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Caucasus Report: July 15, 2002

15 July 2002, Volume 1, Number 2
ISLAMIC PARTY OF RUSSIA LEADER MAGOMED RADZHABOV. The Islamic Party of Russia on 27 April transformed itself from a political organization into a Russia-wide political party at its third congress in Moscow.

In the run-up to that meeting, the organization held a republican conference in Makhachkala, Daghestan. RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service interviewed Islamic Party of Russia head Magomed Radzhabov at that Makhachkala meeting on 20 April. Speaking after delegates overwhelmingly elected Khasmagomed-Hadji Abakarov to lead the party's Daghestani chapter, interviewer Magomed Datsiev asked Radzhabov about the party's origins and its nascent support base. The following is an edited version of that conversation:

RFE/RL: There have always been religious organizations in Daghestan and Russia. Was there a need for another political organization -- namely, the Islamic Party of Russia -- with so many existing already?

Magomed Radzhabov: There have been 14 Islamic political movements, but there was not a single party. This party appeared after the new law on political parties was issued, effectively putting an end to such movements in Russia (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 26 January 2001). Now they [movements] don't have the right to participate in any kind of social or political activities -- only parties are allowed to get involved in such activities. Since there was a strong will to take part in social and political life, and there was no party, all 14 movements expressed a desire to establish a party. So probably it was Allah's will that I become the person responsible for this, though I have never thought of being [a political leader].

[Sheikh, or religious leader, and former shepherd] Said-Afandi Cherkeiskii (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 29, 13 August 2001) dwells on whether Muslims needed this party or not. And he gave a direct answer to this in his recent book, saying, "If there was a Communist Party and others, wouldn't it be better to launch our own Islamic party to solve the problems of our state, of our rights, of our life?" This cannot be expressed any better. And Avars, and any person looking at Said-Afandi's book, finds this answer. When launching the party, our main goal was to awaken all Muslims on the righteous path and to elect our people's representatives. We wanted Muslims with strong faith in Allah, following a righteous path, and favored by the people to hold state positions or to work in legislative bodies so that they could do whatever they could to help people.

RFE/RL: Which issue was most crucial at the [April republican] conference? Are you satisfied with the way it was held?

Magomed Radzhabov: We invited the representatives of 42 regions and 10 cities to the conference. There was at least one representative from every Daghestani village -- and there are 200 of them in Daghestan. Their representatives came. Due to inclement weather, however, many of those who wished to come did not manage to do so. [But] all the representatives from all of [Daghestan] were at the conference. I am greatly satisfied with the way the conference went.

The main aim of the conference was what Daghestan and I needed most of all: to elect the leader of the party -- a man with his conscience and honor before Allah, good knowledge of Islamic science, loyalty to his land, and following the most righteous path. Having...thought and discussed everything together, we came to the conclusion that there was no purer man in Daghestan than Khasmagomed-Hadji Abakarov. He is a righteous man who has honored Allah greatly, a father of "shahids" (martyrs) who always rendered his help to Islam during hard times. All the delegates elected him and were highly content with his election. And all those who participated at the conference left quite satisfied.

RFE/RL: What issues will the Islamic Party of Russia deal with now that the conference is over?

Magomed Radzhabov: The Islamic Party of Russia's third congress in Moscow is a week from now (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 April 2002). That congress will assemble 66 representatives and delegates from [the party's] regional branches. And there are also applications -- there are 10 new regions -- that want to launch their own branches of the party since learning about its existence. At the moment, 1.5 million people are party members, and we had to give account of this at the two meetings held at the Central Elections Commission in Moscow in December. So, we do not have to address problems with party membership numbers at all: Allah willing, when we submit registration documents we will prove so on paper. At the moment, 500,000 party cards have been issued. [Soon], 3 million people will certainly have joined the party. All conditions and possibilities are [prepared] for this.

KABARDINIAN BATTLES FOR RELEVANCE. "The World Atlas" presented at UNESCO's offices in Paris in February lists the Adygh language group -- which comprises Circassian, Kabardinian, Abkhaz, and Abazin -- among those Caucasus languages that are on the verge of disappearing.

The Adyghs include the Kabardins, who largely inhabit the southern Kabardino-Balkaria Republic, and Circassians, who populate the neighboring Karachaevo-Cherkessiya Republic. At the time of the last Soviet census in 1989, there were 394,651 Kabardins and 52,356 Cherkess in the USSR. Of those who lived in Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachaevo-Cherkessiya, 98.9 percent and 97.9 percent respectively considered Kabardinian or Circassian their native language. But there are reportedly obstacles to the development of the Kabardinian language in the Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria, which borders on Georgia.

Soviet citizens have long been led to use the Russian language. This has had a commensurate effect on studies of Kabardinian, with the last Kabardinian-Russian dictionary published in 1956, for instance.

As Kabardinian society aims to keep up with practical knowledge and skills, there are fears that young and "creative" Kabardins are leaving an important part of their heritage behind: their mother tongue. Officials within the Education Ministry and authorities at institutes of higher education have encouraged parents to believe that, if their children want to acquire work experience and drive cars, they must study Russian. If they want their children to become shepherds, on the other hand, they can encourage studies in Kabardinian.

Kabardins and Balkarians may be well-versed in Russian. But some observers believe it is necessary to increase the value of their native languages in acquiring a profession, starting in primary school and continuing through university.

Kabardins In Turkey

When the modern Turkish state was created in 1923, teaching in the Adygh languages was permitted. With the switch to the Latin alphabet in November 1927, obstacles appeared to instruction in any number of native languages.

Three-quarters of a century later, the Kabardinian language's use is mostly limited to a small number of remote villages in Turkey. Even where children are raised in Kabardinian-speaking households, the language gives way to Turkish once formal education begins.

In many cases, even the informal use of Kabardinian has been discouraged and schoolchildren are forbidden to speak the language.

Some 84 years have passed since Adygh educators launched a school in 1918 as part of their effort to bolster Adygh language and custom in Istanbul. The Dzakuko Amina, as it was called, was established to serve the Kabardinian community and was the result of an initiative by linguist and scholar Chantyko Maizat. Accompanied by his wife Khunch Kharia, who served as headmaster at its inception, Maizat sought to teach subjects like business and trade, economics, and the natural sciences. Also prominent among their studies, Kabardinian was taught using the Latin alphabet.

There were six classes of students and an enrollment of 150, while a preparatory group was devoted to six- and seven-year-old pupils. While in many ways the institution resembled Turkish learning at the time, it differed in that classrooms were co-ed. Teachers worked virtually without pay, while the children's parents contributed money for the school's maintenance. The school had a library, a reading room, and a theater in which performances in Kabardinian were staged.

The institution appeared to be flourishing until events overtook it in the 1920s. In 1923, the bilingual (Turkish and Kabardinian) magazine "Mother's Faith" published an article in which Kabardins deported (from Transcaucasus) to Turkey were compelled to resettle elsewhere in Europe. Months later, in July, the Dzakuko Amina was shut down by Turkish authorities along with other institutions. The persecution continued as Kabardins were expelled from more than a dozen villages, such as Benen, Banterm, and Manas, prompting even Turkish Prime Minister and later President Ismet Inonu to publicly lament their treatment. (Sultan Abazov and Fethi Gungor)

DAGHESTAN'S FIREMEN STILL BATTLING CHORNOBYL FALLOUT. The official unveiling in Makhachkala on 26 April of a black marble monument to Daghestan's fallen firemen provided some consolation to such victims' families and to fellow firemen. But the opening -- and city officials' decision to rename the street on which the symbol stands after the "Chornobyl firemen" -- also highlighted the plight of those called on for rescue and cleanup efforts. The monument's backers spent five years pushing for the 400,000-ruble (about $12,700) project. The republican government contributed 150,000 rubles, the city of Makhachkala granted another 200,000 rubles, and the remaining 50,000 rubles was donated by firemen.

Firemen's representatives are meanwhile concerned that officials gathered for the ceremony will fail to express their indebtedness in the form of action.

Roughly 2,500 Daghestani firemen were among the 360,000 people from all over the former Soviet Union dispatched to Chornobyl power station after an explosion ripped through the plant's fourth reactor on 26 April 1986, spewing radioactive clouds. About 1,800 of those "Chornobyl firemen" still reside in Daghestan, 450 of whom are officially registered as disabled. Another 150 have died in the 16 years since the accident.

The firemen also are plagued by division even within their own ranks: No fewer than three unions currently claim to represent them.

But representatives place much of the blame on officials. Fewer than half of the "Chornobyl firemen" have accommodation or special care centers, they say. The head of one such organization, the Union of Chornobyl Firemen in Daghestan's Gazimagomed Gazimagomedov, says they have to organize public protests to secure what he considers basic facilities, compensation, and other benefits. Where there is legislation, officials are still reluctant to comply, Gazimagomedov charges, singling out the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs for particular criticism. Even where funds have been allocated, he alleges, it is allowed to "depreciate" before it is disbursed. Once it is, he adds, "Money is given to us like a bone tossed to a dog." (Zulfiya Gadjiyeva)