14 October 2003, 20:20

Present-day situation in 1992 Ossetian-Ingush conflict area

A report at the regional conference titled Challenges for Democratic Transition and Conflict Settlement in the Caucasus (March 3-5, 2002), organized by the International Center on Conflict and Negotiation (ICCN) with the assistance of the Danish Refugee Council as part of the Early Warning - Early Response System for the Caucasus (EWERS).

In autumn of 1992, the area of the Prigorodny district and the city of Vladikavkaz, North Ossetia, became the arena of a five-day war between Ossetian and Ingush armed units. It resulted in hundreds of Ossetian and Ingush homes robbed and burnt down. About 800 were killed or found missing. Thirty to sixty thousand Ingush and about five thousand Ossetians became forced migrants, according to different assessments. Alternating residence of Ossetians and Ingush was practically eliminated and ethnic segregation has since chiefly been maintained.

The conflict was caused by a territorial dispute between Ingushetia and North Ossetia to the effect of whether part of the Prigorodny district and Vladikavkaz belonged to North Ossetia. Since the Ingush suffered heavier territorial losses, their position on combined residence is much milder than the one the Ossetian population adheres to. While the Ossetians say combined residence is inadvisable or even impossible, the Ingush agree and demand coming back to their "native ashes."

Apart from the material and human losses suffered during military action, the Ossetians motivate their negative attitude towards the return of Ingush refugees with the "perfidiousness of the 1992 Ingush aggression." Both now and then, the Ingush explain their actions with oppression of their tribesmen in North Ossetia and the need for self-protection and recovery of their "native lands."

The return of the refugees

The federal government makes substantial investments to eliminate the consequences of the Ossetian-Ingush conflict. About USD6.5 million is invested annually. These funds are distributed in the conflict area via the special envoy of the Russian president. They are spent to rebuild homes and the infrastructure in the damaged settlements, pay compensations to victims, and so on.

It can presently already be said that most people who lost homes during the 1992 events have built new ones, received cash compensation for their burnt assets, or their cases are being considered.

Solution of the problem such as homes, so important for forced migrants, beyond any doubt contributes to reducing the post-conflict tension and pacifying relations between the sides of the conflict. As a result of a major building program, homes for Ingush and Ossetians are often built in the same neighborhood, while some prefer to take cash compensations and settle down beyond the disputed areas. Yet in spite that Ossetians and Ingush live in the same settlements, they as a rule occupy their different parts and communication between them is minimal or absent. For Ingush the chance to find job in North Ossetia is close to zero, so most of them go to work in Ingushetia.

At the same time it should be admitted the level of interethnic contacts was not particularly high even in the pre-conflict period, so of course, it is unlikely to be restored so soon after overt violence.

What blocks establishing lasting peace

The 1st level: social

Relations between the Ossetians and Ingush have been strained for at least 100 years. The borders between the two peoples were frequently reshaped, which in many respects contributed to the emergence and accumulation of mutual offence and distrust. The difference in the two peoples' religious beliefs, mentality and social structure also played a part in the gaps between them. Thus, while the Ingush are Muslim, the Ossetians are mostly Christian; family clans and elders' councils play an important part in the Ingush society, but the same institutions are purely decorative in the Ossetian society.

Gaps were accumulated over years and led to the emergence of an entire series of negative stereotypes on both sides of the conflict. Thus, even the number of intermarriages between Ossetians and Ingush always remained relatively small.

The present-day ethnic segregation has actually deepened all these factors. The young generation simply has no experience of interethnic relations and does not want to acquire it.

The 2nd level: the influence of forced migrants

Presently, North Ossetia and even more so Ingushetia experience substantial pressure on the part of a significant contingent of refugees dwelling on their territories.

Most of the 42,000 registered refugees and forced migrants in North Ossetia took refuge from Georgia and South Ossetia. As a rule, authorities encourage them to settle down in the disputed areas of the Prigorodny district, which naturally cannot help but lead to a stronger feeling of danger on the part of the Ingush population. It should be mentioned though, there are at least two quite objective reasons for which the Prigorodny district is attractive to refugees from Georgia and South Ossetia:

1) the area is close to Vladikavkaz, accordingly, to sources of earning;

2) there are a certain number of refugees' relatives in the area, since this is where the "first wave" refugees from Georgia and South Ossetia settled down in the 1920s.

However, it can be stated with confidence that the settlement of refugees in the disputed areas beyond doubt objectively leads to the emergence of extra developments of the extant problems.

The situation with refugees is even worse in Ingushetia. Official figures fluctuate around 0.15 million, with 0.03-0.04 million of them being Ingush that lived in Chechnya and apparently left it forever and the rest being Chechens whose permanent settlement in Ingushetia is not provided for and is unlikely to be possible at all. In addition to these 0.03-0.04 million of forced migrants from Chechnya whom Ingushetia has to settle down on its territory, there are approximately 0.015 million forced migrants from the Prigorodny district of North Ossetia. Ingush authorities and mass media have been registered more than once to exert pressure on this group of forced migrants to make them return to the "ancestors' lands."

It is easy to suggest the current inflow of refugees in both republics makes resources even more deficient and boosts the protest potential.

At the same time, refugees are quite often used as a banner to hype the situation, beat out funds from the federal budget and intimidate the opposite side.

The 3d level: constitutional

Although the territorial problem is officially often hushed, both sides are sufficiently aware of some or other actions of each other in this sphere of confrontation. The Constitution of the Republic of Ingushetia codifies seeking to regain the "native Ingush lands" in North Ossetia's Prigorodny district. On the other hand, any territorial concessions to the neighboring republic are viewed quite negatively in North Ossetia. The Ingush substantiate their rights to the disputed land with the fact it had belonged to them before they were deported in 1944. The Ossetians reply the Ingush themselves had evicted the Cossacks from those lands after the October revolution, so they do not have more rights to them and so on.

The Republic of Ingushetia was declared an independent territory within the Russian Federation ten years ago, but its borders either with North Ossetia or Chechnya are not delimited in legislation. The Russian law on the rehabilitation of repressed peoples also suggests their territorial rehabilitation, but no sufficient consideration was given to protecting the rights of those peoples whose interests can be violated when borders are once again reshaped.

Proceeding from the complexity of the dispute, danger of territorial redistributions, and sensitiveness of the issue for both sides, the mediator in Ossetian-Ingush negotiations, which the federal government is, suggested the sides put off territorial disputes till "better times"; thus, the proposal is to introduce a 20-year moratorium on territorial redistributions and take up primarily the return and settlement of refugees in places of their previous residence.

It would seem hard to think of anything more sensible than this solution. Yet none of the sides feels quite content, perhaps because the decision was not made by the sides of the conflict, but was imposed on them by the mediator.

This is manifested in the Ingush side's constant demands of introducing federal government in the disputed areas, as it views North Ossetia's leadership as unable to ensure observation of human rights in respect to Ingush on its territory. And indeed, the Ossetian population often does not at all make haste to implement arrangements its leadership achieves without the population being involved. The very idea to introduce federal government in the disputed areas causes a protest in Ossetia, as it is perceived as a way to alienate these areas.

In turn, the Ossetian side often puts all sorts of obstacles in the way of the return of Ingush refugees, thereby gives grounds for accusations of the inability to control the situation on its territory and introduction of federal government in the republic. Because it is about a territorial dispute, the Ossetians reasonably believe the Ingush side just wants to slowly annex these areas by settling down Ingush refugees there. This assumption is all the more reasonable that there is a precedent currently - the settlement of Maisky which is located on the border of North Ossetia. De jure it is in North Ossetia, but de facto the republican authorities are not able to control it owing to the exodus of the Ossetian and Russian-speaking population from the settlement, so it has practically passed to neighboring Ingushetia.

To be sure, negotiations and arrangements for returning refugees to the places of their previous residence are not too efficient against the backdrop of the covert struggle for the areas.

The role of the federal center

As far back as in 1992, right after the conflict had ceased, Moscow was widely rumored to have initiated the Ossetian-Ingush conflict to impel Ichkeria of that time to an armed intervention on the side of the Ingush that were kindred to it and thus to have a good reason for invasion in Chechnya. However, the Chechens did not interfere in their neighbors' conflict, so Moscow did not receive a ground for the invasion. Perhaps, these rumors are not absolutely without substance, as facts are widely known that Moscow supplied arms to the Chechen opposition of that time and provoked civil war there.

Another weighty argument in favor of Moscow's interest in the Ossetian-Ingush conflict is that a strong organization existed in the North Caucasus that time, called the Caucasian Peoples' Confederation, which aspired to political unification of the North Caucasus and, as a logical completion of this union, withdrawal from the Russian Federation. The 1992 Ossetian-Ingush conflict actually became the first forceful blow to the idea of North Caucasus unity.

On the other hand, it is owing to Russia's peacemaking efforts that the overt armed conflict phase was just five days long. All arrangements regulating Ossetian-Ingush relations were achieved with Russia's mediation and as a rule under its pressure. As is said above, substantial financial investments from the Russian budget to solve refugees' problems in the region in many respects allowed lifting the acuteness of the problem of settling refugees in the area.

The time has gone when the weakened federal center had to resort to the "divide and rule" tactics to retain its power in the provinces, in particular in the North Caucasus. This has a number of positive results for Ossetian-Ingush relations, primarily the actual emergence of Moscow's interest in creating a system of stability here. Sure enough, this interest depends directly on the power of the federal government and the degree of its control of the regions.

At the same time, the existence of a third, authoritative and powerful party in negotiations between North Ossetia and Ingushetia, with arrangements achieved and carried out under its pressure, beyond doubt also plays a negative role. Firstly, the sides of the conflict proper to a certain extent lack the feeling of responsibility for their actions, as the mediator voluntarily undertakes too many functions. Secondly, the value and degree of implementing arrangements achieved are reduced, as these arrangements do not quite belong to the sides of the conflict, but rather to the mediator. Thirdly, these factors make the achieved peace quite unstable and more important it depends directly on the mediator's good will and strength. Is it worthwhile mentioning that both these factors can be quite changeable?

These negative factors can only be overcome by means of a higher degree of responsibility for one's future, broader participation of the wide public in the peacekeeping process and expansion of direct contacts.

The role of public organizations

The public sector in Ingushetia and North Ossetia has so far rather been undeveloped. As for local NGOs aiming at peacekeeping, their number and influence on the situation is very small. The reasons for this state of affairs include the relatively primitive structure of the society, clannish organization, a high degree of concentration of power in one hands and practical absence of a business community that would be independent of government interference.

Yet certain work along this line is underway. Thus, much attention to the region is paid by the Open Society Institute (Soros Foundation). With its assistance, projects have been carried out to organize a permanent council of North Ossetian and Ingush scientists and meetings of young journalists and teachers. With government support, roundtables are held periodically. No doubt, these actions are useful and they would be even more efficient provided they were more regular.

Popular diplomacy traditions, in particular meetings of the elders, play a relatively small part in establishing dialogue between the sides. While the Ingush elders and clergy are people whom their tribesmen listen to, their Ossetian counterparts as a rule express only their own opinions, so even if the two sides reach an understanding (although it rarely happens), the Ossetian side simply has not enough authority to adopt or approve it.

In spite of the extant difficulties, the long period of relative calm in the region has in itself contributed to establishing relations between people to some extent. The Ossetian-Ingush conflict is practically the only example in the CIS where refugees en masse have already returned to the places of their previous residence. Under the present conditions when both the situation and definite support of authorities are favorable for peacekeeping, it becomes clear that public organizations' peacekeeping potential has not yet been utilized to a significant extent, so its utilization is probably to be the next step in the post-conflict regulation in the Ossetian-Ingush conflict area.

Tbilisi, Georgia, March 3-5, 2002

Author: Valery Dzutsev, CK correspondent; Source: Caucasian Knot

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