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Kumyks Stage Protest In Daghestan

Magomedsalam Magomedov has difficult decisions to make if he wants to preserve "ethnic parity."
Just eight days after Russian President Dmitry Medvedev named Magomedsalam Magomedov to succeed Mukhu Aliyev as president of Daghestan, that republic's third-largest ethnic group has taken to the streets to protest the violation of the unwritten agreement on the distribution between the various nationalities of the three top leadership posts.

Between 500 and over 2,000 Kumyks attended a meeting in Makhachkala on February 16 to protest the anticipated dismissal of the republic's Prime Minister Shamil Zaynalov (a Kumyk) following Magomedov's inauguration. Attendance at the demonstration would reportedly have been far higher had not police and security forces cordoned off the square where it took place.

The Makhachkala correspondent for the Russian daily "Kommersant" reported that the angry Kumyks adopted an appeal to Medvedev protesting that for decades, Moscow has favored the Avars and Dargins, while ignoring the interests of Daghestan's other ethnic groups. At the time of the 2002 Russian census, the Avars were the largest ethnic group in Daghestan, accounting for 29.4 percent of the total population of 2.6 million. In second place were the Dargins (16.5 percent), followed by the Kumyks (14 percent).

But the Kumyks (a Turkic ethnic group) tend to look down on the Avars, and a study of Daghestan's various ethnic groups published in Moscow in 1988 claimed that the Kumyks were in fact the dominant nationality, accounting for 22.6 percent of the population, followed by the Avars 18.9 percent), the Lezgins (11.6) and the Dargins (11.5).

Since 2006, when Aliyev, an Avar, was named president, the post of prime minister has been held by a Kumyk, and that of parliament speaker by a Dargin.

The "Kommersant" correspondent recalled that in the summer of 2008, some 16,000 Kumyks signed an open letter to Medvedev describing their "catastrophic" situation and enumerating their grievances. In the February 16 missive, they warned that replacing Zaynalov as prime minister by one of the four Avar candidates who figured on the presidential shortlist would be a gross violation of Kumyk national interests and could trigger a string of mass protests.

They also reiterated their long-standing objections to the ongoing resettlement of Laks from mountain districts bordering Chechnya on land in northern Daghestan traditionally inhabited by Kumyks.

Magomedov told Daghestan's parliament on February 8 that in order to observe "ethnic parity," the next prime minister should be an Avar. But following the unanimous approval of his nomination by parliament on February 10, he told journalists that he is not yet ready to divulge his proposed candidates for top posts. He also said he will try to promote social consolidation.

Magomedov, 46, served for one year as parliament speaker after his father, Magomedali Magomedov, stepped down in 2006 after serving for 12 years as president of Daghestan. His most recent position was as head of the economy faculty at Daghestan State University.

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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