Blood feud shadow stalks Russian region

17th March 2009, Comments 0 comments

Blood feuds have long been part of cultural tradition in the Caucasus, whose inhabitants have been mythologized by a succession of writers and poets as overwhelmingly hospitable to friends and bitterly savage towards enemies.

Nazran -- The ancient custom of blood revenge remains part of everyday life in Russia's southern region of Ingushetia, where the authorities are seeking to save lives without banning what they consider a cultural tradition.

The Muslim Caucasus republic's new president, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, in February started a drive to reconcile families who have been "in blood" sometimes for decades, resulting in the ending of 23 blood feuds in less than two months.

Blood feuds have long been part of cultural tradition in the Caucasus, whose inhabitants have been mythologized by a succession of writers and poets as overwhelmingly hospitable to friends and bitterly savage towards enemies.

A family opens a quest for "blood revenge" to kill the person they consider guilty of murdering or raping their relative. The "blood" is not settled until the life is taken or a reconciliation takes place.

"It means that whole families cannot sit together, talk together, travel on the same bus, go to the same school, very many things," Yevkurov told a group of foreign reporters.

"You cannot let this problem stay for years, decades, centuries. How can families live normally in blood revenge for 70 years? A boy and a girl fall in love with each other and they can't get married."

"It ruins daily life."

The problem of blood feuds, according to some observers, even fuels intensifying unrest blamed on Islamist insurgents that has made Ingushetia the most violent region in Russia.

Russian media have alleged instances of police in Ingushetia using their positions to avenge blood enemies, stoking a vicious cycle of violence in the already tense region.

However Yevkurov insisted the problems of blood feuds and Islamist unrest were not linked.

Contrary to the literary image of men who risk being victims of blood revenge hiding in mountain-top towers for years, local officials say most cases of blood revenge are in towns such as the republic's main city Nazran.

The chief prosecutor in Ingushetia, Magomed Merzheyev, said serious blood feuds have been prompted by everyday urban accidents such as when a pedestrian is run over.

The republic's interior minister, Ruslan Merziyev, said there are no official figures over the number of families in blood feuds in Ingushetia. But according to the Russian weekly Newsweek, the figure is 188.

The reconciliation is thrashed out by elders in the family with the help of the local authorities and a formal reconciliation ceremony then takes place at a set location such as a mosque.

"When the reconciliation happens the elders cry. Why? Because this is something hard to bear all the time," said Yevkurov.

Magomed Mutsolgov, head of the of the Ingush rights group Mashr, hailed Yevkurov's reconciliation drive "as without doubt a very good move."

He said there were hundreds of cases of blood feuds in the Muslim regions in Russia's northern Caucasus such as Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan.

"It is a very great tragedy. We lose our young people before our eyes."

The Caucasus is one of the few places in Europe where the vendetta remains part of everyday life, along with parts of southern Italy and northern Albania where hundreds have been killed in revenge murders over the last decades.

The Ingush national anthem contains a line saying: "May God give us strength to avenge our enemies."

And while Yevkurov is working to ensure lives are not lost owing to blood revenge, he and his officials reject any ban on a custom they say is an essential part of their cultural tradition.

"It is hard to bear. But that does not mean that we will abolish the law of blood revenge. Of course it contradicts federal law but nevertheless these laws act independently of secular law," said Yevkurov.

"The peoples of the Caucasus all have good traditions of culture, of shared culture. These are the truths that help people to live in peace. It is not just an Ingush tradition, it is written in the Sharia" law of Islam.

Stuart Williams/AFP/Expatica

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