Thursday, June 20, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Clans in Daghestan Not Like Those in Moscow, Abdulatipov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 20 – Daghestan does not have clans and clannishness in the sense in which people talk about it in Moscow, according to acting republic head Ramzan Abdulatipov, but it does have family and tribal divisions which can cause trouble and “commands that become bands” which always do.

            In an interview with “Moskovsky Komsomolets” on the occasion of his 100th day in office in Makahchkala, Abdulatipov devoted much of his time to discussing these differences and why they present so many problems in Daghestan (

            An extended family and attachments to it are “a positive phenomenon” in the North Caucasus, he said, but when people say that they need to “create their own command,” that is “something else” because “first they create a command and then this command is transformed into a band.” For his republic, that is what “clannishness” means.

            Most such commands and bands are not made up of relatives. Instead, “they are people of various roots, but in their corruption and banditry, they support one another, Abdulatipov said, and they try to cover up such criminality by invoking ethnic linkages or the demands of extended families.

            One city leader in Daghestan told him, Abdulatipov recounted that “’with your arrival, people of my nationality will have fewer high posts.’” The acting republic head said he responded by pointing out that 12 members of the official’s family had senior positions and told him to free up six of them and “give them to the people if you are so concerned about it.”

            Three other experts in recent comments to the Moscow media help to fill in the portrait of clans in Daghestan that Abdulatipov drew in his interview yesterday.

            First, Kirill Kabanov, the chairman of the National Anti-Corruption Committee, note that across the North Caucasus clans are often a greater problem for the federal authorities than the terrorist bands because they act in complete violation of federal and local laws and thus weaken the state (

            Indeed, he suggested, constant talk about terrorism and extremism works to their benefit because it distracts attention from the actions of “the ‘parallel’ power” that these clans represent and thus allows them to act with impunity because many officials both locally and at the center assume that fighting the militants is the only thing they need to worry about.

            Second, Vadim Mukhanov, a senior specialist at the Center for the Problems of the Caucasus and Regional Security of the Foreign Ministry’s Moscow State Institute for International Relations (MGIMO), said that it is critically important to understand that clans are not ethnic or at least not ethnic alone (

            “A clan is not some medieval archaic community” as some think, he said. That of the recently arrested Said Amirov, for example, was “not ethno-centric” because why should such a person “be limited” to his Dargin co-ehnics when he was recruiting all who could help him or be persuaded to?

            It is true, Mukhanov said, that Amirov like the leaders of many clans in the North Caucasus preferred that his closest collaborators be members of his own group. But a close examination of the activities of his clan shows that many of the second and third tier people in it were not Dargins.”

            And third, Enver Kisriyev, a Caucasus specialist at the Center for Civilizational and Regional Research at the Russian Academy of Sciences and himself a native of Daghestan, concurred, noting that Amirov’s clan “from its very beginning did not have a narrowly Dargin coloration” (

            That lack of ethnic specificity and the ties many of these clans have developed across the republics involved and in Moscow as well, of course, make it far more difficult for anyone to fight them, a situation that Kisriyev suggested few at the center properly understood and consequently expected more than is possible.

            “Not very many people in Moscow understand that they can focus on one, two or a third [clan] structure and thus miss the mass of others.  In Daghestan, there are many [such groups]. Not all are large and strong. But agreements among several of these [smaller] groupings can have a very powerful effect.”

            If you try to count them, “you soon run out of fingers and can’t stop,” the Academy of Sciences expert said.  Focusing on one and ignoring the others doesn’t help much.  “not one of them deserves attention” at the expense of considering the system within which they are completely embedded. Such clans not only exist; they are part of the political process.

            And each one that has a militant wing “is no less dangerous than the largest,” Kisriyev added. “One has to deal with each of them … If Moscow thinks that by breaking up two or three clans that it will solve all problems, then it is very much mistake.” Indeed, the destruction of one of the largest, like that around Amir, may yield “another big problem.”

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