Saturday, November 30, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Balkar Land Seizures Threaten to Split Two North Caucasian Republics

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 30 – Illegal seizures of land by Balkar activists in Khasanya and Belaya Rechka threatens the existence of both Kabardino-Balkaria (KBR) and Karachayevo-Cherkessia (KChR) by raising the spectre of a Karachayevo-Balkar Republic and as a result of a Circassian one – the Kabards and the Cherkess are sub-groups of that nation – as well.
            Given rural overpopulation, a complex ethnic mix, and Russian laws that are not easily applied to local conditions, the North Caucasus has long been the site of disputes over the control of land. But the potential of the current seizures to reorder political arrangements in the region to trigger more inter-ethnic violence could at a minimum force Moscow to send in more troops.

            It may be difficult to imagine that something so small as the seizure of several fields by local activists could have that effect, experts say, but consideration of the context shows why such conclusions are justified ( and

            Aslan Beshto, a Circassian activist whose people would at least initially be the losers in any such reordering of the borders in the North Caucasus, provides a commentary about this complex situation. His article is cast as a response to another by Muradin Rakhayev, a Balkar leader

            Illegal land seizures by Balkars near Nalchik, Beshto writes, may seem justified and elicit a certain sympathy given the problems of that nation. But anyone who examines the background of these actions will be concerned given both what has been happening and what “shadowy players” like Balkar nationalists and Turkey have as their ultimate goals.

            For the last 20 years “at a minimum,” Beshto says, the Balkars have “cultivated the ethnic myth that all the present-day territory of Kabardino-Balkaria is the immemorial land of the Balkars” and that lands that should be under their control have been handed to others, such as the Kabards, by outsiders.

            But everyone needs to understand that “the very same problems which exist” in Belaya Rechka exist as well in all municipalities both of the republic and of the country as a whole.”  If current arrangements are overturned by illegal actions in one place, that can easily trigger other illegal actions elsewhere.

            If one turns to the archives, Beshto continues, one finds that the Balkars actually seized what were historically Kabard lands. But that is not something the Balkars care to acknowledge now.  Instead, at the end of last summer, the “Vestnik Balkarii” published a declaration saying that the “Kabard people in general has no rights” to make any claim to these lands.

            As a Circassian, Beshto says, he has encountered “such manifestations of nationalism constantly,” most disturbingly in a declaration also last summer of the Council of Elders of the Balkar People which declared that “the next step” for the group should be “the establishment of a Karachayevo-Balkar (Alan) Republic” in place of the bi-national KBR and KChR.

            “If that were to happen,” the Circassian activist continues, “then the division of Kabardino-Balkaria would occur” along the borders of the existing municipalities, with all the impact that would have on neighboring areas, including the KChR.

            Beshto suggests that standing behind the Balkars is Turkey with its plans for a Greater Turan and that the Balkars, a Turkic people, have been able to invoke Russian law to justify what they are doing even though the specific law on local administration was drawn up with an eye to parts of Russia not suffering from overpopulation and a shortage of land.

            “By some miracle and thanks to the wisdom” of Gennady Khloponin, the presidential plenipotentiary for the area, Beshto says, the current crisis may have passed, but he argues that the authorities have been too inclined to make concessions to the Balkars in the past and that as a result the Balkars are increasing their demands.

            That leaves Khloponin and Moscow with few good choices: if the Russian authorities continue to give in to the Balkars, the Circassians will mobilize to oppose them, but if the Russians don’t, Moscow will have to use force to restrain the Balkars and that will only exacerbate their national feelings.

            In short, the complex administrative-territorial system that Stalin created and  left behind him, one that requires high levels of coercion to maintain, remains a poison pill for Moscow in the North Caucasus in the first instance but ultimately in other regions of the Russian Federation as well.

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