Turkic Nogays Say Makhachkala’s Land Reform Threatens Ethnic Peace in Dagestan

(Source: Caucasian Knot)

The leaders of Dagestan’s 40,000 Nogays, say that Makhachkala’s latest land reform program violates Moscow’s nationality policy, threatens their survival as a nation, and undermines the possibility for inter-ethnic peace not only in the northwestern part of that republic but in neighboring North Caucasus republics ones as well. The Nogays are a Turkic-speaking people with some 60,000 co-ethnics in neighboring republics and 90,000 of them in Turkey. Since Makhachkala announced the program in early May, there have been public demonstrations by Nogays against the land reform program (Kavkazr.com, June 2). Moreover, the Nogays of Dagestan have called for convening an all-Russian congress, on June 14, of the Nogay people to mobilize them against the Dagestani government (Nazaccent.ru, June 7).

The Nogays live dispersed across the North Caucasus and do not have their own ethno-national territory. They had one until 1957; but upon the return of many of the minority nations Joseph Stalin had deported, the Nogay community was split into three parts and now nowhere constitutes a majority or even a significant plurality. Members of this group do, however, have close ties with their co-ethnics in Turkey. As a consequence of these two factors, the Nogays have more leverage than many of the nations within the borders of Dagestan. This worries Moscow, and experts on the region have announced plans for a roundtable discussion on the future of the Nogays, presumably to give the Kremlin advice on how to respond to the growing anger of the Turkic people.

The proximate cause of the Nogays’ unhappiness was the announcement on May 11 by the Dagestani republican government of plans to create three new settlements in regions where the Nogays have traditionally conducted their agricultural activities. In this way, Nogay activists say, “the Dagestani authorities are depriving entire peoples of the preservation of their territories of compact settlement” in general and forcing the Nogay and Kumyk peoples “to live as minorities” in what have been their own historic lands. In short, it is for them “a national catastrophe.” But no one should think this is an issue for the Nogays alone, the activists say. It threatens to trigger an avalanche of problems for other groups that will make ethnic peace in that multi-ethnic republic impossible.

The next week is likely to be critical. If most of the major Nogay population centers choose to send delegates to the congress in Dagestan, the Dagestani and Russian authorities will have to decide whether to take the risks that would arise from blocking the meeting from taking place or to assume those that would likely arise if the meeting goes forward. In either case, Nogay activism almost certainly will increase, and a nation in the North Caucasus that Turkey is particularly interested in but that has been relatively quiet in recent years is likely to make itself heard, not only in Dagestan but in Chechnya, Ingushetia, Stavropol krai and elsewhere. In the short term, that could cost republican leader Ramazan Abdulatipov his job; in the longer term, it could undermine the territorial integrity of Dagestan in the first instance but also Ingushetia and Chechnya.