Publication: Prism Volume: 6 Issue: 12

By Nabi Abdullaev

The exchange of currency in Makhachkala–the capital of Dagestan, Russia’s southernmost republic–goes on right in the town’s streets. Dozens of young men wave around packs of dollars and rubles, urging passers-by to use their services. Although these dealers and their wads of money might seem an irresistible temptation to robbers, never become victims of hold-ups. The reason is simple: Most of them demonstratively have guns buckled to their blue jeans. As do many of their clients.

The last ten years of tension in Russia, and particularly in the Caucasus, have resulted in an unparalleled militarization of the population of the region. The de-facto absence of valid law-and-order structures has made private possession of weapons the ultimate guarantee of personal security.

Dagestan may soon become a haven for illegal arms dealers. It is the only Russian region which has adopted a law giving its citizen the right to possess any weapon, as long as it is registered.

“You may have whatever you wish–pistols, assault rifles, grenade-launchers, even a tank. But come to us and register it.” That is what Adilgirey Magomed Tagirov, the Dagestani Minister of the Interior, told his compatriots in August 1999, following the incursion by Shamil Basaev and Khattab’s militants into Dagestan. Russian troops had not yet amassed in Dagestan to force Basaev’s militants back and the Dagestani government appealed to the population to form the volunteer detachments to fight in the border areas.

“Why not give a decent man the right to possess a weapon to defend himself?” Magomedali Magomedov, the head of the republic, was shown telling local television. In one day, 6,000 assault rifles from the Interior Ministry’s stocks were distributed among volunteers, according to the official figures.