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Daghestan Leader Seeks To Balance Interests Of Repressed Peoples

Daghestan's Magomedsalam Magomedov seems to be caught in a bind.
Daghestan's Magomedsalam Magomedov seems to be caught in a bind.
The head of the Russian North Caucasus Republic of Daghestan, Magomedsalam Magomedov, met last week with residents of three predominately ethnic Kumyk-populated villages on the western outskirts of Makhachkala who are lobbying to have the district in question granted the status of a separate municipality that would also comprise land to the north of the capital.

They also want formal acknowledgement of, and compensation for, their forced resettlement during World War II.

Magomedov sought to reassure the Kumyks that their demands will not be dismissed out of hand. But they put him in a difficult position, for several reasons. Acquiescing to them would impinge on the ongoing resettlement of another of Daghestan's 14 titular ethnic groups, the Laks. It could also precipitate an open conflict between Magomedov and his most powerful political rival, Makhachkala Mayor Said Amirov, who recently denounced the Kumyks' demand for a separate municipality as "a threat to Daghestan's territorial integrity."

The Kumyks are a Turkic people. They are Daghestan's third-largest ethnic group after the Avars and Dargins, and account for some 14 percent of the total population of 2.9 million. The Kumyks claim that Tarki -- one of the three villages on the slopes of the Tarki-Tau Mountain southwest of Makhachkala for which they are now demanding the status of a separate municipality -- is the most ancient settlement in the Russian Federation, older even than Derbent, in southern Daghestan, which was founded 5,000 years ago.

The Kumyks already bear one major grudge against Magomedov for having violated an unwritten agreement over the distribution of top leadership posts among the republic's three largest ethnic groups. Under that agreement, the Avars and Dargins are entitled to the posts of president and parliament speaker, and the prime minister is a Kumyk.

On his nomination as republic head in February 2010, however, Magomedov, who is a Dargin, appointed an Avar as prime minister. Between 500 and 2,000 angry Kumyks took to the streets to protest that appointment. Magomedov then named a Kumyk, Magomed-Sultan Magomedov, to the less prestigious and influential position of parliament speaker.

Like the Laks (Daghestan's fifth-most-numerous ethnic group), the Kumyks were forcibly resettled in 1944 to villages in the extreme west of Daghestan left empty after Josef Stalin's mass deportation to Central Asia and Kazakhstan of the entire Chechen nation. The Kumyks were given the green light to return to their lowland homes in 1957 in the wake of then-Soviet Communist Party General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev's "Secret Speech" exonerating the Chechens, Ingush, and other deported peoples of the charge of collaboration that served as the rationale for their deportation.

In May 2000, a congress of the Kumyk national movement Tenglik first undertook to draft a law on land use in Daghestan that would make provision for the return to the Kumyks of the lands they forfeited.

Resettlement of the Laks, by contrast, has proven more problematic. It was deemed inexpedient to return them to the mountain villages in central Daghestan from which they were deported, possibly because the Lak population had almost doubled in size between the censuses of 1970 and 2002 (from 72,000 to 139,000) and there was simply not enough available land available to accommodate them. Instead it was decided to resettle them on flatlands to the north of Makhachkala to which the Kumyks lay claim. But that process, which should have been completed by the late 1990s, was delayed partly by insufficient funding for the construction of new homes and partly due to the reluctance of some Laks to settle in a district unsuited for the livestock raising that has traditionally been their primary occupation.

On April 12, the anniversary of their forced resettlement in 1944, the Kumyks set up a protest tent camp in the lowland district north of Makhachkala where construction of new homes for the Laks is under way. The Kumyks demanded that the villages of Tarki, Kyakhulay, and Alburikent -- with a combined population of some 40,000 -- together with the neighboring area to the north earmarked for the Laks, be designated a separate municipality.

Repressed Peoples Disunite!

They also requested formal acknowledgement that they were unjustly repressed by Stalin, and financial compensation for their sufferings. As Abdulkadyr Dzhamalutdinov, chairman of the Council of Elders of the village of Tarki, told the weekly "Chernovik," the Kumyks were subjected to brutal and inhumane treatment in the course of their enforced resettlement but have never officially been designated a repressed people.

Republic head Magomedsalam Magomedov formed a special commission headed by parliament speaker Magomedov to address the Kumyks' grievances. Magomed-Sultan Magomedov sought over a period of several weeks to persuade his co-ethnics to dismantle the tent camp, assuring them that the republic head "wants to try to resolve the problem but does not want to be seen to have given in to pressure."

The Kumyks held their ground, however, prompting harsh condemnation from Makhachkala Mayor Amirov. Amirov predicted that acceding to the Kumyks' demand to create a separate municipality comprising the three villages would open a Pandora's box of similar demands from other ethnic groups living in ethnic enclaves, such as the village of Gubden and the Avars in Levash, that would culminate in the disintegration of Daghestan.

That may be an overstatement, especially given that the other cases Amirov adduced do not involve ethnic groups that were the victims of Stalin's repression. And to give Amirov his due, in 2004 he took a far more lenient line with regard to the Kumyks' plight, signing an official decree that called, among other things, for lobbying the Russian State Duma to include the population of Tarki, Kyakhulay, and Alburikent among the deported peoples of Russia, for "measures to restore their violated rights," and for the payment of compensation.

It cannot be excluded, however, that Amirov is seeking to use the Kumyks' demands as a weapon against republic head Magomedov in the hope of supplanting him in that post. Late last year, Amirov similarly sought to capitalize on the demonstrations in Makhachkala against human rights abuses committed by the police and security services in order to discredit Magomedov.

Judging by the published accounts of Magomedov's meeting with the Kumyk representatives, he may well be playing for time rather than risk a standoff with Amirov. Magomedov was quoted as assuring the Kumyks that "all legitimate and well-founded demands will be met to the extent that is possible." He added the caveat that any relevant decision must conform to the constitutions of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Daghestan. Those are precisely the formulations he used when he met two years ago with Kumyk representatives angered by his dismissal of one of their co-ethnics as prime minister.

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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