Violent Mobs Attack Immigrants in Karelia
Published: September 5, 2006 (Issue # 1201)
The northwestern industrial town of Kondopoga was consumed by ethnic violence over the weekend, with angry and often drunken bands of Slavs waging an uncoordinated series of attacks on natives of the Caucasus.
The violence included mobs with Molotov cocktails burning down Caucasian-owned businesses and natives of the Caucasus being forced out of town. An air of fear and uncertainty permeated the town Sunday
The angry mobs, which left the town of 37,000 pockmarked with storefront fires and shattered glass, stemmed from a fight Wednesday evening outside the Chaika restaurant in which two ethnic Russians were killed.
A group of young ethnic Russians, including some ex-convicts, had been drinking in the restaurant that evening, an official at Karelia’s Interior Ministry said.
The men began arguing with the restaurant’s bartender. The argument led to a fight. The bartender, an Azeri, managed to escape but later returned with some friends, all natives of the Caucasus, bearing knives, baseball bats and iron rods. In the ensuing brawl, two ethnic Russians were killed; nine others, including Russians and natives of the Caucasus, were injured.
Police detained several suspects at the site of the brawl, including those suspected of having committed the two murders. That did not stop the Chaika and other Caucasian-owned businesses from being attacked Friday and Saturday; owners subsequently fled Kondopoga.
The angry mobs behind the violence appeared to have been galvanized, in part, by a local web site, Kcity.ru, which posted an appeal to town residents Friday to meet at the town square Saturday afternoon to protest the knifing of the ethnic Russians.
On Saturday, about 2,000 people showed up at the square. Speakers included the leader of the nationalist Movement Against Illegal Migration, Alexander Belov, who demanded the expulsion of natives of the Caucasus lacking residence permits.
Police officers told Interfax that all Caucasus natives had left the town by Saturday.
A Karelian Interior Ministry official confirmed Sunday that hundreds of natives of the Caucasus had been living in the town and that most of them had fled, while some had gone into hiding.
Saturday evening saw further attacks, mostly by young men and teenagers, on the Chaika restaurant and nearby kiosks and markets.
It was only when police commandos arrived in Kondopoga from Karelia’s capital, Petrozavodsk, at 9 p.m. Saturday that the attacks subsided. The commandos dispersed the crowds, detaining more than 100 suspects.
Twenty-five of the suspects remained in custody as of Monday, Interfax reported, with a total of 109 having been detained. Local police and commandos patrolled the town’s streets.
Despite the scale of the riots, national television channels ignored Kondopoga in their news reports Saturday. On Sunday, the state-run Rossia channel showed footage of young men throwing rocks at Chaika in broad daylight and, later, images of the restaurant consumed by fire.
Also on Sunday, Karelia’s governor, Sergei Katanandov, weighed in on the ethnic violence, saying authorities were restoring order to Kondopoga and vowing to prosecute those who took part in the attacks. “We will not allow anyone to destabilize the situation in the republic,” Katanandov said.
The events in Kondopoga mark the first time an entire town has been deserted by natives of the Caucasus, who were forced to flee for their lives, and it could trigger similar disturbances elsewhere, said Alexander Verkhovsky, director of the Sova think tank.
On Monday, Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov voiced concern over the events in Kondopoga in an official statement, Interfax reported.
“Mass riots are underway in the Karelian town of Kondopoga, and a conflict between previously convicted drunk young men and a barman, a native of Chechnya, who made a remark to them, sparked them,” the statement reads, as reported by Interfax.
“The mass riots that followed grew into an ethnic conflict, which shows clear anti-Chechen and anti-Caucasian attitudes.”
The statement also alleged that the local authorities had been inactive in dealing with the situation. “In this connection,” Kadyrov’s statement continues, “I state with all responsibility that should the Karelian authorities fail to find ways and methods of calming the situation, we will be able to find legal means that may bring the situation in compliance with the law … Those guilty should be punished, regardless of their origins.”