MINELRES: Fwd: RFE/RL on Meskhetians in Krasnodar

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RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies
Vol. 4, No. 32, 13 November 2003


A human rights group in Russia's Krasnodar Krai is borrowing a page from
the manuals of Western human rights groups in attempting to link
business investment with human rights, hoping to draw attention to their
reports of discrimination against a Muslim minority, the Meskhetian
Turks. The Novorossiisk Human Rights Committee (http://www.kpd.nvrsk.ru)
issued a report last month, "Systematic Violation of Human Rights in
Krasnodar Territory Worsens Investment Attraction for Russia," in which
they called on foreign companies and governments managing development
aid to raise with the region's officials problems of discrimination,
which they characterized as the worst in Russia after the Chechen
Republic. The report is one of several efforts by human rights groups to
try to publicize what they see as the widespread, chronic abuses that
rarely gain the attention of high-profile cases, like that of oil tycoon
Mikhail Khodorkovskii. For years, activists in Russia's southern region
repeatedly tried to get the attention of Moscow as well as European
officials to what they characterized as "xenophobic" and "anti-Semitic"
statements by Krasnodar's previous governor, Nikolai Kondratenko. The
region's current governor, Aleksandr Tkachev, is continuing in
Kondratenko's footsteps, NGOs say, with the passage of regulations that
contradict federal law and the constitution and comments that seem to
incite ethnic hatred.

The Novorossiisk Committee has been active for some years since the
break-up of the Soviet Union in trying to assist the families of
Meskhetian Turks, who were forcibly deported from Georgia during World
War II and wound up in Uzbekistan and other areas of the former Soviet
Union, and then fled persecution during unrest in the Ferghana Valley.
Today, they are still threatened with deportation and have suffered loss
of land and homes they had rented in agreements no longer recognized as
legal. Human rights activists say that in a climate of increasing
Russian nationalism for which they hold their leaders responsible,
non-Russian minorities are experiencing persecution at the hands of hate

The arguments these human rights advocates make are the same used by
groups like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in attempting
to deal in particular with oil-rich states of interest to the extractive
industry. They say the judicial system is unfair and weak if it cannot
protect human rights, and that by analogy, contract law and the
protection of business investments and property are also shaky. The
activists cite many cases of courts actually recognizing claims to
property or citizenship in the case of Meskhetian Turks and other
non-Slavic persons, and yet officials fail to enforce the decisions.
"Not a single criminal case opened because of evidence of attacks by
semi-military formations on members of ethnic minorities has ever
reached trial, although the assailants are known," the Novorossiisk
group says.

Vadim Karastelev, head of the group, has pointed out in the report that
even the Kremlin has refuted the claims of Governor Tkachev about
migration issues in Krasnodar, and yet the occasional discontent
expressed in Moscow has not made a dent on the governor. The idea for
the report and an appeal to investors came in a training seminar
provided by the Moscow Helsinki Group at a meeting in Sochi in 2001,
where NGOs agreed, in a joint resolution, that the level of human rights
was a factor for the level of investment in their country and in
specific regions, and was also a good indicator of the general quality
of the work of state institutions and legal protection as a whole. Such
a relationship between business and rights was something that groups
could draw on in trying to make their case about abuses in their region.

Governor Aleksandr Tkachev, elected in 2000 as a young and energetic
parliamentarian with a seat in the State Duma, was at first expected to
bring about improved human rights conditions along with other reforms in
Krasnodar Krai, but NGOs says their hopes were dashed within a year.
They began collecting his public statements in the press, which they say
has encouraged discrimination against minorities and a general
perception that they do not belong in Krasnodar. In July 2002, for
example, according to a report from "Novaya gazeta," Tkachev said:
"Illegal or legal migrants can be determined by their last names, or
rather the endings of their last names. Last names ending in "yan,"
"dze," "shvili," "ogly," are illegal, just like their bearers," he said,
citing typical Caucasian names.

The NGO report also cites examples of federal officials and other public
figures reacting to Tkachev. Anatolii Odeychuk, the chief federal
inspector for Krasnodar Krai for the staff of the presidential envoy for
the Southern Federal District, said federal migration law was being
violated and that many regulations issued by local authorities had to be
brought into compliance with federal law. Ramazan Abdulatipov, a former
minister of nationalities in the Soviet era, has gone further, saying:
"Tkachev has already ceased being a government official. He does not
have the right to turn the problem of migration into an ethnic issue,"
NTV quoted him as saying. Yet no action has been taken against him.

The report details how Governor Tkachev has used his connections in
Moscow and the national media to make statements that activists believe
have increased enmity toward minorities in the region. In a 2002
"television bridge" between Moscow and Kuban, capital of Krasnodar Krai,
accompanied by a demonstration of Cossacks in uniform outside the
television studio, Tkachev said "a million" migrants come into his
region each year. Yet experts say 10 years ago, the population of the
territory was 4.5 million, and today is only about 5 million. He also
said the number of Meskhetian Turks was 30,000, although groups working
directly with them, who have lists of names of most everyone in the
community, say the number is half that figure. Activists have given the
list to police in an effort both to protect the families and also prove
that authorities are exaggerating their numbers.

When the governor said, "Meskhetian Turks will be deported on planes to
Uzbekistan," no one believes he will actually start loading people at
the airport. But these types of statements serve as a signal to nonstate
groups like the Cossacks that they are free to pressure minorities, NGOs

On 18 March 2002, Tkachev openly promised to create "unbearable
conditions" for "illegal migrants," according to a report by the
International League for Human Rights, based on reporting from local
colleagues. Tkachev claimed to have the support of the Russian
president. The federal authorities have not denied the claim, nor have
they intervened in the regional situation.

The NGO report claims that the territory's budget contains an item
totaling $3 million for media, an expenditure they say is unjustified
given the area's social problems. They say the governor has spent it on
propagandistic films like "Turkish March" that have been aimed at the
Turkic minority. Authorities have also used their powers to harass and
temporarily shut down television programs or printing presses that have
carried independent reporting and commentary on the Meskhetian Turk

In the conclusions of the report, the Novorossiisk Committee says that
suppression of freedom of the press, which has become financially
dependent on the local government, coupled with a weak and unstable
judicial system that cannot enforce basic constitutional guarantees,
create a bad business climate. These are factors that led INDEM to
characterize Krasnodar Krai in 2002 as having the highest level of
corruption in Russia (see http://www.anti-corr.ru). By "investors," the
NGOs do not mean just businesses. For them, Western philanthropies and
governments with democracy programs should also focus more on the
region. The report includes an appeal to the U.S. Agency for Development
to focus on protection of the children of ethnic minorities in
particular and providing legal aid. The NGOs call on the European
Commission, the Soros-funded programs in the region, and the Eurasian
Foundation to support independent journalists and human rights groups
covering discrimination. They list a number of transnational
corporations doing business in the territory, including Bonduelle,
Cargill, Chevron, Nestle, Philip Morris, Pepsi-Cola, Radisson, and
others, and urge them to create charitable programs aimed at minority
children in particular. They hope risk analysts will study the
connection between human rights and investment in the region.

A "BISNIS Bulletin" published last year at bisnis.doc.gov, a report
prepared by the U.S. State Department on business conditions in the
former Soviet Union, says, "Beautiful Krasnodar, home of the Kuban
Cossacks, with its wide fertile northern plains, its subtropical
seacoast, and the slopes of the northern Caucasus, is high in economic
potential, economic growth, and business risk." The region, the size of
Ireland, is attractive for its ice-free ports on the Black Sea and Sea
of Azov, which account for 70 percent of Russia's trade turnover. The
newly built Caspian oil pipeline, terminating in Novorossiisk, is likely
to bring more wealth to the region. The State Department report notes
that social dislocations from the wars in the North Caucasus have kept
unemployment high and per capita production about half the national

Still, straddling Russia's "Black Earth" belt, its gross regional
product is in 10th place among Russia's 89 regions, says the report, and
it contributes to the federal budget rather than drawing from it as
other poor regions do. The State Department says foreign investment as
of 2000 stood at some $960 million, and the region ranks third after
Moscow and St. Petersburg. While not making any special connection with
human rights issues, the report notes that the U.S. Embassy "has
recently been encouraging local and regional officials to improve the
transparency of the investment climate and ensure that foreign investors
are treated fairly." The human rights activists of the region are hoping
they and the victims they serve will also be treated fairly, and that
the information they bring to the public and the recommendations they
have for targeting special programs to minorities will be taken into
consideration when investment in the region is made.


On 30 November 2001, 80 men dressed in camouflage and toting air guns,
who said they were Cossacks, attacked the homes of Meskhetian Turks, who
are predominantly Muslim, just as they were beginning to celebrate
Ramadan. Five Meskhetian Turks were injured in the attack and taken to a
hospital, where a hospital official, fearing trouble with higher-ups,
stalled for two hours before admitting three of them. This is the type
of incident that the Novorossiisk Human Rights Committee and other local
monitors say in recent reports is all too common and is occurring
without any response from local law-enforcement authorities.

Police opened up a criminal investigation into the Ramadan attack, but
it was eventually closed for lack of evidence. Two months later, a car
returned to the home of one of the victims and men in camouflage
fatigues, one of whom called himself a Cossack "ataman" or leader,
threatened to burn the house down. Police continued to ignore the pleas
of local residents to intervene, and, as the Novorossiisk activists say
in their report, "impunity, as is known, provokes new crimes, which are
not long in coming." Thus, under the current governor of the territory,
attacks have continued against Meskhetian Turks and Moscow, while
apparently aware of the situation and willing to recognize that
violations take place, appears unable or unwilling to intervene.

Even before the break-up of the Soviet Union, Meskhetian Turks fled into
the southern part of Russia from ethnic persecution they faced in
Uzbekistan and other areas. Under various government decrees they were
originally permitted to stay and are eligible under current Russian
citizenship law for domestic passports, human rights lawyers say.
Russian officials often speak of the need to return the Meskhetian Turks
to their original homeland in Georgia, and European officials have
obtained promises from the Georgian government that they will meet this
obligation in the future. Yet no one realistically expects Georgia,
already dealing with masses of refugees from Abkhazia and neighboring
Chechnya and with poverty, political turmoil, and unhappiness from
Armenian and other minorities, to be able to absorb one more needy
group. Russia's Memorial Human Rights Center has made the point that
eventual political resolution of the Meskhetians' case and their
migration to Georgia need not preclude immediate recognition under the
law of their Russian citizenship - required if they are to own property,
vote, send their children to school, and obtain health care and other
social benefits.

The report goes on to cite fact-finding missions and studies of the
issue made by national Russian NGOs; the UN's Committee on the
Elimination of All Forms of Racism, to which NGOs appealed this year
specifically on the issue of the Meskhetian Turks; and various other
bodies. The U.S. Embassy has sent officials to the region to see the
situation of minorities and there have been some promises of help. Yet
the outside interest has not yet stemmed the attacks, such as one by
50-60 men with brass knuckles and clubs on settlements in the Abin
District who fell upon 20 dark-skinned youths, putting three in the
hospital, and numerous similar incidents which have never resulted in a
thorough police investigation, let alone prosecution. In addition to the
Meskhetian Turks, Kurds, Assyrians, and Khemshils have also experienced
discrimination, i.e. in not being able to obtain birth certificates and
passports for their children, required to be eligible for medical care.

Groups that have tried to document the attacks and publicize them have
themselves found themselves facing fabricated criminal charges and long
drawn-out investigations as a method of wearing them down. If the human
rights activists go so far as to name specific policemen they say are
implicated in abuses, they face reprisals. They are demanding
investigations into one death and several beatings and raids against
human rights activists that they say are connected to their

Activist Yevgenii Grekov of Southern Wave was summoned to the
prosecutor's office and interrogated about his group's activities, said
to create "a negative image of the government." Now he is being told
that his roundtables on human rights contravene his organization's
charter and his group will be closed if it continues them. A group
called School for Peace which had tried to help Meskhetian Turks found
itself accused of "extremist activity" for claiming that they should
continue to help clients and that authorities should cease their
discrimination against them. After the Krasnodar Human Rights Center
published a report on human rights in the region, justice officials
tried to claim they had violated the associations law and had not
furnished all the necessary information to the government.

Groups promoting peace and tolerance have found themselves in the
curious position of being accused of "extremist activity" for their
support of Meskhetian Turks, and have even been threatened with
prosecution under the law on extremism, which was supposed to deal with
hate crimes. National human rights leaders have said the law was never
intended to be used in this manner and have appealed to the president's
Human Rights Commission and other state bodies to try to get some action
to prevent the worsening ethnic situation on Russia's southern flank. To
date, like many other situations beyond Moscow's ring road, the problems
of the Meskhetian Turks remain invisible.

RUSSIA. "Meskhetian Turks as a Particularly Vulnerable Group," a
report by the Moscow Helsinki Group.

(Compiled by Catherine A. Fitzpatrick)
Copyright (c) 2003. RFE/RL, Inc. All rights reserved.

"RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies" is prepared by Catherine Fitzpatrick on
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