Our neighbours: Dagestan
19/03/2010 13:42
Gocha Guniava
"The Club of exsperts", exspert

Tense events that are taking place in the North Caucasus and can any minute turn into large-scale armed confrontation are followed with intense attention not only by neighbouring people but also countries of the entire region. This is mainly true with Georgia which is practically in war with the country that annexed 20 percent of its territory and part of which are our historical closest neighbours.

The Club of Experts decided to remind its readers short informative data about those neighbours. We will try to present well-known historical facts as well as our view on today's certain painful and pressing issues.

Our first article will be about Dagestan.

"Whoever owns Dagestan owns and controls the Caucasus". That was what was said by all kinds of conquerors and so Scyths, Persians, Arabs, Mongols, Turks and Russians were coming to take control of it. They were coming and going but Caucasians remained. Maybe the time has come for Caucasians to themselves control and manage their own affairs. They many times proved to the world that they have no less ability, talent and historical experience than others.


Among seven North Caucasian republics Dagestan is the biggest by both its territory (50.3 thousand square kilometers its population (2 700 000). In the east it bordered with 530 km sea coastline in the north it is bordered with Kalmykia and Stavropol Krai. And in the south its neighbour is Azerbaijan. While in the west it borders with Georgia and Chechnya. The capital of Dagestan is Makhachkala which was formerly called Petrovsk-Port and in 1922 it was renamed into Makhachkala in honour of Bolshevik revolutionary Makhach Dakhadaev.

There are 40 administrative districts in Dagestan as well as 8 cities and 14 urban-type settlements. The main cities of the republic are Makhachkala, Derbent, Khasavyurt, Buynaksk, Izberbash, Kaspiysk, Kizlyar, Sovetskoe.

Around 30 ethnic groups live in Dagestan. The most numerous of them are Avars who are 760 thousand, then come Dargins – 426 thousand, Kumyks – 15 thousand, Lezgins – 14 thousand, Laks - 14 thousand, Tabasarans – 5 thousand, Nogais -2 thousand, Rutuls – 24 thousand, Aguls – 23 thousand, Tsakhurs – 8 thousand, Tats – 1 thousand, Chechens are 100 thousand and so on. Apart from the above-mentioned there is also certain amount of Azeris ant Russians.

Dagestan language group is part of Iberian-Caucasian language family and consists of three subgroups: Avar-Andic-Didoic, Lak- Dargin and Lezgic.

Literary languages of Dagestan nowadays are using Russian alphabet. Before that they were trying to use Arabic alphabet.

According to archeological data people lived on the territory of Dagestan back in the III century BC.

Ancestors of Dagestan people at various times were under influence of Skyths, Sarmats, Albanians, Persians, Arabs, Mongols and others. Starting from the XVI century contacts with Russia began to develop. In 1722 Pyotr I added Dagestan coastline to Russia but under Treaty of Ganja was forced to give it up to Persia in 1735. In 1813 according to Gulistan Treaty final incorporation of Dagestan into Russian territory was registered which caused intensification of opposition on the part of Muslim cleric circles. An attempt to create a theocratic state that was led by Imam Shamil and their long war with the Russian Empire ended in defeat in 1859.

In 1860 Dagestan that was given a status of okrug was incorporated in the Caucasus that was headed by Vice Roy.

After the October revolution RevCom was established headed by Buynaksk who was shot by decision of the shariat court in 1919. In 1920 the Russian 11th Army led by Orjonikidze and Kirov entered Dagestan. In 1921 Autonomic Republic of Dagestan was created.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union the Republic of Dagestan remained a part of the Russian Federation. According to the Constitution that was approved in 1994 legislative body of Dagestan was a directly elected People's Assembly. Executive body was Collegial President that consisted of representatives of 14 titular nations. But as such institution of collective leadership was not successful the Constitutions was amended. According to this amendment political parties of the republic are to present several candidates for the post of Dagestan president to the Russian president. One of them is chosen and later sent to the People's Assembly for approval. After that a newly elected president appoints a head of the government.

By the abovementioned method in February 2010 representative of the Party Edynaya Rossia Magomedsalam Magomedov was appointed as the president and the latter presented member of the same party Magomed Abdulaev as his Prime Minister.

Majority of population of Dagestan is Muslim.

It is considered that Dagestan is the most Islamized region of Russia. Dagestanis differ from their neighbouring Muslim people with special strive towards Muslim fate and culture.

It was Dagestan where Islam first appeared in Russia and then it started to spread in neighbouring peoples.

It was a place where first was established branch of Islamic Sufism - Miuridism under flag of which Imam Shamil and North Caucasian peoples had been fighting against Russian imperial armies for decades.

In conditions of Soviet authority this confrontation became less intense but erupted with new force from nineties of the last century when teachings of Salafits started to enter into the region from the Middle East. Later it became known by the name of Wahhabism and it now have already gathered thousands of radical people of the region around itself at the pretext of restoration of Islam in its primary form and fighting against injustice.

Well-known leader of so-called Caucasus Emirate Doku Umarov declared Dagestan together with other Islamic republics of North Caucasus a part of the future Islamic state unit ideology of which was declared Wahhabism and Jihad.

In the course of the last years unyielding radicalism turned into insurgency that turned Dagestan together with Chechnya and Ingushetia into hotspots of the Caucasus.

Frequent special operations could not manage to break armed underground. Moreover, intensified repressions resulted in doubled activization as a result of which attacks on law enforcers became more systematic and led to hundreds of victims among militants and government forces. A term of railway jihad appeared.

Important factor is that killings of Muslim clerics became more frequent that is explained with criticism of Wahhabits and connections with Russian security services on the part of those clerics.

Political parties: After the collapse of the Soviet Union many political parties and organizations were created in Dagestan. One part of them had been created under influence of Russian governmental bodies. Another part was forming through support of local and outside religious forces. The most influential party of the Russian Federation Edynaya Rossia has quite large and influential branch in Dagestan. In 2010 during election/appointment of the president of Dagestan representatives of the above party became both president and prime minister.

Dagestan Party of Reforms has certain authority in the republic and is headed by one of the famous political figure and wealthy person – the mayor of Makhachkala Said Amirov who is ethnic Dargin. His unbridled strive towards wealth became a reason for four terrorist acts that was carried out against him. He survived but just and since then he is in a wheelchair. Due to his high intellect and ability he is called Dagestani Roosevelt.

Islamic Democratic Party is also very popular and large and mainly consists of significant part of Degastani intelligentsia that are believers.

National movement of Lezgins "Sadval" (unity) that was created in the eighties unites compatriot living in Dagestan and Azerbaijan and its goal is to form a new united political unit at the expense of two districts of Northern Azerbaijan and south Dagestan that will join independently the Russian federation.

It should not take long to understand whose interests are expressed by this party that was created to put pressure on Azerbaijan and which is headed by retired Soviet general and former political figure Kakhrimanov.

Political plans of "Sadval" and his associates cause serious irritation and protest in Azerbaijan.

The Communist Party is also very popular in Dagestan which mainly unites middle-aged and elderly people. It might sound paradoxical but Stalin actually is respected and his name cherished in Dagestan unlike other North Caucasian republics. There even is a society in his name.

Today political climate in the republic is created by groups and unions of religious nature also clans that are behind them. No political, personnel or everyday decision will be implemented without first consulting and getting their consent.

Relations between Azerbaijan and Dagestan: the most highly-explosive place on ethnic ground is considered to be Southern Dagestan that is populated by Lezgins. Their public movement "Sadval" plans to unite Dagestani Lezgins with their compatriots living in two districts - districts of Kuba and Kusara in Azerbaijan and to create a new territorial, political unit that will independently join the Russian Federation.

Despite the fact that Azerbaijan government creates every conditions for Lezgins that live on their territory and social, economical and cultural level of Lezgins that live in Azerbaijan is much higher than that of their Dagestani compatriots anti-Azerbaijan separatism and strive towards the north still thrives in them.

Another unsolved problem in the relations between Azerbaijan and Dagestan is the River Samur that separates them. Roots of unsolved problems regarding use of its water go back to historical past. There are fertile lands on both sides of the River Samur and their productivity is very important for economy of both sides.

Despite various negotiations of the highest level Dagestan declared itself oppressed and protests that Azerbaijan uses 90 % of irrigation water resources.

Factors for confrontation between Chechnya and Dagestan emerged back in XIX century when Shamil's fight against Russia was aimed at creation of a new Islamic state of North Caucasian peoples headed by Chechnya and Dagestan. Reemergence of these ideas again started after the collapse of the Soviet Union which was also joined by Chechen field commanders together with Wahhabi missionaries from Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries.

The main issue of confrontation and dispute between Chechnya and Dagestan is Khasavyurt district that is situated on the border between them and which is populated by 100 thousand Chechens. Until 1921 it belonged to Chechnya but later it was added to Dagestan under the name of the Khasavyurt national okrug.

In the nineties a movement for secession of Khasavyurt district from Dagestan and incorporation into Chechnya started. Later Chechen and Dagestani wahhabits united and started to prepare for Jihad – holly war against Russia. At the same time Dagestani wahhabits declared villages of the Buynaksk district - Karamakh, Chabanmakh and Kadar territory of Islamic autonomous republic and abolished local authorities. As it is known Russian aviation, artillery and Special Forces completely destroyed these three villages.

Today the path laid by Shamil and later by Arab field commanders and interested Islamic circles is being followed by the Caucasus Emirate that was formed by Doku Umarov. Their goal, same as Shamil's, is to unite Chechnya, Dagestan and other North Caucasian territories populated by Muslims and to create a new Islamic state.

Another painful issue for Dagestan is Turkish-language Nogais and Kumyks. Their national movement "Birlik" demands a separate autonomy to be created for Turk-language peoples of the North Caucasus and federalization of Dagestan where this unit will enter as a full subject of the new entity.

Georgian-Dagestan relations were quite difficult over the centuries. Back in the III century BC King Parnavaz of Kartli (Georgian kingdom) together with Dagestan people was fighting against foreign invaders. And after spread of Christianity in Georgia Georgian missionaries appeared in Dagestan. Their trace can be seen in a Georgian church of village of Datuna in Koisu gorge. Spread of Christianity stopped in the XIV century due to complete Islamization of Dagestan.

Georgian-Dagestan relations became difficult in the following centuries.

In XVIII century Dagestani feudals, at instigation of Turks, were attacking systematically villages of Georgian provinces of Kakheti and Kartli.

In 1754 and 1755 Georgian troops defeated army of Avary khan Nursul Bek at Mchadijvari and Kvareli. In 1785 Kakheti was devastated by 20 000 army of Avary khan Omar.

A term of "Lekianoba" (inroads from Dagestan) arouses unpleasant associations in Georgians even today. It is known that continuous inroads of marauder gangs from Dagestan facilitated Erekle II of Kartli and kakheti to decide on placing Georgia under protection of Russia.

Dagestanis in georgia - In 1895, and with the help of Ilia Chavchavadze, Colonel Magomed Aga Osman Ogli Atskursky received consent to settle Avars in Kakheti. As a result three villages appeared there – Tivi, Tebeljokhi and Areshi. In 1944 population of these villages were exiled to Chechnya. But when Chechens returned from exile from the Central Asia Dagestanis went back to Kakheti. In 1991 4200 Dagestanis lived in the Kvareli distirct.

During the Soviet authorities, until 1994, shepards from Dusheti, Tianeti, Kazbeki had been using for decades winter pastures of Kizlyar in Dagestan.

In 1990 at instigation of certain forces Georgian informal armed formations went to villages with Dagestani population and asked them to leave Georiga.

On June 26th 1990 rallies in support of Dagestanis were held in Makhachkala and Khasavyurt which were led by leader of national movement of Avars Haji Makhachev.

In April 1991 eviction of Avars from Georgia started. But after Georgian-Dagestan talks majority of Avars remained in Kakheti.

On November 2nd 1991, with support of Russian security services National Front of Avars named after Shamil, organization Jamaat and movement Democratic Dagestan took part in the third meeting of the Caucasian mountainous peoples held in Sukhumi.

In recent years Dagestan authorities laid territorial claims against Georgia. At instigation of outside forces Diklo mountain that is near the border and was used by the Tush (Georgian people) from ancient times became disputed.

But the time is not far when malevolent outside forces will be deprived of possibility to create artificial barriers between peoples living there. And Georgians and Dagestani people will resolve the issue of Diklo mountain and establish stable good-neighbourly relations.

In case of using the material the hypperlink on the Expert Club is obligatory