THE FSB’S CAMPAIGN TO ERADICATE CIRCASSIAN NATIONALISM
By Aslan Idar, The Jamestown Foundation
Three Russian men pressed a pistol muzzle against the back of Murat
Berzegov’s head. Earlier that evening, they had abducted the leader of the
Circassian National Movement of Adygea right in front of his house.
“We’re veterans of the security services, professionals and Russian patriots,”
they told Berzegov. “You won’t be able to die a national hero. If you don’t
stop shaming Russia with your talk of “genocide,” we’ll discredit you and
you’ll lose your kids.”
Murat Berzegov emotionally retells the story of the Circassians’ century-long
war with Russia while sitting in his office in Maikop, the green flag of
Circassia on the wall behind him. He worries about his family, but is
determined not to bow in the face of intimidation.
“We had petitioned the Duma and the Russian President to officially
recognize that the genocide took place, but they refused. Therefore, we’re
appealing to international organizations, even though that’s being labeled
as “extremism.” First, the FSB worked against us through official channels,
but now they’ve passed the torch to their veterans, and those people know no
The existence of semi-official organizations composed of Soviet and Russian
veterans of the special services is barely acknowledged within the Russian
Federation. The subject is taboo in the media, with the prohibition only
recently broken by the opposition Novaya Gazyeta newspaper. In a three-page
article entitled, “The Backup Services,” the paper describes the existence
of secret divisions of the Russian security establishment functioning under
the guise of social organizations or private security firms. These
organizations of “veterans” are well structured, organized along hierarchies
and closely connected with the official security services of the state.
Remaining outside the official structures, such “veterans” are able to carry
out the dirty work of disposing those whom the chiefs of the security
apparatus deem inconvenient.
Gaidar Jemal, the leader of the “Islamic Committee of Russia” movement, is
certain that a secretive KGB-style organization connected with the security
services exists. Jemal told this author that: “There are certain
organizations that resolve those issues that lie outside of the scope of
authorized action of the legally sanctioned security services. These groups
work with the official security apparatus through unofficial channels and
are staffed by the veterans of these services. Such men carry out the death
sentences handed out by those who hold official government posts. The
ostensible motivation behind these actions is ‘patriotism,’ but it’s really
racist xenophobia. The victims of the ‘security veterans’ are those deemed
as “Russia’s enemies and traitors.”
As Murat Berzegov’s story shows, such “veterans” are even active in the
Caucasus, where Berzegov was targeted for appealing to the President and
Congress of the United States to recognize Russia’s genocide of the
It should be noted that the existence of Circassia is known only to a few
historians today. A country that occupied the lands between the Black and
the Caspian Seas, it was colonized by Russia in the 19th century, with 90%
of the Circassians being annihilated in the process. Today, a million
Circassians (the Adyghe and the Kabard) live in three republics in the south
of the Russian Federation – Adygea, Karachaevo-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria.
Close to five million other Circassians comprise a diaspora that exists
Admission of a genocide would result in the recreation of Circassia within
its historical borders. As the Caucasus scholar Yakov Gordin told this
author, this could lead to Russia’s loss of the entire Caucasus. This is why
the Russian media occasionally features stories regarding the “dangerous
plans of re-creating a ‘Greater Circassia’ stretching from sea to sea.” The
ostensible backer of this plan is the exiled Russian oligarch Boris
Berezovsky. Such articles indicate that the Kremlin takes the Circassian
problem seriously and is willing to implement harsh steps to crush the
smallest demands by the Circassians for recognition of their rights.
From that standpoint, the “Circassian Congress” is a truly dangerous
organization since its stated goal is the recognition of the genocide of the
Circassians by the Russian state. The “Congress” has chapters in twenty
countries around the globe, with those located in Russia subject to
harassment by the authorities. The leader of the Cherkessk chapter, Beslan
Makhov, told this author that he is regularly called in for questioning by
the local office of the FSB and that he has even been forced to cease the
publication of a free youth newspaper.
“We only published archival documents about the war between Circassia and
Russia,” Makhov explains, “but that was enough to have our newspaper labeled
as ‘extremist’ by the FSB and shut down.”
In the Caucasus, the most apparent evidence of “service veterans” activity
is the mysterious disappearance of thousands of people. One officer of a so-called
“death squadron” from the region provided this author with information on
condition of anonymity. According to him, there are many ways of making an
individual vanish without a trace, with different methods being used
depending on whether information is needed or only assassination is required.
According to the officer, those men that need to be questioned are abducted
using a well-rehearsed plan. A special group will drive to any city of the
Caucasus fully prepared with a full knowledge of the victim’s schedule and
movements. The actual abduction can be carried out with little to no trace,
even on a crowded street. The victim is driven outside the city limits and
is then placed in a waiting helicopter that takes the man to a special base
in Khankala (Chechnya) or a secret prison in Mineralnyi Vody. Interrogations
are then performed using both chemicals and torture (such as electroshock).
After the necessary information is obtained, the body is driven to remote
locations and dumped into specially prepared chemical-filled pits. Over the
course of several days, the body simply dissolves and the man in question
vanishes without a trace.
At least two men famous in the Northern Caucasus have suffered this grizzly
fate in the recent past. One of them was Rashid Ozdoev, an investigator from
the Ingush attorney general’s office. He disappeared two years ago following
his investigation into the FSB’s kidnapping of civilians and community
leaders. Ozdoev had assembled materials proving the FSB’s crimes in
Ingushetia, but the information disappeared along with the investigator.
The second man was Ruslan Nakhushev, a former KGB major who simply vanished
in early November 2005 after being questioned in the FSB office in Nalchik.
This distinguished graduate of the Academy of Internal Security was linked
to attacks against security officers committed on October 13, 2005 and
accused of terrorism by the local prosecutor’s office. A month before
Nakhushev disappeared, certain government-controlled newspapers published
articles detailing the supposed betrayal committed by the former KGB officer
who had sided with the separatists. A week before he vanished, Nakhushev
told this author that he would be killed – “They’ll get rid of me. They
don’t let you go once you’ve been part of the organization.” Nakhushev
became a “traitor” after he founded the “Institute of Islamic Studies” in
Nalchik. His deputies were Anzor Astemirov, Musa Mukozhev and Rasul Kudaev,
all three of whom were leaders of the Kabardino-Balkaria dzhamaat and two of
whom subsequently took up arms and organized the 2005 attack on the Russian
security forces in Nalchik.
These two cases pose unanswerable questions. As they like to say in Russia
these days – “without a body there is no crime.” Nevertheless, there are
other cases. Suspicious and unexpected deaths have claimed three of today’s
most famous Circassian leaders.
Yuri Kalmykov, a Circassian who held the post of Minister of Justice under
President Yeltsin, died from acute heart failure while exiting an airplane.
Kalmykov was the only member of the Russian cabinet to resign as a sign of
protest against the war in Chechnya, and after leaving his government post,
he dedicated himself to the idea of reuniting the Circassian people. A man
with an extensive understanding of Russian law, he worked on creating a
foundation for a new Circassian state. For example, in accordance with his
plans, an “Inter-Parliamentary Council” of three republics (Adygea,
Karachaevo-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria) was formed. In accordance with
the decisions of this council, a single executive authority and even a
unified budget were created. The next step would have been the ratification
of a new constitution, but when Kalmykov died, so did his project.
A similar cardiac disorder claimed the life of Boris Akbashev, Kalmykov’s
successor to the presidency of the “International Circassian Association” in
Cherkessk. The third such death was the sudden and unexpected demise of
Stanislav Derev, an important businessman and widely acknowledged leader of
the Circassian national movement in Karachaevo-Cherkessia. These deaths
could, of course, have been completely natural. However, the doctors of all
three men were completely surprised by the autopsy results, which revealed
that the hearts in all three were almost entirely shredded and destroyed.
Two of the deceased – Akbashev and Derev – had no histories of cardiac
problems. In fact, Derev was a competitive tennis player and ran ten
kilometers every morning. The funerals of all three men were accompanied by
widespread demonstrations across Cherkessk, with many people speaking openly
about the assassination of their leaders.
It is true that all of these undertakings of Russia’s unofficial security
services are quite effective in keeping Russia’s influence in the Northern
Caucasus alive. The Russian government continues to sacrifice tens of
thousands of victims on the altar of its geopolitical interests, multiplying
the violence within the North Caucasus and thus furthering the spread of
dangerous global instability.
Chechnya Weekly, Volume 8, Issue 7 (February 15, 2007), The
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