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Daghestan's Laks Plan Protest Meeting

Representatives of Daghestan's Lak population have formally requested permission from the Makhachkala municipal authorities to stage a meeting in the city on April 3 to protest the dismissal of their co-ethnic, Amuchi Amutinov, who heads the Daghestan branch of the federal Pension Fund.

The Laks are the fifth-largest ethnic group in Daghestan, accounting for some 5.4 percent of the total 2.6 million population. After First Deputy Prime Minister Rizvan Kurbanov, Amutinov, a former deputy prime minister, is one of the most prominent Laks within the republic's leadership.

The news of Amutinov's dismissal, apparently on orders from the Russian presidential administration, surfaced one week ago. Earlier this year, Amutinov had publicly expressed support for Daghestan's outgoing president, Mukhu Aliyev, whom Russian President Dmitry Medvedev decided in February not to propose for a second term.

Abdurakhman Magomedov, who heads a trade union representing civil servants, 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 President Medvedev, new Daghestan President Magomedsalam 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.

Within days, the heads of two Daghestan raions where Laks constitute a majority of the population (Novolak on the border with Chechnya, and Lak in the mountainous center of the country) dismissed the calls for a protest meeting as unwarranted and likely to destabilize the situation. They expressed doubt that any Laks will travel to Makhachkala from either district to participate in the meeting.

One of the issues that Medvedev discussed on March 26 during a meeting near Sochi with Magomedov was the stalled resettlement to lowland areas in northeastern Daghestan of tens of thousands of Laks who were deported in 1944 from their homeland in central Daghestan to the Aukh 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.

Following his talks with Magomedov, Medvedev issued instructions to increase funding for the resettlement program.

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.


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