Khovanskoe cemetery: battle for funeral business 

Khovanskoe cemetery: battle for funeral business
Mass massacre at the Khovanskoe cemetery Photo: Artem Afonskiy/MK

A month ago, a bloody fight, reminiscent of criminal wars of the 1990s, occurred in Moscow. The mass brawl on Khovanskoe cemetery disturbed the whole city. Are such major criminal skirmishes still possible nowadays?

On May 14, 2016, some two hundred people have engaged into a bloody fight on Khovanskoe cemetery. The fighters used in the dispute such strong arguments as spades, handles, pieces of armature, and traumatic pistols; some sources even mentioned automatic guns.

The battle of several hundred people occurred in broad daylight, in a frequently-visited Moscow location. Official statements speak of three victims, while unofficial sources mention as many as twelve deaths. 23 people are hospitalized; four of them in critical condition. Some 50 people are detained, including Yuri Chabuev, ex-director of the cemetery.

Юрий Чабуев начал карьеру в «похоронном» бизнесе в 2006 году

Yuri Chabuev started his career in funeral business in 2006 Photo: Moscow City News Agency 

According to the investigation, the feuding parties represented different ethnic groups: North Caucasus natives from one side and Central-Asian migrants from the other side. The reasons behind the incident and its versions need to be addressed in more detail.

Versions

Media openly say that a financial dispute was the main motive of the brawl. However, "financial dispute" is a vague term. 

First of all, the funeral business is extremely profitable. The reasons for this lay in the Russian mentality. For a Russian person, it is very important to put a loved and respected relative or friend (or even not so loved and respected) to rest in a finest possible fashion – and ‘funeral businessmen’ exploit this. There are hundreds of stories on the Internet describing tricks used by cemetery staff to pump out more money from mournful people. 

One of the main versions states that the conflict has escalated because of these huge, uncontrolled cash flows. North Caucasus natives represented a criminal group trying to get a cut of the profitable business. A few years ago, the funeral services market was reformed. As a result, shares of this market have been re-distributed. Karomat Sharipov, leader of the Tadjik Labor Migrants movement says in his interview to Moskovsky Komsomolets: “Perhaps, you know that some time ago there was a reform of the funeral services market in Moscow. This market used to be controlled mostly by criminals because of its huge turnover. When Moscow started sorting out the mess, many parties were deprived of this lucrative place. Now they sustain losses and are trying to regain at least some cemetery-related income. They decided to start racketeering even grave diggers. A few years ago, the grave diggers had to pay 10% of their earnings to the bandit "cover". They earn some 30–35 thousand a month and had to pay one tenth. But recently ‘these people’ demanded to increase their monthly cut to 30%. This was unacceptable for the migrants”. 

According to the expert, some "respected people" are now trying to regain their positions lost some time ago. This is a logical and clear version, indeed.

Лидер движения «Таджикские трудовые мигранты» Каромат Шарипов
 
Karomat Sharipov, leader of the Tadjik Labor Migrants movement  

Alexei Nemeryuk, Head of the Moscow Department of Trade and Services, provided another version. According to him, the conflict escalated when the cemetery security service attempted to evict illegal migrants from the cemetery: “Khovanskoe cemetery security tried to evict illegal migrants from the cemetery. They trespass there regularly to hide from law enforcement during checks. Ultimately, police patrols and Russian Special Police Force units arrived and detained 50 persons. The conflict had escalated for an hour, and indeed there was a brawl”.

Another, similarly unrealistic, version was suggested by Kommersant newspaper citing one of the detainees. This version states that the reason behind the conflict was a poorly-performed tomb installation job. The customer declined to pay for it and the next morning found the tomb in “even more dire state”. The customer decided to discuss the situation with community elders. A remarkable fact is that he arrived to the meeting not alone, but with several "friends-wrestlers". The conversation resulted in nothing except mutual threats of future troubles. After this, the customer with "friends" somehow decided to collect a toll from the migrants working at the cemetery, which resulted in an "intercourse" on May 14. The "wrestlers" were met by a hundred migrants from nearby markets and shops, and a brawl occurred. 

Yury Chabuev, ex-head of the cemetery, is a person of special interest. An article in Moskovsky Komsomolets is dedicated to him. Chabuev is "widely known in a private circle". He began his career in the funeral business long ago: in 2006–2009 he was a deputy principal for economic affairs of Ritual Municipal Specialized Enterprise (MSE) of the Khimki district. In 2009 Chabuev becomes the principal of this MSE and leads it until 2013. According to the newspaper, his operations in Khimki were "very dark". Yury Chabuev’s acquaintances Vyacheslav Nirkov and Petr Levchenko – natives of the Volgograd Region – became involved into the funeral business in Khimki. Then wives of Chabuev and Nirkov joined the business as well. According to Moskovsky Komsomolets, due to this nepotism, extra charges on funeral services and materials in Khimki reached 200–300%. These are only rumors, however, because none of these "shadow schemes" went public – so there are no real grounds to charge the ex-director of the cemetery. Currently Chabuev is under investigation. Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) officers are clarifying the role of the former director in the mass brawl.

Conclusions

The investigation is ongoing, it addresses all the versions, but as of right now, the most logical and reasoned is the version of skirmishes between criminal groups to gain control over the shadow cash flows in the funeral business. Any other version, denying the preparedness and organized nature of the attack – i.e. assuming that 200 friends-"wrestlers" and other "athletes" accidentally gathered in the same place, – seems naive, to say the least. 

The scale and impudence of the raid are of paramount importance. The slaughter occurred in broad daylight. Masterminds of the brawl have signaled: “Yes, like in the turbulent 1990s, we can make a bloody skirmish in Moscow, in front of everyone, and we are not afraid of nothing’. 

Anatoly Yakunin, the Head of the Russian MIA General Administration for the City of Moscow, recently spoke of the progress in combating ethnic organized crime. According to him, during 4 months of 2016, Moscow policemen busted 15 ethnic gangs.

“Illegal migration still drastically affects the crime rate in the Russian capital. In fact, 20% of crimes in Moscow are committed by illegal migrants. And I can say that this number is growing. In 2007, the Moscow police busted 27 members of ethnic organized criminal groups, while in 2015 – as many as 221. There is no return to the 1990s; it’s totally inconceivable,” – Yakunin said.

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