CHERMEN, Russia – Raya Archakova says she's afraid to send her 17-year-old daughter to English lessons after last week's school siege, but not because she's worried about another terrorist attack.
The attack on a school in the North Ossetian town of Beslan (search) is stoking old hatreds among the patchwork of ethnic groups in the tense Caucasus, raising fears of revenge attacks that could reignite a decades-old conflict.
Beslan residents, also mostly ethnic Ossetian, have been dismissive of links to foreign terrorism but have seized on reports that Ingush were among the attackers at the school — alleging they would have known where to strike and been able to pull off the operation that left at least 350 dead, including the militants.
"When this is all over, you just wait, we'll get them ... our neighbors, the Ingush," one mourner said Monday during a wake as dozens of funerals were held in Beslan.
The history of conflict between Ossetians and Ingush runs deep.
The Ingush are Muslims and have long sympathized with their close relatives the Chechens (search), and both were deported to Central Asia during World War II because Soviet leader Josef Stalin feared they would help the invading German army against their longtime Russian foes. Chechnya and Ingushetia were part of a single administrative district in the Soviet era.
The Ingush returned home starting in the 1950s and demanded the return of homes inhabited by Ossetians, who are mainly Orthodox Christian and friendly with Russians, having joined the Russian Empire voluntarily in 1774. But they suffered decades of discrimination, forced to buy back their homes and to live as second-class citizens.
In 1992, after Chechnya's leaders declared independence, the first armed conflict in Russia following the Soviet collapse broke out after Ingush militants demanded control of Ingush land in North Ossetia — particularly the district of Prigorodny district, a majority Ingush area that was given to Ossetia in 1944.
In the former front-line village of Chermen in Prigorodny district, on the border between North Ossetia and Ingushetia, new red brick homes are finally erasing the destruction left from the 1992 war that killed hundreds of people and caused at least 50,000 ethnic Ingush to flee their homes in North Ossetia.
In 2002, the presidents of Ingushetia and North Ossetia signed a friendship agreement between the two regions trying to close the book on conflict in an effort brokered by President Vladimir Putin. Still, the pact failed to outline any specific steps to resolve property disputes.
People have slowly been returning from Ingushetia to Chermen — where ethnic Ingush and Ossetians live side-by-side, their homes indistinguishable from outside.
Archakova said she returned three years ago with her two daughters and husband.
She said she was ready to live in peace with her neighbors, but her renewed worry is palpable. Back in 1992, "it also began like this, calm, then neighbors argued with each other. ... We are afraid it will be like that," Archakova said.
So far, Interior Ministry troops stationed at the internal border say they haven't noticed any ethnic Ingush again fleeing North Ossetia.
"Where can we go? We have nowhere to go," said Marina, 30, another Ingush resident of Chermen whose father-in-law is the local mullah. She left Chermen for two years when the war broke out in 1992, remembering living with only the clothes on her back and cowering under gunfire. "I hope to God it doesn't happen again, we've already known this before."
"We don't have any problem between ethnic groups," said Hajimurad Barkinkhoyev, 44, strolling down a road with friends — both fellow Ingush and Ossetians. But he still warned: "Anything can happen at anytime here."