Over the past seven years, M-1 Global has hosted some of the most scenic outdoor events of any Russian mixed martial arts promotion. Their showcase piece is an annual show in the Republic of Ingushetia dubbed ‘Battle in the Mountains,’ which takes place every summer in front of tens of thousands of local citizens from the surrounding towns and villages.
However, the latest edition of M-1’s showcase event, which was scheduled to take place on July 20, has been canceled amidst political turmoil that saw Ingushetia’s Head of State resign from office.
Last year, Ingushetia underwent a border demarcation process that saw it surrender approximately 10% of its land to Chechnya. The controversial agreement led to mass demonstrations in various Ingush cities, and increased tensions with Chechnya. The protests continued into 2019 and demanded the resignation Ingush leader Yunus-Bek Yevkurov. In June 2019, Yevkurov yielded to public demands and announced his resignation.
In light of the current political climate, this article will attempt to shed light on the various reasons why M-1 Global decided to cancel its upcoming show.
The Troubled Republic
The Republic of Ingushetia, the smallest of the 21 republics in the Russian Federation, is a rural and mountainous region rich in tradition and ancestral history. Though Ingushetia was only separated from neighbouring (and ethnically similar) Chechnya in 1992 following the collapse of the Soviet Union, it maintained a strong indigenous identity of people of Vainakh ancestry.
Cursed with poor geopolitical positioning, Ingushetia has gone through periods of war and ethnic cleansing that have tormented the nearly 500,000-large population. What began as mistreatment under Stalin’s rule helped shape one of Russia’s poorest republics; a region rife with corruption, destabilization, and fundamentalist insurgency.
Outside of Ingushetia’s historical entrenchment, the republic recently underwent significant political tension over a border dispute with neighbouring Chechnya.
On September 26, 2018, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, the leader of Ingushetia, Chechnya’s western neighbour, signed an agreement securing the border between the two Russian republics, which had technically not been confirmed since 1992. The deal, which was promoted as a “historic” agreement by both Kadyrov and Yevkurov, involved a transfer of up to 10% of Ingush territory to Chechnya. While the Ingush government claimed that the transferred land “will only affect mountainous wooded areas,” unprecedented protests broke out once it became clear that Ingushetia had relinquished a significant portion of land to Chechnya.
Ten of thousands of local citizens protested the land swap in civil demonstrations. Local law enforcement and security officers joined the demonstrations and preventing riot police from neighbouring republics from interfering with the protests. Several parliamentarians even claimed that their vote on the land deal between Chechnya and Ingushetia was falsified. This opposition grew stronger still when Ingushetia’s government proposed an amendment that would change referendum procedures in Ingushetia, thus effectively barring the public from voting on the land deal. Despite the opposition, Yevkurov continued to defend his decision to sign the agreement with Kadyrov. This led to calls for his resignation that continue to persist to this day.
In December 2018, the Russian Constitutional Court ruled that the border agreement between Ingushetia and Chechnya was legal. The ruling was final and could not be appealed. Despite the court’s decision, protests continued to take place in Ingushetia, including as recently as March 26, 2019, where approximately 10,000 protestors gathered to demand Yevkurov’s resignation.
On June 24, 2019, Yevkurov announced his resignation during a broadcast on national television. The Ingush leader revealed that he “made a decision to appeal to the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin with a request for the early resignation from me of the authority of the head of the republic.” His resignation, though a victory for protestors who claim he discredited himself by signing a border agreement with Chechnya, creates even more unrest in a republic already plagued with socio-political problems.
Socialization Through Sports
When Yevkurov was appointed third President of Ingushetia by the Kremlin in October 2008, the southern Russian republic was subject to regular attacks from Islamic militants, and political violence between various clans. Yevkurov’s predecessor, Murat Zyazikov, was accused of widespread corruption and had proven incapable of dealing with the growing wave of insurgency within the republic. Yevkurov, selected because of his limited experience in political office, cracked down on corruption within his government and attempted to negotiate with the Islamists.
Yet despite Yevkurov’s efforts, militants remain a visible threat. Therefore, to supplement his military and administrative response, Yevkurov has attempted to divert Ingush youth away from a potential life of insurgency and towards sports and the disciplined lifestyle that accompanies them. One of those sports socialization experiments has been to sponsor MMA events put on by M-1 Global, the oldest and most established MMA promotions in the Russian Federation.
The first M-1 Global event in Ingushetia took place in June 2012 in the mountainous Dzheyrakhsky District and featured a heavyweight main event between Alexander Emelianenko and Ibragim Magomedov. The event was a success and paved the way for the promotional experiment to become an annual partnership between M-1 Global and the Ingush government, each year drawing an even greater attendance from the local population and furthering Yevkurov’s goal of sports socialization. However, this also made it a target for insurgents.
In June 2014, a suicide bomber was arrested by security forces in Ingushetia for planning an attack on the M-1 Challenge 49: “Battle in the Mountains 3” event. The event ended up drawing 23, 255 fans — a record attendance for an MMA event in Russia that even the inaugural UFC show in Moscow was unable to top.
Over the next few years, the M-1’s MMA events in Ingushetia became a staple of the government’s sports socialization program, as well as an opportunity to provide the illusion of a peaceful and flourishing republic.
“This event was to boost the development of the tourism industry’, Yevkurov said in a prepared statement during the 2016 edition of the ‘M-1: Battle of the Mountains’ event. ‘We want to present Ingushetia as a safe and peaceful republic, where one can hold such large-scale events. We wanted to show the traditions and culture of our people and the beauty of our beloved country. I think that we have succeeded.”
Despite his efforts in stabilizing the region over the past decade, Yevkurov resigned in disgrace in 2019 following the border demarkation controversy with Chechnya. He will be remembered as a leader who helped bring an end to Ingushetia’s civil war, authorized brutal counter-terrorism raids, and as a man who failed to win the love of his people.
His absence leaves an interesting political vacuum within the troubled republic, and while M-1 Global has not responded to a request for comment, their founder, Vadim Finkelchtien, released a statement on Yevkurov’s resignation.
“For me, as for all, this news was probably a surprise. But knowing Yunus-Bek Bamatgireevich, he was always distinguished by prudence and therefore I am sure, before making this decision, he also weighed it many times. Our first tournament in Ingushetia took place back in 2012, so we know firsthand and see how the Republic has changed over the years! The best conditions for training have been created for young athletes: many sports facilities have been built, clubs have been opened, a full sports training cycle has been established. Thanks to this, athletes perform in the strongest promotions and now the whole world knows the fighters from Ingushetia! And the “Battle in the Mountains” tournament, thanks to Yunus-Bek Bematgireevichu, became a certain business card of the Republic of Ingushetia not only in Russia, but also in the World. I hope we will keep this tradition in the future.”
However, while M-1 Global attempted to push forward with the upcoming ‘Battle in the Mountains’ show, the event was officially canceled on July 2. The promotion released a statement confirming that the cancelation was “due to some political changes in Ingushetia…” and that all the canceled fights would be moved to later shows. And in light of the potential security concerns and the unstable political climate, it was most likely the correct decision on the part of the promotion.
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