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Balkar Council of Elders congress disrupted in Kabardino-Balkaria

7 February 2020
A previous Council of Elders congress. Image via mehkkhel.com

Several dozen people broke into the State Concert Hall in Nalchik, where the congress of the Council of Elders of the Balkar People was to take place, and, taking control of the podium, stopped the event from proceeding.

The congress was set to take place on Sunday.

Ismail Sabanchiyev, chair of the Council of Elders, told OC Media that about 70–80 people broke into the concert hall. Sabanchiyev said that he believes that one of the former members of the Council, Muradin Rakhayev, was behind the disruption. Rakhayev was expelled from the Council because of ‘views’ that were ‘too radical’.

Muradin Rakhayev was one of the organisers and participants of the hunger strike on Manezhnaya Square in Moscow in 2010, when a group of Balkar activists tried to draw the attention of the federal authorities in Moscow to alleged violations against the right to local self-government in Kabardino-Balkaria. 

According to Sabanchiyev, the people who broke into the hall on Sunday accused him and the Council of 'doing nothing for the Balkars’ including ‘not demanding [Balkar] national autonomy’. 

‘These people want to change the [Council’s] leadership’, Sabanchiyev said. ‘But it is up to the congress to decide the question of my competence and usefulness.’

He added that the congress should have held elections for the Council's new leadership, and that over 120 people arrived at the congress for that very purpose.

‘A lot of work was done before the congress’, he stressed. ‘Reporting and election meetings have been held in almost all the areas where the Balkars live compactly.’

The police ‘stepped aside and did nothing’

Sabanchiyev said that the leadership of the Council agreed on this event with the authorities and the administration of the concert hall.

Tamara Geriyeva, a member of the Council of Elders, told OC Media that the congress was prepared in accordance with the requirements of the Federal Law ‘On Meetings, Meetings, Demonstrations, Processions and Pickets’.

‘We organised and agreed on everything [with the authorities] very carefully. In addition to a group of community members and the police, a team of paramedics were on duty in the [concert hall]’, she said. 

According to Sabanchiyev, the police present in the concert hall, led by the chief of the Nalchik police, Murat Gegrayev, stepped aside and did nothing when the crowd broke in.

He also said that members of the community who were assisting the police with security were too few to resist the crowd.

‘Planned provocation’

According to Geriyeva, what happened was a ‘provocation’ that was planned in advance.

Geriyeva told OC Media that after the ‘crowd led by Rakhayev’ broke into the hall, the podium and microphone were ‘occupied’ by Khadis Tetuyev, who, according to her, ‘has nothing to do with the Council’, as well as Ismail Kaitayev and several others.

In 2018, Viktor Kotlyarov, a publisher from Kabardino-Balkaria filed a lawsuit against Tetuyev, accusing him of defamation. Kotlyarov claimed that Tetuyev led an online campaign against him, in which Tetuyev falsely claimed that a book he wrote about the battle of Kanzhal opposed the unity of Russia. 

In the Battle of Kanzhal, which took place in 1708, the Kabardian territorial army defeated the troops of the Crimean Khan Kaplan-Girey. The battle marked the end of incursions by the Crimean Khanate, a Turkic vassal state of the Ottoman Empire, into Kabardians’ historic state, Kabardia.

In July 2019, the Supreme Court of Kabardino-Balkaria ordered Tetuyev to pay 50 thousand rubles to Viktor Kotlyarov. 

[Read more on OC Media: Dispute over history ignites ethnic clashes in Kabardino-Balkaria]

According to Geriyeva, Rakhayev and Kaitayev were kicked out of the Council of Elders in 2008 ‘for trying to split the organization’.

She said that they left the Council in the wake of an internal Council of Elders investigation into ‘the theft of funds allocated from the Russian budget in the 1990s and intended for the rehabilitation of Balkars who suffered from Stalin’s repressions’. 

According to Geriyeva, when he had access to these funds, Kaitayev spent large sums for other purposes.

According to an article in the Kabardino-Balkarian newspaper Gazeta Yuga, Ismail Kaitayev and six other people left the organization voluntarily in 2008, expressing distrust of the leadership of the Council and disagreement with its policies.

‘Now these people want to become leaders of the Balkar people. But, I think, the people themselves will decide who to choose as their leader,’ Sabanchiyev said.

According to him, the congress will go ahead despite the disruption and the leadership of the Council will inform the public about the time and location at a later date.

OC Media reached out Muradin Rakhayev for comment.