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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Transcaucasian View on the Hostage Crisis

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BAKU, Azerbaijan -- Ilgar, the man who sells lemons and fresh herbs at the end of our road, is furious about the Moscow hostage crisis.

Yes, he says, he feels sorry for the hundreds of theater-goers, who were held captive for three days with nothing to eat but chocolate and nuts from the theater bar and who were forced to use the orchestra pit as a bathroom.

Yes, he continues, he has no truck with the Chechen men and women who took them hostage, threatening to shoot them unless Russian troops pulled out of Chechnya. And yes, he thinks it's a disgrace that special forces pumped a mysterious gas into the theater so potent that over 150 people are now dead.

But what really gets his goat is that he won't be able to go to Moscow next week for his brother-in-law's birthday.

"I fear for my life in Russia now," he says. "It isn't safe for anyone with dark skin like mine, and I can't see the situation changing any time soon."

Actually, he says, for a while now it's been dangerous for litsa kavkazskoi natsionalnosti, or people of Caucasian ethnicity, as they're known in Russia. "We get stopped by the police all the time, we get beaten up, there's even a growing number of people from the Caucasus being killed in Russia these days," he says.

In a particularly brutal attack, an Azeri man was beaten to death last month by a gang of schoolgirls in a Moscow suburb.

The Azeri government joined leaders across the world in condemning last week's theater siege. They even closed down the Ichkeria Cultural Center, a euphemism for the separatist Chechen government's embassy, in Baku last week in protest at the hostage situation.

But Azeri sympathy for Muscovites has now turned to fear, and many say it's only a matter of time now before Russians carry out revenge attacks on anyone with dark skin.

Neo-fascist groups, whose members shave their heads and stitch swastikas onto their clothes, have sprung up across Russia in the past few years, calling for the government to deport Jews, blacks and anyone from the Caucasus. In Krasnodar, a particularly violent group regularly sets upon Armenians and smashes up graves in the Armenian cemetery.

Millions of people from the South Caucasus live in Russia, working long hours to send money to their families back home. It's tough, but unemployment in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia is so high, they say it's worth it.

Now, though, Ilgar says he fears they'll be leaving Russia in droves. "It never used to be like that," he says. "But Russians are becoming more intolerant, more racist. I hate to say it, but it's true."

Chloe Arnold is a freelance journalist based in Baku, Azerbaijan.