Sunday, December 1, 2013

Window on Eurasia: New Districts in Daghestan Threaten Republic’s Delicate Ethnic Balance

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 1 – Ramazan Abdulatipov’s plan to create four districts overlaying the complex administrative map of Daghestan in order to improve central oversight and the implementation of Makhachkala’s policies appears likely to threaten the delicate ethnic balance in that North Caucasus republic.

            That is because the ethnic mix of each of the new entities is very different than the ethnic mix of the republic as a whole, with some groups gaining relative influence, others losing such influence, and still others, including ethnic Russians, being frozen out completely in some of the districts.

            Indeed, the variations in the ethnic mix among the four districts that some groups are likely to conclude that they are on their way to the creation of their own ethnic territory, one that could ultimately seek separation from Daghestan, and others equally likely to conclude that they are being put in a weakened position and decide to take steps to defend themselves.

            According to the 2010 census, the republic’s 2.9 million people consisted of a large number of different nationalities.  The largest were the Avars (29.4 percent), the Dargins (17.0 percent), the Kumyks (14.9 percent), the Lezgins (13.3 percent), the Laks (5.6 percent), the Azerbaijanis (4.5 percent), the Russians (3.6 percent), and the Chechens (3.2 percent).

            That diversity not only allowed Moscow to play divide and rule politics but required the center to allocate certain positions to certain groups lest smaller groups feel frozen out of power altogether by the larger ones. Indeed, whenever these quotas have been violated over the last three decades, ethnic tensions have gone up and clashes taken place.

            Because the various groups live in different parts of Daghestan, the ethnic composition of each of the four districts is different than that of the republic as a whole.  In the Central District, the Avars form 23.7 percent of the population, the Dargins 16.5 percent, and the Kumyks 17.8. Others trail far behind, with the Russians forming 3.0 percent.

            In the Northern District, the Avars form 37.7 percent of the population, the Chechens 16.6 percent, the Kumyks 16.4, and the Dargins 7.9.  Ethnic Russians form 6.1 percent of the total, with others trailing.  In the Mountain District, the Avars form 64.6 percent of the total and the Dargins 21.6, with others much smaller.

            And in the Southern District, the Lezgins form 40.1 percent of the total, the Tabasarans 19.2 percent , the Azerbaijanis 14.9 percent, and the Dargins 14 percent. These figures were prepared by Mikhail Chernyshov and were posted online yesterday at

            This pattern means that the Avars will dominate or expect to dominate the Mountain District and the Lezgins the Southern. In the other two, there will be intense competition between the Avars, on the one hand, and the Dargins and Kumyks, on the other, with the latter groups possibly feeling threatened.

            Moreover, because the borders could have been drawn in other ways that would have made the ethnic hierarchy different, both winners and losers are likely to view these divisions as a plan to reward and punish and to react accordingly much as Stavropol has reacted against its inclusion in Moscow’s North Caucasus Federal District.

            Indeed, there is already speculation about “the hand of Moscow” versus “the hand of Abdulatipov” behind the lines that have been drawn ( And that will only intensify, with particular attention to the Lezgins because of their co-ethnics in Azerbaijan and the Kumyks whose national movement has recently taken off.

            At the very least, Abdulatipov’s proposal will re-order politics in Daghestan. At the worst, it will threaten the most ethnically diverse and conflict-ridden republic in the Russian Federation with more violence and open the possibility of its disintegration or at least attempts in that direction.

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