Dagestan’s Delicate Ethnic Balance Is Under Threat

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 10 Issue: 13

(Source: RIA Novosti)

The start of 2013 was marked by a rapid deterioration of the security situation in Dagestan. The course of events in Dagestan in 2012 showed that the republican authorities not only failed to establish control over the situation in the republic, but that signs of looming chaos appeared there as well. Even though the Russian authorities were prepared to turn a blind eye to many things, they could not afford to see Dagestan torn apart by fighting between the republic’s clans.

Moscow now faces in Dagestan a republic that has practically become the epicenter of the North Caucasian armed resistance. During the first two weeks of 2013, the militants in Dagestan managed to kill police officers and a Supreme Court judge and attack the military. On January 15, the Dagestani government suffered a severe blow when militants staged a brazen attack in Makhachkala, killing the judge of the Supreme Court of Dagestan, Magomed Magomedov, in the central part of the city (www.gazeta.ru/politics/news/2013/01/15/n_2708485.shtml). The judge was gunned down when he exited his car and was heading to his house. While investigators were speculating about the cause of attack on the judge, the militants claimed responsibility for it (https://vdagestan.com/?p=8842). At the same time, government forces carried out special operations in the mountainous part of Dagestan, where some rebels were killed and some people disappeared (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/73122/). All these events make the republican authorities appear to be completely unreliable in the eyes of officials in Moscow. Russian authorities must be especially unhappy with the Dagestani leadership, which allowed the Dagestani jihadists to have their own political structure, the Association Ahl al Sunna, as well as official newspapers, TV and mosques. This was a bold move on the part of Dagestani President Magomedsalam Magomedov. The experiment was about dissecting the political segment of the Dagestani jihadists from the Salafi mass and to have a dialogue with the political wing about the republic’s political cleavages (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/212501/). However, this structure obviously is still far away from becoming something resembling Ireland’s Sinn Féin.

Apart from that, the republican authorities tried to make allies among figures that can have at least some influence on various Dagestani groups. President Magomedov, an ethnic Dargin, facilitated the transfer of a well-known Avar public figure, Gaji Makhachev, from Moscow to Dagestan (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/218777/). Makhachev is a very controversial figure in the political history of Dagestan. Twice sentenced during the Soviet era for robbery and physical assaults (www.compromat.ru/page_9550.htm), he later managed to become one of the principal political leaders in Dagestan. In an attempt to strip Makhachev of support inside the republic, the republican authorities chose him to represent Dagestan in the Russian State Duma. Magomedov appointed Makhachev as plenipotentiary representative of Dagestan under the Russian president. But Makhachev was suddenly recalled from his prestigious position to become head of Dagestan’s Kizilyurt district (www.chernovik.net/content/lenta-novostey/gadzhi-mahachev-naznachen-io-glavy-mo-kizilyurtovskiy-rayon?attempt=1).

Interestingly, Kazbek district, which borders Kizilyurt district, is headed by Gaji Makhachev’s brother, Abdul Makhachev, so the new appointment will be regarded as increasing the influence of the Kazbekian Avars in Kizilyurt (www.chernovik.net/content/novosti/chem-my-huzhe-prezidenta). The fact that the authorities recalled Gaji Makhachev to appoint him to such a mediocre position in the republic means that the republican government decided to reshuffle all the cards they have in a feverish attempt to find a solution to the critical situation in Dagestan. The amplification of the Avar clans in the lowlands of Dagestan invariably causes concern among the Kumyks and Dargins, which in turn will result in their resistance against Avar leaders in the future. In addition, the Avar clans also have internal splits over business interests in various parts of Dagestan. Makhachev is not the only Avar who might be recalled from Moscow. Against the backdrop of mounting rumors about the impending resignation of the president of Dagestan, information circulated that another well-known political figure, Ramazan Abdulatipov, might replace Magomedov as head of the republic. Abdulatipov is a very popular figure in the republic, but not so popular as to be able to lead Dagestan during such a dramatic period.

Rumors about the possible resignation of Magomedov spread after he met Vladimir Putin in Moscow on January 14. Putin reportedly gave Magomedov the option of stepping down voluntarily (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/218830/). After that, Russian State Duma deputy Alexander Khinshtein, who is known for his close relationship with Kremlin circles, wrote on Twitter: “It appears that one of the leaders of the NCFD [North Caucasus Federal District] may prematurely resign in the next few days” (https://twitter.com/Khinshtein/status/291870605215662081). All those who discussed this report concluded that only Magomedsalam Magomedov fit the description. The administration of the Dagestani president neither confirmed nor refuted these claims until January 18, when, for the first time in a week that was rife with resignation rumors, the Dagestani president’s administration stated it had no information about Magomedov’s possible resignation (www.riadagestan.ru/news/2013/1/18/149479/). Still, some independent sources reckon that the Dagestani State Council might consider Magomedov’s resignation in the near future (https://kavkasia.net/Russia/2013/1358555785.php).

Actually, whether Dagestan’s president resigns or not is not very important. What is more interesting is whether the model of peaceful coexistence with the political wing of the militants, the Association Ahl al Sunna, will be continued. It will also be interesting to see whether Moscow will decide to break the ethnic balance in the government of Dagestan that has existed since the 1920s. If Moscow does not dare to change this rule, such a figure as billionaire Suleiman Kerimovdoes will not stand a chance of becoming head of Dagestan since ethnically he is a Lezgin. If Moscow simply follows the rule that has been in place regarding the balancing of different ethnic groups with the leadership, it will have to choose between Avars and Dargins, which certainly reduces the range of possible choices for the republic’s leadership.

Thus, Dagestan is again faced with a choice. This time it will be much harder, as the new authorities will have to deal with a well-organized force of insurgents who are growing stronger day by day and mounting bolder and bolder attacks, such as the January 15 assassination of Supreme Court Judge Magomed Magomedov. The new president of Dagestan will have to deal with the conflict related to the republican clans that was exacerbated by swapping an Avar, Mukhu Aliev, with a Dargin, Magomedsalam Magomedov, as the head of Dagestan. The role of the new Dagestani multi-millionaires in the republic will be an important factor in Dagestan’s political future as well, and time will tell how everything plays out on the rising instability in this important North Caucasus republic.