On 5 June, North Caucasian media outlet Caucasian Knot published a story of a young Daghestani man, who claims that Russian security forces, through blackmail, tried to recruit him to work for them in Syria.
According to Caucasian Knot, the story unfolded in the Daghestani city of Derbent in late 2013. Ruslan (not his real name), 26, now lives in Turkey, where he fled after pressure from the Russian authorities.
Ruslan is a religious Muslim and visited the mosque often. When he was detained, he thought that he would be interrogated about his religious activities. According to him, he was first shown pictures of different people, and then a man, presumably an FSB officer, showed him a video shot with a hidden camera. The video showed Ruslan in an intimate situation with another man.
‘After I was shown the video, I was told that it was in my best interest to cooperate with them if I didn’t want all the people whose numbers I had in my phone or who were my friends in [Russian social network] VKontakte to find out who I was’, Ruslan said in the interview.
According to Ruslan, cooperation meant being sent to Syria. The interview doesn’t specify the purpose of the deployment.
‘When I tried to refuse, they told me not to worry, they said they understood everything and that I would be met by their people in Turkey and then in Syria who would take care of me. […] As far as I understand, I would be a link in a chain of people who meet people or see them off [to Syria]’, Ruslan said.
He managed to escape the country, through Azerbaijan to Turkey. According to Ruslan, the people who blackmailed him didn’t follow through with their threats, and haven’t released the compromising material.
Blackmail as a threat for queer people in the North Caucasus
The interview provoked a variety of reactions among Daghestani Facebook users. Some people called the interview a provocation, a fake, or a made-up story.
Igor Kochetkov, the head of queer rights group the Russian LGBT Network, told OC Media that this is the threat most often reported by queer Caucasians — being blackmailed by the police.
‘Blackmail of gay men by police is typical not only for Daghestan, but for all republics of the North Caucasus. Moreover, we are well aware that this is also common in other Caucasian republics — Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and even in Turkey. As for Daghestan, yes, people from there have approached the [Russian LGBT] Network, who have faced this problem. I can’t disclose any details, but still, yes, this kind of blackmail exists in Daghestan’, Kochetkov told OC Media.
According to Kochetkov, the security forces’ interest in Ruslan specifically can be directly connected to his sexual orientation.
‘Homosexuality in itself is sufficient reason to attract interest from the security forces, because they can threaten people with disclosure of this information. Therefore, if police become aware of a man’s homosexuality, it is a sufficient reason to show an interest in him. In this case, we can say that it is a “criminal interest” ’, Kochetkov said.
On whether more Daghestanis ask for help from the Russian LGBT Network since recent developments in Chechnya, Kochetkov said that people were appealing to them before as well.
‘I can’t say whether what’s happening in Chechnya influenced what is happening in Daghestan, or simply more Daghestani gays and lesbians learnt about our existence and learnt that they can reach out to us’, Kochetkov said.