In a further reflection of the new warming
in Azerbaijani-Russian relations, Republic of Daghestan President Ramazan Abdulatipov has issued a statement
calling on Daghestani ethnic minorities in neighboring Azerbaijan to vote for incumbent President Ilham Aliyev in the October 9 presidential ballot. Abdulatipov praised Aliyev as "an experienced politician and wise statesman."
Whether the minorities in question share Abdulatipov's positive assessment of Aliyev's achievements during his 10 years as president is open to question, however.
Estimates of the number of Avars, Lezgins, Tsakhurs, Rutuls, and smaller Daghestani ethnic groups living in Azerbaijan vary considerably. According to the 2009 Azerbaijani state census, they totaled 250,000 people, including 180,000 Lezgins, 50,000 Avars, 12,000 Tsakhurs, and 3,800 Udins. (The Rutuls were not listed separately and were presumably lumped in with their ethnic cousins, the Lezgins.)
But Daghestani analyst Marko Shabanov argues that the official Azerbaijani 2009 census data are impossible to reconcile
with the demographic trends registered in earlier censuses, in particular the rate of natural increase. Shabanov notes that organizations representing the Daghestani ethnic groups in Azerbaijan estimate their combined total at 1 million, which is equal to 11-12 percent of Azerbaijan's 2009 population of 8.82 million.
What is more, both the Avars and the Lezgins have complained for years of perceived discrimination, repression, and linguistic assimilation at the hands of the Azerbaijani majority. The European Parliament recently dispatched a fact-finding mission
to Azerbaijan to evaluate those complaints.
There are tensions too between Lezgins and Azerbaijanis in southern Daghestan, in particular the town of Derbent, where those two ethnic groups each account for 31-32 percent of the population of 118,000. Representatives of Derbent's Lezgin population spearheaded a protest
in June against the renaming of one of the city's streets
in honor of Ilham Aliyev's father and predecessor as president, Heydar Aliyev (whom Abdulatipov credited with establishing Azerbaijan's "tradition of democratic elections").
The protesters construed that concession to Baku by Daghestan's leadership as turning a blind eye to what they perceive as Azerbaijan's persistent and invidious political, economic, and ideological encroachment into Daghestan.