Conflict in the Caucasus: An historical context and a prospect for peace

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This article was downloaded by: [Case Western Reserve University]On: 29 October 2014, At: 10:56Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UKCentral Asian SurveyPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information: in the Caucasus: An historicalcontext and a prospect for peaceRobert Bruce Ware aa Southern Illinois University , Edwardsville, IL, USAPublished online: 13 Sep 2007.To cite this article: Robert Bruce Ware (1998) Conflict in the Caucasus: An historical context anda prospect for peace, Central Asian Survey, 17:2, 337-352, DOI: 10.1080/02634939808401040To link to this article: SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLETaylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (theContent) contained in the publications on our platform. 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Terms Conditions of access and use can be found at by [Case Western Reserve University] at 10:56 29 October 2014 Asian Survey (1998), 17(2), 337-352Conflict in the Caucasus: anhistorical context and a prospect forpeaceROBERT BRUCE WARE*In this article current strife in the Caucasus is placed in an historical context.Russo-Soviet policies of separatism and federalism are viewed as contributing toethnic conflicts that now threaten the further fragmentation of Russia. However,Daghestan is considered as an anomaly of ethnic accommodation and pragmaticmulticulturalism which may provide a model for peace in the region.Few areas of the world display greater complexity of ethnic relations than theCaucasus, and there are few with greater long-term strategic significance. Lyingalong a gauntlet of rugged mountain peaks connecting two inland seas, it is thefrontier that separates Eastern Europe from the Asiatic steppes; the border ofOrthodoxy and Islam; the barrier between Byzantine, Ottoman, Persian andRussian empires; and all but inevitably an arena of imperial strife and multina-tional conflict. Over three millennia of the region's written history, the Caucasushas witnessed incessant struggles between warring clans, religious confessions,states and empires. Throughout these waves of immigration, the region's alpinevalleys have fostered an extraordinary diversity of cultures and languagescurrently with more than 40 distinct ethnic groups, some unable to communicatewith their closest neighbours.In keeping with the circumstances of its history and geography, the contem-porary strategic significance of the Caucasus derives from its very large reservesof fossil fuel; from its potential location for pipelines bringing oil and gas to theWest from Central Asia; and from the strategic interest concerns of powersincluding Russia, Turkey, Iran and the United States. According to one observer,the 'Caucasus has become the new "Black" Silk Roadthe transportation routefor oil from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea and markets in Europeand theperception in the region is that whoever controls the Caucasus will control thepipelines'.1 More broadly at issue is the drift of the Turkic buffer zone from theMiddle East to China, with repercussions for balances of power in Europe aswell as Asia. All contenders have sought to advance their interests through theexploitation of the region's ethnic faultlines.Currently Moscow hopes to prevent other powers from establishing separatespheres of regional influence, and is committed particularly to controlling theRobert Bruce Ware is at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville, IL, USA.*The author is grateful for assistance from Enver Kisriev, Zulfia Kisrieva-Ware and Ned Walker.0263-4937/98/020337-16 1998 Society for Central Asian StudiesDownloaded by [Case Western Reserve University] at 10:56 29 October 2014 ROBERT BRUCE WAREinfluence of Turkey, Iran and Islamic Fundamentalism. Additionally, Moscowseeks to prevent the further fragmentation of the Russian federation; secure itsstrategically important borders with Iran and Turkey; guarantee its access tomilitary and industrial facilities of the former Soviet Union; and promoteRussian exports.Ironically, present tensions in the Caucasus, which threaten Russia's furtherfragmentation, may be viewed, in part, as deriving from the history of Russo-So-viet policies of separatism, federalism, and ethnic nationalism. It will be usefulto survey this history, and the current tensions to which it has contributed, beforeconsidering Daghestan as an anomaly of ethnic accommodation, which draws,conversely, upon a history of pragmatic multinationalism, and which maysuggest a model for peace in the region.Historical contextBy the eighteenth century Russia had acquired the Stavropol region and beguna series of violent incursions into the Caucasus. It established a presence in theregion with the construction of a military outpost at Mozdok (now in NorthOssetia) in 1763, which precipitated a century of conflict with the highlanders ofthe region. In its struggle to establish its power, Moscow exploited the ethnicdiversity of the region through a strategy of 'divide and rule'. Stronger groups,such as the Circassians, were subdivided among a number of artificial ethnicitiesthat stressed previously subsidiary ethno-linguistic distinctions. Other Russianpolicies favoured Christians in Armenia, Georgia and Ossetia over the region'sIslamic population, and settled Cossacks in the territories of numerous ethnicgroups. The Transcaucasus fell under Russian control long before the EasternCaucasus had been subdued. Resistance in the latter region drew upon a potentcombination of Islamic and clan-based solidarity together with the self-reliantindividualism and egalitarianism that traditionally characterized 'free societies'in the area. In the East Caucasus it was tribal federations, not national groups,that determined to fight Russian expansion.By local standards, the second half of the nineteenth century was peaceful, butthe civil war brought widespread regional conflict and some of the most bitterencounters of the period. Though the Bolsheviks initially were opposed tofederalism, it nonetheless provided a framework for managing and incorporatingthe nationalist movements that appeared on the periphery of the Russian empireas it approached its collapse. The traditional 'divide and conquer' strategy whichhad served the consolidation of that empire was consequently reflected in the1918 Constitution of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR),which characterized the new state as a 'free union of free nations, a federationof Soviet national republics'.2 As Pipes has observed, Soviet Russia was 'the firstmodern state to place the national principle at the base of its federal system'.3The Mountain Republic (Gorskaia Respublica), which lasted from 1918to 1921, drew upon a common gorski (mountaineer) identity in an effortto unite the North Caucasian peoples within a loose confederation. In January338Downloaded by [Case Western Reserve University] at 10:56 29 October 2014 CONFLICT IN THE CAUCASUS1921, following the Bolshevik conquest of the region, it was established as theAutonomous Soviet Mountain Republic, including Ingush, Kabard, Balkar,Karachai, Chechen and Osset districts. At the same time, the peoples ofDaghestan were combined into a separate Daghestan Autonomous Republic.But whereas Daghestan began with a consolidation of ethnic groups, theMountain Republic was quickly dissolved into separate national units.Beginning in 1922, it was partitioned among the Adygei, Chechen, Karachai-Cherkessian and Kardino-Backarian Autonomies. The dissolution of the Moun-tain Republic was completed in 1924, when its remaining territories weredivided into the North Ossetian and Ingush Autonomous regions. As a conse-quence of this process of ethnic fragmentation, schools and infrastructuredeteriorated in many areas.These divisions were based upon the administrative, economic, and securityconcerns of the central authority, and not on concern for the locals. Accordingto A. Avtorkhanov,4 the emigre Chechen historian, the fragmentation of theMountain Republic into ethno-linguistic units was initiated by Moscow, moti-vated by a policy of dividing a rebellious population, and decidedly opposed byNorth Caucasian leaders. By fragmenting the Mountain Republic, and bysubsequently stressing cultural, linguistic and religious distinctions among itspeoples, Moscow sought to diminish the threat of a North Caucasian allianceagainst Soviet power. The same policies later permitted Soviet ethnographers toinsist that the North Caucasian nations were separated into several autonomousregions because their diversity rendered them incapable of peaceful coexistence.5Yet according to Soviet scholars N. G. Volkova and L. I. Lavsov,6 the identityof North Caucasian inhabitants in the decades after the civil war was character-ized, not by nationalist aspirations, but by localized clan consciousness whichwas complemented by an awareness of the encompassing North Caucasiangorski society.Ethnic policy during this period owed much to Stalin, whose position as thefirst People's Commissary-General made him effectively Minister of Nationali-ties. In his 1913 article on 'Marxism and the National Question', Stalin hadcombined ethnicity, territory and political administration within a conception ofthe national state. This was translated into actuality in 1922 when the establish-ment of the Soviet Union provided an elaborate, if often arbitrary, administrativehierarchy of ethno-territorial units.7 In the North Caucasus, these administrativeboundaries were repeatedly redefined throughout three subsequent decades.These adjustments occurred in response to insurrections among many of thenational groups, insurrections which were themselves the result of the fragmen-tation process and its effect upon ethnic land holdings.8 In this way, Sovietethnic policy in the Caucasus contributed to a vicious cycle of vertical fragmen-tation and horizontal conflict which progressively has consumed the region to thepresent day.In the 1920s and 1930s the Soviets launched a number of programmesdesigned to develop ethnic identities in the Caucasus through national languageschools, newspapers, theatres, etc. By the mid-1920s languages were standard-339Downloaded by [Case Western Reserve University] at 10:56 29 October 2014 ROBERT BRUCE WAREized and alphabets were newly formulated in Latin script. The relative in-significance of ethnic identities during this period was indicated by the initialindifference of mountain residents, whether peasants or intelligentsia, to thedevelopment of exclusive national cultures. At the time, the North Caucasianpeoples shared a cultural heritage that transcended their fragmentation along thelines of administrative, ethnic, linguistic, tribal and clan divisions. According toOrmrod, the inhabitants of this society 'exhibited little consciousness of them-selves as members of their officially recognized national groups'.Yet while radical nationalism was suppressed, ethnic identity was reinforcedthrough cultural development programmes, through ethno-territorial organiza-tions, and through a system of internal passports (introduced in 1932) whichdocumented the ethnic origin of every citizen. Zaslavsky explains that theinstitutionalization of ethnicity created the prerequisites necessary for pursuing an ethnicpolicy which combined divisive measures and integrative techniques to prevent theorganization of alliances between neighbouring ethnic groups, to undermine the capacity ofany existing ethnic group to act as a unified entity, and to co-opt the crucial sectors withineach ethnic population into the Soviet regime.These policies were consolidated in the Soviet Constitution of 1936. In theCaucasus, the constitution recognized five autonomous republics (Abkhazia,Checheno-Ingushetia, Daghestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, and North Ossetia) andthree autonomous districts (South Ossetia, Karachai-Cherkessia and Adygei).In 1942-43 complete communities of Balkars, Chechens, Ingush and Karachaiwere deported under appalling conditions to Soviet Central Asia, on looselysupported allegations of collaboration with the Nazis. Their territories wereallocated to other North Caucasian administrative units. Members of othergroups were sometimes forcibly resettled in their homes. Though the republicsof Checheno-Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria and the District of Karachai-Cherkessia were re-established in 1957, and though many deportees returned,this bitter period raised extremely contentious issues that have yet to be resolved.Following Stalin's death, there was a wave of ethnic radicalization in regionssuch as the North Caucasus, which can be traced to the Soviet strategy ofmanaging a multinational state. According to Lapidus and Walker,(t)he design of the Soviet state as a federation of ethno-territorial 'union republics' thatwere, symbolically if not in fact, national states, both reified nationality as a central aspectof individual identity and created a setting in which liberalization would catalyze ethno-na-tional mobilization.The national faultlines along which the Soviet state was structured revealed theirfundamental instability following Gorbachev's reforms. Both the political andthe economic thrusts of these reforms played critical roles in the emergence ofnationalism as a powerful political force in the perestroika period. On the onehand, glasnost and democratization tended to undermine the authority of Com-munist Party elites, while on the other hand the process of resource redistribution340Downloaded by [Case Western Reserve University] at 10:56 29 October 2014 CONFLICT IN THE CAUCASUSexacerbated tensions and produced widespread competition between existinggroups. Resulting power struggles culminated in efforts to re-establish authorityon a foundation of nationalist ideology. Liberalization encouraged provincialleaders to seek expanded economic autonomy and placed property rights, bothindividual and collective, at the forefront of dispute.At the same time the intellectual freedom that followed from glasnost issuedin the re-evaluation of Soviet policy and the assertion of diverse approaches toethnic, economic, political and social issues. With fewer restrictions on politicalexpression, nationalist political movements emerged as vehicles of reform. Yetefforts to reformulate Soviet federalism also served as a vehicle for thenationalist agendas and personal ambitions of local elites. Chief among thesewas the challenge of the Russian Federation under Boris Yeltsin. Sovietauthority was diminished by Gorbachev's ineffectual response to rapidly grow-ing centrifugal forces.Against this background a new union treaty was proposed with the intent ofpreserving the Soviet state through certain concessions to its administrativecomponents. Critics, however, were concerned that the new treaty wouldundermine the authority of the central government. Efforts to uphold the latterby preventing the former culminated in the coup of August 1991. The dramaticfailure of the coup contributed over the next four months to the disintegration ofthe USSR, and to the subsequent rise of 15 sovereign states, with Russiastrongest among them.Thereafter the same fissiparous forces that led to the demise of the SovietUnion were reproduced within the union republics from Tajikistan to Georgia.Economic chaos and political collapse drained the Union into a whirlpool ofstate-formation by ever smaller ethnic and regional groups. The history of theSoviet Union culminated in an ironic and extraordinary dialectic: because of theextreme power concentrated at the federal centre and Party control of all aspectsof economic and political life, the sudden disintegration of the Party led to arapid and unrestrained fragmentation of power and the effective independence oflocal elites. At the same time, and because of the enforced ubiquity of Marxistideology, the de facto withering of the state left a consuming moral vacuum thatcould be filled by motives no less potent than those of nationalism.Conflicts between the central institutions and the republics were exacerbatedby Yeltsin's personal competition with Gorbachev. According to Lapidus andWalker, Yeltsin's efforts to secure Russian sovereignty, which were inseparablefrom his political ambitions, led to a 'horizontal' strategy that underminedcentral power by promoting ties among the republics. The result was a cata-strophic struggle between two compelling visions of Russia's future: Russia, onthe one hand, as a sovereign national entity emancipated from far-flung andsometimes debilitating entanglements, and on the other hand Russia as animperial power.Yet while Russian reformers initially welcomed national movements theybegan to fear that the drive toward self-determination might be directed not onlyagainst the USSR but against Russia itself. In early 1991 Aleksandr Tsipko341Downloaded by [Case Western Reserve University] at 10:56 29 October 2014 ROBERT BRUCE WAREobserved that if Russia is only one of the Union republics then it does not differfrom Tartarstan or Daghestan, and warned that the election of a president of theRSFSR could produce a 'domino effect'. His fears were soon realized as everyone of the autonomous republics followed Russia's declaration of sovereignty.Toward the end of that year, Yeltsin appealed for support from the autonomiesin his growing battle with Gorbachev. Yet his position shifted when RSFSRautonomies began to seek greater recognition, as illustrated, for example, byTartarstan's desire to become a signatory of the Union Treaty. At the same time,Gorbachev and conservative forces in the central authority began to supportperipheral challenges to the Russian government. Thus, as Gorbachev increas-ingly appeared unable to preserve the Union, officials in the autonomies beganto conclude that obstacles to local independence were not the work of Gorbachevand the collapsing Soviet centre, but of Yeltsin and reformers in the Russiangovernment. Their concerns were aggravated that autumn when Yeltsin reactedto Dudaev's ascendancy in Checheno-Ingushetia by declaring a state of emer-gency and dispatching troops to enforce the Russian constitution in the rebelliousrepublic.Thus, the struggle for Russian sovereignty not only accelerated the disinte-gration of the Soviet Union, but risked the internal fragmentation of Russiaitself. On the eve of its independence, in 1991, Russia's central authority faceda host of regional challenges. The fears of many were expressed in the title ofan article by a leading Russian specialist on ethnic issues, 'Will Russia repeat thepath of the Union?' Yet the threat of political dissolution was, in some respects,an overt reflection of a deeper crisis of cultural self-identity. Many intellectualsdespaired that the legacy of imperial expansion, the decline of the Orthodoxcreed, and the collapse of communist ideology left Russia in a cultural voidwithout a coherent national ethos.Russia was confronted by some of the same centrifugal forces that hadfragmented the Soviet Union as some republics clamoured for greater indepen-dence while others sank into border disputes that threatened their disintegration.At the same time, broad coalitions in the Urals, the Far East, the Westernborders, and the Caucasus (where the Confederation of Mountain Peoples in theNorth Caucasus later became the Confederation of the People of the Caucasus)began to challenge Moscow's authority.Mounting disagreement over Russia's 'federation structure' interfered with thecompletion of a new constitution for the country. Along with the division ofpowers between Moscow and the republics, there were disputes over theadministrative jurisdiction and territorial boundaries. Inevitably, there was adebate about whether the components of the federation should conform toexisting borders or should constitute new territorial units. At the time, Russianreformers joined with some ethnologists, such as Valerii Tishkov, to support anon-ethnic federal framework patterned on the United States. They argued thatan expansive and culturally heterogeneous country could preserve neither unionnor democracy if administrative boundaries reinforced ethnic barriers.Yet political realities precluded redistricting across ethnic lines. Soviet propa-342Downloaded by [Case Western Reserve University] at 10:56 29 October 2014 CONFLICT IN THE CAUCASUSganda had long disparaged 'bourgeois' territorial federalism, that ignored ethnicidentities, in favour of a recognition of the collective rights of communities thatwas afforded by the 'socialist' form of federalism. Minorities privileged withtheir own administrative territories resisted change, and even non-titular resi-dents of the autonomies saw economic advantages in the existing political units.Moreover, redistricting would have threatened the power of local elites. Conse-quently, after 1991 there was less interest in restructuring Russia's internaladministrative divisions.In the autumn of 1992, ethnic unrest in the North Caucasus was focused byincidents in North Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, and in Karachai-Cherkessia,where nationalists were calling for distinct Karachai, Cherkess, Abazza andCossack republics. Pressures mounted meanwhile for the separation of Kabardinand Balkar republics. Conflict continued across the border in Georgia, wherevolunteers from the Confederation of Peoples of the Caucasus and Cossackirregulars joined Abkhaz separatists.Fires in the Caucasus were also fuelled in 1992 by the legislative/executiveconflict in Moscow, which led Yeltsin and his opponents into frenzied compe-tition for the support of local officials. Russian nationalists in the SupremeSoviet, who might have been expected to resist local autonomy, instead formedan anti-liberal alliance with conservative deputies from the republics. MeanwhileYeltsin not only made economic concessions in an effort to win the favour oflocal authorities, but also extended considerable independence to the republicsand regions with the conviction that economic decentralization would preventconservatives from reversing privatization were they to return to power. Thisresult was dramatically avoided, and Yeltsin's hand was temporarily improved,by the military assault on the Russian parliament in 1993. With the resolution ofthe political crisis in Moscow, Yeltsin served notice that the central governmentwould no longer tolerate interminable bilateral debates with each of the 89administrative units. And while the draft constitution that was approved byreferendum in December 1993 made numerous provisions for Russia's ethnicminorities, many of its decrees are vague or contradictory, leaving much tofuture legislation, adjudication and negotiation. Significantly, it did not describethe republics as 'sovereign', an omission which undermines constitutional rightsfor national self-determination, and which led to widespread protests in theNorth Caucasus. At the same time, ethnic tensions in many areas were increasedby the Constitution's restriction of each republic to a single representative in theUpper Chamber of the new Russian Parliament. Krag and Funch suggest that'(i)n this way, Moscow pushed the process of regional ethnification furtherahead'.Current tensionsToday there are horizontal as well as vertical fissures that threaten Russia'sfragmentation. The central authority faces non-ethnic economic and politicalopposition from many regions. It faces vertical ethnic challenges from areas such343Downloaded by [Case Western Reserve University] at 10:56 29 October 2014 ROBERT BRUCE WAREas Tva, Tatarstan and the North Caucasus. It also faces fragmentation fromhorizontal conflicts occurring among ethnic groups in regions such as the NorthCaucasus. The latter result not only from economic and political factors but alsofrom traditional hostilities and long-standing territorial disputes. Ethnic conflictis rendered all but inevitable by the extraordinary ethnic and religious diversityof the region; by deep commitments to territorial homelands; by warriortraditions of some groups (e.g. Avars, Chechens and Cossacks); and, as we haveseen, by the nationalist propensities of Russian imperial management and Sovietethnic federalism that preceded the collapse of the central authority. Similarapproaches to governance more recently have appeared in ethnic microcosms,where local elites have sought to cling to their privileged positions by cultivatingethnic loyalties and aversions.The Caucasus has been the scene of most of the conflicts that have occurredin the former Soviet Union, and two of these (North Ossetia/Ingushetia andMoscow/Chechnya) have been fought in the territory of the Russian federation.In each of these cases, as Hill has observed,conflicts that began as disputes over the political status of administrative entities ended asinter-ethnic conflicts between two national groups: Armenians against Azeris, Ossetiansagainst Georgians, Georgians against Abkhazians, Ingush against Ossetians, and Chechensagainst Russians.Once again, the Caucasus faces a vicious cycle of social fragmentation, asvertical disintegration invites horizontal conflicts and horizontal conflicts con-tribute to vertical disintegration. Some of the factors contributing to this cycledeserve special notice.Regime transitions have led to conflicts over institutional arrangements andborders, and with the demise of collective ownership property rights have provena particularly sensitive issue. Population density throughout the region is high,exacerbated by a particularly high rural birth rate. This has increased competitionfor housing and land, and has led to chronic unemployment. During the Sovietperiod the region was heavily subsidized by the central government. Defenceindustries were an important, sometimes dominant, factor in local economies andthere was an effort to establish production facilities even in remote mountainousregions. Surplus labour was exported. Today much of this assistance is unavail-able, and those Caucasian nationals who once found employment elsewhere inthe Soviet Union and sent their salaries home, have been returning home indroves. Upon their arrival they find local economies collapsed to the point thatgoods which were once exported are now available only as imports.While the Soviet subsidies helped to relieve ethnic tensions, other policiesdid much to exacerbate them. Under the Soviet system, as Hill has observed,the division of the Caucasus into 'ethnically-defined administrative entitiesserved to politicize ethnicity, created the impression that territory that was settledby a number of groups actually belonged to only one group, and scatteredsome groups across shifting administrative boundaries'. With the appearanceof perestroika and the demise of the Communist regime, conceptions344Downloaded by [Case Western Reserve University] at 10:56 29 October 2014 CONFLICT IN THE CAUCASUSof ethnic identity among the peoples of the former Soviet Union almostinvariably evoke the rhetoric of national sovereignty and the construct of thenation-state. Ormrod observes:In the North Caucasus, national identity has replaced the clan and broadly North Caucasianidentities as the framework for discussion among North Caucasians, and between NorthCaucasians and other groups. The traditional 'divide and conquer' strategy of the oldRussian empire once again has proved effective insofar as these emerging relations alsoindicate that a consciousness of nation based on titular nationality (where a territorial/ad-ministrative unit is associated with a particular nationality) is beginning to take precedencein the historical memory over the broad North Caucasian solidarity against Russia.Yet these nationalist aspirations have advanced in the absence of a genuinepolitical infrastructure. Though the Soviet central authority lent North Cau-casian governments the appearance of autonomy and self-determination ittransferred little power. Hill observes that it thereby promoted a 'brain-drain'and deprived local leaders of genuine administrative experience. North Cau-casian elites consequently lacked expertise required for the constructive man-agement of those inter-ethnic tensions that followed inevitably from frustratedaspirations.Though the central authority has not always been a direct cause of the recentconflicts in the region, Caucasians often see 'the hand of Moscow' behindregional difficulties. For example, Krag and Funch observe that '(m)any Cau-casians state that some military leaders in Moscow wanted a violent conflictbetween Ossetes and Ingush to stress the need for their presence in the region'.Hill adds that correspondingly '(m)any in Moscow believe that Russia's nationalinterest is served by conflict in the region'. She recalls that Russia has sponsoreda covert operation in support of the Abkhaz separatists and a coup thatundermined Azerbaijani President Abulfaz Elchibey; sustained the conflict inNagorno-Karabakh through her manipulation of both Armenia and Azerbaijan inorder to sustain their opposition; backed the North Ossetians in their struggleswith the Ingush in order to ensure Ossetsian loyalty; and covertly supported theopposition to Chechen President Dudaev prior to the Russian invasion. Somesaw this pattern reflected in Russia's response to the Daghestani hostagesituation in Kizliar and Pervomayskoyae. Though Moscow has sought to endsome conflicts in the region (Georgia and South Ossetia in 1992), it has done soprimarily to advance its own interests, while obstructing peacemaking efforts onthe part of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) andthe UN.Today, the region remains a patchwork of overlapping and mutually reinforc-ing conflicts. Many Chechen fighters, for example, were veterans of the strugglebetween Tiblisi and Abkhazia. No less significantly, Caucasian nationals inTurkey, Iran and other states in the region have been procuring funds andweapons for their compatriots at home. Though clearly an escalation, the dramaaboard a Turkish ferry in 1996 was merely the most notorious of these episodes.Turkey and Iran also have been drawn to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh,345Downloaded by [Case Western Reserve University] at 10:56 29 October 2014 ROBERT BRUCE WAREpartly as a consequence of their own Azeri communities. The United States, inturn, has sought to counteract Iranian influence.The same cycle of instability reappears in the plight of refugees. Fleeingconflict in one area refugees contribute to instability in other areas. Waves ofrefugees have placed severe pressure on the regions' residential and medicalinfrastructure, depleting social services and contributing to political strains.Approximately 700,000 people have fled Armenia and Azerbaijan since 1988when fighting began in Nagorno-Karabakh. More than 20,000 Ingush* have beendriven out of North Ossetia. Conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia havedisplaced ten times that number, while roughly a third of Chechnya's pre-warpopulation, more than 450,000 people, have become refugees. According torecent public opinion surveys, Caucasians tend to blame refugees for decliningeconomic indicators and rising rates of crime.Daghestan as an anomaly of ethnic accommodationYet from 1921 onward, the Autonomous Republic of Daghestan has provided animportant, and in some ways dramatic, exception to the process of nationalfragmentation that progressively has overtaken the Soviet Union, Russia and theNorth Caucasus. Few localities would seem to offer a case with a higherpotential for ethnic conflict than Daghestan. Even by the standards of theCaucasus, Daghestan's ethnic heterogeneity is extreme. The republic's 2,137,600people are culturally, linguistically, and territorially divided among more than 30recognized ethnic groups, ranging in population from 1,000 to 500,000. ThoughSunni Muslims predominate, Daghestan also contains Shiite Azeris andsignificant populations of Christians and Jews. While the republic's cities havelong been multiethnic, the countryside traditionally has been a mosaic of ethnicterritories. Recently, economic and political pressures, most notably fromrefugees, have increased ethnic heterogeneity in rural areas. There the scarcityof land and the paucity of economic development have yet to deter thetraditionally expansive birth rate. With a population that has doubled in the last30 years, Daghestan regularly appears at or near the bottom of the list ofrepublics for a range of socioeconomic indicators.Moreover, the republic has undergone a dramatic economic decline since thecollapse of the Soviet Union. To a large extent, the decline is connected to thatof the Russian federation, which is associated with at least 95 per cent ofDaghestan's economy. But among the Russian republics, Daghestan has alsofaced extraordinary economic pressures. For example, the defence-related sectorof the Daghestani economy has shrunk from approximately 75 per cent to 34 percent, with a 29.8 per cent job loss between 1991 and 1993. Many defence plantswere located in mountain villages, where highly skilled workers have beenwithout further employment. This has contributed to a range of social problems,and motivated a continuing migration from the mountains, which, in turn, has*According to some data, the number could be as high as 60,000the whole Ingush population of North Ossetia.346Downloaded by [Case Western Reserve University] at 10:56 29 October 2014 CONFLICT IN THE CAUCASUSincreased pressures in the traditional territories of lowland ethnic groups. Whilemigration from the mountains has slowed since the end of 1992, birthratesremain relatively high and these regions are unable to support their populations.9All of Daghestan's ethnic groups have contended over property, politicalaccess, cultural subsidies and schools. Land is a particularly complicated issueas collectivization comes to an end, and land disputes are usually framed interms of ethnic, rather than individual rights. Some members of the largergroups, including Lezgins, Nogais and Kumyks have, at various times, an-nounced their desire to form independent republics. Lezgins, in particular, havespawned a national unity movement ('Sadval'), which has been involved in aterritorial dispute with Azerbaijan. In 1992, some of the Nogai formed the'Birlik' national movement with the primary aim of creating an autonomousNogai area based on two districts of Daghestan, two districts of neighbouringStavropol Krai and one district of the Chechen Republic with significant Nogaipopulations.Violent inter-ethnic conflicts and wars have broken out in three of therepublics bordering Daghestan: Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Chechnya. Many ofDaghestan's nationalities have ethnic or religious connections to groups fightingon opposing sides of these conflicts. Violence and instability elsewhere in theregion have flooded Daghestan with refugees intensifying social pressures.Lowland Kumyk territories in Daghestan have seen an influx of Laks andDargins, who previously inhabited the highlands of Daghestan and Chechnya.An exodus of Avars from Georgia to Daghestan has added to Avar internalmigrations, crowding the homelands of the Nogai and Kumyks. Kumyks inparticular are alarmed at having become a minority in their traditional territories.During the Chechen conflict, Daghestan walked a razor's edge, resistingpressures from both sides. Chechen secessionists demanded ethnic, regionaland Islamic solidarity, while Moscow demanded loyalty, and both sidesdemanded support. Daghestan's decision to remain a part of the Russianfederation evoked a series of angry threats from Chechen leaders. For example,in 1992 Chechen President Dudaev accused Daghestani leaders of conspiringwith Moscow against Chechnya's independence movement and providing abase for Russian attacks. Yet the Daghestani government repeatedly protestedwhen federal artillery pounded Chechen villages from Daghestani positions.Similar protests were lodged when Russian troops were reported (on more thanone occasion) to have shelled Daghestani borderlands following incursions byChechen fighters.Emblematic of Daghestan's dilemma was the hostage crisis in Kisliar andPervomaiskoye. When Chechen's occupied a quarter of Kisliar, ransackingneighbourhoods and herding hundreds of hostages into a local hospital, highranking officials from the republic's capital, Makhachkala, initially struggled toprevent anti-Chechen reprisals from armed vigilantes. However, anger was soondirected against Moscow, when Daghestani hostages in Pervomaiskoye fellunder Russian artillery, and statements by both Yeltsin and the Chechens wereinterpreted as indicating Moscow's intent to enmesh Daghestan in the conflict.347Downloaded by [Case Western Reserve University] at 10:56 29 October 2014 ROBERT BRUCE WARETensions between Chechnya and Daghestan have been exacerbated by acomplex and enduring territorial dispute in the Novolakski district along theDaghestani border with Chechnya. Lak highlanders from Daghestan, who wereforcibly resettled in this region following the deportation of ethnic Chechens inthe 1940s, have been alarmed by the Chechens' efforts to reclaim the land underthe terms of the Russian law on repressed peoples. In 1992 Chechens threatenedto seize the territory by force. Many Chechens in the area joined the Chechennational guard and appealed to the Chechen Republic for annexation. In responseto rumours of impending confiscation, the Daghestani Supreme Soviet approveda law permitting residents the right to arm themselves against 'terrorist attacks'.While the seizure has not occurred, the situation has not been resolved. TheDaghestani government has sought to relocate the Laks to new villages nearMakhachkala, but financial difficulties have thus far prevented the completion ofthe project.Leaders in the capital, Makhachkala, have sought the preservation of a unifiedand peaceful Daghestan. Paradoxically, the government's objective has been tostrengthen the cohesive Daghestani identity through recognition and support forethnic identities and for individual rights, in contrast with the rights of ethnicgroups. On the one hand, there is government support for cultural development,including six national theatres (sharing three buildings), numerous nationalnewspapers, ethnic television programmes, etc. On the other hand, efforts aremade to ensure that no national group feels marginalized, and there is a constantattempt to maintain an ethnic balance within the administration.Surprisingly, this approach is succeeding. Despite conditions that are worse,and potentials for conflict that appear to be greater than elsewhere in the region,Daghestan has been the scene of no major ethnic conflict and no protractedethnic violence. Ethnic relations in Daghestan have been characterized bycomparative harmony, and by a spirit of pragmatic accommodation.A number of factors help to unify the population of Daghestan. Running backto its inception, Daghestan is distinguished by a lack of titular national groups,and instead involves conditions of relative parity among the larger nationalities.Over many years, this has led to the evolution of a complex ethnic balance,which involves the smaller groups as well, in an intricate mosaic officiallyrecognized as Peoples of Daghestan. Since no single group is sufficientlypowerful to govern on its own, cooperation has long been a necessity: this hascontributed to Daghestan's tradition of pragmatic accommodation among ethnicgroups. This spirit of pragmatism is particularly prevalent among those political,religious and entrepreneurial elites who play influential roles within most ethnicgroups, and who generally are co-opted by, and loyal to, Moscow. Hence, indistinction from other parts of the region, ethnic issues in Daghestan usuallyhave not been considered within the framework of national states. This distinc-tion goes back at least as far as 1921, to the initial ethnic heterogeneity of theDaghestan Autonomous Republic and to the subsequent fragmentation of theMountain Republic along ethnic lines. Whereas other nationalities were divided,the peoples of Daghestan were united by Soviet federalism. They are bound by348Downloaded by [Case Western Reserve University] at 10:56 29 October 2014 CONFLICT IN THE CAUCASUSa common history, by customary similarities in costume, cuisine, and kinshippatterns, in many cases by matrimony (13-15 per cent ethnic intermarriages), andby Islam.With a long tradition of religious fervour, Daghestan remains a focus of Islamicfaith in the region. For example, the Muslim Spiritual Board of Daghestan andthe North Caucasus is based in Makhachkala. Islamic, inter-ethnic politicalorganizations, including the Islamic Party (formerly the Islamic DemocraticParty) and the Muslim Society, cut across national divisions and provide a senseof common cause. Several large demonstrations have focused on religious, ratherthan ethnic, issues. For example, 1991 saw most nationalities joining forces inlarge protests against Russo-American involvement in the Persian Gulf War andthe escalating cost of airplane seats for the pilgrimage to Mecca.Yet, partly as a consequence of the increasing Saudi and Iranian influences,a new fundamentalist movement, known as Wahhabism, has been growingrapidly in Daghestan's rural areas. There it has come into conflict with the moretraditional Sufi Tariqat. In the face of the puritanical Wahhabist critique,traditionalists responded with the proclamation that paradise would be theautomatic reward for anyone who killed a Wahhabi.These tensions came to a head in an incident which began at a funeral on 12May 1997 in the Dargin village of Karamakhi near Buynaksk. Though in this caseall the disputants were Dargin, a confrontation nonetheless arose betweenWahhabist and Sufi mourners. Trouble began when Wahhabists objected thatSufis were praying toward the coffin of the deceased and issued a plea that allshould face Mecca instead. When the request went unheeded a Wahhabi attackeda Sufi and fatally shot him. The melee that ensued lasted through the night andinvolved approximately 600 people. Though shots were fired at the outset, andweapons were plentiful, gun play was quickly terminated. Its prompt cessationwas partly attributed to a rumour circulating through the crowd which claimedthat a thousand Wahhabists, heavily armed and seasoned in the Chechen war,were at the edge of the village, and that further gun fire would ensure theiradvance. Despite this note of restraint, three Wahhabists were seriously woundedand 22 were taken hostage. The Sufis demanded the murderer in exchange forthe hostages.The Deputy Prime Minister, a Dargin named Said Amirov, and M. S-M.Gusaiv, the Minister of Nationalities, were dispatched to the scene along with acontingent of troops. Promising that the killer would be punished, Amirovmanaged to negotiate a three-way agreement, signed by the government andrepresentatives from both of the opposing sides. The agreement expressedcondolences and regrets all around. It urged both sides to refrain from violence.The government vowed to withdraw the troops when the agreement had beensigned, and was quick to keep its promise.Undeniably, ethnic and religious issues remain problematic. Yet it appears thatthrough a history of pragmatic response to such instances, the Daghestani peoplegradually have been developing a consensus regarding common principles bywhich problems may be resolved. This is particularly significant insofar as ethnic349Downloaded by [Case Western Reserve University] at 10:56 29 October 2014 ROBERT BRUCE WAREgroups are distinguished, not only by language and history, but also by ethicalnorms. In other words, one of the reasons for the intransigence of ethnic conflictis an inherent discrepancy in moral values regarding the rules for the resolutionof disputes. Another cause of ethnic discontent that is particularly significant inthe Daghestani case is that long and complex histories of group contact oftenlead to enduring resentments and incommensurable perceptions of grievance. Inany particular situation, interpretations of right and wrong may vary accordingto different emphases that are placed on preceding events. Because historicalevents frequently differ in their significance for different ethnic groups, thenormative viewpoints of those groups, and their perceptions of grievance mayaccordingly diverge. It is because ethnic conflict often turns on the incommen-surability of ethical values and historical perceptions that Daghestan's progresstoward a transnational ethical consensus may provide a suggestive model for thebroader resolution of ethnic disputes.By Daghestani tradition the aggrieved party of a dispute can expect the guiltyparty to offer compensation. As hospitality is a paramount virtue in Daghestan,this usually takes place in the social context of a common meal. The guilty partydelivers compensation to the injured party, thereby acknowledging guilt andrising to the status of a guest who must be properly attended. If guilt is shared,ambiguous, or controversial, a third party may invite the disputants for food andvodka.For example, in 1993 Kumyks and Dargins, who respectively inhabit theneighbouring towns of Kostek and Novyi Kostek, faced off in an armedconfrontation over land. Because of migration from mountain villages, theDargin community needed space for new housing and planned to build nearKostek. A group of Kumyks sought to prevent them and one of their numberwas killed. After the incident, the Dargins went to the Kumyks. They wereaccompanied by a number of prominent Daghestanis, including the PrimeMinister, the Minister of Nationalities, leaders of all national groups, andmembers of the intelligentsia. They greeted one another and spoke of theimportance of peace. The Dargins admitted that they had been welcomed andwell treated by the Kumyks when they first came to the region. They offeredcondolences for the death, and regretted that it took place in their section of thevillage, but did not accept responsibility. In the end, the Dargins madeconcessions regarding the structure of the collective farm that they share withthe Kumyks, and the Kumyks allotted land for new Dargin housing. Thedispute was nominally resolved, and neither side lost face. Although thecommunity remained in a state of emergency for a month thereafter bloodshedhas not recurred.A spate of ethnic incidents that occurred in Daghestan shortly after thecollapse of the Soviet Union involved the allocation of land or the adjustmentof other group rights. Because of differing perceptions of history, both sidesoften felt injured. Usually, there was no attempt to agree on a commoninterpretation of the situation, although, in some cases, there was an effort tounderstand the other point of view. Instead, government officials generally350Downloaded by [Case Western Reserve University] at 10:56 29 October 2014 CONFLICT IN THE CAUCASUSparticipated in efforts to arrive pragmatically and consensually at an accommo-dation acceptable to opposing parties. For example, in 1992 there was aconfrontational land dispute between Avars and immigrant/returnee Chechens inthe Aukhovskii/Novolakskii Raion in which officials from both communitiesparticipated, and in which both sides acknowledged the past suffering of theChechens. A settlement was successfully negotiated.There have been pressures for moderation in Daghestan's ethnic disputesfrom many segments of the population, most notably from women. Accordingto McCartney, Daghestani women have been 'able to take a broader viewand consider the consequences of social instability for their families andthe community as a whole ... during the confrontations they worked quietlyto defuse anger and passion and to reach a settlement'. In recent years,incidents of ethnic conflict have decreased and nationalist fervour has beenmoderated.None of Daghestan's national identity organizations has advanced a seriousseparatist agenda. Though Lezgin intellectuals in Sadval proposed an indepen-dent Lezgistan (on the model of its historic predecessor) they found limitedsupport in their community. Moreover, Sadval, like the Nogai Birlik, is largelyan effort to unite a population divided by administrative (and in the case of theLezgins, international) boundaries. Neither movement has identified its mem-bers as oppressed, and some Lezgins have praised protections afforded byDaghestan in contrast to the repression of their people to Azerbaijan. Ormrodattributes this, in part, to Daghestan's relatively low percentage of ethnicRussians, and the proportionately higher percentage of non-Russian elites.Daghestanis have long made an effort to distribute positions of authorityamong all of the larger ethnic groups, and to disperse the benefits of culturalrecognition.For example, the Nogai are a diaspora people descended from a oncenumerous and powerful nomadic tribe. As such they are scattered throughoutthe North Caucasus, with the largest populations in Chechnya, Daghestan andRussia's Stavropol region. As a non-titular national group in areas with titularnationalities, the Nogai have endured systematic domination and culturalrepression: yet they have found greater opportunities in Daghestan, where allthe ethnic groups are non-titular. The Nogai language is the medium ofcomprehensive education only in certain districts of Daghestan where Nogaichildren comprise up to 75 per cent of the student population. Ormrod,however, concludes that: 'Paradoxically, the non-titular nationalities ofDaghestan appear to have had greater opportunities for cultural developmentthan the titular nationalities of some other North Caucasian republics, and therelations of the former are relatively less adversarial'. Contrary to thetraditional Russo-Soviet strategy of promoting ethnic divisions throughseparatist policies, federalism, and territorial fragmentation, the case ofDaghestan suggests that a pragmatic multiculturalism and parity among amultiplicity of ethnic groups may provide the best prospects for peace in theregion.351Downloaded by [Case Western Reserve University] at 10:56 29 October 2014 ROBERT BRUCE WARENotes and references1. Fiona Hill, 'Russian foreign policy and conflict in the Caucasus', The Berkeley Program in Soviet and PostSoviet Studies, Newsletter, 1, 1995.2. Gail W. Lapidus and Edward W. Walker, 'Nationalism, regionalism, and federalism center-peripheryrelations in post-Communist Russia', in The New Russia: Troubled Transformation, ed. Gail W. Lapidus(Boulder: Westview, 1994).3. R. Pipes, The Formation of the Soviet Union, Communism and Nationalism 1917-1923 (Cambridge,Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1954).4. Uralov (A. Avtorkhanov), Narodoubiistvo v SSSR (Munich, 1952).5. Jane Ormrod, 'The North Caucasus: fragmentation or federation', in ed. Ian Bremmer and Ray Taras,Nations and Politics of the Soviet Successor States (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).6. N. G. Volkova and L. I. Lavsov, 'Sovremennye ethnicheskie protsessy', E. P. Prokorov, ed., Kul'tura ibyt narodov severnogo Kavkaza (Moscow, 1968).7. V. Zaslavsky, 'Success and collapse: traditional Soviet nationality policy', in ed. Ian Bremmer and RayTaras, Nations and Politics of the Soviet Successor States (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).8. Helen Krag and Lars Funch, The North Caucasus: Minorities at a Crossroads (London: The MinorityRights Group, 1994).9. Clem McCartney, Dagestan: Situation Report (London: International Alert, 1995).10. Gail W. Lapidus, Victor Zaslavsky and Philip Goldman, ed. From Union to Commonwealth: Nationalismand Separatism in the Soviet Republics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).EDITOR'S NOTESince this article was written, several new developments have occurred which may affect the fragile politicaland ethnic balance of Daghestan. They must be taken into account when assessing the prospect for peace inDaghestan:Attacks on Russian military positions. Two such occurrences must be noted: 1a raid against a Russiangarrison in Buinaksk in December 1997. It was the first time that a large scale attack was mounted against aRussian military garrison in Daghestan; 2an attack on 19 May 1998 against a military convoy betweenKhunzakh and Gimrithe birthplace of Imam Shamil in the Avar mountains of Daghestan. In this case, it wasthe first such attack on Russian personnel in the rural mountainous region of this republic.The storming of the government building in Makhachkala, the capital of Daghestan, on 20-21 May 1998,by followers (an estimated 2000-10,000 people) of Nadirshah Khachilaev, president of the Muslim Union ofRussia and a deputy of the Russian Duma, and his brother Magomed Khachilaev, leader of the Lak nationalfront. In the negotiations which followed with the government of Daghestan, the Khachilaev brothers werejoined by Gadzhi Makhachev, the leader of the Avar national front and a Deputy Vice-Premier of the Republic.The demonstrators demanded the resignation of government ministers, in particular that of the Interior minister,and new elections. It would appear that the disturbances were provoked, among other things, by a recentamendment of the Daghestani Constitution, imposed by the government, to allow a change towards apresidential regime in the republic during the forthcoming elections due in July 1998. This could cancel therotation between the three majority nationalitiesAvar, Darghin and Kumykat the head of the governmentand open the door to ethnic conflict in the republic.The fighting between the villagers of Karamakhi (mentioned in the article) and troops of the DefenceMinistry and MVD (Ministry of the Interior). OMON (MVD) units and a mountain infantry brigade weremobilised. However, the troops were disengaged not to 'aggravate the situation and solve the problempeacefully', according Daghestani government spokesmen. The reasons for this conflict are yet unknown.Finally there has been an increase in political assassinationsthe latest victim to date was the chief ofadministration in Akusha, the Darghin regional centre, Kurban Kurbanov, killed on 19 May 1998.352Downloaded by [Case Western Reserve University] at 10:56 29 October 2014


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