Dagestan on the Brink

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Makhachkala, the capital city of Dagestan. Photo: Bolshakov/flickr

On September 15, 2012 Dagestan, a Russian republic located next to Chechnya in the North Caucasus, was celebrating its Day of National Unity [ru]. While the holiday always seems to be forced upon Dagestan the need for unity is undoubtedly important for the region.

The North Caucasus is one of the most ethnically diverse regions of Russia, and Dagestan is no exception. Its largest ethnic group, the Avar, make up only 30% of the population – the rest is split between a dozen small nationalities.

Ethnic division combined with high levels of unemployment is a recipe for volatility. Opposition leader Eduard Limonov blogged on August 15 [ru]:

[The] impression is that Dagestan is about to stop being a territory of the Russian Federation, because every day we learn of subversive acts, murders and attacks …This is a classic beginning of a civil war.

Two weeks later talk of civil war [ru] was on everyone’s mind. On August 28, Said Afandi, a Sufi Sheikh and one of Dagestan’s most prominent religious scholars, was killed by a female suicide bomber [ru]. The bomber was a Salafi Muslim, and the killing was a manifestation of the tension between the republic’s traditional Sunni Sufis and a growing fundamentalist movement, according to Dagestani blogger[ru] Saif Nuri.

The blogger el_murid argues that the radicalization of Dagestanis is due to the social pressures of the region. He says a corrupt government led by a few powerful clans is to blame [ru]:

While the government builds its own personal happiness behind high fences and armored glass – they will be killing sheikhs and hiding in forests, nursing dreams of revenge.

Dagestani blogger, zakir05 [ru], thinks that the killing of Afandi means the end for peaceful dialogue between the Sufis and Salafis:

Attempts to provoke infighting between the Sufis and Salafis have already been made. In Buynaksk, on the 2nd of September, persons “with green skullcaps” (such skullcaps are worn by Sufis) kidnapped Sirazhuddin Khasaev, a salafi.

zakir05 is also pessimistic about the future [ru]:

Almost all summer there was talk of war starting in Dagestan in September-October. Plus there is talk that active military campaigns are being held back until the Sochi Winter Olympics.

These are ominous predictions, especially in light of troop movements. Just recently it was announced that a paratrooper division with experience of suppressing insurgencies is relocating to southern Dagestan [ru].

However, not all bloggers are as pessimistic, with one even trying to lighten the mood [ru] by joking that if a dirty bomb explodes tomorrow in Makhachkala (Dagestan’s capital) Dagestanis will take it in stride:

… that night, in the center of Makhachkala at the cafe “LONDON” Makhachkalians will tell each other about the explosion…discussing which of their relatives in the radioactive zone they should say they lived with, in order to get government compensation.


For further information on the topic, please view the following publications from our partners:

The Republic of Dagestan: The Epicenter of Islamist Insurgency in Russia’s North Caucasus

Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst Vol 13, No 11

Russia’s Internal Abroad


For more information on issues and events that shape our world please visit the ISN’s Security Watch and Editorial Plan.

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