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Meeting cancelled between Nalchik mayor and land activists

12 December 2019
Activists from Volny Aul gather for the meeting. Photo: OC Media.

A meeting scheduled to take place between land activists in Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria, and the city’s mayor failed to take place after the mayor changed the format of the meeting at the last moment including by banning journalists from attending.

Eleven activists from the Volny Aul organisation, named after a microdistrict of Nalchik of the same name, went to meet Nalchik Mayor Teymuraz Akhokhov on Monday.

Since 2014, activists from Volny Aul have been demanding land they were promised from the defunct Nalchinsky state farm. Activists have accused the authorities of instead handing the land to people close to them via a bogus NGO.

Aslan Iritov, the leader of the Volney Aul public organisation, told OC Media that despite the mayor deciding on the venue and date of the meeting, Aslan Pashtov, deputy mayor of legal affairs, who came to the activists at the appointed time, told them that ‘the meeting cannot be held in this format’.

Pashtov told activists that the mayor would meet only three activists — Iritov, Adam Medaliev, the head of the Nartan public organisation, and Valery Khatazhukov, the head of the Human Rights Centre of Kabardino-Balkaria.

‘The mayor is ready for constructive dialogue, but when more than ten people speak at the same time, there can be no place for any dialogue’, he said.

Khatazhukov told OC Media that on Monday morning, an assistant to the mayor, someone called Baziev, phoned and told him that the mayor could only accept him, Medshaliev and Iritov and that the meeting should take place without journalists.

Khatazhukov and Medaliev refused the offer and did not appear at the city administration. 

‘I am not an interested party, but only an intermediary, and therefore I see no reason to discuss this problem in the absence of the majority of the Volny Aul NGO’.

When asked by the deputy mayor why Khatazhukov and Medaliev did not show, Iritov replied that they did not want to come after learning that the meeting would not go ahead in the pre-agreed format: 15 people and journalists.

According to Khatazhukov, the mayor had repeatedly postponed the date of the meeting since late November.

‘The principal agreement on a meeting between the parties to the conflict (the city hall and activists) was reached in the second half of November. At the same time, the mayor agreed that at least 10 people will represent the activists and that the meeting will be held in the presence of journalists’, he said.

‘We have questions for the city authorities that they simply cannot answer. To answer [them] would mean to confess to misconduct’, Iritov said after it became clear that there would be no meeting with Akhokhov.

‘We will seize the site ourselves!’

After the meeting was cancelled, activists from Volny Aul vowed to continue to fight.

‘My family of five people, including 2 of my grandchildren, has been living in the dormitories of the former Nalchiksky state farm for 32 years. The five of us huddle in 34 square meters of living space, where the toilet is two metres from the dining table!’, one activist, Fatima Atalikova, told OC Media.

‘We don’t want to live like this anymore, and if the city hall doesn’t give us the promised land for construction, for which we paid all the required fees […] we ourselves will seize the land and start building there!’ Atalikova said.

An area of the former Nalchiksky state farm which the authorities are using as a dumpsite. Photo: OC Media

Another activist from Volny Aul, Maria Artabaeva, whose son has a disability, says she has been waiting in line to receive a plot of land plot for 21 years.

‘Not only that, they do not give us the land that has been laid down and already paid for by us. We know that many of our sites have already been sold to people who have nothing to do with our community’, Artabaeva told OC Media.

‘We have evidence showing that they [the authorities] sold two to four lots to one person and they were sold at market prices’, she said.

According to one activist who asked not to be named, ‘it is impossible to solve the problem through the courts, since the courts only protect the interests of city officials.’ 

A long-running dispute

Activists from Volny Aul, who remain on and official waiting line to receive land from the former Nalchinsky state farm, have claimed to have uncovered a number of illegalities by the city authorities in regards to the land. These include illegal land surveying, theft of ₽550 million ($8.7 million) from the neighbourhood’s budget, forgery, and illegal dumping.

In December 2016, then–head of the Kabardino-Balkaria Yury Kokov ordered that the conflict be resolved ‘in a lawful way’, but this did not yield any results. 

Activists say the authorities registered their own NGO, named Nalchik For Their Own Rights, and over a short period of time distributed more than 350 plots of land to people close to the authorities.

In October 2017, Volny Aul leader Aslan Iritov and his brother Beslan Iritov were arrested and charged with assaulting police.

The two had been planning a protest in front of the Nalchik City Administration when heavily armed police entered their yard leading to a scuffle. 

Later that day, around 100 activists from the Volny Aul organisation gathered in front of the Nalchik Administration demanding a meeting with the mayor. The protesters were dispersed by riot police and several people were detained.

Aslan Iritov, a double arm amputee, stands accused of attacking police. Photo: RFE/RL.

A year later, a court sentenced Beslan Iritov to six months in prison but he was released immediately considering time already served.

After serving six months of pretrial house arrest, Aslan Iritov was released on bail but the case against him continues.

[Read on OC Media: Double arm amputee holds protest in Kabardino-Balkaria against ‘police violence’]