Staunton, Nov. 2 – Since a group of Daghestanis violently occupied the Makhachkala airport, observers from far away have blamed this event on Islamism, Ukrainian agents, and Russia’s history of pogroms against Jews. But the real reason resides in “the bargain” the Putin regime has made with North Caucasus regimes, Almust Rochowanski says.
That bargain, the US-based specialist on the North Caucasus says, consists of an agreement by North Caucasian elites to maintain the fragile peace the region in exchange for Moscow turning “a blind eye to local men who throw women, children and other vulnerable groups to the wolves” (themoscowtimes.com/2023/11/02/dagestan-riot-fueled-by-mobs-entitled-violent-rage-not-religion-a82964).
In this situation, when North Caucasian men claim “righteous anger and feel offended,” neither Moscow nor the local elites react sharply. Instead, these centers of power have to go out of their way to say that they understand what has driven the men into the streets and to avoid the kind of punishments Russian citizens elsewhere would receive.
The October 29 Makhachkala airport riot was hardly “the first time in Daghestan’s recent history when mobs of men bayed for blood, Rochowanski says. “Several times in recent years, similar agitated mobs of bearded men have turned on local women and teenage girls who had the temerity to live as they chose.”
Each time, neither Moscow nor the regional governments responded forcefully; and in all too many cases, Moscow was silent and the local elites colluded with the attackers. Now, “the airport mob shows that the chickens of that policy are coming home to roost,” a reflection of Moscow’s fears of the Jewish connection.
To be fair, the rights activist says, “relations between the Kremlin and the North Caucasus are fiendishly complicated and hard to get right” especially since “a more determined effort to reign in local powerholders and ideologues or enforce Russian law equally may well result in violent unrest like that of the 1990s and early 2000s.”
References to Islam and Islamism in Daghestan do not reflect current realities, she continues. They may have been true immediately after 1991; but “Dagehstanis have been synthesizing, adapting and creating new forms of religiosity for decades. [After all,] the young men who first embraced [fundamentalism] in the 1990s are grandfathers today.”
More important as a trigger for what happened in the Daghestani capital, Rochowanski says, are the images people from that republic saw on line. The pictures they saw of Palestinians were of people who looked like them and who were being attacked. It is not surprising that they would identify with them.
“Remember how Westerners responded to the first images from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?” she asks. “They saw children who looked just like theirs. That response resulted in unprecedented empathy and generosity. That is what people in Dagestan or Chechnya see in the images of Palestinian children bloodied, wailing, dead and covered in debris.”
But “it is not just their dark locks and long-lashed eyes that provoke this response,” she continues. “Their tiny burial shrouds and dusty little bodies evoke the dark days of the battle of Grozny or the Beslan school siege. The pain, grief and anger across the North Caucasus are real, raw and very deeply felt.”