Staunton, February 12 – Just as they did three years ago when Russian President Vladimir Putin named now ousted Magomedsalam Magomedov to head Daghestan, residents of that North Caucasus republic are using the uncertainties of the transition to his successor, Ramazan Abdulatipov, to pressure both Moscow and Makhachakala to change course.
On Saturday, Muslims in the Daghestani capital assembled to complain about what has been going on in their republic and in Moscow and to demand that the ban on the hijab be lifted, that mosques be built in Moscow, and that the arbitrary behavior of the authorities at both levels be ended (ru-politics.livejournal.com/44975537.html, www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/219880/, and www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/219846/).
And then on Sunday, in what may be a more fateful development, the Kumyks, the third largest nation in Daghestan, met in Pyatigorsk to set up an all-Russian organization, to demand Makhachkala end its anti-Kumyk policy, and to press Moscow to restore their national territory (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/219973/ and www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/219899/
The Saturday meeting, which organizers said had attracted Muslims from the mosques of the Daghestani capital, denounced the actions of both Makhachakala and Moscow, arguing that officials were not allowing the building of mosques where they were needed, were banning books of Islamic scholars, and were keeping Muslim girls out of school by banning the hijab.
In addition, speakers at the session reported about kidnappings and killings in Daghestan by the Russian force structures and local police and demanded that Moscow intervene to ensure that the provisions of the Russian Federation Constitution and Russian laws were enforced in the North Caucasus.
While the meeting organizers welcomed the change of leadership in Makhachkala – they said they received permission to stage the demonstration “only after” Magomedov was removed, they said that they expected Abdulatipov to change course and protect the rights of Daghestanis both in Daghestan and in the Russian Federation as a whole.
Meanwhile, members of the Kumyk nationality took advantage of the interregnum period to press their case. Last week, members of that community announced that they had collected more than 4200 signatures on a petition to President Vladimir Putin calling on him to restore the Tarkin district in Daghestan.
They said such a step was necessary because otherwise the Kumyks, whom they said were “third in number and one of the state-forming peoples of Daghestan,” would not be able to defend their rights. Under existing law, the three villages where they live do not have the right to form their own self-administration and protect their lands against other nationalities.
(The Kumyks’ problems have attracted the attention of the International Crisis Group which in its recent report on the North Caucasus noted that other nationalities by moving from the mountains into the valleys were threatening the traditional homeland of the Kumyks and sparking potentially explosive tensions (www.crisisgroup.org/en/publication-type/media-releases/2012/europe/troubled-north-caucasus-the-challenges-of-integration.aspx).
But a more dramatic development was the establishment in Pyatigorsk of the Congress of Kumyk Communities of Russia on Monday. Some 375 delegates from Daghestan, Chechnya and North Osetia met to discuss their common problems and adopted a resolution calling on President Putin to dispatch a commission to Daghestan to investigate conditions there.
There are slightly more than 500,000 Kumyks in the Russian Federation, of whom 460,000 live in the North Caucasus, mostly in Daghestan. A serious problem is that many of the members of this community who live in Siberia or elsewhere would like to return but cannot because there is no land or structure for them to settle in, delegates said.
They added that they consider that Abdulatipov, for all his promises is “continuing ‘the anti-Kumyk policy’ of the preceding decades.” His suggestion that “there are no ethnic lands” inside Daghestan, while it may appeal to Moscow, ignores the realities on the ground there and becomes the basis for more conflicts.”
Moscow and Makhachakala must restore some form of self-administration for the Kumyks if that nationality is to flourish, but experts with whom Kavkaz-Uzel’s journalists talked felt that neither the center nor the republic could go very far in that direction because any concessions to the Kumyks would require taking resources from other ethnic groups.
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