washingtonpost.com  > World > Europe > Eastern Europe > Russia

Old Animosities Boil Anew In Wake of School Tragedy

By Peter Finn and Peter Baker
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, September 8, 2004; Page A16

KARTSA, Russia, Sept. 7 -- The fear is palpable on the quiet streets of this ramshackle town, which still bears the scars of the last war between the Ingush and Ossetian ethnic groups, a conflict in 1992 that gutted the kindergarten, school and community center here, as well as many private homes.

Kartsa is a small enclave of Ingush people in the North Ossetia region of Russia, and since it became clear that some Ingush were involved in the deadly seizure of an Ossetian school last week, residents here have become deeply worried. They say they can only hope that Russian forces now moving into the area in force will protect them from any vigilantes.


Mourners have brought candles, flowers and once-cherished toys to the destroyed gym of Beslan's School No. 1. (Alexander Zemlianichenko -- AP)

_____Inside the Gym_____
Video Report: Video recorded by terrorists in the school in Beslan was released by the Russian government Tuesday. It shows how the gym was rigged with explosives.
_____Photo Gallery_____
Russia Begins Burying Victims: Funeral processions in Beslan on Monday moved one after another for the hundreds who died in the Russian school hostage crisis.
Photos: Standoff Ends
_____More From The Post_____
Putin Angered By Critics On Siege (The Washington Post, Sep 8, 2004)
Hostage Takers in Russia Argued Before Explosion (The Washington Post, Sep 7, 2004)
Under a 'Crying' Sky, Beslan's Dead Are Laid to Rest (The Washington Post, Sep 7, 2004)
Russia Admits It Lied On Crisis (The Washington Post, Sep 6, 2004)
A Gruesome Tour Inside School No. 1 (The Washington Post, Sep 6, 2004)

About 100 children from the town who were at a resort in the neighboring state of Ingushetia when the siege began have been told to remain there until tensions ease. Dozens of other children have been sent across the border lest they be caught up in a pogrom, according to local officials and town residents. Russian Interior Ministry troops have been dispatched to the village, and 20 tanks lined up along the road just outside town on Tuesday.

"There is tension, and some people are worried," said Maksharip Murzabekov, 70, a village elder who has lived here since 1959. "Twelve years ago there was conflict. There was hatred, and not all of it has disappeared."

"Now lots and lots of people have taken out the weapons they've been hiding at home," said Oleg Orlov, head of the human rights group Memorial, who visited both North Ossetia and Ingushetia this week. "There is a growing mood of anger and desire for revenge. My fear is that some people . . . won't be able to find anyone to take revenge on, since the terrorists are dead, and will focus on completely innocent people."


The animosity between the Ossetians and the Ingush may be among the world's more obscure ethnic conflicts, but it looms large in Russia in the aftermath of the hostage crisis in which at least 335 children and adults died in a maelstrom of explosions and gunfire in the school in Beslan.

Russian officials in Moscow say they fear the terrorist strike against the school was part of an attempt to reignite the region's long-simmering ethnic tensions. At least four of the guerrillas who stormed the school were Ingush, including one of the leaders, a shadowy commander known as Magas, according to investigators in Ingushetia.

Authorities have identified Magas as a former Ingush police officer, Ali Taziyev, and are also looking for information on four other Ingush, according to a bulletin distributed to police officers.

Now, as many men with guns roam the streets of North Ossetia venting their anger, retribution seems a distinct possibility. "If the Ingush declared a war, we could fight them openly, but instead they shoot our children," said Rezo Guldayev, who lost his 36-year-old cousin and her daughter in the school siege. "We are a patient people, but there is an end to patience. We have to think what to do."

In this town of 5,000, where 90 percent of the people are Ingush, rumors have proliferated in recent days -- that Ossetian men were massing to ethnically cleanse the village, that Ingush were thrown out of a nearby hospital, that Ingush had been taken hostage in North Ossetia.

So far, they appear untrue. "We have chased down every rumor, and they are all false," said Vladimir Pisarenko, a Russian who heads the local administration. "There have been no direct threats, no incidents." Several residents, as well as the community's Muslim cleric and two Federal Security Service officials, confirmed that nothing had happened despite reports of a near-clash over the weekend.

"These are all lies," said Magomet Gadaborschev, head of the local Ingush Cultural Center. "Some people are interested in provocations, but it is peaceful here in the village."

Ingush and Ossetians have coexisted uneasily for many decades. Ingush are Muslim, though many are not observant, and Ossetians are mostly Christian, although a sizable minority are Muslim. But the modern-day enmity between the two stems mainly from repression in the era of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

The easternmost sliver of North Ossetia used to belong to the Ingush, but it was given to the Ossetians after Stalin deported the entire Ingush population to distant Kazakhstan in 1944 on the pretext that they were Nazi collaborators. The Ingush were allowed to return in 1957, but that part of their old territory was left with the Ossetians, who had long since claimed the homes of the ousted families.


CONTINUED    1 2    Next >

© 2004 The Washington Post Company