Dagestan rivalries burst out in Moscow

Dagestan’s internal political clashes spill over into Moscow’s streets further undermining stability in the republic

The head of politically important and volatile Khasvyurt district of Dagestan Alimsoltan Alkhamatov was gunned down in Moscow on September 27. The Moscow police claimed to have identified the killers, arrested one crime accomplice and seized their weapons. Alkhamatov had allegedly survived two or three previous attempts on his life (Interfax, RIA-Novosti, September 28, 2009). An hour earlier, one of the top policemen, deputy head of criminal investigations department in Dagestani police, Alimsoltan Atuev had been killed in Dagestan (RIA-Novosti, September 27, 2009).

These events caused a stir in both Dagestan and Moscow to the extent, that president Medvedev telephoned head of Dagestan Mukhu Aliev, offering him any assistance he needed. Aliev pleaded: “Endowing the crime with political and ethnic colors is not permissible” (riadagestan.ru, September 28, 2009). However, it is exactly the political and ethnic rivalries in Dagestan, that are widely believed to have resulted in the killing of Khasavyurt district head. Also the police did not exclude that the killing of a top policeman in Dagestan might be connected to the killing of Khasvyurt’s administrator (RIA-Novosti, September 28).

“Alimsoltan was a fearless, strong-willed creature, that loved his people very much, did a lot for his people and was not afraid of anyone” – one of the men, that arrived first to the crime scene in Moscow commented on Alkhamatov’s death (Komsomolskaya Pravda, September 28, 2009). Alkhamatov was an ethnic Kumyk, one of the major ethnicities in Dagestan and so the defender of Kumyk people’s rights. Observers point out to a recent conflict in Khasavyurt in April between the mayor of Khasavyurt city Saigid-Pasha Umakhanov, an ethnic Avar and Alkhamatov. Killing of Umakhanov’s nephew by the Kumyks brought the situation to boiling point in the area in the following months with the Avars and Kumyks at loggerheads (see North Caucasus Analysis Volume: 10 Issue: 18 May 8, 2009 and EDM Volume: 6 Issue: 149 August 4, 2009).

Alkhamatov started his political career as Khasavyurt district’s head in 2005. At the time the mayor of Khasavyurt Umakhanov was spearheading the opposition movement, an informal umbrella grouping, called Northern Alliance against the then head of Dagestan Magomedali Magomedov, an ethnic Dargin . Alkhamatov is thought to have been appointed the head of Khasavyurt district by Magomedali Magomedov a recognized master of political balancing and intrigues in Dagestan to check the Northern Alliance. However, when Mukhu Aliev, an ethnic Avar came to power in 2006, the fortunes changed the other way around and Umakhanov improved his relations with Makhachkala, while Alkhamatov found himself in opposition (rosbalt, September 28, 2009).

All suspects in killing of Alkhamanov are said to derive from the same area – the Kazbek district of Dagestan – as the Umakhanovs. If credible connection of Saigid-Pasha Umakhanov or his clan to the killing of Alkhamatov is established it is likely to set the situation in Northern Dagestan on a track to large scale violence. So the authorities are anxious not to make any hasty statements, instead releasing neutral proclamations, condemning unknown, faceless criminals. There are an alternative versions of the Kumyks leader’ murder that are connected to his business interests in the gas enterprises and his previous activities in Saint Petersburg in 1990s (rosbalt, September 28, 2009).

“Generally unfavorable criminal situation in the region and the wish of criminal elements to destabilize the established order is in our point of view the cause of significant increase of attempts on the lives of state bureacrats, law enforcement agencies in the North Caucasus”, – commented head of Russia’s investigative arm of prosecution Alexander Bastrykin after yet another wave of political violence in the region (RIA-Novosti, September 28, 2009). Another popular with the Russian officials explanation of the violence in North Caucasus is to attribute them to the economic underdevelopment of the region. President Medvedev personally subscribed to the latter opinion in his address to the nation, vowing “to normalize the life of people in the Russian Caucasus” (gazeta.ru, September 10, 2009). However, by framing the existing political problems of the region in purely instrumental terms without touching the very base of the question – lack of democratic participation – does not help to bring about the desired change, but rather contributes to the entrenchment of the multiple regional frictions and conflicts. Indeed, it is hard to imagine, how president Medvedev foresees normalization of people’s lives in the North Caucasus without their own participation.

In the multiethnic Dagestan want of popular participation makes the political struggle particularly bloody and unpredictable as the number of actors and their positions are too complex to be successfully resolved by the administrative orders and appointments.

Even though the murdered Alkhamatov was characterized as the Kumyks’ leader uniquely suited to unite them, the Kumyks are thought to be fairly independent of any particular leadership for ethnic mobilization needs (Regnum, August 3, 2009). Their mobilization might come as a response to the trend of “avarization” of the Dagestani politics, that is evoked by the fact, that president of Dagestan Mukhu Aliev is an ethnic Avar, but also general dominance of Avar populace that amounts to 30 percent of Dagestan’s total population.

The first presidential term of Mukhu Aliev expires in the beginning of 2010, so potentially someone else might replace him. The ethnicity of the next president is going to be a crucial issue for this most multiethnic republic of North Caucasus and thus produce additional tensions, including violence.

Valery Dzutsev

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