Saturday, November 10, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Nogays’ Call for Their Own Republic Threatens Ethno-Territorial Division of North Caucasus

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 10 – Because significant numbers of the Turkic Nogay nation live in Daghestan, Stavropol, Karachay-Cherkesia, and Chechnya, a call by the Fourth Conference of the Nogays of Russia that Moscow create a separate autonomous republic for them could further destabilize the North Caucasus.

            That body, meeting at the end of October in Terekli-Mekteb in the Nogay District of Daghestan appealed on November 7 to Russian President Vladimir Putin to create a separate Nogay republic that would include within its borders the 70,000 Turkic-speaking Nogays of Stavropol, Chechnya and Daghestan (

            The Nogays, who number just over 100,000 in Russia’s North Caucasus, have been divided territorially since 1957 when Moscow suppressed Grozny oblast at the time of the return of some of the ethnic groups deported by Stalin and divided the Nogay steppe into three parts. Since then, the Nogays have repeatedly but unsuccessfully asked for their own autonomy.

            But they may have more success this time.  On the one hand, the situation in Daghestan where a plurality of the Nogays lives is deteriorating rapidly.  And on the other, the Nogays have cast their demand explicitly in terms of “strengthening the security of Russia in the North Caucasus.”

            “Only separation from Daghestan and the establishment of an autonomy can give the Nogays the opportunity to preserve themselves as a people-ethnos and to preserve their land for future generations.”  If the Nogays are kept within Daghestan, the letter continues, “it will be impossible” for them to do so because of the approach of Makhachkala.

            Moreover, the Nogays say in their appeal, the weakening of Nogay national traditions because of the absence of territory has opened the way for the spread of Islamist influence, something that until recently had been entirely alien to Nogay national traditions.  Only a territorial autonomy can stop that, they suggest.

            The Daghestani government has exploited the Nogay steppe to the point of exhaustion, they say, exceeding “by several times” state-established ecological norms.” If that continues, the letter says, “then in the near future, Russia will have the first man-made desert in its European portion.”

            But many in the region, including some Nogays outside of Daghestan, are less enthusiastic.  Valery Kazakov, head of the Karachayevo-Cherkess Nogay El National Cultural Autonomy, says a separate Nogay republic would create “a bucket of problems” for Russia as a whole (

            If the various existing republics could agree to cede territory, something Kazakov says is unlikely, then perhaps this would work. But because they won’t, Moscow dare not create a territorial unit lest it spark more violence in the Caucasus.  He proposes instead an extra-territorial approach to promote broader national-cultural autonomy.

            Nogays have already created such formations in Sakha, Yamalo-Nenets, and St. Petersburg, and they occupy senior posts in Karachayevo-Cherkesia, posts they could lose if a separate territorial autonomy were to be created. Nonetheless, the Nogays may press forward – and for a reason none of the Russian commentators mention.

            The largest Nogay community in the world is in Turkey, and many Nogays in the North Caucasus feel empowered by that fact, just as do the Circassians who are vastly more numerous outside the borders of the Russian Federation than within.  And that sense of empowerment, even if it is based more on fellow feeling than actual support, is likely to play an increasing role.

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