Meanwhile, Russian Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin has asked Russia's Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to allocate some 6.6 billion rubles ($193.6 million) to finance the resettlement program adopted 20 years ago.
Three years ago, the Daghestani government calculated that just 4.6 billion rubles ($146 million) was still needed to complete the resettlement.
The Laks are the fifth largest of Daghestan’s 14 titular nationalities, accounting for approximately 5.5 percent of the republic’s total population of 2.9 million.
In 1944, thousands of them were forcibly uprooted from their villages in two mountain districts in the center of the republic and resettled in the Aukh district bordering on the then Checheno-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic.
The district’s Chechen population, together with the entire Chechen and Ingush nations, had just been deported to Central Asia on orders from then Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. The Aukh district was renamed Novolak.
In April 1991, the U.S.S.R.'s Congress of People’s Deputies passed a law on the rehabilitation of the victims of the Stalin-era deportations, including the Chechens.
The following year, the government of Daghestan adopted a program to resettle the Laks on the Caspian Sea coast to enable the former Chechen population of Aukh/Novolak to return to their homes.
That program originally envisaged the resettlement of 3,300 Lak households from eight villages – a total at that time of some 10,000 people – over a period of just four years. But, as of late 2007, only 2,500 Laks had actually moved to the new Caspian settlement of Novostroy.
This was partly because of delays in the construction of new homes (as well as the construction of highways, water, gas, and electricity infrastructure and related services) and partly because the area where the Laks were to be resettled is not suitable for agricultural purposes (in contrast to Novolak Raion), and there was no alternative employment for them.
Moreover, at least some of the new housing provided has reportedly proved to be substandard. In September 2012, a Makhachkala district court began hearing a case brought by Zhabir Amirov against a subcontractor from whom he claimed 2 million rubles to cover the cost of making his new home habitable, and a further 600,000 rubles in moral damages.
Other factors too have contributed to the protracted delay, including a lack of funds and opposition from the Kumyks, Daghestan’s third-largest ethnic group.
The Kumyks claim that the land on which the Laks are being resettled is historically theirs, and that they need it to alleviate chronic overcrowding in three Kumyk villages on the western outskirts of Makhachkala.
It has also been suggested that Mukhu Aliyev, the ethnic Avar who served as Daghestan’s president from 2005 to 2010, may have quietly sabotaged the resettlement as the departure of the Laks from Novolak would leave the Avars and Chechens as the two largest ethnicities there, with the latter outnumbering the former three to one.
In December 2007, Daghestan’s Deputy Prime Minister Rizvan Gazimagomedov told a session of the government commission overseeing the resettlement of the Laks that he anticipated it would be completed within four years. But funding for the resettlement program was slashed in July 2009 due to the global economic crisis.
Impatient at the delay, Novolak’s Chechen community responded by convening a “congress” in November 2009, at which Gazimagomedov asked the Chechens to persuade Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov to lobby Moscow for additional funding for the resettlement. Novolak Raion head Gadji Aydiyev said recently that funding has indeed been increased so generously that more new accommodation for the Laks has been built over the past two years than in the previous 18.
Nonetheless, if that is the case, why then should Stepashin, who visited Novolak Raion during a visit to Daghestan in late September, have informed Medvedev that a further 6.6 billion rubles is urgently required for the project?
Stepashin’s stated rationale was that failure to expedite the resettlement could result in new interethnic clashes between the Laks and the Chechens, such as those that occurred five years ago. This explanation is plausible, especially if the Laks are indeed under increased pressure from the Chechens to leave.
However, in light of Kadyrov’s efforts to extend his influence beyond the borders of Chechnya, it is equally possible that it was he, rather than the Daghestani leadership, who put Stepashin up to requesting additional funds from the federal budget, with the aim of ensuring the Chechens become the predominant ethnic group in Novolak, and possibly also of securing a slice of the 6.6 billion rubles for himself.
The resettlement program was one of the issues discussed at a self-styled "Congress of the Lak People" in Makhachkala in late September.
The 420 delegates, most of whom reportedly were not from the three predominantly Lak-populated districts, complained that pressure is being exerted on the Laks in Novolak to leave immediately, even before they have been allocated new homes in Novostroy. They also argued that Novolak Raion should not revert to its old name before all the Laks have left.
Reports from the congress indicate that the Laks are also unhappy that Novostroy will not be designated a separate municipality, but will be a part of Kumtorkala Raion, even though the original ruling on relocating the Laks specified that the territory on which they were to be resettled would in due course be designated Novolak Raion.
The delegates to the Makhachkala congress established a Lak National Council and elected former Deputy Prime Minister Amuchi Amutinov as its head. Amutinov had supported Aliyev’s unsuccessful bid for a second presidential term.
One of Magomedsalam Magomedov’s first actions after Medvedev (then Russian president) named him as Aliyev’s successor in early 2010 was to replace Amutinov as head of the Daghestan subsidiary of the Federal Pension Fund.
The agenda of the congress was not confined to the problems arising from the mass resettlement, which may even have served merely as a pretext for convening it. In response to Amutinov’s argument that the Laks should close ranks to address the broader problems facing Daghestan, the delegates passed a resolution noting that Daghestan is in a state of “civil war,” and calling for urgent measures to prevent a “full-scale" confrontation.
Daghestan’s leadership responded to that appeal with an orchestrated campaign to denigrate the congress and Amutinov personally.
Six days later, they convened a meeting of the Novolak district council, whose chairman Aydiyev denied that any representatives from either Novolak or the other two Lak-populated districts attended the Makhachkala gathering. Aydiyev also recalled Amutinov’s failure during his tenures as deputy prime minister to expedite the resettlement.
Residents of Novolak collectively criticized Amutinov for having usurped the right to speak in the name of the entire Lak people.
Daghestan parliament deputy Chupalav Omarov, one of the republic’s most prominent Lak politicians, issued a statement saying he does not know who represented the Lak community at the congress, which he branded an attempt at revenge on Amutinov’s part.
Other prominent Laks, including former First Deputy Prime Minister Rizvan Kurbanov and Interior Minister Lieutenant General Abdurashid Magomedov (no relation to Magomedsalam), have refrained from comment.
Amutinov later told delegates at a so-called Alternative Congress of Peoples of Daghestan in Moscow in late October that all Lak government employees who attended the Makhachkala congress were subsequently pressured to “resign voluntarily” from their jobs. That gathering has also triggered widespread criticism in Daghestan.