Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 219

A congress of the Lezgin movement “Sadval” (Unity) took place this week in the southern Dagestan city of Derbent. Delegates discussed the economic and social problems of southern Dagestan, which is the republic’s least-developed region economically. The assembled delegates did not, as they have done in the past, demand the creation of a Lezginistan republic. Instead, they called for national-cultural autonomy while remaining part of Dagestan. The congress also did not repeat its previous territorial claims on Azerbaijan, where approximately half the Lezgin population lives.

Some 200,000 Lezgin live in southern Dagestan. They comprise approximately 12 percent of Dagestan’s population. Roughly the same number of Lezgin live in the section of Azerbaijan adjacent to Dagestan. During the Soviet period, the unity of the Lezgin people was simply not an issue: The border between Dagestan and Azerbaijan existed only on the map. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the appearance of a state border between Azerbaijan and Russia along the Smur River, the issue of Lezgin unity began to emerge, in a rather sharp form. In 1992, the Lezgin national movement, Sadval, organized mass demonstrations on both sides of the border, demanding the creation of a unified Lezginistan as part of the Russian Federation.

The Lezgin apparently decided at this week’s congress to demonstrate their inclination toward compromise and their faithful subordination to Russia. During the congress, Sadval leader Ruslan Ashuraliev declared: “We must understand that we cannot live without Russia” (NTV, November 24).