14th anniversary of Beslan terror attack, September 1, 2018. Photo by Emma Marzoeva for the Caucasian Knot

03 September 2018, 12:44

Week in the Caucasus: review of main events of August 27-September 2, 2018

Day of Knowledge and anniversary of the terror act in Beslan; actions in Southern Russia against the pension reform after the President Putin's proposals; presentation of an updated list of political prisoners in Azerbaijan; emergency landing of a passenger aircraft in Sochi; claim of 15 OSCE member states on the violations of human rights in Chechnya, – see the review of these and other events in the Caucasus during the week of August 27-September 2, 2018, prepared by the "Caucasian Knot".

Day of Knowledge and anniversary of terror act in Beslan

On September 1, in most schools throughout Russia, pupils attended solemn morning events dedicated to the beginning of the new school year. The Ministry of Education for Chechnya has reported that this year, more than 270,000 children entered schools of the republic, including 30,000 first formers. According to the official report, in the last ten days of August, four new schools were opened in several districts of Chechnya, as well as a separate building of the educational institution in Urus-Martan. Local residents complained about the rise in prices for school items and also reported that teachers forced parents to buy uniforms only in their schools. Residents of Krasnodar reported the shortage of schools in the new neighbourhoods and complained that the existing schools were overcrowded with pupils. In the Dagestani village of Terechnoye, most of the pupils ignored the Day of Knowledge. Parents of 250 children left them at home to protest against lessons in a dilapidated 'turluk' local building.

On September 1, festive solemn events dedicated to the Day of Knowledge were held in all regions of North Ossetia, except for the Pravoberezhny District. The academic year would start there on September 5 because of the anniversary of the terror act in Beslan in 2004, when terrorists captured the school and held hostages during three days. On September 1, Beslan started a three-day memory watch to pay tribute to memory of 334 people killed in the terror act. People from different regions come to the place of the tragedy to lay flowers at the memorial complex. By noon on September 1, the memorial was already visited by about 1000 people. It should be noted that this year, South Ossetia made a decision to postpone the beginning of the academic year from September 1 to September 5 in all schools because of the Day of Sorrow for the victims of the Beslan tragedy.

In Southern Russia, residents protest against pension reform after President Putin's proposals

On August 29, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed a number of changes to the bill already adopted in the first reading, which provided for raise of the retirement age. Among his proposals, President Putin mentioned a raise in the retirement age for women not by eight, but by five years, a right to early retirement for mothers of many children, and an increase in the maximum unemployment benefit for people of pre-retirement age. The leaders of several regions of Southern Russia, including Kabardino-Balkaria, Chechnya, and Dagestan, supported the President Putin's proposals.

At rallies held on September 2, residents of Southern Russia criticized the President Putin's proposals. Thus, in Dagestan, members of the Communist Party, who gathered more than 180 people for their action in Makhachkala, believed the Russian President proposed only insignificant corrections to the pension reform bill and urged to completely abolish it. In Astrakhan, two rallies were held simultaneously against the raise in the retirement age, and they gathered about 1300 people. On the action, organized by the Communists, speakers demanded to dismiss the government led by Dmitry Medvedev. Protests took place also in other regions. For example, in the city of Kalach-on-Don in the Volgograd Region, people came to the rally with the posters in their hands reading: "Dead people need no pensions", and "If you want to live till retirement, choose the right power". In Rostov-on-Don, participants of the rally, who gathered about 600 people, claimed the pension reform was not economically justified and expressed their confidence that the state had enough money to maintain the retirement age at least at the same level.

A list of political prisoners updated in Azerbaijan

On September 1, the working group of Azerbaijani rights defenders, NGO activists, and lawyers published an updated list of political prisoners, which included 128 names. Cases against other two prisoners are being monitored by activists. Out of the earlier list prepared by the working group, which was released on March 23 and included the names of 142 political prisoners, 22 persons were released. Of them, nine were pardoned, eleven served their sentences and were released, and other two were released conditionally. Meanwhile, eight new names appeared on the list, including bed-bound believer Abulfaz Bunyadov, who was sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment in the case on the Nardaran events, and five activists from the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan (PFPA). Meanwhile, members of the working group believe that in fact, the number of political prisoners is much higher than the released list includes.

Emergency landing of a passenger aircraft in Sochi

At night on September 1, a Boeing with 170 passengers on board, which flew from Moscow, caught fire when landing at the airport in Sochi. The plane rolled out beyond the runway into the riverbed. At the same time, both wings of the plane caught fire. During the emergency evacuation, 18 people were injured, and three of them were hospitalized. According to the preliminary information, during the evacuation of the passengers, an airport employee died from a heart attack. Investigators instituted a criminal case on rendering services that failed to meet the security requirements. The investigators consider several versions of emergency landing of the aircraft, including unfavourable weather conditions, pilots' error, and technical malfunction. The passengers of the plane reported there was a thunderstorm and heavy rain, and the plane came in for landing two times. The airline "UTair", an owner of the aircraft, which caught fire while landing, promised money compensation for all passengers of the flight.

15 OSCE member states claim reluctance of Russian authorities to address issue of human rights violations in Chechnya

On August 31, 15 OSCE countries demanded from Russia to provide a report on human rights violations in Chechnya. The OSCE asks the Russian authorities to answer four questions, including as follows: what has been done to verify the fulfilment by the Chechen leaders of the obligations assumed by Russia as a member of the OSCE; what the Russian authorities have done to investigate violations of the rights of LGBT community members and on what basis it has been concluded there are no people with non-traditional sexual orientation in Chechnya; what steps have been taken to ensure the proper functioning of the media and activities of rights defenders in the Chechen Republic and, in particular, the activities of the HRC "Memorial"; and how the information on extrajudicial execution 27 people in Chechnya has been investigated. The OSCE member states that made the declaration referred to the Vienna Mechanism, which allows OSCE member states to raise the issue of human rights protection in another OSCE member state. In accordance with the Vienna Mechanism, the answers to the above questions should be submitted by Russia in writing within ten days.

This article was originally published on the Russian page of 24/7 Internet agency ‘Caucasian Knot’ on September 3, 2018 at 09:05 am MSK. To access the full text of the article, click here.

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