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Dagestan

DAGESTAN

Dagestan, part of the ethnically diverse Caucasus region, is an especially rich area of ethnic and linguistic variety. An Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of the RSFSR during the Soviet period, it has continued to be an autonomous republic of the Russian Federation since. There are twenty-six distinct languages in the Northeast Caucasian family. The majority of these languages' speakers live in Dagestan. The largest of these are Avar, Dargin, and Lezgin. The total population of the Dagestan A.S.S.R. in 1989 was 1.77 million. Many other nationalities, such as Russians, also live in Dagestan.

The capital of Dagestan is Makhachkala, located on the Caspian Sea. The Terek River is the most important river in Dagestan, flowing from Chechnya and toward the Caspian Sea. There is a small coastal plain that gives rise quickly to the eastern portion of the main Caucasus range. The most intense ethno-linguistic diversity is found in the mountains as a result of the isolation that historically separated groups of people. The northern part of Dagestan connects with the Eurasian steppe.

Many of the people of Dagestan are descendents of the residents of the ancient Caucasian Albanian Kingdom. This kingdom was known for its multiplicity of languages and was Christian for many centuries, having close relations with the Armenian people and their Christian culture.

Dagestanis were traditionally Muslims peoples. Attempts in the post-Soviet period to incite Islam-based rebellion, however, have been generally unsuccessful. These rebellions have come from the direction of the troubled Republic of Chechnya, which is located west of Dagestan. The Islam of Dagestan was traditionally a Sufi-based Islam, one that is inimical to the sort of puritanical Sunni sectarianism that is exported from other parts of the Islamic world. Sufism in this part of the world is not without its militant expression; one of the most famous leaders, Shamil, was an Avar of Dagestan. His power base was mainly in the Central Caucasus among the Chechens.

Unlike many of their other neighbors in the Caucasus, the Dagestanis, for the most part, did not experience the exile and deportation in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This makes the narrative of their people much less filled with the anger and alienation that characterizes Chechen, Abkhazian, and other histories. The ethnic fragmentation of Dagestan has also prevented a unified Dagestani national identity from being formed.

The Russian Empire appeared in this area in two different forms: by the Cossacks who lived at the periphery of the empire in the semiautonomous communities; and by means of the imperial army's movement down the Volga River and to the western shore of the Caspian. Peter the Great captured territory in this area, but Dagestan was not fully brought into the Russian Empire until the mid-nineteenth century.

The Soviet period saw the creation of Cyrillic-based alphabets for the various languages of Dagestan. This strengthened the existence of the larger languages, and may have forestalled the extinction of some of the smallest of the languages. It also served to forestall the creation of a united Dagestani national identity.

In the post-Soviet period, in addition to Islamic agitation from the west, there has also been a certain amount of ethnic conflict. The conflict is generally over who will control the politics and patronage of certain enclaves, while the larger groups jockey for position in the republic's government. Some of the conflicts result from the ethnic mixing that was encouraged and sometimes forced during the Soviet period.

See also: avars; caucasus; dargins; islam; lezgins; nationalities policies, soviet; nationalities policies, tsarist

bibliography

Hill, Fiona. (1995). "Russia's Tinderbox: Conflict in the North Caucasus and Its Implication for the Future of the Russian Federation." Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, Strengthening Democratic Institutions Project.

Karny, Yo'av. (2000). Highlander: A Journey to the Caucasus in Quest of Memory. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Paul Crego

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Dagestan Republic

Dagestan Republic or Daghestan Republic (dägəstän´), constituent republic (1999 pop. 2,074,000), c.19,400 sq mi (50,250 sq km), SE European Russia, bounded on the E by the Caspian Sea. Makhachkala (the capital) and Derbent are the chief cities. Dagestan in the south consists mainly of sections of the Caucasus Mts. Except for the Caspian plain and the Nogai steppe and the irrigated lowlands in the north, the terrain is one of steep slopes and narrow valleys. Difficulty of access has left most of Dagestan's mineral resources untapped; however, important quantities of oil and natural gas have been extracted along the coast. The irrigated lowlands support winter wheat, corn, sunflowers, fruits, and wine grapes. The republic's major industries produce canned fruit, wine, oil, machines, chemicals, textiles, and wood products. However, by the end of the 20th cent. over 85% of its budget was provided by the Russian government. The Samur, Sulak, and other rivers provide hydroelectric power. Dagestan's terrain has encouraged the development of a multiplicity of ethnic groups, more than 30 in number, most of whom are Muslim. About half the population consists of indigenous Caucasian mountain peoples (Avars, Lezghians, Darghins, Lakhs); the rest is made up of Turkic (notably Kumyks) and Iranian groups (especially Tats) and, in the cities, Russians and Ukrainians.

An ancient area of human settlement, Dagestan belonged to Caucasian Albania in the 1st millennium BC It was later invaded by Huns, Persian Sassanids, and, in the 7th cent. AD, by Arabs, who introduced Islam. Taken by the Turks in the 11th cent. and the Mongols in the 13th cent., the region became the center of a struggle between Turkey and Persia in the 15th cent. It was a Persian province when Russia annexed it by the Treaty of Gulistan in 1813. Muslim mountain dwellers resisted Russian domination until 1859, and a new revolt erupted in 1877, during the Russo-Turkish war of that year. Dagestan came under Soviet rule in 1920 and in 1921 was made an autonomous republic.

In 1991, the parliament of Dagestan declared the republic to be of full republic status. Dagestan was a signatory to the Mar. 31, 1992, treaty of federation that created the Russian Federation (see Russia). In 1999 several thousand armed members of a Chechen Muslim fundamentalist group, whose aim was to merge Dagestan with neighboring Chechnya in a single Islamic state, invaded S Dagestan from Chechnya. Russia responded with ground and air attacks by federal troops, and the militants retreated; the incident contributed to Russia's decision to invade Chechnya later in 1999. The subsequent fighting in Chechnya at times spilled over into Dagestan; Dagestan also has experienced violence involving local Islamic militants.

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Dagestan

Dagestan Republic in the Russian Federation, bounded on the e by the Caspian Sea, se European Russia. The capital is Makhachkala. Islam was introduced in the 7th century, and the majority of the present population is Muslim. Annexed by Russia in the early 19th century, Dagestan's native population resisted Russian rule until autonomy was granted in 1921. In 1991 it claimed full republic status. The Caucasus mountains dominates the region. Lowlands to the n support wheat, maize and grapes. The rivers Samur and Sulak provide hydroelectric power. Difficulty of access leaves mineral resources untapped. Industries: engineering, oil, chemicals. Area: 50,300sq km (19,416sq mi). Pop. (2000) 2,148,800.

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Dagestan

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