Dagestan is threatening to spin out of control. That, at least, is the claim of a pair of reports — one in a Russian newspaper and the other on a Chechen separatist website. Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on August 10 that the mayor of the city of Khasavyurt, Saigidpasha Umakhanov, and a group of his supporters had recently held several demonstrations calling for the ouster of the republic’s government. According to the newspaper, while the formal reason for the demonstrations was alleged police persecution of a group of dissident republican district heads, the demonstrations’ initiators called for the resignation of the republic’s chief executive, State Council Chairman Magomedali Magomedov.
Nezavisimaya gazeta noted that Umakhanov became widely known for organizing local armed resistance to the armed incursion into Dagestan led by Chechnya-based Islamists in August 1999, almost exactly five years ago, but that he subsequently turned into a “militant rival” of the republican powers-that-be and turned Khasavyurt into a kind of “independent enclave.” According to the newspaper, several thousand armed militiamen who held onto their weapons after confronting the August 1999 incursion remain under Umakhanov’s “influence.” His political vehicle is an organization called the “Committee to Protect the Russian Federation Constitution on Dagestani Territory.”
After the recent demonstrations, Magomedov gave Umakhanov what was essentially an ultimatum, telling him to reconsider his actions and “find a worthy place in the power structures” before it was too late, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported. According to the paper, the Dagestani leader also wrote a letter to the Kremlin warning that the situation in the republic was “dangerous” and threatened the country’s security. He compared the situation in Khasavyurt to the situation five years ago in the village of Karamakhi in Dagestan’s Buinaksk district, where local Islamists set up an “independent Islamic territory” governed by Sharia law.
The confrontation between Umakhanov and Magomedov has an ethnic component, with the anti-Magomedov forces in Khasavyurt being mainly Avars, while the Dagestani leader is a Dargin. According to Nezavisimaya gazeta, Umakhanov may be attempting to destabilize the situation in order to bring an “experienced politician with wide contacts in Moscow and great love for Dagestan” in as a mediator. The paper quoted an unnamed Dagestani parliamentarian as saying that either Ramazan Abdulatipov, a Federation Council member who is an ethnic Avar from Dagestan, or Gadzhi Makhachev, an Avar leader who represents Dagestan in the State Duma, would be willing to replace Magomedov.
The secretary of Dagestan’s Security Council, Akhmed-Nabi Magdigadzhiev, accused the Khasavyurt protesters of trying to repeat the tactics of the “Rose Revolution” that overthrew Eduard Shevardnadze in Georgia. But political scientist Murad Meshkhoev ruled out such a scenario, saying that the Khasavyurt rebels have little support within Dagestan’s political elite (Nezavisimaya gazeta, August 10).
Perhaps not surprisingly, the pro-Chechen separatist Kavkazcenter website has been fishing in these troubled waters. It quoted from what it said were leaflets handed out during the rallies organized by Umakhanov accusing Magomedov of the August 1998 murder of Dagestan’s mufti, Said Muhammed-Hadji Abubakarov, and the May 2003 terrorist bombing in the town of Kaspiisk. The Dagestani and federal authorities blamed both incidents on Islamic radicals. Referring to the pro-Umakhanov forces and those supporting Magomedov as “two pro-Russian clans,” one Avar and the other Dargin, the website claimed there was “information” suggesting that Umakhanov is being backed by the Russian military’s North Caucasus command while Magomedov has the support of the Federal Security Service (FSB) (Kavkazcenter.com, August 11). The website had reported the previous day that armed Dargins and members of another ethnic group, the Kumyks, were ready to go into battle on Magomedov’s side, and that the warfare could commence with an Avar march on Makhachkala, Dagestan’s capital (Kavkazcenter.com, August 10).
Kavkazcenter.com also posted two statements by Dagestani Islamists over the last several days. The first, signed by “The Mujahideen of Dagestan,” appealed to Dagestani policemen. “We call on you to quite your jobs and not to stand between us and the incumbent illegitimate Dagestani authorities because our goal is to establish the law of Allah and to oust the temporarily functioning illegitimate Dagestani authorities, and also to liberate Dagestan from the Russian occupation,” the statement read (Kavkazcenter.com, August 10).
The second statement, signed by “The Righteous Men of the Mujahideen of Dagestan ‘Istikama'”, called for a ‘jihad’ in the Caucasus against the Russians and for helping “Chechen Muslims in the sacred task of throwing out the occupiers.” The statement characterized the Spiritual Board of Dagestan, the republic’s mainstream Muslim organization, as “anti-Islamic”; and warned the special services, Interior Ministry, and “other puppet services” to stop “terrorizing” Muslims or face retribution. The statement’s signatories also said they recognized no “laws, norms, or standards” that did not conform to Sharia (Kavkazcenter.com, August 12).