Monday, May 30, 2016


Caucasus Report

Official Lezgin Body Eclipses Glasnost-Era Public Organization

Nazim Gadzhiyev, a leader of the ethnic Lezgin community in Russia's North Caucasus region of Daghestan, was found dead with numerous stab wounds in his apartment this week in the regional capital, Makhachkala. (file photo)
Nazim Gadzhiyev, a leader of the ethnic Lezgin community in Russia's North Caucasus region of Daghestan, was found dead with numerous stab wounds in his apartment this week in the regional capital, Makhachkala. (file photo)
By Liz Fuller

Nazim Gadzhiyev, 72, who since 2012 has headed the Lezgin public organization Sadval (Unity), was found stabbed to death on March 21 at his apartment in Makhachkala, almost exactly one year to the day since the still-unsolved death of Sadval activist Ruslan Magomedragimov.

Bloggers such as Ruslan Gereyev who commented on Gadzhiyev's demise lauded his commitment over five decades to the concept of Lezgin autonomy, but at the same time opined that Sadval and the older generation of activists cannot achieve the desired results in today's evolving political landscape.

The Lezgins are a north-eastern Caucasian ethnos who claim to be the descendants of the ancient kingdom of Caucasian Albania that fell to Arab conquerors in the 8th century A.D. Their historic homeland was divided in 1860 between two gubernias of Tsarist Russia -- Daghestan, which in 1918 remained part of Russia, and Shemakha, which formed part of the short-lived Azerbaijan Democratic Republic that was subsumed into Soviet Russia in 1920. 

At the time of the 2010 Russian Federation census, there were 385,240 Lezgins living in Daghestan, primarily in the south of the republic. They were the fourth largest ethnic group (13.3 percent of the total population.) 

Estimates of the number of Lezgins in Azerbaijan vary widely. In 2014, they were officially estimated to account for 2 percent of the total population of 9,686,210 (193,724), while unofficial estimates range from 400,000 to 850,000. 

The first demands by Lezgins in the U.S.S.R., including Gadzhiyev, for a separate Lezgin territorial-administrative unit date back to the 1960s, and were swiftly suppressed. 

In July 1990, inspired by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of glasnost, Lezgins in Daghestan established the informal organization Sadval to campaign for the "unification" of Lezgin-populated territories, a demand that resonated with at least some of their co-ethnics in the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. 

Spearheading Public Protests

From the mid-1990s through the first decade of this century, however, Sadval's primary objective has switched several times, depending on whether its moderate or radical wing was formulating policy, from an independent state, to an autonomous Lezgin region within Daghestan that would subsume part of northern Azerbaijan, to an autonomous Lezgin region within Azerbaijan, which would have necessitated ceding Russian territory. 

Over the past few years, Sadval's focus has narrowed. Its activists spearheaded public protests in 2013 against the perceived threat posed to the ecosystem of Daghestan's Magerramkent district by Azerbaijan's alleged use of more water from the Samur River than it is entitled to under the September 2010 interstate border treaty. They also opposed what were seen as efforts by Azerbaijan to expand its presence and influence in southern Daghestan, especially the town of Derbent. 

Meanwhile, the Federal National-Cultural Autonomy of the Lezgins (FLNKA), an official body with close ties to the Russian State Duma and the Russian Foreign Ministry, apparently took upon itself those aspects of Sadval's agenda that derive from the division of the ethnic group between two states. 

North Caucasus Federal District head Sergei Melikov, who is of Lezgin extraction, has been tipped to succeed Ramazan Abdulatipov as head of the Republic of Daghestan. (file photo)
North Caucasus Federal District head Sergei Melikov, who is of Lezgin extraction, has been tipped to succeed Ramazan Abdulatipov as head of the Republic of Daghestan. (file photo)

In 2008, FLNKA together with the State Duma's Committee for Nationality Affairs compiled and circulated a brochure calling for official condemnation of the division and "ethnocide" of the Lezgin people in the 1920s, and demanding that the border between the Russian Federation and Azerbaijan be redrawn to incorporate the northern districts of Azerbaijan into Daghestan. (That demand was not met by the terms of the 2010 treaty.) In other words, FLNKA allowed itself on that occasion to be used as a policy instrument for exerting Russian pressure on Azerbaijan. 

FLNKA has recently formally applied for consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

At the same time, on the local as opposed to the federal level, successive Republic of Daghestan leaders have energetically sought to establish cordial and mutually beneficial ties with Azerbaijan, in the name of which the interests of the Lezgins have been quietly shelved.

That situation may change, however, if, as some analysts speculate, North Caucasus Federal District head Sergei Melikov, who is of Lezgin extraction, is chosen to succeed incumbent Ramazan Abdulatipov as Republic of Daghestan head when Abdulatipov turns 70 later this year. 

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Tofig from: Muscat
March 27, 2016 13:38
http://www.trackingterrorism.org/group/sadval-union-movement

I hope they will be peaceful this time.

by: Mamuka
March 27, 2016 19:37
kalbatono Liz, are there many Lezgins in Georgia? Any more than a tiny population? Parts of Kakheti (eastern Georgia) were part of "Albania" and there is a significant Azeri minority near Tbilisi, but I don't recall hearing much about Lezgins in Georgia. Anyway it could complicate an already messy multi-state issue.
In Response

by: Jack from: US
March 29, 2016 02:46
there are 700,000 Lezgins in rump republic of Georgia, and they want to be liberated from Georgian fascist oppression and join Russia
In Response

by: peter from: ottawa
April 01, 2016 19:54
No such number Black Jack Chelak, not even 70, more like 4 million Georgians want to be liberated from outhouse Russia. Mamuka is correct in his comment, he should know, he's Georgian. As for you Jack, I thought you got recalled back to Moscow for the re-indoctrination course you failed. It took 2 tries to get your numbers wrong. Congrats !

by: Alban from: Gabala
March 31, 2016 14:41
all these figures about Lezghins you are sucking from your pinky? How about Lezghins who were trained in Armenia and exploded metro stations in Baku? Lezghins: do not be victims of Armeno-Russian propaganda!

by: Yalchin from: Baku
April 02, 2016 10:18
Lezgin, Georgians, Azerbaijanis have a lot in common. They share more good souvenirs than bad ones. May peace be with them. Glory to you my Georgian and Lezgin sisters and brothers.

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.