According to the two reports, which appeared on the website of the Georgian non-governmental organization Human Rights Center (HRIDC) on October 27 and November 4, dozens of ethnic Lezgin refugees arrived in the Kakheti region of eastern Georgia in the past month and a half. The choice of Kakheti region is not coincidental as the Lezgin refugees seek shelter with their relatives and kinsmen in the three Lezgin-populated villages of the Kvareli District—Tivi, Saruso and Chantliskure (Gela Mtivlishvili, “Dagestanian Lezghins now refugees in Georgia,” November 4, 2008, HRIDC; Gela Mtivlishvili, “Dagestanian Lezghins found shelter with their relatives in the villages of Kvareli District,” October 27, 2008, HRIDC).
According to Gela Mtivlishvili of HRIDC, the Lezgin refugees stated that the situation in Dagestan in general and Makhachkala District in particular has become quite tense recently. Under direct orders from the Russian federal military command, local law enforcement authorities are carrying out the mandatory enlistment of young males between the ages of 18 and 38 for induction into the Russian armed forces and anyone, who refuses to join, is arrested. Magamed Khaibulaev, one of the newly arrived Lezgin refugees, told the HRIDC that no one is offering to provide an explanation as why young men are being recruited. The Dagestanis see the connection between the compulsory recruitment and Georgian-Russian conflict as well as the reemergence of militant activities in Ingushetia (Gela Mtivlishvili, “Dagestanian Lezghins now refugees in Georgia,” November 4, 2008, HRIDC; Gela Mtivlishvili, “Dagestanian Lezghins found shelter with their relatives in the villages of Kvareli District,” October 27, 2008, HRIDC).
Khaibulaev also told the HRIDC, “Compulsory recruitment started on October 20. Local law enforcers came to our houses and informed us that they were instructed to recruit the young men. They gave us only one day to prepare to join the army. We have heard that military groups are being formed in Dagestan. Some of the groups that are being formed are staffed with inexperienced green soldiers and they are then deployed to Tskhinvali, and those who had previously been in the army are being sent to Ingushetia. Most men are refusing to join the army and serve their military service. Those who failed to arrive in Georgia are hiding out in Dagestan. People are hiding in forests” (Gela Mtivlishvili, “Dagestanian Lezghins now refugees in Georgia,” November 4, 2008, HRIDC).
Another Lezgin refugee, who is a resident of Makhachkala, told the HRIDC under condition of anonymity that his brother A.M., who is 29, could not escape and police took him to join the army. The incognito Lezgin added, “My brother and his two friends managed to escape from Makhachkala Military Commissariat. I spoke with my mother several days ago. She said my brother and his friends have been hiding in the forest for over a week now. Criminal cases are being opened for those putting up resistance to the police” (Gela Mtivlishvili, “Dagestanian Lezghins now refugees in Georgia,” November 4, 2008, HRIDC).
It should be noted that some of the Lezgins, who came to the Kvareli District from Dagestan, were born in Georgia and hold dual (Russian and Georgian) citizenship. As early as in February 2006, HRIDC reported that the Lezgin residents of the village of Chantliskure had both Georgian and Russian birth certificates and identity documents. According to the then deputy head of Chantliskure administration, Alexandre Chachanidze, the illegal practice of dispensation of Russian birth certificates was carried out by the gynecologist Omar Davudov, who had been dispatched to Chantliskure by the Dagestani authorities in Makhachkala to assist the local Lezgin population (Gela Mtivlishvili, “Dual Citizenship in Kvareli,” February 22, 2006, HRIDC).
The reason why Lezgins in Chantliskure acquire Russian birth certificates and identity documents is quite clear. The Lezgin elders, for instance, are registered in Kvareli District and in Dagestan and they receive pensions in both places. The Lezgin youth attend local elementary school in Chantliskure, but most prefer to continue their studies in Dagestan, according to the representative of local administration Zurab Bikoshvili (Gela Mtivlishvili, “Dual Citizenship in Kvareli,” February 22, 2006, HRIDC). Holding dual citizenship provides distinct advantages for those crossing the Georgian-Russian border. Thus, some Lezgins from Kvareli District are engaged in the shuttle trade in consumer goods because they can cross the border quite freely. In 2006, however, local Georgians complained that several Lezgins were also involved in selling narcotics, which they brought from Dagestan, to offer to Georgian youth (Gela Mtivlishvili, “Dual Citizenship in Kvareli,” February 22, 2006, HRIDC).
Thus far the Georgian authorities appear to be opting for a “hands-off” approach as they monitor the situation but prefer not to interfere in order to avoid stirring up the Lezgins. Because the Lezgin-populated villages are located in an economically depressed area the competition for scarce resources, be it jobs or nominal assistance from the local administration, has been creating tensions between the Lezgins and the local Georgian population. These tensions may soon escalate if the Lezgin community continues to grow as Tbilisi would be wise to pay closer attention to this area to avoid any further turmoil.