Kabardino-Balkaria: President Lashes Police
Leader blames law enforcement agencies for harsh treatment of devout Muslims.
By Valery Khatazhukov in Nalchik (CRS No. 335, 13-Apr-06)
The president of Kabardino-Balkaria has launched an attack on his own law-enforcement agencies for failing to prevent a bloody attack on Nalchik last year which left more than 90 people dead.
The speech, which President Arsen Kanokov made to Kabardino-Balkaria’s parliament on April 12, brought into the open a power struggle between the president himself, appointed last year as a market-minded reformer, and the local interior ministry which was closely linked with the more authoritarian regime he replaced.
Kanokov said the October 13 attack on Nalchik by Islamic militants from across the North Caucasus had “exposed the shortcomings of the law-enforcement agencies, who did not take timely preventive measures with regard to representatives of religious organisations on the one hand, and who treated ordinary believers in an unjustifiably harsh manner on the other.”
He went on to ask, “How was it possible to organise such a massive guerrilla operation in a small republic? We ought to draw the proper conclusions from this.”
As if echoing Kanokov’s warnings, there was an armed attack on the interior ministry department responsible for fighting extremism and terrorism just as he was making his speech. One conscript soldier was killed, but it was not immediately clear what the cause of the incident was.
Kanokov’s speech came a month after the resignation of the republic’s powerful veteran interior minister, Khachim Shogenov.
Shogenov, a close associate of former president Valery Kokov, has been blamed by human rights groups and Muslim leaders for a brutal campaign against Islamic practices in Kabardino-Balkaria. Young men have been arrested and mosques closed and there have been widespread allegations that detainees have been tortured.
However, it was the October attack that Shogenov was blamed for more than anything else, with critics alleging the raid was a direct consequence of his ministry’s heavy-handed policies.
“If it hadn’t been for the crackdown unleashed by the interior ministry of Kabardino-Balkaria against ordinary Muslims, and the torture and humiliation employed against them, the events of October 13 could not have taken place,” said Luiza Orazayeva, head of the Kabardino-Balkaria branch of the Union of Right Forces party. “Even if someone had preached jihad, the idea would not have received such wide support.”
A further crackdown followed the bloodshed. Rasul Kudayev, a former detainee in Guantanamo Bay, was arrested and then disappeared, despite ill health and the fact that he was at home when the violence occurred. He is now reported to have been returned to detention in Nalchik. (See Suspect Vanishes From Kabardino-Balkaria Jail CRS No. 324, January 27 2006).
On December 30, police in Nalchik violently broke up a demonstration organised by relatives of the attackers killed during the fighting in October, demanding the return of their bodies.
The Nalchik arrest was a major blow to Kanokov, who had taken up the post of president only two weeks previously. A successful Moscow businessman, he had been drafted in as leader to implement economic reform in the backward republic.
Independent lawyer Iskhak Kuchukov said Shogenov had been a major obstruction to the new leader’s reform efforts. According to Kuchukov, the president began demanding the minister’s removal immediately after the October violence.
An official in the Kremlin dealing with regional policy told IWPR that Kanokov had threatened to resign if Shogenov was not removed – and that he had won the support of Dmitry Kozak, President Putin’s representative for the North Caucasus.
Interior ministers in Russian republics like Kabardino-Balkaria are appointed by the Russian president in consultation with the local leader, although they are directly accountable to the latter.
According to Russian law, local interior ministers can serve until the age of 60, and are then placed on one-year contracts renewable by the republic’s president. Shogenov is 66, and when his most recent contract expired in January, Kanokov refused to approve another year in office. Formally, Shogenov resigned of his own accord.
His replacement as interior minister is a 44-year-old ethnic Russian, Yury Tomchak, who has not previously worked in Kabardino-Balkaria.
Two days after he was dismissed, Shogenov was appointed Kanokov’s adviser on law-enforcement coordination. A senior government official in Kabardino-Balkaria told IWPR this post had been awarded to ease the pressure that the dismissal created for Kanokov.
Many people in Kabardino-Balkaria welcomed Shogenov’s removal from the interior ministry as a sign that the republic is opening up to reform.
Kanokov has created a series of new consultative councils to generate public discussion on a range of issues, though these have drawn a mixed reaction from experts.
Physics professor Murat Khokonov said, “A lot of odious people associated with the Kokov regime, which spent 15 years in office and brought the republic to the brink of economic collapse, have got into these councils. This clearly demonstrates that the Kokov clans are still strong and influential.”
But, Khokonov added, “Many people who do enjoy authority and trust within the republic have also joined these councils, and will be able to use them as a platform.”
Zaur Naloyev, a well-known writer and public figure, said Kanokov deserved support in what was bound to be a tough battle with the remnants of the old regime.
“We should not have any illusions that Kanokov’s actions are sticking in some people’s throats,” Naloyev said. “The reason for this is that the forces which he’s trying to stand up to have huge financial resources and strong links with the Russian power structures, and they are capable of anything in order to keep their power.”
Naloyev said Kanokov must continue his reforms – and recommended that his next step should be to dismiss the government.
Valery Khatazhukov is chairman of the Kabardino-Balkaria Human Rights Centre in Nalchik.