A special security unit officer talks to a woman in Grozny. The security threat remains high in many parts of Chechnya.Reuters
Since the beginning of the year, a significant number of Chechen villages (the exact figure is unknown, but exceeds 10) have held gatherings where villagers evict the families and relatives of suspected militants and terrorists.
According to the Kavkazki Uzel (Caucasian Knot), a Russian website specializing in the coverage of events in the Caucasus, the gatherings were also attended by government officials, law enforcement authorities and the Muslim clergy.
According to Alexander Iskandaryan, Director of the Yerevan-based Caucasus Institute, the gatherings “were directly caused by a string of attacks on police in Chechnya in December-January and by a general intensification of underground bandit formations.”
The practice of putting this kind of pressure on the families of rebels is not new in Chechnya, experts told RBTH. Such methods were employed during the first and second Chechen wars to entice militants to shun separatism and return to the mainstream.
The practice continued even after 2014, when Vladimir Putin banned Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov from exercising this kind of “pre-trial punishment.” Kadyrov had then written this message in his Instagram blog: "The times, when parents are not responsible for the actions of their sons or daughters have come to an end. In Chechnya they will be responsible!"
Experts interviewed by RBTH believe that these kinds of mass gatherings reflect the desire of the Chechen authorities to systematize the practice of eviction. The experts caution that such methods are unlikely to work against militants, because the current situation drastically differs from that of the 1990s and early 2000s.
Caucasian Knot’s Editor-in-Chief Grigory Shvedov believes that the pressure on the relatives of militants is unlikely to be an effective tool in the fight against terrorism, because the main terrorist threat in Chechnya now comes from recruiters and militants of the Islamic State (ISIS).
“People who have a relationship with ISIS, are tearing bonds with relatives, and in most cases have no illusions about support from their families,” Shvedov told RBTH.
Although the measure contradicts Russian Federal law, it could work in Chechnya, Alexei Malashenko, Chief Researcher at the Institute of Dialogue of Civilizations, told RBTH.
“The idea of collective responsibility [is alive in] traditional societies, [it] is considered to be efficient and could stop the recruitment of new members to terrorist organizations.”
Malashenko believes that “one cannot say that [the eviction of families of militants is 100 percent] awful, [although we must admit that] it may cause a backlash.”
Alexander Iskandaryan says that the Israeli Army burns down homes of suspected terrorists to evict their families and relatives. He adds that such an approach cannot help completely destroy terrorism.
“These people are ready not only to kill but also to die,” Alexander Iskandaryan told RBTH. “Such people are emotionally-tuned to their psyche. So it is difficult to stop them by punishing their families, although this may work on some people.”
Grigory Shvedov told RBTH that one needed to see the difference between religion-motivated terrorism of the ISIS type and Chechen separatism of 1990s.
“During the Chechen wars, pressure on the relatives of separatists, including the practice of taking hostages, helped bring reputable militants to the side of the Federal forces,” Shvedov said. “But separatism and religion-motivated terror are two different types of struggles. To combat them you need to use different tools.”
Shvedov said Russia should not indulge in counter propaganda with the Islamic State in the North Caucasus. ISIS would welcome counter propaganda as it can be used to their advantage.
Moscow should begin to talk about “what is really happening within ISIS on the basis of documented information,” he added.
“Propaganda works for ISIS, which is trying to prove its attractiveness,” Shvedov added. “Meanwhile, torture thrives among ISIS ranks. Women there are deprived of their most natural rights.”
The experts believe that young men in Chechnya should be made to understand the true face of ISIS.
Iskandaryan believes the terrorism issue in the North Caucasus cannot be solved only by police methods. Russia needs to solve socio-religious problems, which would be a “long, expensive and difficult” process, he said
He thinks, the best solution is to give young men from the North Caucasus more opportunities for self-development.
“If the boys want to stand proudly with guns and have wide shoulders, you need to give them guns and a gym,” Iskandaryan said. “You need to give them a salary and a social lift. They should be given the opportunity of self-satisfaction. They want Islam? You need to give them the correct interpretation of Islam.”
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