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

    Turkey, US Splits Deepen Over Support for Kurdish Militants

    Ankara summons American ambassador to protest remarks by State Department spokesman who said Washington does not consider Syria's Kurdish Democracy Union Party (PYD) a terrorist organization

    Obama Seeking $19 Billion for National Cybersecurity

    Move, touted as attempt to build broad, cohesive federal response to cyberthreats, calls for increase in cybersecurity spending across all government agencies

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire, who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the wars in Iraq, Syria and Yemen

    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.
    Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clownsi
    X
    February 09, 2016 8:04 PM
    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video Foreign Policy Weighs Heavy for Some US Voters

    VOA talks to protesters in Manchester, New Hampshire who sound off on foreign policy issues such as the Guantanamo Bay Prison, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Middle East Affairs and national security.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video New Hampshire Voters Are Independent, Mindful of History

    Once every four years, the northeastern state of New Hampshire becomes the center of the U.S. political universe with its first-in-the-nation presidential primary. What's unusual about New Hampshire is how seriously the voters take their role and the responsibility of being among the first to weigh in on the candidates.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Bhutanese Refugees in New Hampshire Closely Watching Primary Election

    They fled their country and lived in refugee camps in neighboring Nepal for decades before being resettled in the northeastern U.S. state of New Hampshire -- now the focus of the U.S. presidential contest. VOA correspondent Aru Pande spoke with members of the Bhutanese community, including new American citizens, about the campaign and the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of some of the candidates.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.
    Video

    Video Genius Lets World Share Its Knowledge

    Inspired by crowdsourcing companies like Wikipedia, Genius allows anyone to edit anything on the web, using its web annotation tool
    Video

    Video In Philippines, Mixed Feelings About Greater US Military Presence

    In the Philippines, some who will be directly affected by a recent Supreme Court decision clearing the way for more United States troop visits are having mixed reactions.  The increased rotations come at a time when the Philippines is trying to build up its military in the face of growing maritime assertiveness from China.  From Bahile, Palawan on the coast of the South China Sea, Simone Orendain has this story.