Holod Magazine reported on the detention of an activist from Yakutia and published an interview with him. Global Voices translated the report and parts of the interview, and republished with permission from Holod.
Aikhal Ammosov, a protestor against war and leader of the punk band Crispy Newspaper from Yakutia, Russia, was sent to a detention center on the October 10, 2023. in Almaty, Kazakhstan, where he has been waiting for four months to get a humanitarian visa and a foreigner’s passport to go to Germany. The inTransit initiative, a group that supports Russians facing political persecution, shared this information.
The Republic of Sakha, or Yakutia, is Russia's largest republic, in the northeast along the Arctic Ocean. This vast region is home to a population of approximately one million people.
In the 17th century, Russian colonizers incorporated the area into the Tsardom of Russia, naming it Yakutsk Oblast and colonizing the Indigenous peoples. Yakutia played a role in some of the final battles of the Russian Civil War. In 1922, the Bolshevik authorities reorganized Yakutsk Oblast into the autonomous Yakut Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR).
Yakutia is endowed with natural resources, constituting a substantial share of the world's diamond production (25%). Despite this, Yakutia remains one of the most poor regions in the Russian Federation. Since the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine began, activists have appeared in Yakutia who are both anti-war and talk about the decolonization of the republic.
Ammosov didn’t have a passport, so he was stuck in Kazakhstan. He was planning to get a special type of German passport for foreigners after getting his visa, which would allow him to travel from Kazakhstan to Germany.
InTransit said that they tried many times to speed up Ammosov’s move to another country because he was at high risk. But he didn’t get the documents he needed. Since 2023, it has been taking longer for people to get German humanitarian visas, according to German human rights groups, said inTransit. “This is a large-scale problem, and it affects all applicants for German humanitarian visas, regardless of their profession, risk factor, country, which they are located.”
By August 2023, Germany had issued around 1,665 humanitarian visas to citizens of Russia since February 2022. DW wrote that an accelerated procedure for issuing humanitarian visas to Russians has been in effect in Germany since May 2022. They are issued on the basis of § 22 of the Residence Act (Aufenthaltsgesetz). “This applies to Russian citizens who are at particular risk because of their commitment to the fight against war, for democracy and human rights or because of actions critical of the regime,” the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) explained to DW.
Stephen Phillips, researcher at the Institute for Human Rights at the Åbo Akademi commented to Global Voices:
Humanitarian visa processing will vary a lot from country to country; there are no fixed international standards on how it should work in each place, nor are countries under any international obligations to even do it.
Processing times can be linked to a lot of different factors, some of the more common ones that countries will refer to are the large numbers of applications they receive, some applications not having all the required documents, needing to perform background checks on the applicants (which can include waiting for responses from other agencies), and if a case is especially complex.
Journalist Evgenia Baltatarova was the first to report that Ammosov was in detention. A representative of the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law said that Ammosov was sent to a pre-trial detention center for 40 days “in connection with the extradition issue.” The reason for the request was not specified.
It is not yet clear what legal base will be used for his extradition. The “discrediting the army” offense, which Ammosov is charged with in Russia, is not on the list of extradition crimes, since there is no analogue for it in Kazakhstan's legislation.
Since February 24, 2022, the poet, activist and leader of the Yakut punk band Crispy Newspaper Aikhal Ammosov (according to his passport — Igor Ivanov) regularly took to the streets with pickets and performances, painted graffiti and tried to hang anti-war banners in Russia. In August 2022 he was placed under administrative arrest.
In September, a criminal case for repeatedly “discrediting” the Russian army was opened for hanging a banner that read “Yakutian Punk Against War” on the rooftop of the swimming pool located in the heart of Yakutsk.
Ammosov spent almost a month and a half in a temporary detention center, then was released on his own recognizance, and disappeared at the end of the year. As it turned out later, the musician secretly went to Kazakhstan.
In February 2023, Holod magazine interviewed Aikhal Ammosov after he fled to Kazakhstan.
Holod (H): I understand “Aikhal Ammosov” is a pseudonym. Why did you choose this name?
“Aikhal Ammosov” (AA): Due to colonization, most Sakhas [Turkic ethnic group who mainly live in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) in the Russian Federation, indigenous people of Yakutia] have Russian identities. Streets bear the names of colonialists who oppressed our people, making us feel like another Russian territory. That's why I picked a name in Sakha Tyla, our national language. “Aikhal” translates to “glory” in Russian. I found it in a Yakut name book linked to my birthdate, January 22. My surname honors Maxim Kirovich Ammosov, a founder of the Yakut Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic. He was brave enough to personally communicate with Stalin and address him in a manner others dared not.
Crispy Newspaper's album “Oi Duuuoran” on YouTube
H: You've been an opponent of militarism and power since even before the war and lean towards leftist views. How did this perspective develop?
AA: In primary school, due to my good grades, I received a book signed by Yakutia's first president, Mikhail Efimovich Nikolaev. His contributions during Yeltsin's era got me interested in politics. The class divide here is stark. There's a clear distinction between the rich and poor areas. I hail from a humble background and, influenced by left-wing literature, I recognized our founders were also leftists. They initially followed Marxism-Leninism but ironically faced their end at the hands of communists during Stalin's reign. I began writing satirical poems against our local government, attending rallies, and engaging in leftist youth groups. When I ventured into music, I aimed to nationalize punk rock, as most local bands sing in Russian or English, whereas only a few, including us, use our native language.
Clip from a Crispy Newspaper concert in 2020
H: Has the war influenced the Yakuts’ perspective on the Russian language?
AA: Definitely. Post-mobilization, many Yakuts relocated to places like Kazakhstan and Georgia, realizing their disconnect from their culture. They've been Russified in speech, thoughts, and attire. When locals ask for their names, they'd likely hear a Russian name. But this displacement has seen a resurgence in interest towards Yakut music, literature, and language. However, many can't leave due to financial constraints or debts. In Yakutia, we're surrounded by aggressive pro-war propaganda, reminiscent of scenes from dystopian films. Kids in schools are made to listen to anthems and march. Naturally, the Russian language has solidified its presence.
H: How has the war shaped the overall atmosphere in Yakutia?
AA: There's a growing awareness, but it's a fluctuating situation. Many despise the government and Putin, but the authorities keep war casualties hidden. It's all very hush-hush, causing unease among the populace. My friend, who works at a school, mentioned how teachers are now tasked with military registration duties due to staff shortages. The increasing number of police and National Guardsmen patrolling the streets makes it feel like we're in the midst of a war right here.