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Conflict and Catharsis: A Report on Developments in Dagestan Following the Incursions of August and September 1999

  • Enver Kisriev (a1) and Robert Bruce Ware (a2)


There was a fateful inevitability to the military actions in Dagestan that began on 2 August 1999 and concluded on 16 September. During the 2 years preceding, tensions within Dagestan's Islamic community had been building between fundamentalist Wahhabis and traditionalists. These tensions were exacerbated by Dagestan's sharp economic decline. Unemployment, which was running at 80% by August, contributed to growing dissatisfaction, especially in Dagestan's rural regions. These tensions reached critical proportions in the Botliksky rayon, particularly among young men belonging to the Andi ethno-linguistic sub-group of the Avars. Many of the latter were attracted to military training camps operated in Chechnya by Emir al Khattab, leader of the Wahhabite Islamic djamaat (village or connected group of villages) at Karamakhi, Chabanmakhi and Kadar, and by Shamyl Basayev, leader of the Islamic Congress of the Peoples of Ichkeria and Dagestan. In these camps rural Dagestani alienation met Chechen militancy and international Islamic fundamentalist support. Meanwhile Wahhabism grew increasingly influential in Chechnya as rival political leaders appealed to puritanical Islam in order to bolster their claims to authority and legitimize their political agendas.



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1. Social and Economic Situation in the Republic of Dagestan: Budget for the Year 2000 (Mahachkala: Committee on Statistics of the Republic of Dagestan, 1999).

2. NTV, 31 December 1999.

3. Ibid.

4. Enver Kisriev, “Societal Conflictogenic Factors in Dagestan,” in Dagestan Sociological Collection 1998 (Mahachkala: Dagestan Scientific Center, 1998).

5. See Robert Ware and Enver Kisriev, “The Islamic Factor in Dagestan,” Central Asian Survey, Vol. 2, No. 19, June 2000, forthcoming.

6. Nadir Khachilaev told Kisriev that he was beginning the war against corruption at the highest level in Dagestan. He asked Kisriev to help him to prepare a report for then Prime Minister Stepashin. This happened in March 1998, when Khachilaev invited Kisriev to visit him late at night in his home. Kisriev refused to participate and recommended to him that he avoid trouble. Khachilaev, who was a Representative of the State Duma of the Russian Federation, claimed to have cultivated a special relationship with Stepashin and boasted to Kisriev that he was perhaps the first to meet with Stepashin following Stepashin's earlier appointment as Minister of the Interior. Interfax reported on 4 June 1998 that after the Khachilaev brothers had seized the principal government building in Dagestan (the “Whitehouse”), Nadir Khachilaev announced in a session of the Duma that he was “prepared to give facts of corruption at the highest levels of power in Dagestan.” He also said that following an agreement he had with Stepashin he would not disclose the details of this corruption in order to avoid compromising the investigation. Nadir Khachilacv said that he then was “contacting the Parliamentary Committee on the Fight Against Corruption that is going to make a decision by the end of next week about sending its members to Mahachkala for the parliamentary investigation” (Novdje Delo, 5 June 1998). But in September 1998, Kolesnikov arrested Nadir's brother Magomed together with others, and the members of the Duma voted to revoke Nadir's parliamentary immunity, which was supposed to lead to his own arrest. Nadir went into hiding in Chechnya, but surrendered to federal authorities after the fighting at Karamakhi in September 1999.

7. Molodezh Dagestana, 18 June 1999.

8. The following account of the Congress is from a report by Elmira Kozhaeva, who attended the meeting and published a detailed report in Molodezh Dagestana, 18 June 1998.

9. Semi-annual Monitoring Survey conducted by Kisriev on behalf of the Committee on Statistics of the Republic of Dagestan, with partial funding from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

10. Stepashin first came to Dagestan as a deputy of the Minister of the Interior on 2 September 1998. The next day, he paid a cordial visit to Karamakhi. In the following television interview he said “they are not Wahhabis after all,” echoing the rejection of this title by local practitioners of political Islam. Stepashin also promised to help with supplies for the local hospital (Dagestanskaya Pravda, 4 September 1998). On 26 September 1998, a celebration took place in Karamakhi due to the arrival of humanitarian aid from Stepashin. According to Dagestanskaya Pravda (30 September 1998) the shipment included 10 tons of medical supplies. Other reports have claimed that the shipment also included construction supplies.

11. As observed by Kisriev.

12. Dagestanskaya Pravda, 26 May 1998.

13. The prosperity of the villages was due, in part, to a successful tradition in the trucking and transportation industry. Dargins traditionally value wealth.

14. The Decree of the Supreme council of the Russian Federation on behalf of the Chechen-Akhins for the formation of the Aukhovsky Rayon of the Autonomous Republic of Dagestan was signed in Moscow in 1944, 2 weeks prior to the deportation of the Chechens. Its formation was warranted by the concentration of Chechen ethnics in this portion of Dagestan. Interestingly, Stalin often performed favors for individuals just before arranging their imprisonment or execution. The idea seemed to be that of lulling his enemies into a false sense of security before striking them.

15. In the Soviet era, Kremlin policy required that a mass protest would cost the job of a local administrator.

16. In 1916, before the Russian Revolution, these territories, including the land of the Aukhovsky Chechens as well as other Chechen territories, were part of the Tersky Oblast of the Russian empire. Administrative boundaries rarely matched the traditional borders of ethnic territories. In 1916, Aukh was part of Nozhaj-Yurtovsky Okrug (district) of the Tersky Oblast. The district combined the lands of Chechens, Kumyks and Avars. For this reason, Dagestanis do not consider pre-revolutionary administrative boundaries as either ethnically or historically justified.

17. See below. In the past there have been efforts to establish separate ethnic DUMs, though these have not endured and there arc presently none in existence.

18. The Mufti was an Avar named Abubakarov.

19. On 25 August 1998, a meeting of Avars in Khasavyurt, acting in the name of the “Coordinating Council of the Northern Region of Dagestan,” demanded the resignation of the Dagestani State Council and the implementation of a presidential system of government. The demand was subsequently endorsed by the Avar-dominated Congress of Muslims, as described above. A presidential system would substitute an individual executive for Dagestan's present collegial executive body, the State Council. An individual executive would be favorable to the more numerous Avars. Dagestanis have thrice rejected referenda that would have installed a presidential system. Sec Ware and Kisriev, “The Islamic Factor.”

20. Amirov was paralyzed from the waist down after an unsuccessful attempt on his life. There is reason to believe that many of these attempts on Amirov have to do with intra-Dargin power struggles.

21. Dagestanskaya Pravda, 12 January 2000.

22. Dagestanskaya Pravda, 4 December 1999.

23. Information about recent aid to Dagestan is taken from a series of articles published in Dagestanskaya Pravda from October through to December 1999. Further information was gathered by Kisriev while monitoring aid distribution on behalf of the UNHCR.

24. Figures provided by the Moscow office of the UNHCR.

25. Data for this and the previous section are taken from Enver Kisriev, On the Model of Ethnological Monitoring (Moscow: Institute of Anthropology and Ethnography, 1999).

26. Zagir Varisov, “State Duma is Elected; Now Presidential Election is Coming,” Dagastanskaya Pravda, 18 January 2000. An editorial titled, “The Flawed Victory,” Molodezh Dagestana, 24 December 1999, noted, “Obscure businessman from Moscow, Gadjimurad Omarov, evidently was buying by wholesale and retail tens of thousands of voters, and won by many points ahead of other candidates.”

27. Such as the Andis, who have their own language and do not understand Avar. This arrangement contributed to their sense of under-representation, that led some of them to become Wahhabis.

28. See Robert Ware and Enver Kisriev, “Political Stability in Dagestan: Ethnic Parity and Religious Polarization,” Problems of Post-Communism, Vol. 47, No. 2, March/April 2000.

29. Ware and Kisriev, “The Islamic Factor in Dagestan”.


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