02 December 2009, 23:00

Week in the Caucasus: review of main events of November 23-29

Exchange of militant statements between Azerbaijan and Armenia on the destiny of Karabakh; situation with public human rights organizations in Chechnya and resonant murders in Northern Caucasus; terror acts against trains in Dagestan and Novgorod Region, - look up these and other events in the review of the week of November 23-29 in Caucasian regions prepared by the "Caucasian Knot".

Armenia reacts to Aliev's bellicosity with threats to recognize Karabakh

On Monday, November 23, Samvel Farmanyan, press secretary of the President of Armenia, said that Armenia is ready to recognize Nagorno-Karabakh or to sign a mutual-assistance agreement in case of growth of tension in relations of Stepanakert (capital of Nagorno-Karabakh) with Azerbaijan.

This statement was made on November 21, on the eve of the next round of negotiations between the leaders of Armenia and Azerbaijan on Nagorno-Karabakh (which took place on November 22 in Germany), President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliev said that should the negotiations fail, the war could resume.

"Armenia cannot stay indifferent to the fate of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh; and for this particular reason President of Armenia and other officials have repeatedly stated that we are responsible for safety of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh," Mr Farmanyan said in response.

On November 28, President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan repeated these words at the 12th congress of the ruling Republican Party of Armenia and stated the readiness to react to Azerbaijan's militancy "in the toughest way possible."

The Karabakh party also voiced its reaction. The National Assembly of Karabakh made a statement that "the latest developments in settlement of the Karabakh conflict evidence an obviously non-constructive Azerbaijani position"; the Assembly expressed its intention to complain to the Council of Ministers of the OSCE.

Anatoly Tsyganok, an expert of the Centre of Military Forecasts and a member of Public Board at the Ministry of Defence, said, however, that these resolute statements of the parties should not be taken too seriously, because none of them in fact wants the war, especially in view of the financial support of Karabakh by the USA.

A couple of days earlier, on November 24, the problem of Karabakh was discussed by Presidents of Azerbaijan and Russia in Ulyanovsk.

President Aliev presented to Dmitri Medvedev his detailed view on the results of the next round of his negotiations in Munich with President of Armenia. We remind you that in Germany the parties agreed to continue their dialogue on conflict-settling.

Mr Medvedev "welcomed the progress in the negotiating process" and assured Mr Aliev that Moscow would go on with its efforts towards successful settlement of the conflict.

Human rights commission in Chechnya and "Kadyrov vs Orlov" case

On November 23, activists of ten human rights NGOs from different regions of Russia announced setting-up a public commission on Chechnya to deal with defence of the rights of residents of the republic.

The commission is established in view of the fact that messages continue to arrive from the Chechen Republic about rough and regular violations of the basic norms of the international humanitarian law and human rights, including the right to life, freedom and personal immunity, protection against torture and other forms of inhuman treatment; while the republic lacks any efficient investigations into these violations. This id said in the statement published by the NGOs.

Human rights defenders note that they have convincing grounds to believe that the kidnappings and murders of Natalia Estemirova, an employee of the Human Rights Centre (HRC) "Memorial", and Zarema Sadulayeva and Alik Dzhabrailov, activists of the humanitarian organization "Let's Save the Generation", were caused by their public and human rights activities. Establishment of the commission would be the tribute to the memory of Natalia Estemirova, Zarema Sadulayeva, Anna Politkovskaya and other human rights defenders, journalists and civil activists, who fell victim in the conflict in Northern Caucasus.

The statement expresses extreme concern of the criminal prosecution against Oleg Orlov, head of the HRC "Memorial", initiated for his publicly expressed critical opinion about responsibility of the authorities of the Chechen Republic for Natalia Estemirova's kidnapping and murder.

It should be noted here that the "Kadyrov vs Orlov" case was continued on Thursday, November 26, when Tatiana Lokshina, deputy director of the Moscow office of the Human Rights Watch, was interrogated under the criminal case. She believes that the criminal case against Orlov distracts the society and the authorities from the major problem - how to solve Estemirova's murder and punish the culprits. Apart from Ms Lokshina, Alexander Cherkasov, a board member of the HRC "Memorial" was also summoned to the Moscow GUVD (Chief Interior Department) for interrogation. Summons were also sent to some more witnesses, whom Oleg Orlov and his advocate Genry Reznik asked to interrogate on the criminal case, among them - Svetlana Gannushkina, head of the committee "Civil Assistance", and some other human rights defenders.

Resonant murders in Northern Caucasus

On Monday, November 23, in Ingushetia, unidentified persons shot dead Alikhan Buzurtanov, administration head of the Nasyr-Kortov municipal district of Nazran. The MIA of Ingushetia reported that he was shot point-blank near the building of the administration at 40 Yuzhnaya Street. The gunmen disappeared in a VAZ-2106 car. Now, inspectors consider two main versions of the murder: his service activity or blood feud.

On the same day, in the capital of Chechnya, unidentified criminals assassinated Rosa Almazova, chief accountant of the republic's branch of the Federal Service for Controlling Drugs Circulation. Law enforcement bodies of republic reported that the killer shot Captain Almazova dead from a pistol right near her house.

In the evening on November 23, in the city of Chegem (Kabardino-Balkaria), in the Naberezhnaya Street, in the luggage department of a Mercedes, parked in the roadside, two decapitated bodies were found. According to the investigation, the murder was committed in a suburb of the city of Baksan, and the casualties were Murat Dokshukin, 26, an inspector of the Service of Court Marshals, and Albert Shebzukhov, 27, an inspector of the Baksan ROVD (District Interior Division). Among the versions - a militants' answer to an article published in one of republic's newspapers about liquidation of the heads of the board of the extremist underground - Shura.

"After the article in one of local newspapers about liquidation of the bosses of the republic's Shura (board of the extremist underground) entitled 'Shura Decapitated', extremists promised to decapitate law enforcers. Therefore, we don't exclude this version either," said Anzor Tlepshev, head of the Chegem Inter-District Investigatory Division of the Investigatory Department for Kabardino-Balkaria of the ICPO.

In Ordzhonikidzevskaya village, Sunzha District of Ingushetia, in the evening on November 27, unidentified criminals blew up a car with Adyl-Kirim Tsechoev, head of the GOVD (City Interior Department) of Karabulak, inside. He was brought to hospital, where he died from the wounds. This was reported by the Ingush MIA.

A local resident, who happened to be near the incident, was also wounded.

Train explosions in Russia

On November 26, on the way of a switching locomotive, near the station of Tarki of the North-Caucasian Railways, to the south of Makhachkala, a bomb was triggered. This was reported by the on duty unit of the Railway Interior Division of the capital of Dagestan. The power of the bomb was equivalent to 1.5 kilos of trotyl. Fortunately, there were no victims. The locomotive was insignificantly damaged.

On the following day, November 27, at 9:34 p.m., as a result of an explosion in the Novgorod Region, four cars of the passenger train No. 166 "Neva-Express" Moscow-St Petersburg were derailed. According to the latest data, 27 passengers were lost, 95 victims were hospitalized; 13 of them are still in grave condition.

According to a message that arrived to one of the militants' Internet resources, Chechen separatists took responsibility for the accident. Their statement runs that the train explosion was "one in the series of diversion attacks on strategically important objects of Russia, pre-planned and successfully committed from the start of this year," under the order of the separatists' leader Doku Umarov.

The investigation managed to find eyewitnesses, who saw and remembered two men who appeared near the train accident in a car with the Moscow regional licence number plates. One of them was in a wig and carefully hid his face. According to eyewitnesses, the men asked about the bridge over the railway and mentioned the train "Sapsan", which is not yet commissioned. An identikit was compiled from eyewitnesses' evidences.

Apart from them, four more persons - the natives of the Caucasus - also figure in the case.

According to the investigation, the character of the explosion was similar to the one committed with the same "Neva-Express" train in 2007.

Two days before the new accident, on November 25, at the Novgorod Regional Court, where the process is underway on the first explosion of the "Neva-Express" train, resident of Ingushetia Maksharip Khidriev pled guilty of preparing the terror act and confirmed his earlier statement that he had slandered another defendant - Salambek Dzakhkiev.

During a break in the session Khidriev told journalists that he had delivered the explosive in his car to the Malaya Vishera District of the Novgorod Region and that, possibly, the explosion was used in the then terror act. Khidriev added that his brother Amirkhan was together with him in the car. Amirkhan was also detained but later released.

Maksharip Khidriev also confirmed his earlier statement about defaming another resident of Ingushetia - Salambek Dzakhkiev, which he did under the pressure of investigation.

At the same court session, the witness - resident of Samara Dmitri Ulanov - confirmed Dzakhkiev's alibi. The court held a video conference with the Samara Regional Court, during which Ulanov was interrogated and confirmed that on the day of the 2007 explosion of the "Neva-Express" train he personally saw Dzakhkiev in Samara. According to Ulanov, there is one more eyewitness of this fact, but he was not interrogated as a witness neither at the preliminary investigation nor at the trial.

Council of Europe saw improvements in Azerbaijan

On November 23-25, Azerbaijan was visited by the Monitoring Group "Ago" of the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers. The main aim of the visit was to check fulfilment by Azerbaijan of its obligations before the Council of Europe.

"In the course of the meetings with Azerbaijani officials and representatives of the civil society, we discussed forthcoming municipal and parliamentary elections, the situation with mass media and in the judiciary system and enforcement of the decisions of the European Court, and the state of affairs with the freedom of assembly and local democracy," said Stelian Stoian, head of the group and the head of Romania's representative office at the Council of Europe.

Among positive changes, the head of the group "Ago" mentioned the consent of the government of Azerbaijan to promulgate the report of the CE's Committee Against Torture about the situation in the country, progress in election of judges on competition basis and better custody conditions in prisons.

Unlike of his predecessors in the position of the head of the group "Ago" - representatives of Italy and Sweden, - the Rumanian diplomat tried by all means to avoid talking about the obligations failed by Azerbaijan. He treated corruption as the "most problematic", and also ascertained "incomplete" fulfilment of obligations in the sphere of legislation and institutional reforms.

At the same time, on November 26, the Committee of the Council of Europe Against Torture and Inhuman Treatment promulgated its report on the results of the visit of its special mission to Azerbaijan in December 2008. The document runs about the cases of violence of the prison personnel against life-long prisoners.

Circassian youth of Karachai-Circassia demand autonomy

On Thursday, November 26, aul Khabez in Karachai-Circassia hosted a forum-rally of Circassian youth, where young people spoke about self-determination and revival of the Circassian Autonomous Region as an independent republic of the Russian Federation.

About 1500 persons took part in the event. Apart from the local population, it was attended by activists of the "Adyge Khasse" of Abkhazia and representatives of Stavropol Territory, Rostov Region, Adygea and Kabardino-Balkaria.

The speakers were indignant with a biased coverage of the public-political life by local masses media, falsification of history, absence of positive shifts in the social and economic life of the republic, and absence of the facts of stabilization of the interethnic relations.

As one of the examples of distortion of history, the participants mentioned the unfolded drama around the feat of the residents of the Beslenei aul, and disputes around the issue on who was the first to conquer the Mount Elborus. They also spoke about the necessity to restart the work of the Extraordinary Congress of Circassian People.

The participants of the forum passed a resolution through voting by show of hands about the self-determination and restoration of the Circassian Autonomous Region in the status of a republic of the Russian Federation.

Also, the participants unanimously voted for restart of the work of the Extraordinary Congress of Circassians, for confirming the work of the Congresses of Circassian People in 1994 and in 1996, and of the joint congresses of Russians, Circassians, Abasins and Cossacks in 1995 and 1999.

Then, a column of cars with flags started its march to the republic's capital for holding a rally there in the square in front of the House of the Government.

The participants of the rally expressed, for 3.5 hours, their demands of self-determination and restoration of Circassia as a separate republic within the Russian Federation. The delegates from Kabardino-Balkaria were supported by their colleagues from Adygea and Abkhazia.

On November 28, Nalchik hosted the forum "Youth of the Kabardino-Balkarian Republic (KBR) for Peace and Accord". Representatives of the Adyg public, who are trying for more than a year to solve their land problems in Kabardino-Balkaria, were not invited to the forum.

On November 29, the social movement named "Khasse" expressed its indignation on the issue in a special statement and demanded "an exclusively legitimate solution of all arising problems."

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