Violence in Ossetia - An Afterword
If you haven't heard of what happened in Russia in the last week, you have been living under a rock. But, as a native Russian (well, from Ukraine, but close enough), I thought I might have something new to the analysis of the situation.
Speaking to my parents at dinner tonight, I was trying to figure out what the Ossetians are like. The fact that they are in Southern Russia, makes me immediately suspicious of whether the kidnappings were targetted at Russia qua Moscow or at the Ossetians in particular.
The history of Southern Russia is quite sad. For years, as part of the Russian Empire and later the Soviet Union, there was constant ethnic clashes, particularly between Muslims and Christians. The Azerbaijanians (Muslims) engaged in ethnic cleansing of Armenians(Orthodox/Catholic) in the town of Sumgait in February of 1988. Add to that the strife in Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan, the Chechen War in 1994, and you have a very very volatile region. Historically, the peoples of that region, being the frontier between Russia and what were considered less civilized peoples of the Ottoman Empire, Persia, Arabia, etc., had a somewhat militaristic attitude. For example, the ethnic dress of male Cossaks, Georgians, and other peoples in that region include bullet-holders in the front of their jackets. The tribal ethical systems of their neighbors and the obvious hardships of frontier life (even though the land was fertile, raids by various Ottoman peoples was always a looming threat under Tsarist rule) helped form the social culture of the peoples of the region.
One of the particular problems is that many of the cultures of Southern Russia (this is according to my parents' recollections) have a very clan-like tribal structure in which vigilante justice and revenge are quite common. This is particularly true in Chechnya where families remember century-old feuds and grievances (for example, their long-standing beef with the Soviets for forced resettlement to Northern Kazakhstan under Stalin). Ossetians, who are largely Christian, have a similar sense of restoring honor to one's family and avenging crimes committed against them.
This history of Southern Russia makes me wonder whether there is a chance for a rekindling of ethnic strife as a result of this incident. I would imagine the men of Beslan are not all too happy to have their women and children held hostage at gunpoint and then shot in the back by Muslim lunatics, ten of whom were reportedly Arabs not from Chechnya itself. I would think that one option - which would not be too pleasant - would be for the Ossetians in Georgia (in South Ossetia) and the Ossetians in Russia (in North Ossetia) to unite and carry out acts of violence against Chechens and other Muslims (possibly the Azerbaijanians?) in vigilante fashion.
If this happens, Russia would have real problems on its hands as it would have to try dealing with two peoples both of which are not very happy with Russian rule (the Chechens for obvious reasons and the Ossetians for not protecting their children enough) and both of which are waging battle with each other in the same general area where Russia is trying to develop oil pipelines. It could also open up the potential for other Al-Qaeda groups to enter the region and fight on the Muslim side against the various factions (Russians, North Ossetians, South Ossetians, Armenians if they get in the way, etc) much like what we see in Iraq.
I don't know if this will happen, but I would imagine that it is likely enough to happen that it is something to think/worry about. If you know about the situation in the region and have some thoughts, I'd be interested to hear ( genev - *at* - aya *dot* yale *dot* edu).