Ethnic Russians and Dagestanis clash in remote Russian region

North Caucasians on Path to Exclusion from Russian Military Service
Publication: North Caucasus Analysis Volume: 13 Issue: 13
June 27, 2012

By: Valery Dzutsev

A fight between non-Slavic Dagestanis and Russians in the northern Russian Kirov region on June 20 spiraled into massive clashes involving more than 100 people two days later. One hundred seventy police officers were sent in to stop the violence. Although officials deny there was a shootout between the conflicting sides, locals say several people were hospitalized with gunshot wounds. The conflict reportedly started as a fight between, on one side, a non-Slavic Dagestani, Nukh Kuratmagomedov, along with his son or nephew and the owners of a café and a sawmill, and, on the other, a local Russian or a group of Russians. The incident took place in the town of Demyanovo in northern Kirov, which is 200 kilometers away from the city of Kirov, the regional capital. As a crowd of Russians eventually beat up the Dagestani businessmen, the latter sought help from other Dagestanis and the conflict escalated. The Dagestani café was burned down. Two “indigenous people” – as the Russian media referred to the ethnic Russians in the area – were detained, but a crowd of 300 other ethnic Russians demanded their release (www.kommersant.ru, June 25, www.nabludatel.ru, June 26).

On a video disseminated via YouTube, the very tense situation is shown and shots are heard in the background. However, people do not seem to panic and the police appear in control of the situation (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rE4xhkiI6uM).

On June 24, with the situation not yet calmed down, local officials met with indigenous Russian activists. The officials rejected demands to deport Dagestanis from the Kirov region, but yielded to demands to release the two people detained earlier on bail. One of them was suspected of setting the Dagestani businessman’s café ablaze and the other of assaulting a police officer when the latter tried to protect the businessman’s property. The police said that two Dagestanis were in possession of firearms, and one of them would be subject to administrative charges. The Dagestanis reportedly shot at the Russians who tried to storm the sawmill. It also emerged during the meeting that Demyanovo, a town of over 6,000 people, had practically no police officers on duty because of massive cuts in the police force, so a police colonel had urged the locals to organize militia groups (http://www.nabludatel.ru/new/2012/06/25/dagestanec-strelyavshij-po-demyanovcam-poneset-admistrativnuyu-otvetstvennost-za-ispolzovanie-karabina-vne-oxotnichix-ugodij/).

Both sides of the conflict, the non-Slavic Dagestanis and the Kirov region’s indigenous ethnic Russians, negotiated a truce with the assistance of government officials (http://www.nabludatel.ru/new/2012/06/25/predstaviteli-dagestanskoj-diaspory-i-korennogo-naseleniya-demyanovo-nachali-mirnye-peregovory/). However, the government appeared to distance itself from the conflict, unable or unwilling to follow the letter of the law. It is symptomatic that the government initially was harsher on the offenders among the Russian people and then yielded to the local Russians’ demands. The Dagestanis initially were not cited among the offenders, but eventually were charged with administrative charges. It is safe to say that the rift between the Dagestani North Caucasians and Russians in this region is likely to develop further and could have repercussions for other Russian territories.

The friction between ethnic Russians and ethnic North Caucasians has virtually been institutionalized in the Russian army. On June 18, an anonymous high-ranking Russian Defense Ministry official told RIA Novosti that North Caucasians would not be drafted into the Russian armed forced in 2012. The official said that the draft among North Caucasians was “temporarily suspended” in 2011 because of constant conflicts between the North Caucasians and others. According to the official, not only North Caucasians who live in the North Caucasus, but even those who live in other Russian regions would not be drafted. Moscow’s envoy to the North Caucasus, Aleksandr Khloponin, promised to look into the issue earlier, but at the same time blamed North Caucasians themselves for a lack of discipline (http://ria.ru/society/20120618/675902719.html).

The Dagestani branch of the military draft commission denied there was any ban on Dagestani conscripts in the Russian army. A commission official alleged that 2,000 Dagestanis have been drafted into the Russian armed forces and the draft would last as late as July 15 (http://www.ndelo.ru/one_stat.php?id=7119). According to the head of the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers, Valentina Melnikova, the draft in Dagestan was reduced from 20,000 to 1,500 per year. “Three to four years ago a fight against Islamism took place in the military under the guise of a fight against hazing on an ethnic basis,” Melnikova told the Gazeta.ru website. “We even obtained an official manual on this. Because Dagestan supplied the majority of conscripts in the North Caucasus, the Dagestanis bore the brunt of this fight, as they were called the primary offenders in all ethnicity-based conflicts.” Ironically, Russian legislation stipulates that only those men who have served in the military are eligible for government jobs, including the police. So by excluding the bulk of Dagestani youth from serving in the Russian army, the government shrinks the pool of local recruits for its counterterrorist activities in the republic. Another irony is that because of the severe lack of conscripts in the Russian armed forces, the authorities tend to draft ethnic Russians en masse with little regard for their health and other conditions. According to the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers, nearly 50 percent of the new conscripts have medical conditions, including psychiatric problems (http://www.gazeta.ru/social/2012/06/18/4630997.shtml).

Despite the focus on Dagestani conscripts, the Russian government has apparently excluded all North Caucasians from the military draft. So while the exclusion of the Dagestanis or Chechens could be explained by fear of infiltration of the Russian military by insurgents, it is hard to justify excluding ethnic Ossetians and Adygeans from the draft. It appears the problem is much wider, and the Russian military, one of the most conservative and also most nationalistic government institutions, took the lead in excluding North Caucasians from Russian life.

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