29 January 2010, 10:00

Week in the Caucasus: review of main events of January 18-24

Creation of the North-Caucasian Federal District (NCFD) in Russia and appointment of Alexander Khloponin as President's plenipotentiary in the District; reaction of regional authorities and the public to this news; political storms in Derbent, Dagestan; verdict to Armenian oppositionist Nikol Pashinyan, - look up these and other events in the review of the week of January 18-24, 2010, in Caucasian regions prepared by the "Caucasian Knot".

Decision to form NCFD and reaction from regions

The most resonant news of the passed week in Northern Caucasus was the creation of a new federal formation - the North-Caucasian Federal District (NCFD) and appointment of Alexander Khloponin to be in charge of it. Earlier, Mr Khloponin was the governor of the Krasnoyarsk Region.

The NCFD, where the city of Pyatigorsk of the Stavropol Territory will be the centre, includes: the Republic of Dagestan, the Republic of Ingushetia, the Kabardino-Balkarian Republic, the Karachai-Circassian Republic, the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania, the Chechen Republic and the Stavropol Territory. All these regions were earlier parts of the Southern Federal District (SFD) of the Russian Federation. Now, the SFD includes the Astrakhan, Volgograd and Rostov Regions, the Krasnodar Territory, the Republic of Adygea and the Republic of Kalmykia.

On January 22 the State Duma of the Russian Federation adopted two President's bills: on creation of the NCFD and appointment of Alexander Khloponin as President's plenipotentiary there.

One of first Khloponin's initiatives in his new post was to bring the idea of enlarging some of Russian regions for consideration of the State Council. He offered to hear all the proposals on depriving the subsidized regions of their status of Russian subjects.

The heads of the regions, which now make the NCFD, have supported Mr Medvedev's initiative of the new administrative formation. However, people in the subjects of the NCFD and SFD were not so unanimous. The disagreements mainly referred to the boundaries of the NCFD. In particular, Circassians would not accept that Adygea was not included into the new district: Adygea is one of the three republics of Russia (along with Karachai-Circassia and Kabardino-Balkaria), where Circassians compactly reside.

The public organization "Adyge Khasse" has announced its intention to lobby, by protest actions, the inclusion of Adygea and Krasnodar Territory (where many Circassians live) into the NCFD, since these regions, according to activists of this organization, are located on historical Circassian land.

Meeting on NCFD development

On January 23, in Pyatigorsk, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin held a meeting with the leaders of the newly-formed NCFD. The President's plenipotentiary in the new district Alexander Khloponin and a number of Federal Ministers also took part in the meeting.

The topic of the event was further development of the new federal district and its regions. The priorities were identified and instructions were given to a number of Russian ministries, Mr Khloponin and regional authorities, including the order to develop a complex strategy for development of the district.

The Prime Minister said that on Alexander Khloponin's presentations, the Government of the Russian Federation will make cadre decisions on dismissal of regional heads for violations in their work.

Besides, Mr Putin called regional authorities to secure conditions for safe and efficient work of human rights defenders in Northern Caucasus.

The Human Rights Centre "Memorial" has welcomed the Russian Premier's statement as regards the work of human rights activists and expressed hope that particular actions would follow the words.

Political storms in Derbent

In the Dagestan city of Derbent, where the outcomes of the Mayor election were cancelled by the local Supreme Court and repeated election will be held, opponents of the incumbent city authorities rallied on January 21 with a demand of resignation of Felix Kaziahmedov, current Mayor.

Shakhban Gapizov, one of the organizers of the rally, said that the reason of the action was in the existing information vacuum: "Russians and Dagestanians are unaware of what happened and happens in the city. They do not know about the judgements of the Supreme Court. Everybody keeps silent, both federal and local media are silent.

The rally adopted a resolution of 10 points; the main one runs that the City Assembly of Derbent should appoint, as soon as possible, the date of the new election of city Mayor.

Irina Shekhshaeva, head of the press service of the administration of Derbent, treated the rally as an attempt to destabilize the situation in the city. At the same time, she has noted that the rally was sanctioned by the city authorities and "passed without excesses."

Anniversary of Markelov's and Baburova's murder

January 19, 2010, is a year from the date of murder in Moscow of the well-known lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova. Markelov had presented the interests of the victims in the sensational murder case of Elza Kungaeva, a resident of Chechnya, when former colonel Yuri Budanov was convicted and then early relieved.

Lawyer Markelov tried to ensure cancellation of the decision of the court on Budanov's release and was shot dead, when he was on his way back from the press conference on Budanov's early relief. Journalist Baburova was accompanying him; she was wounded and later died in hospital.

On the anniversary date of Markelov's and Baburova's murder memory actions were held in a number of Russian cities. In Moscow, during such action over 30 participants were detained. Human rights activists admit disorders in the course of the action, but find Moscow authorities to be responsible for them.

Verdict to Armenian oppositionist Pashinyan

In Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, an activist of the opposition and editor-in-chief of the newspaper "Aikakan Zhamanak", who voluntarily surrendered to the authorities in July 2009, on January 19 was sentenced to seven years of imprisonment; the well-known Armenian journalist was found guilty of organizing of mass disorders on March 1, 2008, in Yerevan.

After announcement of the verdict, activists of the opposition headed by leaders of oppositional parties came to the court building to express their protest and demand to release the convict. The protesters were dispersed by the police.

On January 22, a group of young people organized a march in Yerevan in support of Nikol Pashinyan. The participants of the action hold flags, Pashinyan's photos and posters with appeals: "Free and independent Armenia", "Freedom to Nikol Pashinyan!", "Nikol, Nikol!", "Salvation of Armenia depends on one person, and you are this person", "We are in the street to prove one truth: one power - people's power - rules Armenia".

Nikol Pashinyan's advocates Plan to appeal against the verdict at the European Court on Human Rights.

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