Staunton, June 25 – Echoing the infamous remark of a 19th century Russian general about Armenia, Rustam Adilgireyev, the chief organizer of the All-Russian Congress of the Nogay People earlier this month, says that it is becoming obvious that “Daghestan needs the lands of the Nogays but not the Nogay people.”
The more than 100,000 Nogays of the Russian Federation, a Turkic people centered on the steppe in northern Daghestan and adjoining territories, he says, are seeking to get support against Makhachkala’s offensive policies from “the leadership of the Russian Federation and … the subjects of the federation” (kavpolit.com/articles/u_zhitelej_pojavilas_nadezhda-34476/).
“We Nogays,” Adilgireyev says, “are a devoted people of the Russian state and we will defend the sovereignty of the Russian state.” Pointedly, he did not say that the Nogays are devoted to Daghestan. In fact, in his article, he makes it clear that his people view Makhchakala almost as an enemy.
The Nogay people, he continues, “have been and are being subjected to the destructive impact of the incorrect socio-economic and nationality policy of the Government of the Republic of Daghestan,” which among other things has taken away two thirds of Nogay territories from Nogay local administrations and failed to fund these agencies adequately.
The much-ballyhooed Makhachkala program for the development of the Nogay district has “practically collapsed.” According to Adilgireyev, this is shown by five developments in recent years:
· Every year, the local budgets have been cut by Makhachkala, thus making it impossible for the self-governments of the Nogay to do their work.
· Only people with money or connections are able to take an active part in economic activity as a result.
· Thousands of young Nogays have been forced to move elsewhere in the search for work.
· Nogay lands that Makhachkala has given to other peoples have been over-farmed and are now turning into “sandy deserts” of little use to anyone.
· “In the higher organs of power of Daghestan, there is not a single representative of the Nogay region, not a minister, not a deputy minister, not even a chief of an administration, and only one who heads a small department of the apparatus of the chief of the republic and government.”
All of this, the Nogay leader says, “demonstrate the indifference of the powers that be of Daghestan to the Nogay region and their ignoring of the interests of the population of the district in favor of the population of the mountainous regions.” Still worse, Makhachkala has taken control of the elections and imposed its own people on the Nogay steppe.
As a result, anger among the Nogays is increasing, Adilgireyev says.
Moscow must ensure that power to make decisions about the Nogays return to the Nogays and not be usurped by the Daghestani authorities. “We must not allow a new redivision of our small Motherland,” the activist says, “or changes of the administrative-territorial borders and integrity of the Nogay district.”
If that process isn’t stopped, the Nogay land will be reduced to “an isolated reservation” for a people oppressed by the republic government.
Adilgireyev says he isn’t posing any challenge to Daghestan “because Daghestan and its leadership are not synonymous.” But of course, that is exactly what he is doing. And his invocation of Moscow to help the Nogays against Makhachkala sets the stage for a most dangerous game.
Moscow is hardly likely to agree to give the Nogays all that they want, but it may use their demands as the basis for ousting the current leadership in Makhachkala. Unfortunately, for the Russian center, such a move would be fraught with dangers as well: it would send yet another signal that protests can work – and thus lead more ethnic groups to make similar demands.
Indeed, what makes the new Nogay activism worthy of note is less its significance for that group alone, something that after all may possible given that nation’s links to Turkey, than as an indication of growing dissatisfaction and activism among many other numerically small ethnic groups in Russia.