On June 1-2, Russia’s Presidential Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights held a conference in Makhachkala, Dagestan. The heated discussions at the conference indicated the enormous explosiveness of the situation in the republic, which is rooted in complex political, social and religious discrepancies. Soon after the symposium on human rights started, 3,000 – 5,000 Muslim protesters gathered outside the Dagestani national library building in central Makhachkala, where the event was taking place, to complain about the government’s disregard for their civil rights. A delegation of protesters was eventually allowed to participate in the conference, voicing their concern over unlawful actions of the police in regard to Muslim communities that are not officially approved. A physician from Makhachkala, Naida Umarova, told her family’s story. “In 2005, my invalid brother disappeared,” she said, adding “After several days, policemen came to our house with the threats that caused my mother to have a stroke. I have been trying to make her recover ever since, but who will answer for this? On March 10, my second brother disappeared. And now I fear for my own life because there is no one behind me [for support]. I do not want to live in this country” (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, June 2).
One of the key speakers at the conference, Abas Kebedov, a member of the Dagestani union of Islamic scholars and co-founder of the civil organization Dagestan – a Territory of Peace and Development, spoke out against the gross violations of the rights of Muslims in the republic. “Fifteen minutes ago [the police] took away our brothers as their beards appeared to be unjustifiably long, even though, I assure you, they were no longer than [the beard] of Russia’s [Orthodox] patriarch,” Kebedov told the conference. He said that despite the republican government’s declared priority to consolidate Dagestan, “it has not gone beyond mere words,” adding: “A complete breach of laws and limits (“bespredel” in Russian) on the part of the law enforcement bodies is going on.” According to Kebedov, either the government was helpless to stop police violence against Muslims or it was part of the government’s strategy. The Muslim scholar offered three possible scenarios for Dagestan if the government does not change its ways: war and the disintegration of Russia, the Chechen path (rule like Ramzan Kadyrov’s) or the peaceful route. Kebedov sensationally stated that the Dagestani armed underground was ready for the dialogue with the government but that the republic’s official Muslim body and the “people in epaulettes” are opposed to it (Kommersant, June 2).
Abas Kebedov is the brother of Bagaudin Kebedov, who was considered to be the spiritual leader of Dagestani Salafi Muslims, who are blamed for destabilizing this republic and the North Caucasus generally. Bagaudin Kebedov’s whereabouts are unknown since he fled Dagestan in 1999, following the start of the second Russian-Chechen war. Meanwhile, Abas Kebedov presents himself as a moderate Muslim who respects secular legislation but criticizes the government for not complying with its own laws, like freedom of religion. Abas Kebedov stated he has had contacts with the Russian president’s administration and the security services in Moscow to discuss possible solutions for Dagestan. He suggested that the revolutions in the Arab world are indicative of global changes that are bound to affect the North Caucasus. Abas Kebedov spent 12 years living and studying in Egypt (www.islamcivil.ru, January 3, 2011). His frank statements may, on the one hand, indicate the usual game by the Russian security services in the North Caucasus to reveal, influence or destroy local leaders in the region. On the other hand, they may also be indicative of genuine despair in Moscow about its ability to retain a grip on Dagestan in the near future.
Some Dagestanis, like the deputy head of the Dagestani Public Chamber, Aluset Azizkhanov, are already complaining about the rise of Islam in the republic. “The Dagestani authorities must clearly and unequivocally say that we will only go down the secular road,” Azizkhanov said, adding “So far there has been a total offensive of Islamists on the government, which has not reacted in any way to this.” It is interesting that another authoritative public figure in Dagestan, Sulaiman Uladiev, who is co-founder of Dagestan – a Territory of Peace and Development along with Abas Kebedov and deputy mayor of the city of Khasavyurt, disregarded religious factors to explain the instability in Dagestan. “Today 5-6 clans have grabbed the entire republic in their hands,” Uldiev said, adding “They did not leave anything for us. A complete dismantling of the [clan] system, depriving it of economic power, is the only salvation for Dagestan. Only the political will of the Russian government is needed to do this” (www.ndelo.ru, June 4).
A belief in “the crooked local bureaucrats” and “the upright Moscow officials” apparently still has some currency in Dagestan. However, it is clear that Dagestan and the rest of Russia share the problems of corruption, monopolization of the economy and narrowing opportunities for young people. There is simply no team of brave, uncorrupt officials in Moscow to be dispatched to Dagestan to put everything in order. And even if there were such a team, it would be hard to impose new rules in Dagestan without adapting them to this republic – something that has to be done by the locals.
Meanwhile, the Russian Public Chamber’s working group on the North Caucasus said in a statement that the intensified oppression of Muslims in Dagestan and North Ossetia was “a provocation” designed to thwart the Sochi Olympics in 2014 and hinder Russia’s presidential elections in 2012. According to the statement, some internal and external forces were behind the attempts “to derail the process of political stabilization in the country, the strategy of national reconciliation and the socio-economic development of the [North] Caucasus and create a state of managed chaos in the region. In this chaos, they plan to implement their dirty ideas on disintegration of the country and balkanization of the [North] Caucasus” (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, June 3). The working group admitted that the Russian security services are a major – if not the primary – source of conflict in the North Caucasus, so it is unclear whether the Russian Public Chamber is accusing the government in Moscow of an attempt to break up Russia. References to mysterious outside forces continuously trying to undermine Russia’s rule in the North Caucasus sound especially out of place at a time when the government forces in the region are so indisputably implicated in the flagrant violations of human rights.