IWPR'S Caucasus Reporting Service, No. 112: Cossacks Menace Krasnodar

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Subject: IWPR'S Caucasus Reporting Service, No. 112: Cossacks Menace Krasnodar 

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IWPR'S Caucasus Reporting Service, No. 112: Cossacks Menace Krasnodar


atrocities in the latest mop-up operations in Chechnya are finally
drawing US criticism. By Cynthia Elbaum in Sernovodsk  

Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh have descended into mutual
accusations of sabotage and ill-will. By Mark Grigorian in Yerevan  

of Krasnodar have been effectively given the go-ahead to bully
minority groups into leaving. By Eduard Aslanov in Krasnodar  

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Cossacks in the Russian region of Krasnodar have been effectively
given the go-ahead to bully minority groups into leaving.

By Eduard Aslanov in Krasnodar  

Walk down the city of Krasnodar's main pedestrianised thoroughfare and
every so often you'll see the crowds part. This, as any local knows,
means a Cossack patrol is coming down the street of the eponymously
named capital of the Black Sea Russian region.

They stroll nonchalantly in smart red, white and blue uniforms
trailing swords or cracking whips on the asphalt. Their weapons snap
and glint in the sunshine - studded with ball-bearings or nails.
They're not a sight you easily forget.

Their outfits, Circassian coat in summer, felt coat and papakh hat in
winter, mean different things to different people. For some the outfit
is traditional garb, others see it as a sinister paramilitary uniform.

The patrolling Cossacks believe it is their duty to enforce law and
order in Krasnodar and the local police are giving them freer and
freer rein to do so. A Cossack commander, who preferred not to be
named, said the troops "are a big factor in helping the police keep
order" and receive backing from Moscow.

But along with a greater policing role there have been an increasing
number of attacks on members on minority groups who are spot-checked
by Cossack patrols. 

"I was whipped three times for leaving my passport at home," said
Artur, an ethnic Armenian Krasnodar trader.

Giorgi, a refugee from Abkhazia, told IWPR how he made the mistake of
cursing three Cossacks. They laid into him with their whips, kicking
him when he was down. "I spent three weeks in hospital," he said
before quitting the coastal town of Sochi.

Cossack units have signed an agreement with the local authorities in
Sochi - the second largest town in Krasnodar - which gives them tax
exemptions and better land leasing rights in exchange for patrolling
the border and other duties.

Although they haven't been formally asked to do so, the Cossacks have
taken it on themselves to help remove illegal aliens - a large number
of whom are Meshket Turks. 

"Our presence here is illegal," said Durun, a Meshket-Turk activist.
"We are not being registered in towns or villages, we have no rights
and can be
driven out at any given moment."

While figures for Meskhets vary from between 20 to 30,000, only 2,500
have Russian citizenship. The federal minister responsible for foreign
nationals, Aleksandr Blokhin, has said that lists are being drawn up
for sending Meskhets abroad. 
Tensions between Cossacks and Meskhets took a turn for the worse last
year with the former demanding the "expulsion" of ethnic Turks
supposedly on the grounds of "the age-old incompatibility of Slavic
and Turkic populations".

And the Meskhets are just one group targeted by the Cossacks. "What
annoys us," said history teacher Aslanbey Skhalakho, "is that Cossacks
call Caucasians 'other', and think that they are the only true
inhabitants of the region." 

Which is far from the case as Cossacks only settled here at the end of
the 18th century when the land they call "The Kuban" was given them by
Catherine II.

Locals fear that the situation will worsen. During a radio interview
late last year, one Cossack military officer complained that "there
was already no space left for Cossacks to tread in the Kuban".

Cossack rights had been suppressed under the Soviet Union and their
return to prominence in Krasnodar unfortunately coincided with a wave
of refugees to the region. Meskhetian Turks fleeing pogroms in the
Fergana valley were joined by Georgian escaping the Abkhazian
conflict. In all there are around 100,000 refugees living among the
resident population of six million.

Psychologist Sergei Kiryanov believes that the current violence
represents a resurgence of the Cossack's traditional, warring
instinct. "When Yeltsin became president," said Kiryanov, "he brought
back the rights of Cossacks, which served as a signal for them to
rejuvenate their warring tendencies. It is no coincidence that
Cossacks are a part of every national conflict on post-Soviet
territory and even in the Balkans."

Indeed, Cossack units fought during the 1992 Abkhazian war on the side
of separatists gunning for independence from Georgia. Aleksandr
Tkachenko, the Cossack Krasnodar governor, still gives the
self-proclaimed republic moral and material support in the hope it
will eventually ally itself to his egion. 

Eduard Aslanov is the pseudonym of a freelance journalist from
Krasnodar in the Northern Caucasus.

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