ANKARA (Reuters) - A prominent figure in the Chechen diaspora in Turkey was shot at his Ankara office late on Wednesday, a North Caucasus refugee association said, the latest in a series of killings of Chechens and their sympathizers in the country in recent years.
Many refugees and separatists have settled in Turkey from Russia’s North Caucasus, which fought two bloody wars with Moscow in the 1990s, including opponents of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, an ex-rebel turned Kremlin loyalist, and the brother of Moscow’s most-wanted militant leader Doku Umarov.
Omer Bezirgan, vice president of Imkander, an Istanbul-based organization that assists refugees from the North Caucasus, said gunmen shot Medet Onlu, a Turkish citizen of Chechen origin, at his office in Ankara on Wednesday evening.
He said he was informed of the killing by Onlu’s relatives.
In a statement on its website, Imkander described Onlu as the “indomitable defender of independent Chechnya”, a reference to the region’s short period of de facto independence from Russia before the government was toppled in the second of the two wars in 1999-2000.
Imkander blamed Russia, Kadyrov and “collaborating governments” for the killing.
Kadyrov’s spokesman Alvi Karimov said that the Chechen leadership had never heard of Onlu before, adding that any attempt to link his killing with Chechnya was “absolutely illogical” as the victim was a Turkish citizen.
Imkander’s president Murat Ozer said that while Onlu was born in Turkey and had not taken part in the separatist wars, he played a large role working with refugees and was an honorary representative of Chechnya during part of its de facto independence.
The flow of refugees to Turkey has continued as Russia has fought to clamp down on an insurgency in the mostly Muslim North Caucasus.
Human rights groups accuse Kadyrov’s security services of abuses including torture and extrajudicial killings in the name of fighting the insurgency.
State news agency Anatolian said that video footage outside Onlu’s workplace showed the person who committed the murder was a citizen of Chechnya, but did not give details. It said two men had driven up to the building but only one man had entered.
Ali Bolat, head of the Caucasus Chechen Cultural Association in Istanbul, said it was possible Kadyrov could be behind the shooting but that it could also be a set-up.
There have been several murders of Chechens in recent years in Turkey that remain unsolved. In 2011, three Chechens, one of them closely linked to militant leader Umarov, were shot dead in broad daylight on a suburban street in Istanbul.
Kadyrov has repeatedly spoken of his wish to “eliminate” Umarov, whom he blames for threatening the republic’s fragile peace and whose whereabouts are unknown.
Chechnya remains scarred by Soviet-era deportations and poverty. Rights workers blame Kadyrov for leading a violent crackdown on opponents.
Reporting by Jonathon Burch and Gulsen Solaker in Ankara and Thomas Grove in Moscow; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Sonya Hepinstall