Friday, May 10, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Both Secularists and Islamists Want Daghestan to Be Independent, Makhachkala Commentator Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 10 – Daghestan is descending into chaos and possibly disintegration, recent events suggest, and now a Makhachkala commentator has suggested an outcome that may be even more disturbing to the Kremlin.  According to him, both secular and Islamist groups in that North Caucasus republic reject Russian control and want independence for their republic.

            In a commentary on, Musa Musayev says that Daghestan which has recently attracted international attention because of Tamerlan Tsarnayev’s visit there is sinking rapidly into “uncontrolled chaos” and that it is entirely possible that “the republic will simply fall apart” along ethnic lines (

            As Musayev notes, some representatives of the Nogay nation want to form a separate federal subject within the Russian Federation. Some Chechens living in Daghestan want their regions to join with Chechnya. Some Kumyks want a separate subject. And some Azerbaijanis want Derbent to be detached from Daghestan and joined to Azerbaijan.

            But Daghestan and Moscow may face a far larger challenge than these, the Makhachkala writer says, because he argues there “exists the threat” of Daghestan being detached from the Russian Federation altogether.  And somewhat unexpectedly perhaps, this threat comes not just from Islamists but from liberal portions of the population.

            According to him, the secular part of Daghestani society “is cultivating liberal values with hidden but far reaching goals” including independence, and the Islamists seek to create a place where “the norms of the shariat” will be “the only alternative to existing [Russian Federation] laws.”

            Musayev says that “all religious, political and ideological groups have the right to exist under Russian legislation. But the fact is that many ideologues, activists, and religious leaders do not recognize the jurisdiction of Russia. And they do not see a path for the peaceful exit from the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation, although they do not talk publically about this.”

            The reasons that each side has reached a similar conclusion, he suggests, represent the last link of what he calls “the chain of recent events in Daghestan: from the terrorist action in Boston to the [question of] the elections of the head of the republic.”

            Many officials as well as many businessmen in the republic are increasingly politicized with outsized ambitions for themselves and those with whom they have ties.  This trend has been intensified by the closed politics that the absence of elections to the top position have in fact promoted, Musayev says.

            And because there is not yet the kind of “political culture” that sets the boundaries for behavior, ever more of these people are thinking about destroying the current political arrangements altogether in the hopes that they will benefit under some new and more independent arrangement.

            This situation is intensified both by the fact that only about five percent of the population has direct involvement with power; the remainder is completely excluded and has no hope of becoming a political player and by the dominance of the shadow economy and the lack of outside investment.

            Those factors in turn have led to violence, and perhaps the only salvation will be that each of the two extra-systemic forces may be sufficiently frightened of the other that it will be willing to ally itself with those who want to bring stability to Daghestan. But so far, Murayev implies, neither sees a good reason to do so.

            As a result, Daghestan, now attracting attention because of the six-month-long visit of one of the Boston terrorists, may soon become the object of attention for other reasons, ones that include the most serious challenge to the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation since Chechnya in the 1990s.

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