness of peacemaking is directly dependent on its support by local governments and informal social institutions (Councils of Elders, religious leaders, etc ) of both societies.


The solution of the  cluster of problems related to the return of Ingush refugees to the villages of Prigorodny district is impossible without constructive participation of local governments and informal social institutions in the process of decision-making and of implementing decisions.

In compliance with the above mentioned assumptions this research is envisaged as a policy paper advising  how to involve local stake-holders in the peacemaking process in order to ensure the security and rights of the Ingush migrants returning to North Osetia.

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The Orthodox Christian Osetians and the Sufi Muslim Ingush are two indigenous North Caucasian peoples; both having their own statehood within the larger Russian federal state - national Republics of North Osetia-Alania and Ingushetia. Ingush and Osetian societies are characterized by the survival of informal patterns of social integration[5]  with corresponding informal social institutions,[6] by decentralized collective decision-making tradition and informal practices of dispute resolution based on the customary law. These informal social institutions have an influence on political decision-making and policy implementation; local governments cooperate with informal institutions, drawing on their traditional power and prestige.

On November 31, 1992 in Prigorodny district of North Osetia[7] a short but very ferocious episode of ethnic violence occurred between the  Osetians and the Ingushis. Prigorodny district, until mid 20th century historically the area of primarily Ingush settlements, was annexed to the neighbouring North Osetia in 1944 after the Stalinist deportation of Ingushis to Central Asia;[8] upon Ingushis' return for over three decades it remained a place of co-inhabitancy of the two peoples. In early 1990s a vigorous 'national revival' sharpened ethnic and religious hostilities, intensified territorial disagreements, which resulted in an episode of ethnic war, claiming 600 killed and thousands taken hostages from both sides. After three days of fighting Ingushis were expelled from Prigorodny District of North Osetia with 434 persons killed, 200 missing, 11 Ingush villages reduced to rubble, 60,000 persons misplaced to their irrenda republic of Ingushetia.[9]

For almost a decade the conflict remained 'frozen'. The return process went slow, and regardless of 180 documents adopted at the various levels of government,  hundreds of Ingush IDP families spent winters in baracks and refugee caravans, without employment, due living facilities and relief aid, even so representing a burden to their host Ingush Republic.[10]

In 2002 a new President was elected in Ingushetia. Mr. Zyzikov, a protege of President Putin, brought with him support of the Federal Center, and the political will of Kremlin to resolve the problem of Ingush forced migrants. Under the pressure of the Federal Center since 2002 the conflict officially entered "the  phase of  reconciliation", changing the political discourse in both republics from 'conflict' to 'peace'.   However, throughout 2002- first half of 2003 the returning IDP s were systematically prevented from entering the Osetian villages: they were stopped by the local police and hostile crowds of the former neighbors. Thus, the process of return has been disrupted at the lowest level, in the local communities. The socially embedded conflict required deep societal transformation, negotiations with various local groups, which could result in the acceptance of refugees by local communities, their political and social institutions. Only the support of peacemaking policies by the local stake-holders can ensure an authentic change and guarantee security and equal rights to the returning Ingushis. This paper aims to develop an informed expert proposal on how to win this support.

Current Situation,  Key Research Issues and Methodology

The current situation is characterized by the following facts:

1.    The republican and federal governments have no worked out consistent strategy for changing the situation in the local communities in Prigorodny district, for involving the local stake-holders in the process of resolving the problems related to the return of the Ingush refugees. Currently no conflict transformation policies are being applied, the potential for using economic and social incentives to accept Ingush migrants has not been researched and is not effectively used. The presence of international organizations in the area is very limited.[11]

2.    The current strategies strongly depend on the spontaneous choices of individual policy-makers and their personal motivation to involve local actors;

3.    Policy-makers tend to minimize the influence or exclude the informal social institutions from the official political process, overlooking the positive potential of their inclusion;

4.    The experience gained from the occasional successful cooperation does not contribute to the general improvement of the situation, due to the lack of systematic overview of cooperation results.

Despite of the widespread understanding that the issue of return of Ingush refugees back to Prigorodny district requires support and positive feedback from the local governments and major non-state power groups, systematic policy-oriented research into the issue are non-existent. The proposed project will help improve the fill the gap by:

1.    Analyzing the role of informal power structures (Councils of Elders, religious authorities) and local governments in the public life of both communities;

2.    Proposing a methodology and practical strategy for effective inclusion of those institutions in the peacemaking process at the republican level; for revival and strengthening the horizontal links between the communities at the local level.

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To achieve those goals the project will:

1.       Map power relations at the local level;

2.   Identify the most influential stake-holders; draw their profile in terms of membership, inner organizational structures, interests, identities, behavioral patterns.

3.   Carry out a social and historical analysis of the role of those institutions and figures in the events in Prigorodny district of 1992 and their current attitudes to the peacemaking project

4.   Analyze the existing mechanisms and forms of interaction of local institutions with the republican governing structures on a wide spectrum of problems, including the issues of economic development;

5.   Research the existing principles and forms of interaction of representatives of informal power structures and leaders of local government on the issues related to return of Ingush forced migrants;

6.   Research the degree and mechanisms of horizontal interactions between Ingush and Osetian communities without mediation of republican governing  agencies in the localities where the Ingushis did return.

7.    Identify the range of possible mechanisms of pressure  and reward (including economic leverage) on the local stake-holders aimed at making them more interested in the return of Ingush refugees;

8.    Develop relevant recommendations.

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The research methods are the following:

I    Research of the local situation and local traditions of conflict resolution:

Stake-holder analysis will be mostly fed with anthropological research involving small surveys and in-depth interviews with the residents of the Osetian villages and Ingush refugees from Prigorodny district and participant observation. Being employed by HRC "Memorial" I work on several projects in Prigorodny district. On the average twice a week I work in the "Memorial" legal/social assistance chamber in Prigorodny district, aimed to directly deal with the problems of Ingush forced migrants. The insights gained through these activities will be systematized in the paper.

II    Research of the international experience in resolving similar problems:

Analysis of relevant academic literature, documents, publications in press.

Possible cases for study:

i)      The Balkans (Bosnia, Kosova)

ii)     Cyprus

iii)    Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Publicizing Results and Policy Advocacy

1.    The analytical part of the study will be published as a CEU working paper and as an article in an academic journal.

2.    An academic article will be published in a Russian/North Caucasian journal.

3.    Newspaper columns will be published in the Ingush central daily "Serdalo" and the North Osetian daily "Golos Osetii".

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[1] Barbara Harff and TR Gurr “Victims of the State: Genocides, Politicides, and Group Repression from 1945 to 1995” in PIOOM Newsletter and Progress Report 7 No. 1, 24–38  [back to text]

[2] Goodhand J. and Hulme D. Third World Quaterly, Feb 1999 Vol 20 Issue 1;  Eade D (ed) Development in States of War. Oxford Oxfam 1996 p.5; Kaldor M. Reconceptualizing Organized Violence in Archibugi D. Held. D. Kobler M. Re-imagining [back to text]

[3] Goodhand and Hulme ibid. [back to text]

[4] ibid. [back to text]

[5] eg. extended family, clan, local community, religious brotherhood [back to text]

[6] eg. Elders, religious authorities, leaders of clans [back to text]

[7] North Osetia is a North Caucasian Republic of the Russian Federation. [back to text]

[8] On February 23, 1944 on the order of Stalin the entire Ingush population on the accusation of ‘cooperation with Nazis’ were put in the cattle trains and deported to Central Asia and Siberia. The deportation lasted till 1957; Ingushis lost up to 1/5 of their population in the inhumane conditions of Stalinist exile. [back to text]

[9] who were ‘forcefully-voluntarily’ resettled on these lands in the years of Ingush exile of 1944-1957. [back to text]

[10] In Zdravomyslov A. 1998. “Osetino-Ingushsky konflict, perspektivy vyhoda iz typikovoi situatsii” “Osetian-Ingush Conflict: Perspectives of finding a way out from the situation of deadlock” Moscow.Rospen. p. 66 [back to text]

[11] Mostly the international efforts being concentrated on helping the refugees from the neighboring  Chechnya. [back to text]
The project is supported by a 2004 IPF Fellowship - Last updated 3 December 2004
Licensed under a Creative Commons License - Located at www.policy.hu/sokirianskaia