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A resettlement programme in the Russian Republic of Daghestan to restore the historically ethnic-Chechen Aukh District has continued to cause controversy.
On 27 November, Abidi Ramazanov, an ethnic Lak, resumed his single-person protest in the central square of the Daghestani capital Makhachkala, demanding his house be returned to him.
Ramazanov told OC Media that in 2012, he returned to his family home in the Novolakskiy District after living in Kamchatskiy Krai for several decades to find it now belonged to a Chechen family.
The house had been transferred to the family without his knowledge as part of a programme to restore property to Chechens deported to central Asia in 1944.
Ramazanov said he was not provided with new housing envisaged by the programme.
At the 10th congress of Chechens of Daghestan on 25 November in Khasavyurt, in the north of Daghestan, participants called for the full restoration of Aukh District.
According to Daghestani daily Chernovik, Buvaysar Saytiyev, an ethnic Chechen MP representing Daghestan in the Russian Duma, said at the congress that recent changes in the leadership of Daghestan had given new hope to Daghestani Chechens that the issue would be resolved.
The Aukh resettlement programme
In 1944, the Chechen population of Daghestan’s Aukh District was deported to Central Asia, and the area was resettled by Lak people from other parts of Daghestan and renamed to the Novolakskiy district. A part of Aukh District was also transferred to the neighbouring Kazbekovsky District and populated by Avar people.
In 1956, Chechens began to return from the deportations, and in 1991 the Daghestani authorities decided to restore the Aukh District.
The decision gave almost 2,000 Chechen families sent to the Central Asia in the 1940s the right to the residences and lands that belonged to their relatives before the deportations.
According to a 1993 ruling of the Council of Ministers of Daghestan, Laks who occupied the houses of deported Chechens were obliged to return this property to them, and in return would receive specially built houses and a lump sum payment for resettlement costs.
The programme to resettle Laks from the Novolakskiy District and restore the Aukh District has been under implementation for 27 years. The head of Daghestan, Vladimir Vasilyev, said in October 2017 that the programme was scheduled to be completed by 2025.
The programme has already cost a reported ₽8 billion ($120 million).
The programme has not been without controversy, with a number of prominent Akka Chechens (Chechens from Daghestan) claiming that they do not wish for anyone to be resettled, only for the historically Chechen Aukh District to be restored.
[Read on OC Media: Akka-Chechens ‘do not want resettlements’ to restore Daghestan’s Aukh District]
Sale of Chechen houses
Khanpasha Sultanbiyev, from the Public Council of Akka Chechens of Daghestan, told OC Media that the government commission for the resettlement programme had already recorded that new houses had been handed over to Laks in the Kumtorkalinsky District prior to 2013.
According to him, the commission did not ensure the transfer of houses from Laks to Chechens before allocating Laks new houses.
Sultanbiyev claimed that most of Laks who were given new houses did not transfer their old houses to Chechens who had returned from exile, as envisaged in the resettlement programme, but sold them.
‘The old houses of the Chechens were resold by residents of these villages to unrelated people several times’, Sultanbiyev said.
According to him, more than 300 houses that should have been transferred to the Chechens were sold.
‘The Novolakskiy District administration recognised that 156 houses were resold. They managed to return 16 households to Chechens through the courts. But this has not resolved the situation’.
Sultanbiyev told OC Media that the problem was that instead of creating a body to oversee the transfer of houses by the Laks to the Chechens, Lak and Chechen families transferred houses on an individual basis, directly from family to family.
‘This causes unnecessary conflicts and scandals between the two nationalities, which is undesirable. Now it is necessary to either cancel the decrees regulating the restoration of the Aukh District and the resettlement of the Lak people, or to amend them’, Sultanbiyev said.
He said that the registration of transactions involving houses and land meant to be returned to Chechens should be prohibited.
Kamaludin Budaychiyev, chairman of the executive committee of the Lak National Council, told OC Media that the Laks have refused to return property to Chechens because they have not received the lump sum resettlement payments promised to them under the programme.
Budaychiyev confirmed that over 3,000 houses had already been built to resettle Laks but that these were of ‘poor quality’, and it was ‘impossible’ to live in them. Despite being built recently, he said that they had already fallen into disrepair and require restoration work.
The issue of several villages transferred from the Aukh District to the Kazbekovsky District in the 1940s has also continued to be a flashpoint.
In June 2017, a fight between a Chechen and Avar man in the village of Leninaul, in Kazbekovsky District threatened to spiral out of control, after Speaker of the Chechen Parliament, Magomed Daudov showed up in the village with his entourage.