After three years of prevarication, the Russian leadership has finally moved to expedite the permanent resettlement in Daghestan of some 500 residents of two villages that for decades constituted a Russian exclave in northern Azerbaijan.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has instructed senior officials
to verify and approve by October 1 the estimated cost of building new homes for them in southern Daghestan. When construction will begin and how long it will take remains unclear, however.
The villagers in question are Lezgins who lived in the villages of Khrakhuba and Uryanuba in Azerbaijan's northern Khachmaz district, some 50 kilometers from the Azerbaijani-Russian border. The villages were leased to Daghestan for use as pasture under an agreement signed in May 1954 and prolonged in 1984 for a further 20 years. But under an interstate border treaty signed in September 2010, Russia formally relinquished any claim on them. The Azerbaijani authorities then presented the villagers with the choice of applying for Azerbaijani citizenship in order to remain in their homes, or resettling in Daghestan.
The overwhelming majority chose the second option, but the resettlement process
was delayed repeatedly, initially because the then-Daghestani leadership claimed it required both official permission from Moscow and additional financial resources to cover the expense. In August 2011, Putin agreed
to a personal request from then-Republic of Daghestan President Magomedsalam Magomedov to fund the process from the federal budget. In February 2012, according to Daghestan presidential press spokesman Zubayr Zubayruyev, land was allocated
in Daghestan's southernmost Magerramkent district for construction of new homes for them.
But no further progress was forthcoming. First, the Federal Migration Service was still in the process of checking the identity
of the would-be repatriates. The final list comprises 377 people (135 households) from Khrakhuba and 11 (three households) from Uryanuba.
And second, federal government agencies were unable to reach agreement on which of them would contribute how much to the total cost of resettlement, which then-Daghestan Finance Minister Marat Ilyasov estimated last December
at 900 million rubles ($28.3 million).
Of that total, 300 million rubles
was for construction of 138 individual homes and the remainder for infrastructure (roads, water, gas and electricity supplies, and the construction of a school and kindergarten).
For months, the federal Finance Ministry refused to make funds available without an explicit directive from either Putin or Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. It advocated instead either financing the resettlement from the five-year (2008-2013) federal Yug Rossii program or by a loan to the Daghestani government.
That problem has now been resolved: Putin's recent directive envisages subsidizing the cost directly from the federal budget. Overall responsibility
for coordinating the program has been delegated to the federal Ministry for Regional Development.
Meanwhile, the villagers are still living either with relatives or in rented accommodation. Most are unemployed. At a meeting in late August between villagers and a European Parliament fact-finding mission assessing the plight of Daghestani ethnic groups in Azerbaijan, Ruslan Gereyev, who heads the Moscow-based Federal Lezgin National-Cultural Autonomy, said that the mortality rate among the villagers had risen as a direct result of the stress to which they had been subjected, and that "practically all of them" were in need of either medical treatment or counseling
In addition, they have apparently not received any material assistance from Daghestan's government. In July, Daghestani oligarch Omar Murtuzaliyev's Pure Heart benevolent fund provided food parcels
for 130 families. It is not clear whether Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov has made good on his offer
of material help.
Even though no timetable has been made public, villagers reportedly came away from a meeting in early September meeting with Mamed Abasov, who represents Daghestan in the Russian State Duma, optimistic that an end to their three-year ordeal is in sight.