Dagestan, Republic of

   An ethnic republic of the Russian Federation. From 1920 until 1991, Dagestan (also Daghestan) was an Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic; in 1992, the republic acceded to the Russian Federation, declaring its sovereignty a year later. It is part of the Southern Federal District and the North Caucasus Economic Region. Dagestan is unique among the Russian Federation’s ethnic republics in that it lacks a titular majority/minority. The republic’s name comes from the Turkish word for “mountain” (dag˘ ) and the Persian suffix for “land” (-stan). Of its 2.5 million inhabitants, the largest ethnic group is the Avars (30 percent), followed by the Dargins (17 percent), Kumyks (14 percent), and Lezgins (13 percent). Other nationalities include ethnic Russians, Laks, Tabasarans, Azeris, Chechens, and Nogais. Overall, there are more than 30 local languages spoken in the republic, many of which are from the Northeast Caucasian (Nakh-Dagestanian) language family, though a few are Turkic (Kumyk and Nogai) and Iranian (Tat) in origin. Russian is the lingua franca. Given such complex ethnic cleavages, the system in the republic is, at least nominally, a consociational democracy, which grants a majority of its 122 parliamentary seats to candidates of a given ethnicity.
   Political identity is closely linked to familial, clan, and village bonds, which are nested identities within one’s ethnic affiliation. Due to the tenuous situation between the republic’s nationalities, support for separatism remains extremely low when compared to the Russian Federation’s other ethnic republics. Ninety percent of the population is Muslim, while the remainder is Orthodox. More so than in other Muslim-majority areas of the Russian Federation, Dagestan has witnessed a growth in political Islam; the republic is also the most religious in terms of numbers of mosques, shrines, and active practitioners of the Muslim faith. A number of Islamist political parties are or were active in the 1990s, including the Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP), Jamaat-ul-Muslimin, and the Union of Russian Muslims. The capital of the republic is Makhachkala (pop. 462,400); other major cities include Kaspiysk, Khasavyurt, and Derbent. Covering 50,300 square kilometers of territory, Dagestan is situated on the Caspian Sea and borders Kalmykiya, Stavropol Krai, and Chechnya, as well as Georgia and Azerbaijan. A mountainous region, much of Dagestan’s population is engaged in animal husbandry, agriculture, caviar harvesting, and viniculture, while the main industries are oil and natural gas production, electricity generation, and metalworking. The republic’s economic situation has been badly damaged by the Chechen Wars. High unemployment, low wages, and rampant crime remain a problem for the republic; unlike other ethnic republics, Dagestan attracts little foreign investment. The region’s proximity to Chechnya has resulted in extreme instability. In 1996, Chechen rebels, under the leadership of Salman Raduyev, took 2,000 hostages in the border town of Kizlyar, ultimately resulting in the deaths of 41 civilians. In the late 1990s, a group of Islamists, deemed Wahhabis by the federal authorities, established a small sharia state in the foothills centered on the villages of Chabanmakhi, Kadar, and Karamakhi, and expelled local police and republican authorities. The most serious incident occurred in August 1999, when 500 insurgents, led by Shamil Basayev and Ibn al-Khattab, invaded Dagestan with the aim of uniting it with Chechnya and initiating a regional jihad across the North Caucasus. The incursion, along with the apartment bombings in September, was used by the Kremlin as the pretext for initiating the second Chechen War. Since 2000, the republic has suffered from low-level guerilla warfare and several high-profile terrorist attacks, including a Victory Day bombing on 9 May 2002 that killed 42 and injured more than 130 people. Magomedali Magomedov was chairman of the State Council of the Republic of Dagestan from 1987 to 2006. He was a strong supporter of Russia’s territorial integrity, and an ally of Moscow against the rising tide of Islamic extremism in the North Caucasus. According to Dagestan’s 1994 constitution, he was required to step down in 1998, to be replaced by a successor from one of the republics’ other 10 principal constituent nationalities, but was able to avoid removal from office through judicial legerdemain. He resigned on grounds of age in 2006 and was replaced by Mukhu Aliyev, who was appointed by Vladimir Putin to reverse the rise of Islamism in the republic. The Kremlin’s choice of Aliyev, an ethnic Avar, has softened the discontent of the republic’s largest ethnic group, who chafed under the leadership of Magomedov, an ethnic Dargin.
   See also Wahhabism.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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