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17 Feb, 2009 06:53

Blood still thicker than water: the modern vendetta

There’s still a place in Russia where they have no doubts that blood is thicker than water. Vendettas or blood feuds are common in the North Caucasus Republic of Ingushetia.

Blood feuds used to exist all over the North Caucasus. They had no mandate, and vengeance could be carried out even centuries later. But it’s only in Ingushetia that the custom still survives.

Ingushetia is a predominantly Muslim republic with a complex mix of secular Islamic beliefs and local customs. The blood feud is one of them.

Magomed Barkhanoev, a local resident, says that his whole family lived in fear for 20 years after his nephew’s crime. The 12-year-old accidentally killed another boy of his own age while playing a game with knives that went tragically wrong. Even though he was put in jail, his relatives weren’t safe for those 20 years until mercy was granted by the dead boy’s family.

“At night, when someone knocks at the door, you jump up in bed scared trying to guess who that might be. And now it’s all calm, and you can sleep and stay among people without fear,” said Barkhanoev.

Hadji-Umar Sultygov, senior Cossack ataman of Yandry village, tells of a local blood feud between two neighbours’ families. “Many people have died on both sides in the past 25 years,” he said.

Blood feuds go against Islamic teaching, but religion is failing to solve this problem. There are more than a hundred unsolved cases here and Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, the new Ingushetian president, is determined to stamp it out.

“We're gathering those determined to seek revenge and try to persuade them not to and to have them pardon each other’s blood lines and become friendly with each other,” said Yevkurov. “There is simply no other way”.