English translation from the official periodical of RAIPON “Мир коренных народов живая арктика” (Indigenous Peoples’ World Living Arctic) No. 4, 2000

With an axe against LUKoil

О. Moldanova, Information centre, "Yugra Rescue" Association

At midday
A young reindeer
Leaned over the stream.
He asked
It's so hot, mum,
I'll drink from the stream.
Do not drink it, son
Wait a bit more.
The stream smells of oil,
You'll get poisoned.

(Yuriy Vella, "White shouts")

The three last weeks have witnessed a conflict in the Surgutskiy region of the Khanty-Mansiyskiy Autonomous Okrug between a famous Nenets poet and writer, Yuriy Kylevich Ayvaseda (Vella), and LUKoil-Western Siberia.

On September the 14th, 2000, Yuriy Ayvaseda and his family and visitors from France and Estonia were on their way from his tribal land in the village of Variegan to meet a friend from the school of Variegan. Approaching the bridge across the river Khapleuta - the only road connecting the indigenous reindeer herders with the settlement, Mr Ayvaseda discovered the workers of LUKoil - Western Siberia dismantling the bridge with a digger. Yuriy Kylevich wanted to see the papers for the work; his request was ignored, as well as a request to contact the law enforcement agencies to settle the dispute. To stop the destruction of the bridge, Yuriy Ayvaseda destroyed the wheels of the digger with an axe.

LUKoil - Western Siberia filed a claim to the owner of the tribal land, simultaneously trying to use the mass media to portray a well-known public figure as a criminal and the Khanty people (though no Khanty were involved in the story) as militant hooligans. Yuriy Ayvaseda is currently preparing a legal case. Mr Ayvaseda is protected by the "Yugra Rescue" Association, and by the Association of the Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation. It is yet to be known whose side the law will take.

The real reason of the conflict, in our view, does not lie in the damaged wheels or in the dismantled bridge. This is just an occasion for the next eruption of the deeply rooted conflict between the indigenous population of the Okrug and the extractors of subsoil resources.

The policy of governmental patronage was employed with respect to indigenous people not only in Russia, but all over the world, for a long time. How to live, what to do, how and what the children should have been taught—all these matters were decided by the state with no reference to the people. Recent years have witnessed an emerging principle of partnership, and the establishment of contractual relations with the indigenous peoples, including economic rights, internationally.

The traditional forms of management have the same right to exist as oil companies. This is not reality. The current legislation gives priorities back to the users of subsoil resources, on clear grounds. The country lives from the sale of natural resources. The budget of the Khanty-Mansiyskiy Autonomous Okrug – an okrug that donates rather than receives money from the federal budget - is based on oil revenues. This is at the root of the problems regarding the rights of the indigenous inhabitants of the Okrug , as proclaimed for all Russia’s indigenous peoples in the Law "On guarantees of the rights of the indigenous minorities of Russian Federation". None of the indigenous owners, including Yuriy Kylevich Ayvaseda, of the tribal lands in Khanty-Mansiyskiy Autonomous Okrug possess title deeds to the land. Adoption of the Law "On territories of traditional use of natural resources" could partly relieve the tension in the Okrug. However, the draft of the law has been 'travelling' from one office to another for the last three years. As Tatyana Gogoleva, the local MP and the President of the "Yugra Rescue" Association says, no other bill in the Okrug has undergone so many adjustments in these offices. Still it has not been accepted even as a draft version. So one dimension of the conflict emerged in the form of the owner of the tribal land damaging a digger with an axe. The act was rooted in the struggle for the right to live on the land of one’s ancestors, to be engaged in traditional crafts, to care for the rivers and lakes, and to preserve the land for one’s descendants.

There is yet another aspect to the problem. On January 14, 2001, elections in the local Duma of Khanty-Mansiyskiy Autonomous Okrug will be held. The charter of the Okrug stipulates indigenous representation (an Indigenous Assembly) in the Duma. The Assembly last gathered in 1997. However, guidelines for the formation for the Assembly are not quite clear, and of the elected deputies only two represent Khanty and Mansi, while four represent the interests of the "oil" cities (Surgut, Nizhnevartovsk, Megion) with very few indigenous inhabitants.

In April 2000, the MPs adopted a law that requires candidates for the Assembly to be put forward by the congress of the indigenous peoples in the Okrug. Thus, chances to enter the Duma increase for the indigenous representatives. This does not suit some MPs who do not want to part with their places in the Duma. The initiatives to permit independent candidates to the Assembly was put forward by Mr Ts. D. Ogulchanskiy (Surgut) and V. Grebenniukov (Nizhnevartovsk). Should the initiative win support in the Duma, these MPs’ deputies as representatives of the indigenous minorities will continue their efforts to protect indigenous interests in the next Duma. However, at the extraordinary meeting on October 5, the current Duma left the law without amendments.

This decision has hardly satisfied the representatives of certain circles and structures who want to have "puppet" MPs. Therefore, through the controlled mass media they started a campaign to discredit the indigenous peoples in the Okrug together with their leaders. After the scandal with Yuriy Ayvaseda, the next target of LUKoil was Tatyana Gogoleva. The company's executives wrote an angry letter to the TV Yugra and to the Chairman of the Duma in Khanty-Mansiyskiy Autonomous Okrug, where they accused Ms Gogoleva of damaging the business reputation of LUKoil in the comment Ms Gogoleva made to a programme produced by Infoservice. They ask for an adequate assessment to the activities of the MP. Who will be next?


From the editors of "Mir korennykh narodov":

The Association of the Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation (RAIPON) received information on the incident with Mr Ayvaseda from Natalya Novikova, "Rodnik" Legal Centre. On October 5th, RAIPON addressed in Prosecutor Office of Khanty-Mansiyskiy Autonomous Okrug, Mr A.V. Filipenko, the Governor of the Khanty-Mansiyskiy Autonomous Okrug, Ms A.V. Sarychev, the Head of Administration in Surgutski region, Mr G.O. Gref, the Minister for economic development and trade of the Russian Federation, Mr A.V. Blokhin, the Minister on federative, ethnic and migrational policy, and Mr B.A. Yatskevitch, the Minister for Natural Resources of the Russian Federation, with the following letter:


by Article 33, the Constitution of the Russian Federation 'On violations of the rights of the indigenous peoples in the Khanty-Manskiyskiy Autonomous Okrug'

The Association of the Indigenous Minorities of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation expresses deep concern regarding the work of LUKoil - Western Siberia Ltd. in the Surgut region.

In 1998, the company unilaterally denunciated economic agreements made with the heads of indigenous families in Surgut region, according to the law of the Khanty-Mansiyskiy Autonomous Okrug, 'On use of subsoils'. However, the company continued its industrial activities on the traditional lands. On September the 14th, 2000, the employees of this company deliberately employed a digging machine to destroy a bridge connecting reindeer herders' working places with the village of Variegan. An attempt to stop the destruction of the bridge by Yuriy Ayvaseda and his requests to view permits for this work brought no result. The road through this bridge was the only means for the indigenous population to contact the rest of the world, to receive medical aid, to deliver products, to address governmental agencies, and to drive children to school. Protecting these vital rights guaranteed by the Russian Constitution, Mr Yuriy Ayvaseda, acting in the self-defence of his people, destroyed wheels of a digger with an axe.

According to Article 2 of the Russian Constitution, the rights and freedom of a human being are of the highest value. Article 20 of the Russian Constitution guarantees the right to life. Article 12 of the Russian Civil code provides citizens with an opportunity to act in self-defence to protect these rights.

Mr Yuriy Ayvaseda protected his rights and the interests of the community, supported by the law. He acted in self-defence; Article 37 of the Russian Criminal Code allows it.

We would like to attract your attention to the violation of the rights and lawful interests of the indigenous minorities of the North. Oil Company LUKoil Western Siberia perpetrated these violations.

We ask you to inspect the above facts and to ensure no further violations take place in the rights of the indigenous minorities of the North and of communal interests. We ask you to ensure Mr Yuriy Ayvaseda does not suffer criminal responsibility for his actions within boundaries of the law.

Yours faithfully,

S.N. Kharyuchi
President of RAIPON"

In respect to this publication, RAIPON received letter of support from RAIPON of Sakhalinskaya Oblast, RAIPON of Khabarovskiy Kray, participants to the workshop "Protection of indigenous rights in Sakhalin and the traditional way of life" (November, 1-7, 2000, village of Noglinki in Sakhalinskaya oblast), in total more than 30 letters.

The information on struggle for the rights of the indigenous peoples on protection of a traditional way of life and traditional abodes against illegal actions of LUKoil - Western Siberia is published on Internet at RAIPON's site (http://www.raipon.org). You may address your letters of support to RAIPON Russia, to our magazine, and to the mentioned governmental officials directly.

Ms E. Grechushkina, the lawyer to Mr Ayvaseda, informed us on the 16th October that in the criminal case under Article 'Hooligan acts', all participants to the event are attracted as witnesses, and nobody was charged.

The friends of Yuriy Ayvaseda are convinced that his actions are not criminal and that the case should be closed, while the constitutional rights of the indigenous minorities of the North to preserve their traditional ways of life, in their traditional areas of residence in Khanty-Mansiyskiy Autonomous Okrug, should be protected.