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Daghestan's Leaders Move To Placate One Ethnic Group As Moscow Antagonizes A Second

As widely anticipated, Daghestan's parliament approved on March 24 by a unanimous vote the appointment of Magomedsultan Magomedov as its new speaker.

A trained economist, Magomedov was born in Makhachkala on July 7, 1955, and is the head of a string of oil companies. He also owns the Anzhi soccer club. Ulluby Erbolatov, press secretary of the Daghestan chapter of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, characterized him as "a good politician, sponsor and economist."

The crucial factor in the choice of Magomedov was, however, his nationality: he is a Kumyk. The Kumyks are Daghestan's third-largest ethnic group after the Avars and Dargins; the Lezgins rank fourth and the Laks fifth.

Magomedov's appointment goes some way towards compensating his co-ethnics for the loss of the more privileged post of prime minister. In 1996, when Mukhu Aliyev, an Avar, was named to succeed Magomedali Magomedov (a Dargin), as president, Magomedov's son Magomedsalam was named parliament speaker and a Kumyk to the post of prime minister.

Ethnic Arithmetic

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev last month named Magomedsalam Magomedov to succeed Aliyev as president; Magomedov duly named an Avar, Magomed Abdullayev, as prime minister. Even before he did so, between 500-2,000 angry Kumyks took to the streets in protest.

Meanwhile, a new threat to ethnic harmony has emerged in the form of the impending forced resignation of Amuchi Amutinov, a Lak. Amutinov is a former deputy prime minister and currently heads Daghestan's pension fund. He served previously as a deputy prime minister and has survived two assassination attempts, in November 2004 and February 2005.

Amutinov is quoted as saying that on a recent trip to Moscow, Federal Pension Fund head Anton Drozdov told him he had received orders "from above" (apparently from deputy presidential-administration head Vyacheslav Surkov) to fire Amutinov. At the same time, Drozdov assured Amutinov that he has no complaints about his work. Amutinov said he received similar assurances from Daghestan's First Deputy Prime Minister Nizami Kaziyev.

Amutinov said he suspects "oligarchs from Daghestan based in Moscow" whom he did not name are behind the move to fire him.

Trade-union leader Abdurakhman Magomedov expressed support for Amutinov, whom he described as an honest and principled person who has defended the rights of all ethnic groups and can take credit for a marked improvement in the Fund's work.

Magomedov said his union and an organization that represents Laks' interests have addressed a written appeal to Presidents Medvedev and Magomedov, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and North Caucasus Federal District head Aleksandr Khloponin asking them to explain the motives for Amutinov's imminent dismissal.

Unsettled History

A recent brief history of the Laks implies that they have been harder hit than some other ethnic groups by negative economic trends in recent decades. Many homes in Lak villages are deserted as families leave in search of employment elsewhere, unable to make a livelihood from animal husbandry (sheep and horse breeding), their traditional occupation.

That report did not, however, mention the forced resettlement in 1944 of thousands of Laks from villages in mountainous central Daghestan to a raion that at that time was part of the Checheno-Ingush ASSR, but was subsequently subsumed into Daghestan and renamed Novolak. The Laks were given the homes from which the Chechens were deported en masse to Central Asia in February 1944.

Forty years later, in 1989, those Laks voluntarily offered to vacate those villages to enable the rehabilitated Chechens to return. The Russian government drafted a program in 1992 to resettle the Laks north of the capital, Makhachkala, but the lands in question proved uninhabitable, and no other alternative was offered. As of December 2007 when Daghestan's government reviewed the implementation of that program, only a few thousand Laks had left Novolak Raion.

As a result of the chronic land shortage resulting from the uneasy cohabitation of Laks and Chechens, Lak couples who marry cannot count on receiving land on which to build a home of their own. Unemployment among Laks is estimated at 80 percent (far above the average for Daghestan). And the accelerating outmigration from rural districts to cities is reflected in the incidence of linguistic assimilation: between 75 and 80 percent of Laks living outside their local communities have either no knowledge at all, or only a rudimentary knowledge, of the Lak language.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.