News / Europe

    Behind Moscow Airport Bomb, Insurgency Grinds On in Caucasus

    The suspected suicide bomber at a Moscow airport last week was a 20-year-old man from the Caucasus region of southern Russia. Ingushetia is in the heart of this remote region where Islamic radicals are waging a slow-burning insurrection.

    Interior Ministry officers patrol a motorway from the town of Malgobek to Nazran in the Russian southern region of Ingushetia, January 28, 2011.
    Interior Ministry officers patrol a motorway from the town of Malgobek to Nazran in the Russian southern region of Ingushetia, January 28, 2011.
    James Brooke

    The flight south from Moscow to Ingushetia takes only two-and-a-half hours, but on the ground it is sometimes hard to remember you are still in Russia.

    Here is one of the three "Green Republics" of the Caucasus, the green flags of Islam flap against snowy mountains, women wear silk headscarves in public, and the sale of alcohol is now forbidden.  In a demographic decolonization, the ethnic-Russian population has dropped from one-third at the end of the Soviet Union to less than one percent.

    Traditional culture has rebounded as can be seen by the popularity of legzina - a dance where women float like long-necked swans, and men strut like eagles, wearing swords and imitation cartridge belts.

    Recently, some of those cartridge belts have not been imitations.

    Last year, insurgent violence across the Caucasus claimed 754 lives and more than 1,000 wounded.  In that context, the toll of 35 dead and 168 wounded in the Moscow airport attack amounted to the visible tip of a largely hidden war.  This conflict plays out in a daily grind of assassinations and bombings across Russia’s southern fringe.

    In the capital of Ingushetia, Magas, security precautions speak of the invisible violence.  Key government buildings are boxed in by six-meter fences.  Police convoys aggressively move down roads, pushing oncoming traffic onto the shoulders.

    Slide show reflecting on the culture of Ingushetia Republic

    Traffic police stand tensely at intersections, automatic weapons at the ready.  In Ingushetia, a republic smaller than Rhode Island, the smallest American state, 400 policemen have been killed in the past five years.

    Behind layers of fences, Ingush President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov explains the enemy is the Caucasus Emirate, a loose franchise of groups rooted in the five main regions of the Caucasus.

    Mr. Yevkurov, a former military intelligence officer, said the units are largely independent, but they are capable of joining up for joint actions.  The compact leader bears the aches and pains of one Emirate action, a suicide bomb attack on his car 18 months ago that killed two people and put him in the hospital for two months.

    He says the Caucasus Emirate wants to create an Islamic state, ruled by Sharia law, stretching from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea.

    To take this banner away from the fundamentalists, local leaders have created a region of Russia where traditional Islamic precepts prevail over Russian law.  In Chechnya, where two wars in 20 years sharply reduced the male population, the government now encourages polygamy.

    Government economic development officer Akhmed Paragulgov gave up drinking when he moved home two years ago from Moscow.  He says there is more to the anti-alcohol campaign than police closing night clubs and rebels burning vodka stores.

    He says there has been a radical change in society.  Twenty years ago, people who drank were cool.  Now they are social parasites.

    Unemployment and poverty also push many young men to go to the forest, as the insurgency is called here.  Officially, unemployment in Ingushetia is 50 percent.  Incomes are around 20 percent of Russia’s national average of $10,000.

    In the clan-based societies of the Caucasus, a lot of work is off the books, but the region still has Russia’s lowest incomes and its highest birth rates.

    In the Ingush town of Malgobek, Lydia struggles to support her family on the $15 a day her son sometimes brings home from working on road-paving projects.

    As in much of the Muslim world -- from Tunisia to Egypt to Ingushetia -- population expansion puts thousands of young people every year on a job market with few prospects.

    In the Caucasus, the solution is to migrate North, or some people here say, "to Russia."
    Russia’s work force is aging and shrinking.

    Last year, it shrank by almost 1 million workers.  Increasingly, Caucasus villages are populated by women, children and retirees.

    The men are working up north.

    But cultural clashes and the region’s reputation for violence has led some Russian cities to reject migrant workers from the Caucasus.  The city councils of Moscow and St. Petersburg are debating codes of conduct in which migrant workers would be asked to only speak Russian in public, and to not wear national dress or perform national dances, like the Lezginka, in public.

    Economic development official Paragulgov says the government has to walk a line between cooperating with host cities and coping with critics who say that migrant worker programs encourage cultural destruction.

    He says the brand of the Caucasus is not very positive right now.

    This alienation of Russians from the Caucasus is becoming a political issue.  Russian nationalists increasingly say the country should retreat into a mono-ethnic state of its own.

    They say that Russia pays almost 90 percent of the budgets for the Green Republics, while very few Russians still live in them.

    A leader of the Slavic Union nationalist group, Dmitry Dyomushin, said in an interview in Moscow that he wants to say goodbye to the Caucasus.

    He says, "I want a total separation of the Causasus from Russia - the Chechen, Ingush andDagestan republics."

    For geostrategic reasons, the Kremlin clings to the Caucasus.

    Stretching for 1,000 kilometers, the Caucasus range has 10 peaks higher than the highest peaks of the Alps.  For two centuries, these mountains have served as a natural barrier between Russia and its southern rivals, Turkey and Persia.

    Russian loss of control of the northern slopes of this mountain barrier, this theory goes, would open the flat plains of Russia’s Slavic Christian heartland to a Muslim thrust north.
    Russian poet Alexander Pushkin captured his nation’s wariness of the Caucasus when he wrote, "Cossack!  Do not sleep!  In the gloomy dark, the Chechen roams beyond the river."

    While the line was written 200 years ago, the sentiment fits modern Moscow.

    You May Like

    In Britain, The Sun Still Doesn’t Shine

    Invoking Spitfires and Merlin, Leave voters insist country can be great again, following surprising 'Brexit' vote last week

    Double Wave of Suicide Bombings Puts Lebanon, Refugees on Edge

    Following suicide bombings in Christian town of Al-Qaa, on Lebanon's northeast border with Syria, fears of further bombings have risen

    US Senators Warned on Zika After Failing to Pass Funding

    Zika threats and challenges, as well as issues of contraception and vaccines, spelled out as lawmakers point fingers

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeasti
    X
    June 29, 2016 6:15 PM
    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora