Thursday, September 3, 2015

A Death Knell for Daghestan’s Smallest Nations -- or a New Occasion for Their Mobilization?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 3 – The smallest nations within Daghestan, those numbering 50,000 or fewer, have been blocked from being included in Russia’s Unified List of Numerically Small Indigenous Peoples. Because this limits their legal opportunities, this decision, one insisted upon by Makhachkala and not overturned by Moscow, threatens their survival.

            Yesterday, the Regnum news agency reported that “a number of indigenous numerically small peoples of Daghestan could not be included [on this list] because of a [2000] decision by the Daghestan State Council” that specifies there are only 14 recognized nationalities in that North Caucasus republic (

            Not surprisingly, this decision and Moscow’s unwillingness to reverse it has infuriated representatives of the smaller nations, all the more so because Moscow continues to add numerically small peoples from other parts of the Russian Federation to this list.  Thus, the 1600 Yukagirs of Chukotka were included only last week, bringing the total to 50.

            Dzhamal Magomedov, the head of the national cultural autonomy of the Didoitsy, one of the numerically small groups that has tried without success to get on the list, says that his nation numbers approximately 13,000. It has been stymied in its efforts both by Makhachkala and Moscow.

            He says that there are not 14 nationalities in Daghestan but “in reality there are at a minimum twice as many,” and they are active, having held congresses which have appealed to both the republic and all-Russian authorities to include them in the list. But no one wants to do more than promise that their complaints will be “taken into consideration.”

            Ruslan Rasulov, vice president of the Assembly of Indigenous Peoples of Daghestan and himself a Katagay, a nationality numbering about 40,000 and not on the list, adds that “not one of the 16 numerically small indigenous peoples of Daghestan has the status of an indigenous people. The people exists, but there is no reference to it in documents. How can this be?”

            Getting on the list is no guarantee that things will go well, although not being on it, especially for groups like these which have no ethno-territorial institutions, is likely a sentence of slow death because they are unlikely to be able to get money for schools or publications in their native languages and thus will be at risk of assimilation by larger groups.

            Why is this subject coming up now?  There are three possible explanations. First, the smallest nations of Daghestan may see the current power struggle among the four largest nationalities of that republic as a good chance for them to announce themselves in the hopes of getting allies in one or more of the largest groups.

            Second, Moscow may be interested in the appearance of such demands now in order to remind the powers that be in Makhachkala that the Russian authorities can put these small groups in play against the republic capital if the republic-level politicians try to pursue a more independent line.

            And third, this may be part and parcel of Russia’s struggle against the growth of Islamist influence in the North Caucasus. Whenever Moscow fears that Islam is growing stronger there, it has been inclined to play up ethnic differences as a way of dividing these peoples, all of whom are Muslim.


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