Reviews

In this historical synthesis, one of the most accomplished yet on the conflicts of the past two decades in the North-East Caucasus, the author deals with the combination of factors that explain why, in the 1990s, Dagestan chose to remain a loyal member of the Federation of Russia, contrary to Chechnya. Beginning with economics (Dagestan has not been blessed with its Chechen neighbour’s economic resources, and more than eighty percent of its budget was still covered in the mid-1990s by the central authorities in Moscow), his overview extends to the sociological continuity of the republic’s political personnel (the partokratiia, not yet replaced in Dagestan contrary to Chechnya). Dagestan’s national heterogeneity (more than thirty aboriginal groups, the polity being owned by fourteen peoples, none of which is even close to forming a relative majority) is the object of particular developments, through the analysis of the combination of four layers of potential conflicts: (1) the rivalry between the two leading nationalities ― the Avars (27 percent of the population) and the Dargis (ca. 16 percent, but since the end of the Soviet period they have remained the politically dominant group in the republic); (2) the resentment of the smaller nationalities of the dominance of the former two; (3) the decisive rift between the Mountain peoples and the Lowland nationalities, most particularly of the Avars and the Kumyks (a direct result of the Soviet development projects carried out in the 1950s in the lowlands, with forced migration of great numbers of people from the mountains). The author reminds that a key demand of the Kumyk national movement, Tenglik, in the Perestroika period, strongly opposed by the Avar national movement, was the halt of any further immigration from the highlands). M. Gammer also retraces the intensification of this conflict by the special problem of the Aki Chechens, whose villages were peopled by Laks after their deportation in February 1944, and who were resettled in 1958 in the nearby towns of Khasav Yurt and Kizil Yurt ― both important cradles of political Islam in Dagestan in the 1990s. (4) The fourth layer of Dagestan’s potential conflicts, with a potential international dimension, is made by the division of the peoples inhabiting the south of Dagestan, between this autonomous republic and Azerbaijan.

M. Gammer also casts light on the rift between separate Dagestani and Chechen identities, according to him the result of a policy of divide and rule implemented by the Russian and Soviet authorities in the Northern Caucasus, and the Dagestani (Avar, in particular) resistance to Chechen pretence to leadership in the 1990s-2000s. He also suggests to which extent the Chechen attempts to export ‘decolonisation’ and to create a ‘single Islamic nation’ on the basis of the Caucasus achieved to alienate the Dagestani public. By the way, Islam too fails to be in the region a unifying force, notably because of the contrasting attitudes of different segments of the Sufi world to ‘infidel’ rule (the Naqshbandiyya-Khalidiyya and the Qadiriyya-Kunta-Hajji successively and alternatively opposing and accepting Russian conquest and dominance). As to the recent irruption of the so-called ‘Wahahbis’ on the region’s political arena, it is perceived as the expression of a growing chasm between generations ― a tiny number of ‘young enthusiasts’ setting shortly establishing a ‘shari‘a statelet’ in three villages of central Dagestan after the war in Chechnya, rapidly destroyed by the Russian army with the support of Dagestani militias. In all, through comparison between the recent destinies of Dagestan and Chechnya this contribution offers one of the most complete assessments of the logics at stake behind the overall political revolution of the North Caucasus during the past two decades, and of the extremely contrasted role of Islam in different periods and regions of this area. Unfortunately, the impact of the resettlement of the Aki Chechens in Khasav Yurt and Kizil Yurt on the activation of political Islam in these localities has not been assessed in the present study, despite the significance of this phenomenon and of its paradigmatic value for understanding the impact of migrations on the specific politicisation of rural Islam in the former Soviet space.

Stéphane A. Dudoignon, National Centre for Scientific Research, Paris
CER: II-7.3.B-593