Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 224

In the next few days, the situation could heat up in southern Dagestan, where, under conditions of the strictest secrecy, a congress of the Lezgin people is to take place. The congress is expected to discuss proposals for the national and cultural autonomy of southern Dagestan — a region where Lezgins are compactly settled. (Segodnya, November 27) The Lezgin congress was scheduled to take place back in September, under the aegis of the "Sadval" movement. A few days before it was to begin, however, the wife of one of the leaders of "Sadval," General Muguddin Kakhrimanov, was killed by unknown assailants, and the congress was postponed. A short time later the Dagestani authorities arrested Kakhrimanov and charged him with his wife’s murder. According to the Russian daily Segodnya, the accusation was false; Makhachkala wanted to use it to isolate Kakhrimanov. (Segodnya, November 27)

Regardless of whether that version of the story is correct, Makhachkala is clearly paying close attention to what the Lezgins are doing. Today, key governmental posts in Dagestan are occupied by representatives of the Avars and the Dargins, the republic’s two largest ethnic groups. The ruling ethno-political bloc has no interest in improving the status of the Lezgins, who consider themselves to be under-represented in the republic’s government. The problem is complicated by the fact that about half of the Lezgin people live in adjacent regions of Azerbaijan. At virtually every Lezgin congress in Dagestan, the issue of uniting with fellow Lezgins on the other side of the border is raised.

According to Segodnya, armed groups of Wahabis (adherents of a current in Islam close to the official ideology of Saudi Arabia) have set up several dozen militarized groups in southern Dagestan, and may stage armed provocations along the Dagestani-Azerbaijani border. (Segodnya, November 27) The situation is further exacerbated by the fact that self-defense detachments are beginning to form in the districts of Dagestan bordering Chechnya. The initiators of these detachments, which are to defend the area from raids launched from Chechnya, are Dagestan’s Security Council secretary, Magomet Tolboev, and the leader of the Avar National Front, Hadji Makhachev — both ethnic Avars. Many in Dagestan fear that these self-defense detachments could turn into mono-ethnic armed groups operating independently of Makhachkala.

Both Sides Stand to Gain from Yeltsin Visit to Chechnya.