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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ethnic, Territorial Issues Set to Determine Caucasus Vote

NAZRAN, Ingushetia - When the people from three republics in Russia's North Caucasus region decide whether and how to vote in Sunday's referendum, they will be guided not by economic concerns as elsewhere, but by ethnic and territorial rivalries.


Marking an important precedent in this explosive region, Chechnya - which proclaimed itself completely independent of Russia in late 1991 - will be the only one of Russia's 89 component parts not to take part in the April 25 vote on confidence in President Boris Yeltsin.


The neighboring republics of Ingushetia and North Ossetia will take part, but have completely reversed their political alliances in the aftermath of a bitter dispute over territory that broke into armed conflict last October.


Typically for the fragmented northern Caucasus, the issue here is not about economics and reform - but about age-old ethnic and territorial disputes.


"We Ingushetians were naive enough to trust Yeltsin", Akhmed Albogadshiyev said of the Russian president. Like most of his countrymen, he heard Yeltsin speak in Nazran, the sprawling village that has become Ingushetia's capital, in March 1990 when the Russian president solemnly promised to support the tiny republic's autonomy.


Like 94 percent of Ingushetians, Albogadshiyev had voted for Yeltsin to become president in 1991. But neither he nor the rest of the republic is likely to do so again.


The Ingush believe that Moscow has taken the side of North Ossetia in their conflict over the Prigorodny district, which the Ingush claim was illegally taken away when Stalin summarily deported them to Kazakhstan in 1945, for allegedly collaborating with the German military.


Strategic parts of the district remain under emergency rule controlled by the Russian army. Nevertheless, bloody incidents occur almost daily, many of them acts of revenge in the old Caucasian tradition.


Ingushetia claims that while bilateral peace talks remain stalled, the present situation favors North Ossetia. According to figures published in Nazran, more than 60, 000 Ingushetians have been driven from their homes in North Ossetia, while most North Ossetians continue to live normally in the disputed area.


In the North Ossetian capital of Vladikavkaz, government officials admit that some 10, 000 flats formerly inhabited by Ingush have been taken over by Ossetians, including refugees from the troubled Georgian autonomous region of South Ossetia.


Six months after the outbreak of hostilities, the Ingush still claim that 837 people are missing from the disputed Prigorodny area. "With this in mind, how can people vote for Yeltsin? " asked Ruslan Aushev, 38, and a general who became the republic's president two months ago.


Ingushetia, Aushev said in an interview last week, would remain part of Russia. But it would only sign the Federation Treaty with an extra clause underlining its territorial claims.


While the Russian president can today expect little sympathy in Ingushetia, he is finding unexpected support from the old-style leadership in neighboring Vladikavkaz.


Still calling itself an "Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic", North Ossetia, which has some 600, 000 inhabitants, was known to have supported the August putsch in Moscow.


Only 27 percent of North Ossetians voted for Yeltsin in 1990.


Today the anti-reform leadership, which likes to propagate the republic as "Russia's forepost in the Caucasus", underlines its satisfaction with Russia's "temporary military administration" in the republic.


Government officials stress that North Ossetia considers Yeltsin's privatization plans a "sell-out" and that the republic will never give up the old kolkhoz - or collective farm - system.


But, noted Taimuraz Kuzov, head of the parliamentary commission on ethnic questions, this did "not disturb the republic's close ties with Moscow".


North Ossetia, he stressed, is 100 percent satisfied with Yeltsin's Federation treaty. In this Caucasus republic, he said, everyone agreed that the decision taken 200 years ago to become part of Russia "had been a good one".