With Fewer Options, Dagestani Leader Offers Deal to Salafi Sympathizers in Gimry

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 15 Issue: 4

Magomedali Magomedov, who was removed as Dagestan’s president in 2013, was the first leader of the republic who proposed starting negotiations with the Salafis. The dialogue process was aimed at Salafis who are not members of the armed resistance but sympathize with the insurgency and provide the militants with some support. In April 2011, the Spiritual Board of Muslims of Dagestan and the Ahlu Sunna Association adopted a joint resolution that favored resolving all contested issues through debate (https://www.islamission.ru/index.php/ru/poslednie-novosti/3755-v-dagestane-predstaviteli-raznykh-techenij-islama-prizvali-silovikov-prekratit-nezakonnye-metody-presledovaniya-musulman).

Although this agreement was made with the support of the republic’s mufti, few observers noticed that no influential Sufi sheikhs were among the document’s signatories. This initiative was apparently a top-down order and the Sufi sheikhs quietly ignored the agreement without openly challenging it.

The first serious challenge to the talks was the August 2012 murder by the jihadis of Said-efendi Chirkeiski, Dagestan’s most notorious Sufi sheikh, who was closely linked to the government (https://expert.ru/2012/08/29/bomba-pod-mir-na-kavkaze/; https://izvestia.ru/news/535836).

Following the sheikh’s killing, Patimat Gamzatova, the mufti’s representative and head of the media holding of the mufti’s apparatus, said the dialogue between Sufis and Salafis should be stopped. However, even the murder of someone as well-known as Chirkeiski did not impact Dagestan’s government in such a way that it would allow the mufti’s administration to make statements like that. Gamzatova evidently was not a person to make such statements without the mufti’s permission. The agreement between the Salafis and the Sufis was apparently brokered by government advisers and supported whatever position the Sufis held.

After the agreement between the Salafis and the Sufis was signed, rights activists in Moscow developed overly optimistic expectations from the new policies in Dagestan (https://www.kommersant.ru/pda/kommersant.html?id=1652059). This premature optimism showed the rights activists had a shallow knowledge of the North Caucasus. For their part, the constant mantra of the authorities about the high unemployment rate being the primary driver of destabilization (https://www.memo.ru/d/95093.html) is nothing other than an attempt to avoid discussing what has really led to the armed confrontation and spread of jihadist ideas.

Magomedali Magomedov’s removal as president in January 2013 and his replacement by Ramazan Abdulatipov, a professional politician of national scale (https://expert.ru/2013/01/29/zatyanuvshayasya-otstavka/) signaled that a profound policy shift was imminent.

The arrests of high-profile bureaucrats who had been untouchable for decades were designed to show that Moscow had decided to restore order in the region (https://www.mk.ru/politics/article/2013/06/28/876459-arest-magomedova-nanes-esche-odin-udar-po-klanu-amirova.html). Abdulatipov’s first months in office resembled the style of leadership that had been seen in Chechnya since 2005. It was not hard to deduce that the same team of Kremlin experts, headed by Vladislav Surkov, was also behind the experiment in Dagestan. Surkov’s return to the Kremlin as an aide to President Vladimir Putin does not bode well for the region (https://grani.ru/Politics/Russia/President/m.219232.html). Regardless of Surkov’s formal assignment in the Kremlin, he will certainly be tasked to work on the North Caucasus.

Meanwhile, against the backdrop of a series of special operations in Dagestan in recent months, Abdulatipov needed to show that he had some new ideas about reducing tensions in the republic.

On February 6, while the country was focused on the Winter Olympics in Sochi, the Dagestani authorities unexpectedly announced their own way of ending the conflict. The solution was indeed quite surprising. The signing of an agreement between the republican authorities and the Avar village of Gimry in Dagestan’s Untsukul district was postponed several times. Gimry was repeatedly subjected to months-long counterterrorist operations (https://www.sp-analytic.ru/popularity/1968-kto-v-gimry-reportazh-iz-osazhdennogo-sela.html). Gimry is the symbol of the Avars’ struggle for freedom. Two imams who fought Russian colonizers from the 1820s to the1860s, Imam Gazi-Magomed and Imam Shamil, were born in the village.

The signing of the agreement was less of a surprise, since it had been announced well in advance. In exchange for signing it, the village’s residents were expected to stop aiding the Salafis, and promised to help resolve the village’s social problems. The document was signed by the republican authorities and Untsukul district public figures. Following Soviet-era tradition, Dagestani head Abdulatipov, republican government head Abusamad Gamidov, his deputy Ramazan Jafarov, and republican government administration head Artur Isaev were present (https://www.interdag.ru/news/5150/v-dagestane-vpervye-podpisano-gimrinskoe-soglashenie).

It was unclear why the government had not resolved the villagers’ social problems earlier and why such help was tied to an agreement, even though it was already the government’s responsibility to improve their social conditions. It is hard not to agree with Dagestani analyst Milrad Fatulaev, who asserted that the signing of the agreement was only designed to show off the government’s activities (https://flnka.ru/aktualnoe/5466-gimrinskoe-soglashenie.html).

According to Fatulaev, the government is shifting the problem to the residents of the village themselves. The government demands that the residents not support the Salafis, in exchange for which the authorities promise to provide gas supplies and build a kindergarten. According to the agreement, the villagers will report every three months on how they are curbing their support for the insurgents and the authorities, in response, will deliver the promised natural gas and kindergarten incrementally (https://newsland.com/news/detail/id/1319282/). The authorities in the republic are apparently hoping that before Moscow realizes what is going on, the situation in Dagestan will improve due to the special operations against the militant jihadis.

In the true spirit of a Soviet-era sham, Ramazan Abdulatipov decided to fool Moscow. The question, of course, is whether Moscow will agree to play along or will reprimand Abdulatipov altogether for playing his own game instead of following the scenario prescribed by the central government. If the latter takes place, Abdulatipov risks being a reformer only for a short while and retiring soon on “health grounds.”