On 3 August, Yusup Temirkhanov, a Chechen convicted of killing an ex–Russian soldier, died in a Russian prison in Siberia. Tens of thousands of people including the head of Chechnya attended Temirkhanov’s funeral, raising questions over Russia’s position in Chechnya, and how Chechens are treated in Russian prisons.
Last week, Grozny’s Staropromyslovsky District Court rejected an appeal from Oyub Titiyev’s lawyer, Pyotr Zaikin, to have his case transferred to another region of the North Caucasus. Titiyev, the head of Russian rights group Memorial’s Chechen branch, is the latest government critic to be prosecuted on drug charges in the republic. Zaikin says the drugs were planted by police and insists Titiyev will not receive a fair trial in Chechnya, he also accused the Russian Investigative Committee of being unwilling to get to the truth of the matter.
For years, Chechnya’s Head Ramzan Kadyrov has demanded personal apologies — which he broadcasts on social media — for any perceived insult. This trend of public humiliation is now beginning to spread to neighbouring republics, first in Ingushetia, and now Daghestan.
It is no secret that the courts in Russia fail to maintain their independence from the government. This is perhaps most acute of all if Chechnya, where the republic’s leadership have waged a war on the judiciary, and trumped-up cases are brought against anyone who says or does ‘the wrong thing’ in public.
In 2010, UNESCO declared Chechen a vulnerable language. Despite local efforts to popularise it, their modest results show that a more serious approach is needed.
Chechnya, like many other modern-day republics of the Russian Federation, has experienced desolation of highland villages and an outflow of people, mostly young people, to the cities in the plains. People commonly say that they leave their ancestral villages in search of a ‘better life’. In fact, the reality often falls short of the migrants’ expectations, because even the largest city with its shiny skyscrapers often can’t give them what they’re looking for.
The North Caucasus is well known for its Olympic champion wrestlers. However, a move towards the more brutal ‘mixed martial arts’ is leading some to question why such a violent sport is being allowed and even encouraged, whether or not it is compatible with local traditions, and if it is engendering violence.
After enduring two bloody wars and under the extreme authoritarian rule of Ramzan Kadyrov, many in the Kremlin and beyond believe that Chechnya has been pacified. However, after 300 years of resistance, few in Chechnya doubt that the struggle against Russia will continue.
A conflict in a Siberian penal colony between a Russian ‘thief-in-law’ and Chechen and Daghestani inmates is threatening to spiral out of control. The feud has already began to spread to other prisons in Russia, and attempts to mediate a truce between the warring factions have so far proven fruitless.