IWPR’s Caucasus Reporting Service, No. 240, 07/01/2004

July 1, 2004.


the biggest wholesale market in the South Caucasus marks a change in
the way Armenia and Georgia trade with one another. By Karine
Ter-Saakian and Lela Iremashvili in Sadakhlo and Bagratashen

provides better rights for the mentally ill, but state provision
remains poorly resourced. By Naira Melkumian in Yerevan

DAGESTAN’S FEUDING CLERICS Temporary truce is called as rival
factions of Muslim clergy in Dagestan seek control of worldly
matters. By Laura Magomedova and Musa Musayev in Makhachkala

CHECHNYA’S CHECKPOINT LOTTERY The police’s roadside presence looks
intimidating – but anyone can get past by paying a bribe. By Aslambek
Badilayev and Kazbek Vakhayev in Grozny

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June 30 Two Russians were sentenced to life imprisonment in Qatar for
the assassination of former Chechen rebel leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiev
in February.

June 30 The Georgian delegation said it would not attend talks with
their South Ossetian counterparts, saying three Georgians were being
illegally detained in South Ossetia.

June 30 Four parliamentary deputies from the Republican Party said
they were going into opposition in the Georgian parliament in protest
at the conduct of the elections in Ajaria on June 20.

June 29 The trial began in Dagestan of prominent Islamic extremist
Magomed Tagayev.

June 28 Armenian, Azerbaijani and Turkish foreign ministers Vardan
Oskanian, Elmar Mamedyarov and Abdullah Gul held talks at the NATO
summit in Istanbul.

June 28 The Russian authorities said they had killed Magomed
Yevloyev, the alleged leader of the attacks in Ingushetia the week
before in which more than 90 people died.

June 28 Georgia’s deputy prosecutor Giorgy Janashia said that all
criminal charges against late president Zviad Gamsakhurdia had been

June 25 Seven Russian citizens formerly held in detention in
Guantanamo Bay and held for four months in Pyatigorsk were released.

June 25 Former deputy prime minister of Chechnya Yan Sergunin was
murdered in Moscow and his wife was wounded.

June 24 Armenian police said that they had suspended their
investigation into the assault on opposition politician Ashot
Manucharian after failing to find any suspects

June 24 The World Bank approved three new credits for Georgia worth
more than 47 million dollars.

June 24 Kamil Etinbekov, head of Dagestan’s FSB counter-intelligence
department, was assassinated.


The decline of what was once the biggest wholesale market in the
South Caucasus marks a change in the way Armenia and Georgia trade
with one another.

By Karine Ter-Saakian and Lela Iremashvili in Sadakhlo and

The bridge on the Armenian-Georgian border dividing these two villages
used to carry some of the heaviest traffic in the South Caucasus, with
traders waiting for hours to cross.

Not now. A few pedestrians with large cellophane bags carrying fruit
and vegetables or heavy trolleys trudge back and forth. Vehicles,
however, now cross the border on the main Tbilisi-Yerevan road.

The market on the Georgian side at the village of Sadakhlo is an even
more striking sight. Once it was the most bustling market in the
entire region, a magnet for Georgians, but more particularly Armenians
and Azerbaijanis, who traded a vast array of household goods and
provisions here. Now just a third of its stalls are working and the
rest are empty.

This, say the market-traders and custom officials, is a result of the
new Georgian government’s campaign against smuggling and tax evasion,
launched by President Mikheil Saakashvili in January this year. In
April – right at the start of the trading season – new officials in
the customs department and financial police began tightening controls
over customs procedures.

At the same time Armenian patterns of trade have changed and the
market is no longer the lifeline it was for Armenia.

“The market at Sadakhlo either has to be closed or properly
legalised,” Vilen Alavidze, deputy director of the international
economic relations and foreign trade department at Georgia’s economics
ministry, told IWPR. “Of course, the second option is better both from
the point of view of the employment of the local population and the
development of economic relations between Georgia and Armenia.”

Alavidze said the Georgian budget has been losing huge sums in unpaid
taxes, as it has not been receiving any revenue from the thousands of
ordinary traders who use the market.

In the Sadakhlo market’s heyday in 2001, the then Armenian finance
minister Vartan Khachaturian said that traders there were doing
business worth between 300 and 400 million US dollars a year –
equivalent to Armenia’s entire budget revenue – and neither the
Georgian nor Armenian government was collecting customs duty on this

The market was the main conduit by which goods from Turkey, Azerbaijan
and further afield – everything from clothes and washing powder and
tomatoes to petrol – could pass into land-locked Armenia, whose
borders with Azerbaijan and Turkey are both closed because of the
Nagorny Karabakh dispute. The Armenians in turn sold Iranian goods. It
was called with some justice “the road of life”.

In June, the market is a sea of mud from the heavy rains. The
once-large trading centre may have dwindled to more modest
proportions, but commerce continues and five currencies still
circulate here – Georgian lari, Armenian drams, Azerbaijani manats,
Russian roubles and US dollars. The traders have up-to-the-minute
information about currency rates and convert prices from one to
another in the blink of an eye, without a calculator.

In Soviet times Sabit, a 50-year-old Azerbaijani, ran a bakery and
says that he “lived like a millionaire”, but he has been involved in
the wholesale trade business in recent years. “We are friends with the
Armenians, we trade with them,” he said. “I have friends in
Bagratashen and we don’t talk about politics. There’s no time – we
have business to do.”

Renting a stall generally costs from 10 to 20 dollars, sometimes as
much as 50 dollars a day, depending on its location. The buyers come
from all over Armenia and Azerbaijan and the locals handle the
transactions, the local Armenians dealing with the incoming Armenians
and the local Azerbaijanis negotiating with their compatriots from

Armine, who travels here on a minibus from Armenia, is one of a slowly
dwindling number of traders who make the journey.

“It’s a difficult journey but I have to feed my family somehow,” she
said. “I generally buy clothing for around 500 dollars, plus there are
expenses on travel and what I have to give customs officials on both
sides. They are people too.” Armine makes about 200 dollars from the
resale of the goods.

But increasingly freight traffic is coming into Armenia direct, by
rail or road, bypassing the wholesale market.

“The Sadakhlo market is losing its importance relative to the
Poti-Tbilisi-Yerevan railway,” said Eduard Agajanov, a leading
economist and former head of the Armenian government’s statistics

“I believe that if economic development continues like this, this kind
of border trade will stop altogether. This will end the flow of
black-market capital into Armenia which a few years ago was worth
twice the annual budget.”

Officials on both sides of the border say they want to legalise their
bilateral trade, to the advantage of both countries.

“We are not exploiting the economic potential that exists between our
two countries effectively,” said Alexander Chelidze, head of the
international economic relations and foreign trade department in
Georgia’s economic ministry.

According to Georgia’s statistics department, trade between the two
countries was worth 43 million dollars in 2003. Both official imports
and exports have risen this year.

Gagik Agajanian, who runs the Armenian freight company Alaven, says
that business is becoming easier and the current road tariff rates are
quite acceptable. The cost of ferrying a 20-ton truck the 400km from
the Iranian border to Yerevan is 220 dollars, and then from Georgia to
the Russian border is another 300 dollars.

Armenian traders say that because of the anti-corruption drive in
Georgia, it is now easier to drive from Sadakhlo to Tbilisi without
being continually pulled over and stopped by traffic police demanding

The main losers are the local traders from the Sadakhlo region, who
now fear for their future.

“Without the market we will die of hunger here,” said Sabit, a native
of Sadakhlo. “But recently the Armenians have stopped coming so much
and the main trade is with them. There are not many Georgians, just
some women from Tbilisi.”

“More than half the people in our village feed their families from
this market,” said Azerbaijani Niyaz Ahmedov, who trades sweets from
Tbilisi. “It’s become much harder now, and it is our only source of

“I grow cucumbers and other vegetables and then sell them,” lamented
his neighbour Leila Suleimanova. “There is no other way of earning
money in the village or anywhere round here. I’ve a long way to go
till I get my pension and then it will only be 14 lari [seven

Karine Ter-Saakian is a freelance journalist based in Yerevan. Lela
Iremashvili is a correspondent with Black Sea Press news agency in


New psychiatric care law provides better rights for the mentally ill,

but state provision remains poorly resourced.

By Naira Melkumian in Yerevan

Armenia has passed its first piece of legislation on psychiatric
treatment since independence, to provide legal safeguards for a
vulnerable group which the state has insufficient resources to treat.

The new law gives a much more precise definition of mental illness
than the previous Soviet-era legislation, and lays ground-rules to
prevent people being wrongfully committed to an institution –
there is some controversy over how this will be decided.

The legislation, drafted by the health ministry, was adopted by the
lower house of parliament swiftly and signed by President Robert
Kocharian on June 21. It is due to take effect on July 1. The authors
the law say they were under pressure to fill the legislative gap to
comply with demands by the World Health Organisation and the Council

“A mentally ill person must be entitled to social protection by law,
so that he or she can feel at home in their community,” Armenian
health minister Norair Davidian told IWPR.

Armenia has about a dozen hospitals – all state-run – providing
psychiatric treatment and care. The state provides around five US
a day for each psychiatric patient, which has to cover meals,
clothing and medication. That means the state hospitals and day
cannot afford the most effective modern drugs because they are too

“As time goes by, new and more potent pharmaceuticals and technology
are appearing on the market, but we are still using the old Soviet
techniques for treatment,” said Professor Samvel Sukiasian, director
Armenia’s Stress Mental Health Centre.

IWPR visited the hospital in Sevan, in the north of the country,
which numbers a once-famous actress among its 320 inmates.

As you enter the women’s wing, you inhale a complex blend of chlorine

and pharmaceuticals. The whitewashed walls are peeling, and the wards

have as many as 40 bunks in a row.

The faces of the patients appear to mirror an inner anguish. Among
them is Donara Mkrtchian – a former star of stage and film in
and widow of Soviet screen legend Frunze Mkrtchian.

Donara has been in this hospital for 20 years. With her vacant stare
and trembling face and hands, she is barely recognisable as the
fine-looking woman and brilliant actress she was before chronic
schizophrenia set in. There are traces of cigarette burns on her
hands and

“There is no one in this body,” said psychiatrist Aram Alexanian,
deputy director of the hospital. “The individual is gone. This is the

final stage of her illness.”

“Let me go home,” Donara asked the doctor, evidently not for the
first time. “I’ve got my pension to pick up at Sundukian’s theatre,
that I can go and get some groceries.”

“Donara has no home or family to go to,” said Alexanian. “Her husband

and two children have passed away. Her actor friends used to come and

see her, but it’s been years since the last visit.”

Dr Alexanian sees social upheaval and hardship as the cause of many
other psychiatric cases now seen in Armenian.

“The psyche of Armenians has been traumatised by a succession of
misfortunes and turbulences, starting with the 1988 earthquake, the
Karabakh war, followed by social and political upheaval, the collapse
the Soviet Union and the emergence of newly independent states – with

all the social and economic adversities this entailed,” he said. A
more recent contributory factor, he added, was unemployment and the
separation of families as men go abroad to find work.

Professor Sukiasian believes there are large numbers of people with
psychiatric disorders. The official statistics show 30,000 mental
patients, and another 50,000 to 60,000 people seeing psychiatrists
year. But Sukiasian believes the real numbers are “significantly

Dr Alexanian disagrees, saying “There has been no rise in the number
of mental patients, it’s just that you see more of them on the
street. They used to be isolated, but not any more. Also bear in mind
whereas before it was 30,000 mentally ill people in a population of
three million, now it’s the same 30,000 in a much smaller population
that’s been depleted by emigration.”

There does appear to be growing evidence of stress, depression and
neurosis among the population. There are two institutions in Armenia
that specialise in cases of stress, Professor Sukasian’s Stress
and the Neurosis Clinic, but they cannot cope with the demand for
their services.

“The worst thing is that until the illness really gets out of
control, no one will go to see a doctor, especially a psychiatrist,”
Gagik Karapetian, director of the hospital in Sevan. “People will
conceal their condition, whether it be neurosis or depression, and
thus do
irreparable harm to their health.”

Under the new law, a person can be forcibly committed for treatment
only by court order, and only if a panel of psychiatrists has
pronounced him or her both mentally ill and a danger to the

But the legislation fails to specify how such a panel of experts
should be formed, and who should sit on it. The ministry of justice
stepped in to fill the gap, and plans to issue regulations
streamlining the mechanism for enforcing a compulsory treatment

Psychologist Vadim Georgiadi thinks it is a bad idea to delegate
powers to a non-specialist agency such as the justice ministry, and
parliament should take full control of the way the mental health law

“The community itself should determine whether a person is a menace
to it,” said Dr Alexanian. “It is also important to protect the
patient from his family or guardians, who may be driven by mercenary
interest such as control over the person’s property.”

The mental ill are vulnerable to losing out on the benefits due them,

either through theft by relatives, or because of bureaucracy. At the
social security ministry, IWPR learned that some mental patients are
not drawing their disability benefit of around 5.5 dollars a month,
because they have not applied for it. “Usually it’s the patient’s
family or guardian who does it for them,” said Rosa Mkrtchian, head
the pensions department.

Even with this new law, Armenia’s mentally ill remain the most
vulnerable members of a poor society.

Naira Melkumian is a freelance journalist in Yerevan


Temporary truce is called as rival factions of Muslim clergy in
Dagestan seek control of worldly matters.

By Laura Magomedova and Musa Musayev in Makhachkala

After a long-running row that has split Dagestan’s Muslims, the
republic’s powerful religious body, the Spiritual Department of
has lost its monopoly over travel arrangements for the annual
pilgrimage to Mecca, the Hajj.

Earlier this month, a new government-sponsored council authorised
five tourist companies to arrange trips to Saudi Arabia for the next
Hajj. Only one of the firms is sponsored by the Spiritual Department.

It is a heavy blow to the organisation, headed by Dagestan’s Mufti,
Akhmad-Haji Abdullayev, which has for many years claimed sole rights
to direct all areas of Muslim life in the republic.

The decision to break its monopoly over running the pilgrimage trips
follows a row over who exercises ultimate authority – on worldly as
well as spiritual matters – over the Muslims of Dagestan,
traditionally one of the major centres of Islam in Russia.

Opponents of the Mufti also won government approval to call a new
“council of alims”, an influential body composed of theologians and
religious teachers that elects members of the Spiritual Department.

“The conflict is now over,” said Akhmed Magomedov, chairman of
Dagestan’s government committee for religious affairs, told IWPR last

But the damage has already been done to a republic where virtually
all the two million-strong population is Muslim, and which has
from an influx of radical Islam over the last decade.

The Spiritual Department of Muslims has strong links to government,
as the heir of a Soviet-era body founded in 1944 to allow the
authorities to control Islamic affairs. It gets its income from
given by believers, as well as a publishing house, a restaurant, and
organising the Hajj.

Ordinary Dagestanis say variously that the “religious” row stemmed
from politics, ethnic divisions or the lucrative earnings to be made
from the Hajj – last year, pilgrims paid 1,350 US dollars each for
two-week trip to Saudi Arabia.

The formal reason given by the authorities is that the tour firm
Barakat, which enjoyed an exclusive license from the Spiritual
to send pilgrims to Saudi Arabia, failed to arrange trips for 1,600
people last year.

The Spiritual Department said the unsuccessful pilgrims were late
with their applications, and that they then tried and failed to book
places with another Russian air company instead. The pilgrims said
not only missed out on the Barakat trip but were obstructed from
flying with another firm by the Spiritual Department.

This fiasco crystallised long pent-up dissatisfaction with the
Spiritual Department, and on March 17 its opponents called a “Mejlis”
assembly of Muslims.

Many imams or preachers said it was time to create a different kind
of Muslim organisation, but as imam Shamil Mirzayev told IWPR, “We
have not set ourselves the goal of creating an alternative Spiritual

“People have come to express unhappiness that has built up over a
long time. They wanted to know why, for example, 1,600 pilgrims were
unable to complete the Hajj. Who bears responsibility for that?”

The chairman of the Mejlis, Ilyas-Haji Ilyasov, said that the current

leadership of the department was only there because it had seized
power. Others were nostalgic about the former Mufti, Bagautdin-Haji,
was ousted from office when he was away from Dagestan in 1992.

Mukhamad-Said Abakarov, imam of the mosque in Khasavyurt, said, “We
all elected and recognised as our Mufti the late Bagautdin-Haji. He
always consulted with us. But the current Spiritual Department
and sometimes even insults our alims [religious scholars]. The work
done by the current Spiritual Department is not bringing unity and
calm among our peoples.”

The Mejlis voted to call the current Spiritual Department
illegitimate and to set about re-establishing the one that was
replaced in 1992.

In turn, the Mufti refused to recognise that the Mejlis had any
authority. “There are many people in Dagestan who meet here and
there, and
shout that Muslims have to unite,” he said. “It’s just that everyone
wants to be the winner and to unite people around himself.”

In part Dagestan’s complex ethnic affiliations underlie the
divisions. Members of the Mejlis alleged that the department was
dominated by Avars, Dagestan’s largest ethnic group; while supporters
of the
Mufti say that Ilyasov, who convened the Mejlis, had formerly wanted
to set up a Kumyk Spiritual Department, representing another ethnic

A law passed by the Dagestani parliament in 1997 expressly forbids
setting up religious organisations formed along ethnic lines.

Confessional differences in this largely Sunni region seem to have
little to do with the conflict. Dagestan’s government and the
pro-government clerics voice concern about the spread of radical
tendencies, in particular the fundamentalist views they generally

Opponents of the Spiritual Department insist they are not

Murad Magomedov, a devout Muslim who runs a private firm, accused
leaders of the Spiritual Department of being “ignorant on matters of

“I know people who have had a higher Islamic education in Saudi
Arabia,” said Magomedov. “They returned to Dagestan to practice Islam
at a
high level. But officials from the department called them Wahhabis,
though I can’t for the life of me understand how. When they are
criticised they just react emotionally.”

The government says the row has now been resolved with the formation
in May of a new “council for organising the Hajj”, which has given
five firms the right to make pilgrimage travel arrangements.

But the established clerics are not happy about the change. “The
Spiritual Department is against the creation of a council for
and conducting the Hajj,” deputy Mufti Mukhammadvakil Sultanmagomedov

told IWPR. “The Muslim clergy will do everything it can to stop this
council from working.”

All four imams in the new council are opponents of the Spiritual

Sultanmagomedov blamed Akhmed Magomedov, head of the government’s
religious affairs committee for meddling. “He wants to get hold of
organizing the Hajj himself and to strip the Spiritual Department of
Muslims of Dagestan of its unity and powers.”

“No one can determine how a pilgrim goes on the Hajj, and with whom,”

commented Bekmurza Bekmurzayev, permanent representative of Russia’s
foreign ministry in Dagestan. “It’s all there in the five holy
pillars of Islam. So why try to invent something new?”

Laura Magomedova is correspondent for the weekly newspaper Novoe Delo

in Makhachkala. Musa Musayev is Dagestan correspondent for Severny
Kavkaz newspaper.


The police’s roadside presence looks intimidating – but anyone can
get past by paying a bribe.

By Aslambek Badilayev and Kazbek Vakhayev in Grozny

“Stop, driver! Turn off the engine, tell the passengers to get out,
show your documents and prepare your car for examination.” But
this stern message on a notice standing 10 metres from the checkpoint

at Khankala outside the Chechen capital Grozny, the bus driver does
not even think of stopping, still less discharging his passengers.

Akhmad waves a hand in greeting to a special forces policeman as he
steers the bus up to the checkpoint, and in return the officer just
nods him through – no need for a security check.

“This is my second run today,” explained Akhmed, who drives the route

between Argun and Grozny. “I registered in the morning, so I can be
sure of a free drive for today.”

How much does this unofficial “registration” cost? “Fifty roubles
[less than two US dollars] and you can drive anywhere you want to.”

What if you choose not to pay? Akhmad grinned. “In the beginning I
tried being a hero. So they’d search the whole bus, detain the
passengers, and complain about tiny things – ‘why haven’t you got
this, why
haven’t you got that? – from a first-aid kit to a gas mask.

“In short, they let me know that if I wanted to make money, I’d need
to share it”.

At present, there are 48 checkpoints in Chechnya. That follows a 20
per cent cut in the number of posts ordered by the senior Russian
commander there, Lieutenant-General Yevgeny Abrashin, who also said
that traffic police and the local police force were taking greater
responsibility for guarding the republic’s roads.

But although ordinary people are pleased that there are fewer
checkpoints to negotiate, the general’s predictions of improvements
have not
come true. The posts are manned by men in camouflage fatigues and
policemen’s uniforms, whose allegiance no one is sure of.

Slowly Chechnya’s checkpoints have turned into an extortion racket
which has little to do with security or military strategy.

Money decides everything. As the recent bloody raid by 200 rebel
fighters into Ingushetia demonstrates, armed men are able to move
around Chechnya. Only the smaller fish are liable to be caught in the

net if they cannot pay up.

Chechen driver Usman told IWPR about the time he discovered how you
can even get a bomb past the security forces.

“People who have a defect in their passport – no military service
stamp, for instance – usually slip 10 roubles inside when they’re
stopped at a checkpoint. The soldiers understand, take the money and
the passport back, no questions asked,” he explained.

Usman had passed through one checkpoint on the border with Ingushetia

when he remembered he’d put 500 roubles inside his passport for
safekeeping, and forgotten about it when he handed the document over.
the money had disappeared, so he went back to the checkpoint and
asked to get it back, explaining it was a mistake.

“They told me, ‘how were to know that you weren’t carrying a bomb and

that now you’ve unloaded it, you have come back?'” For Usman, that
was pretty clear evidence that for 500 roubles – about 20 dollars –
can take even a bomb through this particular checkpoint at least.

Extortion is now so commonplace that it is organised and recorded
like a form of taxation. At Khankala, a bus pays 50 roubles, a
just 10, and lorries between 50 and 500 roubles depending on what
freight they are carrying. In Grozny, vehicles pay 10 roubles to the
checkpoints that control the district they are in at the time.

A black “registration” board with the number-plates of cars written
down in chalk records who has paid and who hasn’t.

The record money-earner is the checkpoint known as Kavkaz-1, because
it sits on the border with Ingushetia, controlling the main route
that links Chechnya with the rest of the North Caucasus.

At Kavkaz-1, a minibus driver will have to pay a bribe of between 150

and 500 roubles. An ordinary bus has to pay 50 roubles, with each
male passenger costing an additional 10 roubles.

By the most conservative estimates, the Kavkaz-1 post alone pulls in
150,000 dollars a month.

Ruslan, who drives a minibus in Grozny, has not seen much improvement

since pro-Moscow Chechen police took over from the Russian forces.

“Every day I pay 50 roubles to the office controller and ten roubles
to the checkpoint for each drive. There used to be Russians there,
now it’s local policemen. The fact that some checkpoints in the city
have gone hasn’t changed anything. One group has left and others have

come in.”

The Russian military command knows about the widespread corruption
associated with checkpoints, but says there is nothing it can do

“This kind of extortion exists everywhere, not just Chechnya. It’s
useless fighting it,” said Oleg Guskov, military garrison commander
Grozny Region. “One of the most widespread forms of bribery is
corruption by low-level officials. And it’s not that easy to catch
them at
it. I think the only way out of this situation is to just not pay the


The message is evidently not getting across. An unofficial sign at a
checkpoint in Grozny advises, “Driver, 10 roubles is not a bribe.”

Aslambek Badilayev and Kazbek Vakhayev, are correspondents with Zov
Zemli newspaper in Grozny.

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