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RFE/RL: New Potential Ethno-Territorial Flashpoints Emerge In Daghestan (L.Fuller)

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  • Norbert Strade
    Friday, 03 February 2006 Russia: New Potential Ethno-Territorial Flashpoints Emerge In Daghestan By Liz Fuller (RFE/RL) Most Russian media coverage of
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 3, 2006
      Friday, 03 February 2006

      Russia: New Potential Ethno-Territorial Flashpoints Emerge In Daghestan

      By Liz Fuller

      Most Russian media coverage of Daghestan over the past year has focused
      on the activities of groups of militants who have systematically gunned
      down dozens of police officers and other officials. That upsurge in
      violence, whether it is motivated by religious considerations or simply
      reflects an ongoing battle for resources and influence among powerful
      political interest groups, has overshadowed the possibility that new
      conflicts could erupt at any time over rival claims to parts of
      Daghestan's territory.

      One of those disputed regions is the former Aukh district, until 1944 a
      part of the Checheno-Ingush ASSR. The Chechen and Ingush population of
      that republic was deported en masse to Central Asia in February 1944 on
      orders from Soviet leader Josef Stalin on suspicion of collaborating
      with the advancing Nazi German forces, and the internal border was
      redrawn to make the Aukh district part of Daghestan.

      The district was subsequently named Novolak and forcibly resettled with
      Laks from two mountainous central districts of Daghestan, up to 30
      percent of whom died during that forced resettlement. The Laks
      constitute the sixth largest of Daghestan's 14 titular ethnic groups.
      The Akkin Chechens returned to their homes after their rehabilitation in
      1957, but two years ago issued an ultimatum to the Laks to leave the
      district, according to "Vremya novostei" on 23 August 2004.

      In accordance with a 1992 Russian government directive on reversing the
      injustices to which some ethnic groups in Daghestan were subjected under
      Stalin, a program was drafted that envisaged returning some 13,000 Laks
      from nine villages in the Novolak district where they constitute a majority.

      On 20 December 2005, the Russian State Duma's Commission for North
      Caucasus Problems convened to assess the implementation of that program,
      regnum.ru reported. The commission found that to date only some 2,100
      Laks have left Novolak, partly because of delays in the construction of
      new homes for them (the plan envisages building nine separate villages
      to replace the villages they are to leave, together with highways,
      water, gas and electricity supplies, and related infrastructure), and
      partly because the area to which the Laks are to be resettled is not
      suitable for agricultural purposes and there is no alternative
      employment, according to Mamma Mammayev (Unified Russia), who is one of
      Daghestan's deputies to the Russian State Duma. Moreover, according to
      Mammayev, up to 80 percent of the Lak population was not informed about
      the impending resettlement.

      In addition, some representatives of Daghestan's authorities may have
      misgivings about, and possibly even seek to sabotage, the exodus of Laks
      from Novolak. Their departure would leave the Avars, who are the largest
      single ethnic group in Daghestan, outnumbered by the Chechens in Novolak
      by a factor of 3:1 -- a ratio that Mammayev fears might impel the
      Chechen leadership to ask for Novolak to be returned to the Chechen
      Republic. (The Akkin Chechens, who have little liking for the current
      pro-Moscow Chechen leadership, would in all likelihood oppose any such

      Daghestan Supreme Council speaker Mukhu Aliyev sought to downplay the
      possibility of Chechen territorial claims on Daghestan, telling the
      commission that "not all the Laks will leave," and that he "will not
      cede a centimeter of Daghestan's territory to anyone." At the same time,
      Aliyev predicted violence if the resettlement of those Laks who do wish
      to leave Novolak is not completed within two years, claiming that
      "populists" (he did not specify of which nationality) would undoubtedly
      seek to take advantage of the ensuing tensions.

      Meanwhile, some representatives of another of Daghestan's ethnic groups,
      the Lezgins, plan to campaign for the incorporation of those regions of
      southern Daghestan that constitute part of their ancestral homeland to
      be transferred to the Azerbaijan Republic, zerkalo.az reported on 26

      The Lezgins are the sixth largest ethnic group in Daghestan. There are
      an estimated 204,000 of them in southern Daghestan and a further
      180,000-260,000 in Azerbaijan, where they constitute the second largest
      ethnic group after the Azeris, according to the Institute for War and
      Peace Reporting on 6 October 2005.

      The Lezgin national movement Sadval, which emerged in 1990 in Daghestan,
      initially lobbied for the creation of an independent Lezgin state
      comprising those regions of southern Daghestan and northern Azerbaijan
      that constitute the Lezgins' historic homeland. That demand was
      reportedly fuelled by the fact that Daghestan's Lezgins felt -- and
      still feel, according to zerkalo.az on 26 January -- that they are
      routinely treated as "second class citizens." Unemployment in the
      Lezgin-populated districts of Daghestan is reportedly almost double the
      republican average of 32 percent.

      Sadval split in late 1998 into a radical wing and a more moderate wing.
      The former continued to espouse the idea of an independent Lezgin state,
      while the latter advocated the creation of an autonomous territory for
      the Lezgins in Daghestan that would have the status of a separate
      federation subject and of a free economic zone, according to
      "Nezavisimaya gazeta" of 27 January 1999. Infighting between the two
      factions continued for several years, during which the movement
      apparently forfeited much of what popular support it once enjoyed.

      In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 25 August 2004, one of
      Sadval's co-chairmen, Nasyr Primov, admitted that Sadval was
      experiencing "a period of stagnation," and that "we do not have an
      electoral base as such." (Politically active Lezgins may have chosen to
      pin their hopes instead on the extraterritorial Federal Lezgin National
      Cultural Autonomy established in March 1999. The leader of that body, a
      Lezgin from Azerbaijan, was quoted by "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 27
      October 2004 as affirming that "the broad mass of the Lezgin people will
      never support the separatists.")

      Primov nonetheless insisted that Sadval's goals remain unchanged,
      namely, "to unite the Lezgin nation, make the frontiers transparent, and
      give people the opportunity to meet and move freely." Asked whether
      Sadval still harbors territorial claims on Azerbaijan, Primov denied
      that it pursues any aims in Azerbaijan, but in a seeming contradiction
      he added that "our only desire, our dream if you like, is to unite the
      entire Lezgin people in one state."

      The moderate wing of Sadval now intends to resurrect that goal, but by
      redrawing the borders of Azerbaijan to incorporate the Lezgin-populated
      regions of southern Daghestan and creating a Lezgin autonomous region,
      according to an article published on 26 January in the Azerbaijani
      online daily zerkalo.az. The paper quoted an unidentified source within
      Sadval as arguing that "the Daghestan Lezgins cannot remain within a
      republic that is being turned into a breeding ground for international
      terrorism and which is choking in the grip of an interethnic
      confrontation in which several foreign countries have a hand."

      But Sadval's proposed solution is, as zerkalo.az observed, unrealistic
      insofar as neither the Russian Federation nor Azerbaijan is likely to
      agree to a redrawing of the border between the two countries. At the
      same time, the online daily also notes that all Moscow's efforts to
      impose stability on Daghestan have proven fruitless, and the republic's
      future remains unclear. Sadval may at present number nothing more than a
      few dozen embittered feuding nationalists, but it remains a potent myth,
      and one that foreign powers with an interest in destabilizing the
      Caucasus might seek to co-opt for their own ends, zerkalo.az concluded.

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