Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
According to the 2010 national census, there are 444, 833 Ingush in the Russian Federation. The majority live within the western part of the Chechen-Ingush republic, which now forms the Ingush Republic. Prior to the fighting in Prigorodny region in 1992 many (32-60,000) lived in North Ossetia.
Since the Russian conquest, the fate of the Ingush has been closely linked to that of the Chechens. The formal division of Chechens and Ingush dates from the 1880s when the western clans of the Chechens did not take part in the war with Russia and were subsequently termed by Russians Ingush. Ingush is a language very close to Chechen and a part of the Veinakh branch of the Caucasian language family. A Cyrillic script was introduced in 1938. Ingush were among the last of the peoples of the North Caucasus to convert to Islam in the 1860s.
Under Soviet rule Ingush were initially part of the Autonomous Mountain SSR created in 1920. The republic ceased to exist in July 1924 and Ingush were given their own autonomous oblast (AO). In January 1934, Ingush and Chechens were merged into a single AO. In December 1936 the oblast became an ASSR. Deported with Chechens in 1944, Ingush began to return to the region following rehabilitation in 1956-7.
Frictions between Chechens and Ingush developed from 1989 and especially after the declaration of independence in November 1991. Ingush constituted only 12.9 per cent of the 1.2 million population of the Chechen-Ingush ASSR. With apparent Russian support (in order to weaken the Chechens), Ingush began to advocate the creation of a separate Ingush republic, which was created on 4 June 1992. The borders with Chechnya were provisionally agreed to be those that had existed pre-1934. The borders remained contested, however, especially with respect to North Ossetia, where fighting broke out in 1992 in the Prigorodny region. Some 64,000 ethnic Ingush were displaced to Ingushetia from North Ossetia as a result of the fighting. The conflict lost visibility as other conflicts in the region erupted, yet no formal resolution process was undertaken. Over the subsequent decade an estimated 30,000 Ingush returned to North Ossetia, settling in Prigorodny region and the outskirts of Vladikavkaz.
Ingushetia, one of Russia’s poorest regions, benefited from the channelling of economic resources into the republic by Moscow after 2002, when the republic was hit by flooding. Nonetheless opposition to President Zyazikov’s perceived closeness to Moscow fuelled both informal Islamic and formal party political opposition in the republic. The suppression of ‘mainstream’ political opposition served as a further contributory factor to the rise of Islamic militancy in Ingushetia, as elsewhere in the North Caucasus.
The conflict achieved renewed prominence when, in June 2004, militants launched attacks Nazran, the Ingush capital, that targeted 15 official buildings and reportedly killing more than 90 people, including Ingushetia’s acting Interior Minister, his deputy and the city’s Prosecutor-General. Most of the others killed were policemen. While Moscow claimed the raid had been perpetrated by Chechens, evidence of the ease and familiarity with which the fighters found their targets suggested the involvement of local ethnic Ingush.
Although Ingush-Ossetian relations had gradually improved in the decade following the Prigorodny conflict, relations between the two groups deteriorated as a result of number of incidents, included the hostage crisis in Beslan in September 2004 that left more than 330 dead, including 186 children. This and other attacks in North Ossetia were attributed by the North Ossetian leadership to Ingush.
In June 2006 the Ingush parliament adopted a motion calling on Moscow to return the disputed territory, as Ingush President Murad Zyazikov called for federal rule to be established over it. The following year, the situation deteriorated sharply, with a rise in the number of attacks on pro-Russian targets, including the murder of a close aide to the pro-Moscow President and the killing of a Russian school-teacher and her children. In July 2007, Moscow sent in 2,500 extra troops – almost tripling the number of Special Forces in Ingushetia. Local people reportedly accused the security forces of behaving in a ‘heavy-handed way’, with human rights organizations warning that the presence of so-many troops might further fuel an already volatile situation. In September 2008, the Moscow Helsinki Group warned that Ingushetia was on the brink of civil war. The NGO accused the Russian government of pursuing overzealous policies against alleged Muslim militants, including arbitrary detention, disappearances and torture – tactics that were prompting further rebellion.
The human rights environment in the Republic of Ingushetia continued to gravely deteriorate. In October 2009, a famous Ingush civil and political activist Maksharip Aushev was shot on the motorway near the city of Nalchik. The investigation into his murder has been postponed several times due to unknown circumstances. The local authorities also tried to hinder investigations into physical ill-treatment and torture in detention facilities.
Following a number of terrorist attacks by militants, including the bombing in 2009 of a police station that left more than 20 dead, Russian security forces increased their presence significantly. This, however, has contributed to the deteriorating human rights environment in Ingueshetia, as abductions, arbitrary detentions and mass killings continue to take place. Russian authorities have been accused by human rights organizations of using violence and repression to silence civil society and opposition groups.
Updated December 2020
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