DAGESTAN IN OCTOBER 1997
IMAM SHAMIL LIVES!
by Paul B. Henze
This report is an account of a visit to
Dagestan in October 1997 to participate
in ceremonies commemorating the 200th
anniversary of the birth of the great
Caucasian resistance fighter, Shamil.
In August 1997 I received an invitation from Dagestan to come to Makhachkala in October to participate in an "International Scientific Conference Dedicated to the 200th Anniversary of Imam Shamil"1. I replied by e-mail to the organizer, Mohamededkhan Mohamedkhanov of the Dagestan branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, that I would be happy to come.
I had found when I headed an international observer mission in Chechnya in the fall of 1992 that I was well known in the Caucasus through my writings. I graduated in 1950 as one of the second group of students to go through the Harvard Soviet Program which had been established in 1947. There was little opportunity at that time to study the Caucasus, but contacts with Caucasian exiles in Munich in the 1950s, and at the end of that decade in Turkey, stimulated my awareness of the region. As a hobby I continued reading Caucasian history and interviewing exiles on their experiences and their views of their peoples' past. Over the past 40 years I published several major articles on the Caucasian Wars of the 19th century2.
Though I had traveled extensively in the Caucasus from the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the 1997 conference was my first opportunity to visit Dagestan. In the wake of the Russian defeat and withdrawal from Chechnya in 1996, Dagestan in 1997 was enjoying a relatively quiet period. The Russian Embassy in Washington may not have been enthusiastic about giving me a visa, but it came through. A few other Americans, Europeans, and an Israeli scholar were also invited and several managed to come for the conference. I travelled in the company of a good friend, S. Enders Wimbush, former Director of Radio Liberty and likewise a student of the Caucasus who has published extensively on Islam in the Soviet Union. We flew first to Baku, spent several days familiarizing ourselves with the situation in Azerbaijan as the guests of an Azerbaijani newspaper publisher, and then arranged to go by car to Makhachkala. The account which follows is essentially a diary of the Dagestan visit which included not only the conference and celebrations in Makhachkala but also a bus trip to some of the most famous Shamilievskie Mesta [places connected with Shamil] in the interior.
21 October 1997 - Baku via Derbent to Makhachkala.
Our journey to Makhachkala began shortly after ten this morning when Intikam Hydyrov, the Azeri driver we had hired a couple of days ago, drove us to the Dagestan "embassy" on the ground floor of an apartment house on the main highway in the north end of Baku. Here we were welcomed by "Ambassador" Aslanov in his office decorated with Russian and Azerbaijani flags, with a huge poster on the wall commemorating the 200th anniversary of Shamil's birth next to a large map of the entire Caucasus, including Rostov and Stavropol. A smiling rotund man, Aslanov identified himself as a Rutul as he telephoned Makhachkala to get assurance that we would be met at the border, then had an assistant write a letter to Russian customs asking facilitation of our crossing. We were surprised to find Charles Fairbanks3 there as well. He had come in from Washington only the night before and had not had time to organize transportation, so we invited him to join us. Formalities accomplished, the "Ambassador" took a bottle of 5-year-old Derbent cognac out of a cupboard and we toasted Dagestan, the memory of Shamil, the conference, and our trip. It was all very convivial as we posed for photographs with our host. Then onto the road.
The road north: dismal industrial countryside to Sumgait and beyond: appalling industrial wreckage everywhere.. Our driver gave us a running commentary on factories we passed and his view of current life in Azerbaijan--prospects unclear; hard for ordinary people to make ends meet. He offered to drive us to Tbilisi when we returned from Dagestan and suggested we telephone him to come to the border to meet us. The highway was double-laned well beyond Sumgait but then deteriorated, with no curbs and no dividing lines. We pulled up for lunch at a new roadside restaurant for a lavish meal with large bowls of soup and fresh grilled fish. It lasted nearly two hours and cost the equivalent of $40 for four. Scenery improved from here to Kuba: pleasant countryside, green fields, orchards, vineyards. The day had been overcast but the sun began to appear in the late afternoon. The highway twisted and turned beyond Kuba as we descended into the broad valley of the river Samur. The river flowed in several swift, muddy channels in a broad scree-filled bed. Suddenly we were at the Azerbaijani border post.
Azeri procedures were much less orderly than the Russian: we had to fill out the meaningless old-style Soviet customs forms, there was repeated examination of passports and visas, entry of data into ledgers, questions about where we were going in Turkish and Russian. Once released, our driver turned us over to a Dagestani expediter who put our baggage in his Zhiguli and took us to the Russian border post across the bridge. The young Russian border guards were fascinated at having Americans arrive amid Moskviches and Zhigulis filled with persimmons and large trucks carrying people and goods. They were surprisingly efficient--perhaps it was "Ambassador" Aslanov's letter--and with our passports finally stamped we were let through a green gate where on the other side a white bus was waiting for us. Mohamedkhan Mohamedkhanov, organizer of the conference, a handsome, talkative middle-aged Dagestani, introduced himself and welcomed us.
The major immediate difference we noticed between Azerbaijan and Dagestan was the absence of modern gas stations. Those in Azerbaijan are now entirely western. There are many different brands, all with car-washes and shops. We saw none in Dagestan. Gradually we could see that we were going north: leaves were taking on autumn colors, vineyards were bare. Stopping in Derbent, we first strolled through the market and then drove up to the enormous castle. The market was active with large quantities of vegetables, heaps of fresh bread, soap and canned goods from Turkey and cardboard boxes of Dole bananas and Kiwis from New Zealand! Derbent's population is very mixed with many Azeris and Lezgins who are agitating to make Derbent the capital of a Lezgin "autonomous" region. There are still many Mountain Jews in the area. The sun had slipped behind clouds over the hills of Tabasaran by the time we climbed up to the ramparts of the castle to look out over the city and the Caspian beyond. Mohamedkhan pointed out sights in the city and the port and called our attention to an Armenian church near the market area. Light kept changing as he led us through the castle and into the keep, reciting episodes of Derbent's history extending back to ancient times.
On the way to Makhachkala we stopped at a roadside restaurant for supper: fresh grilled fish, two bottles of Derbent vodka, much toasting and conversation about the problems of Russia and the Caucasus. Talk was remarkably open and frank. Dagestani nationalism showed through time and again--if Azerbaijan is entitled to independence, why shouldn't Dagestan be independent too? We learned Mohamedkhan has already made a visit to the States. We drove into Makhachkala in darkness and were taken to a government guesthouse--a typical, drab Soviet-type hotel. Dagestan is on Moscow time, an hour behind Baku, so we had gained an hour. We met Moshe Gammer4 as we came up the stairs. He spent the day at the conference which actually opened today.
22 October 1997 - Makhachkala
I awoke after a good night's sleep and looked out at sunrise over the Caspian shore--a long stretch of marshy land extending far to the south with a sky with light clouds along the horizon. Simple Russian breakfast in the dining room. Then off to the conference with Marie Broxup and Enders. It was held in the principal Dagestani government building in the chamber of the People's Assembly, the former Supreme Soviet. It was decorated with Russian and Dagestani flags, a large Dagestan seal and huge portrait of Shamil. There were a few women in the audience who had headscarves, but most had none. None of the men had traditional dress, though some wore kalpaks. Marie Broxup talked about the role of Islam as a unifying factor in the 19th century Caucasian wars and was followed by Moshe Gammer who reiterated some of the conclusions of his recent book about Russian tactics and the effectiveness of Mountaineer resistance. Frederique Longe-Marx from France gave examples of her grandfather's writings on Russians and Muslims.5 Then a Dutch Professor, Frederick deJong, an Islamic scholar, talked on the intracacies of Muridism and Sufism. He was followed by Dagestani who also talked at great length. The audience was ready for a brief speaker when I came to the podium as the last of the morning. I said a few words about my research on Shamil 40 years ago in Munich and followed with a summary of the major powers' stance toward the Caucasian resistance movement in the 19th century. I praised the Dagestanis for their present position on independence and concluded with some reflections on the end of imperialism in the world. I gave the translator copies of the articles from which I talked. They are to be published in conference proceedings.
In the course of the morning I talked to Vahit Akaev6 who has come from Chechnya, as have several others. I congratulated him on having survived the Russian onslaught. He said his Institute in Grozny was completely destroyed, all the books and documents he had collected there were lost. His parents and brother, whom we met in 1992, have come out of the war unharmed. He reported he had a book of my articles ready for publication at the time of the Russian invasion. I brought him a collection of books from a Chechen friend in Washington as well as a set of my recent articles. He was grateful. All the books I sent him through various travellers in 1993-4 were, of course, lost. so he has to start over again. Chechens are used to that. He was matter of fact about his situation and not seeking pity.
At the end of the morning, as the conference adjourned, a girl from Dagestani TV named Gulai came up to me for an interview. For the most part the interview was a repeat of what I said in my introduction to my formal talk, made easier by the fact that I had already formulated my ideas in Russian. Speakers in the conference were taken to lunch in a private dining room with the senior members of the Dagestan Branch of the Academy of Sciences. Food was generous, drink as well, and all guests were expected to respond to toasts. I commented on the spirit of freedom I found in Dagestan and was heartily applauded.
Enders Wimbush was the first speaker in the afternoon session. He began with a tribute to Alexandre Bennigsen as the foresighted dean of modern Caucasian and Islamic Studies. His talk consisted of key conclusions from the book he and Bennigsen published in the mid-1980s.7 Eventually Enders and I tired of sitting and decided to go out for a walk in the town. In the main square we had the good luck of coming onto a practice session of riders who will be performing in the celebrations tomorrow. The horses were beautiful specimens, many of the men wore dramatic costumes and carried banners and weapons. There was spirited music interspersed with prayers and recitations of poetry which invariably concluded with cries of Allahu Akber! that echoed from the buildings around. We came back to go over the book displays in the main hall. It is surprising how much new publishing has taken place here. There were several biographies of Shamil, accounts of battles, collections of his sayings. I bought a thick well printed volume with 100 of his letters in original Arabic script with translations. All the historical works now on sale could never have seen the light of day in the Soviet Union: Sayings of the Peoples of Dagestan on the Caucasian War, Sheikh Kunta-Haji--His Life and Teaching (published in Grozny in 1994), and a just-published study of the Dagestani diaspora in Turkey by Mohamedkhan, to mention only a few. Then we rejoined the conference where, in recognition of our contributions, those of us who spoke were all given gold medals, certificates of participation and a copy of a recent booklet on the Caucasian resistance by Moshe Gammer.
The conference came to an end about six. We were driven far across the city to the Restaurant Yuzhnie for a banquet that lasted until almost 11 o'clock. About 40 of us were seated at a long table laden with food and bottles of beer, wine, vodka, cognac and (allaha sukur!) mineral water. The food was generously Caucasian in variety and quantity. Our host, G.G. Gamzatov8 took his role as tamada9 very seriously, calling on everyone for toasts, many of which turned into speeches. An Avar lady writer made a moving speech about what it meant to her to be a Doch' Dagestana. Sara Heidarovna Husseinova from Baku, daughter of an Azerbaijani writer, declared that this conference was the most significant day of her life10 Some of the toasts were merely greetings and congratulations. When my turn came I decided to add a bit of substance and talked about the importance of tradition to the Dagestanis.
One of the most interesting toasts was that of the mufti I met in Chechnya in 1992, Haji Murat, who was then an assistant to the Grand Mufti of Chechnya, Mahomed Beshir Haji Arsanukaiev. He is now in Moscow in the Religious Directorate of the Russian Federation. An Avar married to a Chechen, he is somewhat of a "merry friar" and takes pleasure in expressing himself openly. He wore a tall fleece kalpak. I saw him pouring himself a beer the minute he sat down at the table. Later in the evening he smoked a cigar. He talked tonight of the military skill of the Mountaineers, how it had developed in the 19th century and how it served Russia well in repelling the Germans from the Caucasus in WWII. Then he went on to note that the same skills had played a major role in the Chechens' defeat of the Russian Army in 1994-96 and was strongly applauded.
The final toast of the evening was from a deputy chairman of the Dagestani government, a small chubby man who looked like an old communist apparatchik. He turned out to be anything but. He was a strong critic of Russia and made a ringing speech about Shamil and his tradition--how the changes that have taken place in the last eight years are only the beginning of the changes that will take place in the future. That gave Enders an opening for a equally pointed speech about the necessity for Caucasians to think about the future, not simply glory in the past. He talked about how the former Soviet countries are all changing their orientation and will continue to change further. He stressed the need for Caucasians to cooperate with each other for the benefit of all of them, and the importance of not letting the Russians set them against each other. It was a good conclusion to the evening.
As we were going out to the bus to take us to our quarters Mohamedkhan told us he had arranged a trip to the mountains that would start Saturday morning. Commenting on the evening with one of the Dagestanis, I remarked on the good spirit that had been evident during the banquet and the strong sense of Dagestani identity that seemed evident. He said that could be illusory, for underneath the surface in Dagestan there are always tensions that could break out in disorders if the Russians make a wrong move or start political gamesmanship.
Thoughts as this extraordinary day comes to an end: It is hard to believe that the Russians, after their defeat in Chechnya, could be so foolish as to risk provoking open resistance here. The Shamil celebrations are in openly defiance of 70 years of Soviet distortion of Caucasian history, but there is little evidence that Moscow has tried to interfere with them. I get the impression that the nomenklatura in Dagestan, most of whom are retreads from Soviet times, are left to manage things for themselves. It is hard to escape the fact that they are sitting on a potential time-bomb. Dagestan has already in many respects sprung loose from Russia. How long will it take the Russians to realize that they would be better off to let it go its own way and help it evolve toward real independence? Or are they going to repeat the French mishandling of Algeria? Algeria was not France and Dagestan is not Russia. France was lucky to have a DeGaulle. Where is the Russian DeGaulle?
23 October 1997 - Makhachkala
It is not clear to me that the actual day of Shamil's birth is known, but the implication of the celebrations today was that this was it. This morning's Dagestanskaya Pravda has a picture of Shamil on its front page in the midst of a long article by Mukhu Aliev11 entitled "Shamil and the Worldwide Liberation Movement." It continues for almost the full second page and seems to be an effort to reconcile and subsume the Shamil tradition into Soviet efforts to co-opt anti-colonial national liberation movements in the 1960s and 1970s. In some respects it is a reversion to the policies communists pursued in the 1920s condemning Tsarist absorption of non-Russian peoples as colonialism. Aliev has many positive things to say about Shamil, but he ends up praising him for accommodating to Tsarist rule after his defeat and concludes by praising Dagestan's present status within a democratic Russia along with all of the other non-Russian peoples. What this has to do with the "worldwide liberation movement" never becomes clear. This does not strike me as the kind of argumentation that will satisfy many Dagestanis or other Caucasians who feel they are entitled to be liberated from all Soviet distortions of their history. But it helps communists rationalize their own current dilemmas. All the articles on the inside pages deal with Shamil. In layout the paper looks like one from the communist era.
In contrast to the tortured arguments of the ex-Soviet nomenklatura that still leads Dagestan, the events of the day were an uninterrupted glorification of Shamil. His portrait--in framed photographs, in posters, on carpets--must appear in several thousand places in this city. So much for the effect of Soviet efforts to condemn him as a relic of the past, as an enemy of the people, as an agent of foreign imperialists! I thought over and over again of the diatribes I used to read in the 1950s and 60s They are no longer politically correct, but the conclusions of that time remain the conclusions of the governing establishment today.
The routine Russian breakfast at our hotel this morning was enlivened by the two French Frederiques: F. Longe-Marx from Paris and F. Jeanne Besson from the Institut Francais in Istanbul who flew here directly on Dagestani Airlines. One of the most unusual participants is a Swedish Croat, Boris Arapovich, who heads a Bible translation institute in Stockholm, who has come with his blonde Swedish wife. They are producing Bible translations in Caucasian languages. He has recently been in Bosnia, has nothing good to say about the former Yugoslavia. Michael Harpke arrived during the night from Denver; a perennial graduate student, he has left Kemal Karpat's Wisconsin group without finishing his dissertation on Shamil's movement. A leisurely breakfast behind us, our group came into town shortly before ten. The bus let us out in front of the Leningrad Hotel and we had a good walk down the shady median of Prospekt Lenina to the main square, also still named for Lenin.12 We saw surprisingly little evidence during the day of serious security worries. There are MVD troops on the streets everywhere but their main concern is to keep vehicle traffic off Prospekt Lenina and out of the square.
The city is in a holiday mood. Sellers of drinks, sweets, bananas, and handicrafts--including beautifully crafted Caucasian swords and daggers--were operating stands. Sellers had books, magazines and newspapers in Russian and local languages spread out in long strips along the walkway. Many of the Dagestani ethnic groups had built little compounds facing the avenue, some very imaginative with towers and gates, paintings of mountain landscapes. They were variously labeled "village" (aul) or "village square" (maidan): Rutul'sky Maidan, Agul'sky Aul, Tatsky Maidan, Darginsky Aul. The city of Derbent had a banner over the entrance to its display: Imam Shamil' navsegda v pamyati Derbentsev! [Imam Shamil is eternally in the memory of the people of Derbent!] A sign carried greetings from Stockholm to Makhachkala--sister cities. A bottle-filled van parked on the edge of the median advertised "Dagestan wine and cognacs" but was not yet doing much business at mid-morning.
Above the central walkway banners with quotations of Shamil, all stressing steadfastness, tolerance and humanity, were hanging:
Material'nye oruzhiya bessil'no pered ubezhdeniyami [Material weapons are powerless in face of convictions].
Istinnaya skromnost' istochnik vsekh dobrodetelei [True modesty is the source of all virtues].
Vsyaki podnimayushchi oruzhie protiv istiny podnimaet evo na svoyu pogibl' [Anyone who raises a weapon against the truth is raising it for his own destruction].
Islam i diktat ne sovmestnymi [Islam and compulsion are not compatible].
Bud'te nastoichivy v delanii dobra [Be persistent in doing good].
Chelovek bezmerno tsenen, emu kem zameny [The human beingis infinitely valuable and cannot be replaced].
Voznesyas' vysoko, bud' skromen, a stav sil'nym, bud'
miloserden [Holding yourself high, be modest, but staying strong, be merciful].
An immense crowd had already gathered in the square when we arrived about 10:30 and grew steadily until noon, nearly 100,000 people. The horsemen, beautifully costumed, were in the midst of their final act. They rode out with green banners flying. An old propeller plane cavorted over the avenue and the square most of the morning, flying sometimes so low that it shook leaves from the trees and then flying up and doing twists and somersaults. Later in the morning planes dropped parachutists over the square. Most of them landed in the same spot to the north of the Supreme Soviet building where our conference met yesterday. This building was decorated with banners in the Russian and Dagestani colors and a large medallion featuring Shamil's name in various scripts. On the platform in front male and female dancers performed continually. Most of the women and some of the men were extremely colorful. Their dances were designed with a good deal of artistic taste. The music was mostly Caucasian--strings, flutes, drums, but sometimes accordions. In between dances there were speeches, poems and prayers. Perhaps 5% of the men wore fleece kalpaks and a few of the women wore traditional blouses and skirts, some headdresses. Most, however, had what now goes for "Sunday best" here: bright colored suits, modern dresses, blouses (no short skirts), sweaters and shirts. It was cool enough for light coats.
A religious man came up to talk to us about his experiences in a labor camp--he had a printed copy of an appeal to the Muslims of the world, said he had many connections abroad, visited England some time recently and is now translating a book. Moshe said he spoke excellent Arabic. He thanked us as Americans for radio broadcasts--VOA specifically--to which he had listened and which kept him informed about the world. President Carter's persistence in his human rights policy, he said, was responsible for his release from forced labor.
The great Lenin had to endure the whole enthusiastic scene of celebrations this morning. People climbed up onto the pedestal of his statue for better view of the dancing and horsemanship across the square. Some of the surrounding buildings still bore classic communist signs, e.g. Slava Trudu! [Glory to Labor!], but one next to the main government building where we met yesterday had a huge Samsung billboard on its roof.
This afternoon our invitations provided for assigned seats in the great hall where the official ceremonies were held. The stage had a curtain with a mountain scene and "200 Let" [200 Years] superimposed upon it. A huge portrait of Shamil provided a backdrop for a group of about 40 seated dignitaries, including the local government chiefs, Ramazan Abdulatipov down from Moscow, some literary and art figures and representatives of all the surrounding republics, including Russia. A Rutul who befriended me yesterday insisted I sit next to him for an even closer view.
The program opened with a warm message from Prime Minister Chernomyrdin read by Abdulatipov13 who announced that Yeltsin would attend a commemorative session for Shamil on 30 October in Moscow. Then 87-year-old, white-haired Rasul Magomedov, a historian who had stood up for Shamil against Bagirov14 in the great controversy in the 1950s, stepped to the podium. "Above all the Imam was a great humanitarian," he declared, praising Shamil's religious qualities and stressing the importance of Islam for the Caucasus. The audience stood and applauded. Next came the black-bearded young Mufti of Dagestan, a rather soft-spoken man with a message of tolerance and good will. He was followed by a Lak former general, Khalilov, who now heads a veterans organization. He gave an enthusiastic account of Shamil's military virtues, praised him for understanding military psychology and diplomacy, called him Nash Slava [Our Glory] and the Zerkalo svoevo epokha [Mirror of his era]. He finished with a loud Allahu Akbar! The audience broke into cheers and applause and gave him a long standing ovation. A series of bombastic speeches by officials in the old Soviet style followed, but there was no longer any Soviet content: Shamil was strong, brave, a gifted politician, a gifted polkovod [military commander], wise, considerate of women. They got routine applause. One woman was included in the program: an attractive young lady from the Pedagogical University who gave a short, intelligent talk about Shamil's high regard for education.
The most animated of all the participants was the Narodny Poet [Poet Laureate] of Dagestan, Rasul Gamzatov, who used irony and humor. He must have made the nomenklatura uneasy with his poems (the first were in Avar; we were given no translation) for they were disparaging of the Russians. He told an anecdote about Muslim and Christian soldiers meeting during a truce in the 19th century Caucasian wars. When a Muslim prayed, a Christian soldier asked him, "What are you praying for?" The Muslim answered "That you disappear." When the Christian prayed, the Muslim asked what he prayed for; answer: "That you start fighting among each other."15 He observed that Russkie ne dobrovol'no voshli i oni ne dobrovol'no vyedyat [The Russians did not enter Dagestan voluntarily and they will not leave voluntarily]. This left it up to his listeners, it seemed to me, to give the statement whatever meaning they wished. Gamzatov concluded his presentation with a rousing declaration: Shamil pobedil! [Shamil has triumphed!] and the crowd rose to give him the longest applause of the afternoon.
The governor of Untsukul gave a lively speech, inviting everyone to come to see the Shamilevskie Mesta (which we will be doing on Saturday). The head of the Azerbaijani delegation, Hidayat Oruchov, praised Dagestani freedom, said that Azerbaijanis regarded Shamil, the greatest son of the Caucasus, as their own national hero and called attention to the fact that after independence one of the main avenues of Baku was renamed for him. Heidar Aliev, he assured the audience, gives great importance to the Shamil 200th anniversary. He then presented the Dagestanis with a large rug with a portrait of Shamil. The head of the Georgian delegation, Minister of Culture Asatiani, gave an elegant speech including greetings from Shevardnadze. He recounted Georgians' positive memory of Shamil for the respect he had shown for the Chavchavadze and Orbeliani women when he led a sortie against Tsinandali and took them into the mountains. He referred to the importance of the concept of Kavkazsky Dom [a common "Caucasian House" in which all peoples of the Caucasus live peacefully together, and then presented a painting.
The young governor of Kaluga16 talked about Shamil's post-1859 exile there which by implication underscored the humane and respectful way Shamil was treated by the Tsarist regime after defeat in comparison with the viciousness way the Soviets dealt with people who opposed them. He presented three photographs of Shamil on his estate at Kaluga where he had 300 servants. One of the photographs showed a Dagestani delegation that came to greet him. A Russian Federation representative from Moscow, Viktor Suvorov, presented two books and a painting, but his talk stressing the advantages of the unification of Dagestan with Russia irritated Mohamedkhan (and no doubt many others): "This man is trying to teach us how we should look at Shamil. Most teachers we do not mind, but some we do; we do not need his instruction." The representative of Adygei Republic tried to bridge the gap between what everyone knew was actually the Russian position and the strong feelings expressed by the Dagestanis: "The greatness of the new Russia is its strength of the friendship of peoples. Federalism has been strengthened--and the Caucasus is a demonstration of it." Applause was perfunctory.
About this stage in the program--three hours along--my Rutul friend leaned over to me and said, "Do you have this kind of session in the States?" I said "Our formal meetings are usually quite short; Americans do not tolerate endless long speeches." Here speeches by representatives of other republics and regions continued for another hour. A Kalmyk brought greetings from Ilyumzhinov and a young Ingush brought greetings from Aushev. Quoting a passage from Poet Laureate Gamzatov, he presented a painting. The Kabardino-Balkar vice-premier, also a young man, presented another painting. The Ossete had warm praise for Shamil, quoted an English historian "Moser" and read a message from Galazov. He presented the biggest painting of all. A message of congratulation from St. Petersburg was read, but no one responded when a representative from Rostov was called upon. The absence of a representative from Chechnya was obvious. Some of the speakers did make references to Chechnya but the Dagestani leadership must have been told--or felt--that letting a Chechen delegation make an official presentation would be too much of an affront to Moscow.
The entire session lasted almost four hours. The hall had been completely filled at the start, only a few people had left when it finally came to an end a few minutes before six. Six paintings were on display on the front of the stage along with several books and other objects. The lack of security in this great meeting hall was quite remarkable. There was no physical check for weapons and no airport-style gates as we entered. Any untoward action could have unleashed a frantic situation. But there was absolutely nothing, not even any quarrels over seating. Having been cut off from the world for 70 years, one of the most striking characteristics of the former Soviet Union today is the zeal for contacts with the outer world and the pride that such contacts have been made. Several of the speakers in the formal session commented on the fact that representatives from Europe and America--especially America--were present for the celebration of the 200th anniversary of Shamil's birth. It is fortunate that four Americans are here. The Dagestanis would have been grievously disappointed if no Americans had come.
We could have used a good walk after an afternoon of sitting, but were quickly driven to a restaurant and again given too much food and drink. But it was enjoyable to exchange impressions of the day and of the ceremonies this afternoon. The Russians came out on the short end and no one from the Russian side really struck back. The favorite themes of the Soviet period are dead and buried--how Caucasian resistance had allegedly been stirred up by foreign agents, especially those supposed to have been sent in by the British and the Turks. Over and over again the bravery and skill of Shamil were held up as an example for today. Islam was presented in completely favorable light--a humane religion dedicated to bringing the best out of individuals and creating a just society...
24 October 1997 - Makhachkala
Today was a remarkably good day. We started the morning with a visit to the beautifully organized Dagestan National Museum. The director, Ramazan U. Khappalaev, proved to be a very intelligent and hospitable individual with fair English. He exhibited the same spirit of healthy nationalism that we have found so characteristic here. Unlike most of the neglected and decrepit museums I have seen in other parts of the old Soviet Union, this one is well organized and maintained. We raced through the archaeological sections which were very rich in artifacts, some of impressive size and state of preservation, and went on to the exhibits that have been put together on the Caucasian wars, consisting in part of material they collected during the entire Soviet period but could not display. They have now made up for lost time. A dozen or more battered banners from the Mountaineers' battles against the Russians inscribed with Arabic slogans hang from the ceiling of one of the rooms. There are extraordinarily well executed portraits of Shamil and his Naibs, great panoramic oil paintings of battles, including the final surrender at Gunib. Shamil's personal possessions, swords and kinjals, books, and letters are on display. It was a thrill to walk among all these things and to listen to the director's brief descriptions of them and of some of the difficulties of acquiring and keeping them. We went on to the ethnographic collections--beautiful displays of the costumes of the peoples of Dagestan, remarkable rugs and weavings of many kinds, articles of daily use. Excellent maps accompanied the exhibits and descriptions in Russian were clear. Local people, including families with children, were touring the museum too this morning. The top floor featured displays on recent and current life here--sportsmen, especially wrestlers, mountain climbers, views of the cities. Much of the material appeared not to have been changed from the Soviet period.17
From the museum we were driven to the new mosque for official dedication ceremonies. Turkish and Dagestani flags flanked the entrance gate. The mosque is classic Turkish in style and we 16
learned that its building was financed largely by contributions from the Dagestani diaspora in Turkey. A plaque gives the name of the architect: Omer Eryilmaz. It is called the Yusuf Bey Camii--but we did not discover who Yusuf Bey was. There were perhaps 10,000 people gathered in its courtyard when we arrived shortly before noon. Women, mostly with headscarves but with no other kind of Islamic dress, were gathered in the rear of the men and in the gazebo that is situated in the yard opposite the entrance. There were many children. Many men were wearing the conventional white prayer caps, some embroidered and some colored; others wore kalpaks. Vivid green flags fluttered around the wall of the extensive compound in which the mosque is situated. The grounds have not yet been landscaped or even smoothed and the wall is not yet finished but is being built of solid cut stone with wrought iron grilling. Ceremonies included speeches--two in Turkish, one from a mufti from Azerbaijan--several by local people including lay figures. Banners proclaimed the glory of Shamil. A Kumyk group sang a religious song and the Mufti of Dagestan recited prayers. Everything was broadcast over a high-quality public address system. The day was overcast but weather did not dampen the ceremonies which were obviously an occasion of great joy for the faithful Muslims in attendance. Several men carried their children on their shoulders. I climbed up into the gazebo past smiling women for better photographs. As the formal ceremonies came to an end thousands of men flocked into the mosque through the main entrance, delayed only by the necessity of taking off their shoes, while women entered a side door and proceeded up to the balcony.
Afternoon gave us the first opportunity to explore the city at our own pace--the bus let us out near the mosque with the announcement that it would be back at 6:30 to pick us up. There was a choice of direction to go and our group broke up. Enders and I walked down the newly-named Prospekt Shamilya, formerly Prospekt Kirova, and came upon a ceremony where the re-naming of the avenue was being celebrated, where men in a basket at the end of a long crane were replacing a sign high on a corner building to the cheers of a sizable crowd. We passed street markets and found a post office from where we called Tbilisi and Baku to arrange for the next phase of our travels after the weekend. Our friends in Tbilisi assured us that there will be an apartment and driver ready when we arrive. I got a good connection to Baku and spoke to Intikam Hydyrov's wife who repeated my message back to me to be sure it was understood. He is to meet us at the Azerbaijan border Monday at noon and drive us to Tbilisi.
Crossing a railroad, we spotted a new neighborhood mosque in a residential area and walked over to look at it. It was solidly built of cut stone with a tall minaret and a blue-tiled dome. We have been told new mosques have sprung up all over the city. We wandered on into a residential area along a street parallel to the main avenue. Here we found large, comfortable houses inside walled compounds. Children were playing in yards and women were sewing, doing laundry and preparing fruit and vegetables in yards. We turned into side streets. The streets themselves were all in miserable condition--full of potholes and puddles, with piles of debris and construction materials making some of them almost impassable for vehicles. Still many compounds had cars. Steam heating conduits held up on tall metal frames extending along most of the streets for blocks were the most unattractive feature of the area. They appeared to be in an advanced stage of deterioration with sheathing broken and chunks of insulation hanging from them. Winter is said to be cold here. If, like all other public services in the ex-Soviet Union, these city-wide heating systems have broken down, heating houses must be a serious problem. --
We made our way back to Prospekt Shamilya and explored the Vostochny Rynok [Eastern Market]. It was not crowded but there were enormous amounts of goods on sale: fresh apples, persimmons, pears, pomegranates and the now ubiquitous Dole bananas; vegetables of all kinds, bread and pastries. The dairy section was well supplied with large round white cheeses, butter, eggs, and jars of honey. Great racks of drinks in large plastic bottles, all the familiar brands, were on offer at prices little different from those in Turkey and Europe. Women and young men sellers were happy to be photographed. The exception was a dour old Russian who objected to our photographing anything, held his hand before my lens when I raised it. He did not bother to ask our nationality but muttered something about cursed foreigners roaming their streets.
We stopped to observe more street celebrations--singing by both men and women, dancing, a lot of young people as well as old--and then made our way back to the mosque. There has been a sense of liberation in this city today. They have taken back a large chunk of their history that up until a decade or two ago was covered by layers of propaganda and pretense. But where do they go from here?
Evening: Light dinner in our hotel with cognac and lively conversation with our Dutch participant about the nature of Islam and the Islamic attitude to singing and dancing. Charles bought an Andi hat this afternoon very similar to those the Georgian mountaineers wear--any connections? A graduate student from the university who had his dissertation along in which he quoted me, though he never expected to meet me, joined us for dinner, as did Marie and an attractive young Chechen who arrived here this morning from Grozny. Marie will go back to Grozny with him tomorrow and will spend a couple of weeks doing research there. From the Chechen I got the impression that the situation in Chechnya is still very muddled and unsettled. A great pity.
Plans for our next two days became clear in the course of the day. We are to leave at eight tomorrow morning for the heart of Shamil's native area, first attending ceremonies at Gimri, his birthplace. We will spend night somewhere in the area and then do more touring Sunday.
25 October 1997 - Makhachkala, Gimri, Untsukul.
We set out this morning in a bus that had seen better days, passed through Buynaksk, a rather dismal town, formerly Temir Khan Shura and seat of the head of the religious directorate for the North Caucasus during the final four decades of the SU. It could not have made a very positive impact on Muslims from the outer world brought here on visits. From there we climbed through steep, almost treeless valleys to a long tunnel said to have been bored with the latest American machinery in the late Soviet period but not yet entirely finished. The surface of the highway through it was rough and we splashed our way through flowing water much of the way. Lighting is poor and wiring looked as sloppy as in most places in the ex-Soviet Union. It is fortunate that the tunnel is there, nevertheless, because I am not sure our bus could have made a long climb over the first range of barren mountains.
Once through the tunnel, we descended rapidly down a valley leading to Gimri. Before reaching the town, we pulled up behind a long line of busses and cars at a point where the valley narrowed. Thousands of people were gathered around a rug-covered meadow before a small mosque. The site is dominated by an imposing Caucasian-style watchtower which had recently been rebuilt. The roadside was edged with panels with more of Shamil's sayings, e.g.:
Kto dumaet o posledstviyakh, eto ne geroi! [He who thinks of the consequences is no hero!]
We spent the next four hours at the ceremonies held here to commemorate the great Imam. We were led to seats in a front row facing the carpeted prayer area. In the middle of it was a small Caucasian tower with portraits of Shamil and his two predecessors, the First and Second Imams of Chechnya and Dagestan.18 Other tall portraits stood on the edges of the rug-covered area. Facing us were signs in Russian and Avar underscoring the importance of the place:
Here on 29/17 October 1832 in an unequal battle with the troops of the Tsarist Army in the fight for freedom of the Mountaineers fell the First Imam of Dagestan and Chechnya, Gazi Mohamed. He is buried in the Gimri cemetery.
Bare brown mountains rose precipitously above us on all sides. The few trees in the valley had already turned a rich golden yellow. The ceremonies consisting of prayers, speeches, and poems were presided over by a vigorous mufti who spoke most of the time in Avar from a platform on the roof of the mosque. When the ceremonies were well under way, I was asked to come up to join the group on the mosque roof and be prepared to make a short speech in Russian. I sat with the Mufti of Dagestan on one side and a black-bearded man dressed in white who impersonated Shamil (looking remarkably like his portraits) on the other. I listened to half an hour of speeches before my turn came. Bowls of fresh grapes had been provided to munch. Since I could not understand the speeches in Avar I paid close attention to those in Russian. M.M. Magomedov, Chairman of the State Council of the Republic, made a very capitulationist speech about the need for Dagestanis and Russians to be friends and received very little applause.19 Others made ringing declarations about Shamil and his heroic qualities and finished their speeches with shouts of Allahu Akbar! several times over, like cheer-leaders at an athletic event. "Shamil" rose to applause and repeated a speech Imam had given in the 1840s. The enthusiasm of the audience was high. They were of all ages from young boys to very old men and women gathered in the northeastern corner of the rug-covered area.
When my turn came I failed to get in all the points I had thought of including as I sat thinking through what I was going to say, but what I did say pleased the crowd very much. It was the fact of an American speaking, I suspect, more than anything I said that was important. I concluded with the wish that the 21st century would bring Dagestanis steady improvement in their lives and more freedom and got heavy applause. Afterward, as I wandered through the crowd gathering for lunch, several men came to thank me for the thoughts I had expressed, including an impressive bearded patriarch with a bright green band around his kalpak.
I was followed on the podium by an ex-Dagestani, American citizen, from New Jersey. He spoke in Arabic because his ancestors had settled in Syria after Shamil's 1859 defeat and his parents had emigrated to the US from there. He spoke on behalf of a group of seven compatriots who had come to the ceremonies from the States.
Sitting near me among the dignitaries was a young man I discovered was a Turk, Ali Demirbas, born in Isparta and a graduate of Cukurova University in Adana. Principal of the Turkish High School in Makhachkala, he told me he had already spent five years in Dagestan and planned to stay several more. He has 250 students in his school. There are another 250 in the same kind of school in Derbent and 130 in Botlikh. He has seventeen Turkish teachers in Makhachkala. All are paid by the Turkish government. Instruction is in English for science and mathematics, Turkish for literature and history. There is keen competition for acceptance in these schools, which is by rigorous entrance examination, so the students are serious and work hard. He finds living conditions reasonable and is able to travel. He was photographing the ceremonies in video. I invited him to come to the hotel Sunday evening to tell us more about his experiences and impressions of Dagestan.20
When speeches concluded with a final prayer, the crowd dispersed for lunch. Behind the mosque long rows of tables had been set up with benches for seating and nearby a row of steaming iron kettles held boiled lamb. The scene resembled a true medieval banquet as men ranged themselves along the tables eating chunks of lamb and bread with their hands. Afterwards bowls of grapes were placed on the tables. Women who were not tending the food and helping serve ate at tables in the background. Our group was taken into a building behind the great row of cooking pots at the edge of the eating area and treated to a lavish lunch featuring both shashlik and long skewers of lamb kofte, French fries, several kinds of vegetables, cheese, fresh bread, more grapes of the kind that had been set before us on the podium, pink, large and sweet, said to be a famous product of the Gimri region. The New Jersey Dagestani, his wife, and several of his friends joined us. Plates of comb honey, walnuts pressed in honey bars, and cakes of several kinds were set before us and tea was served after the main meal.21
The crowd slowly dispersed and it was mid-afternoon by the time we drove down the canyon to Gimri itself, a rather spread out town with modern buildings in the center but consisting mostly of solid traditional houses ranged irregularly along hillside paths. We went first to the new museum where Academician Gamzatov held a short ceremony. I was again asked to speak and Boris Arapovich presented a copy of an etching from a Swedish book on Shamil from the last century. The museum was obviously rushed for this occasion and was not yet finished. A couple of good battle paintings were on display along with a few old handicraft items that did not necessarily have anything to do with Shamil, though they were probably of the kind he used, most noteworthy being a large cylindrical wooden mug/pitcher.
Gimri, variously said to have 3 to 5,000 inhabitants, was celebrating the first Imam, Gazi Mohamed, as well as Shamil, so we were led to his house before we walked on to Shamil's. Both are in a part of the town dominated by a new mosque. At both houses friendly women, introduced as descendants of the imams, offered us grapes and cakes beautifully decorated with fruit and colored icing, tea as well. After the generous lunch it was difficult to eat enough to show appreciation of their hospitality.
Then we walked on through rocky streets to the edge of the town. Here, at the entrance to the town's main cemetery, stood a wooden building that looked weathered enough to have been put up well before the collapse of communism. It contains the tomb of Gazi Mohamed. As we arrived a prayer ceremony conducted by a dynamic mufti dressed entirely in green was getting under way. The mufti's audience was mostly women who were listening intently. Prayers finished, he gave a historical lecture including some of his own experiences. He had been imprisoned four times during the Soviet period but had made no concessions to communism. He gave accounts of battles in the area. Men like this have preserved Dagestani history and are now playing a primary role in reviving popular knowledge of it, more I suspect than the many of the academicians produced by the Soviets. The tomb, we were told, actually contains four burials--other members of Gazi Mohamed's family. The grass-grown cemetery holds the graves of Shamil's mother, father and sister. These were pointed out. All the cemetery's tombstones had a projection sticking out from the top. They told us it pointed toward Mecca to remind the soul where to go.
Dusk descended while we were at the cemetery. We watched the light fade over the tombstones while it lingered on the high cliffs along the valley far below. We walked on to visit a partially completed new mosque at the edge of a ravine. Here too a history lecture was in progress with mostly men in attendance. It was followed by a prayer service in which both men and women participated. Then all joined in ritual dancing and singing--loud zikr. It was reminiscent of an energetic Evangelical Christian revival service. We climbed the path back up to the town in the dark.
Up to this point everything on the outing had gone well, but now some of the confusion the organizers had to contend with became evident. We were told we were going to Shamilkale to stay overnight. It was said to have a medieval castle but when we arrived it was dark and there was no castle visible. I had envisioned climbing up to it in the morning. The town seemed to consist mostly of decrepit garages and repair shops, installations connected with a dam on the river below, and shabby shops. There were repeated halts to ask directions. We drove on into an extended agricultural village where corn and hay were stored in the lower stories of hillside houses. The place was busy with people and cars, but nothing that could serve as overnight accommodations for a busload of travellers could be found. No one seemed to be in charge. We waited for the better part of an hour in front of a local office while officials conferred. Finally we drove off and climbed a steep road to Untsukul, the raion center, which seemed to be built on a mountain top. There, after more palaver and prolonged negotiation in the main square, our busload was divided in two, some Dagestanis and guests in each party, and we marched off in different directions.
We were led into a large well-furnished house located on a steep hillside (as we discovered in the morning, this was true of almost all houses in Untsukul). In Middle Eastern style we removed our shoes at the door. The friendly owner of the house22 welcomed us and brought us into a comfortable room with walls covered with pile carpets. We sat down around a long table. Women and girls were bustling in all directions and in what seemed a few minutes a full dinner with boiled lamb and chicken as well as cheese, salads, fresh bread, cakes and grapes was spread out before us. Pitchers of fresh cherry juice, home-made wine and bottles of grape vodka were brought in. The host toasted his good fortune in our unexpected arrival and explained that in this region people had been making wine at home since ancient times. Academician Gamzatov, our leader, rose to the occasion and made a toast preceded by a long speech in which he explained who we were and what we had been doing. Then the rest of us in turn were called on to perform. There were several toasts to the day's experiences. When Gamzatov called on Enders he decided to deliver a short lecture, conscientiously translated by Boris Arapovich into Russian, about the need for Dagestan to expand contacts with the outer world, particularly with the free countries of the South Caucasus, Turkey, and others in the Middle East. He urged Dagestanis to avoid letting ethnic and regional differences divide them. He stressed the need for Dagestan to determine its development priorities according to its own resources and its own needs to overcome the legacy of Soviet centralized planning and neglect of the region's real interests. Everyone raised their glasses to his toast.
The relaxed atmosphere offered a good opportunity for a long conversation with Mohamed Khan on the nature of society here. He says jemaat, the concept of social solidarity of family, clan and village or ethnic subdivision, dominates life and activity, and is the primary reason Dagestanis have been able to protect themselves from the worst effects of communism. The downside is that it is difficult, if not impossible, to adapt the concept to a new kind of democratic system. Parties here mean almost nothing. They are mere political devices. Families retain an enormous sense of protectiveness. Clan and village jemaat extends into towns as people migrate. All new economic activity is undertaken in this context. The notion of separate spheres of activity where people cooperate independently in their own interest is alien to Dagestanis' way of thinking. This places formidable obstacles in the way of joint ventures and foreign investment even when foreigners develop an interest. A foreign technician can do some useful work here, but a foreign corporation is the victim of rapaciousness from all sides. Russia has nothing to offer Dagestan but meager budgetary subsidies which they pay to keep the region quiet and enable their lackeys to hold on to their positions, but they cannot invest here. They have too many other priorities. Still they insist they must hold onto the area...
The evening ended with everyone yawning. The vodka and the wine had their effect. The women of the house had served but had not participated in the meal. Afterwards they busied themselves making up beds. White sheets, quilts and pillows were spread on couches and on the floor. The women of the party were directed to a bedroom. Enders, I and Thomas Dworziak, a young German photographer and veteran of several years in the Caucasus, took beds on the floor in the entrance area. Our host left glasses of cherry juice on a table beside us to quench any thirst we might experience during the night. He called attention to slippers he left beside the outer door in case we needed to go down the outer stairs to the bathroom below the porch.
26 October 1997 - Untsukul, Ahulgo, return to Makhachkala.
Here in the mountains of Dagestan we slept as quiet and comfortably as we could have in the best hotel in Europe. Russia went off summer time during the night so we had an extra hour. Full morning sun. Breakfast of cake, cheese and bread included tea made from a mountain herb. Our host took us to his workshop, attached to one end of the house, where he made ornamental items and furniture from local woods and did metal inset-work with Caucasian designs in plaques. On a more practical level he made canes--he had great piles of them. He encouraged us to explore his hillside garden and introduced several members of his extended family, some of whom lived in a neighboring house. There were two or three young women with babies and two brothers, but we never established who exactly was related to whom.
We walked to the main square in warm morning sun. There were a few men sitting and watching occasional vehicles pass. There was a large billboard portrait of Shamil on one side and behind it a Soviet-era statue of a Dagestani poet. The square overlooked a graceful new mosque dominating the center of town below. At ten we were hustled into the bus and set out on a steep road toward Ashilta and Ahulgo, but the bus could not negotiate steep climbs without overheating. The driver had to stop repeatedly to pour in cold water from streams, so the trip took 4-5 times as long as it should have. We finally stopped at a viewpoint high above the valley of the River Andi Koysu where the site of the fortress of Ahulgo occupies an almost impregnable spur surrounded on three sides by the river. On the other side of the valley an even higher range of mountains faced us. The highway turned steeply downhill. Our driver realized the bus could never manage to climb back up if it went down. While another vehicle to take us down was being sought we watched enormous crowds gathering for ceremonies in the valley a thousand feet below. Finally a tough local bus was engaged and we descended through Ashilta and out to the east along a road that had recently been cut for the occasion. During the descent a reporter from Dagestan TV interviewed me on impressions of yesterday's ceremonies and sightseeing. Our bus parked among dozens of others and immense numbers of cars and trucks in a partially asphalted area. Families were streaming up an intervening ridge and following a steep path to join the festivities below.
We joined the vast surge of people and chose a good vantage point on the ridge to watch the ceremonies which were already well under way. A flat area was spread with even larger quantities of rugs than we had seen at Gimri. Again there were speeches, broadcast over loud-speakers, prayers, poems, long recitations of history. More than a dozen men in Caucasian dress and kalpaks edged in green were in charge. Sections of the crowd periodically broke into seemingly spontaneous loud and energetic zikr. Then more history. The fighting at Ahulgo during the summer of 1839 was perhaps the most severe of the entire Caucasian wars. Shamil had for several years fortified the spur within the bend of the river and used it as his headquarters. The Russians marched from Chechnya to put it to siege. After 80 days of hot summer weather both the Mountaineers and the Russians were close to exhaustion and starvation and Shamil entered into negotiations which ended with his surrendering his son Jamaleddin as hostage. In early September Russian forces finally overran the fortress at great cost. Mountaineers continued resistance for days while Shamil, his family and a few of his naibs [lieutenants] escaped and made their way to the forests of Ichkeria in Chechnia to the west.
As the afternoon wore on a cold wind began to blow bursts of dust from the unpaved parts of the parking area. People began to disperse. Clouds gathered and shed deep shadows on the mountains. We boarded the bus and rode back up to the high ridge where our weaker bus remained parked. The ride back was easy, all downhill. We stopped at a roadside shop before Gimri and our escorts went in to buy vodka, lemonade, sausage, pickled peppers and bread. We had had no food since breakfast. Though it was a pleasure to be spared another feast with long toasts and excessive hospitality, we were hungry. We passed through brightly lit Gimri. Darkness fell. Tongues loosened by vodka, the Dagestani academics exchanged jokes and tales all the way; some sang. Having negotiated the tunnel without mishap, we stopped again in Buynaksk for more vodka, smokes, and leg-stretching. It was nearly 9 o'clock when we pulled up to our hotel in Makhachkala.
Thoughts before going to bed: The trip into the mountains helped me consolidate my thoughts about Dagestan. Mohamedkhan complained on the way back this evening that he had an organizing committee of 17 people to prepare for the conference but nobody did any work, while keeping him from taking charge. He was apologetic about the fact that the bus was too weak to cope with mountain roads, that arrangements for accommodation were muddled, that no one had a sense of timing. He confirmed my impression that the Academy of Science establishment is dominated by old Soviet types resting on their now time-worn and decrepit laurels--pompous people who may have accomplished something in the past but are doing no serious thinking now except to preserve their privileges and enjoy the prerogatives of still being big men to whom others have to defer. Mohamedkhan was by far the youngest man involved in conference and travel arrangements. No other young people came onto the scene at all. Where are the young Dagestanis?
I reminded Mohamedkhan that most of us were used to conditions in the ex-Soviet Union; no one suffered. The inborn sense of hospitality of the local people made up for other failings. There was no drinking or smoking today in the ceremonies in Ahulgo. On the way back we could see the evil of excessive drinking among the elite. Alcohol dominates their lives. One would think some of these men would be embarrassed at displaying their thirst in front of a group eminent foreign scholars and specialists on the Islamic world. As we waited beside the shabby park in Buynaksk tonight for our escorts to finish smoking and buy more vodka, our Dutch colleague deJong tonight told me he had never experienced a group like this. I discovered he had been in Yemen in the mid-1960s and knows of the collection of Arabic manuscripts at Tarim in the Hadhramaut. He said the EU is now providing Dutch experts to catalogue them and do preservation work there.
Dagestan is in many ways behind most countries coming out from under communism. There is little development of private commerce, few restaurants, no new hotels, only the most elementary gas stations. Everywhere there is Soviet devastation, junk, debris. The physical residue of Soviet colonialism is appalling. Jemaat seems to have spared people some of the worst moral effects, but it has also kept them from developing a capacity to exploit the freedom that has been thrust on them. They are politically crippled. They can't grasp notions of civic responsibility. They are blinded by preoccupation with nationalities' issues to the exclusion of serious thinking about economic problems and social development.
27 October 1997 - Departure from Makhachkala.
Another mosquito-ridden night. The window of my room was left open and they came up from the swamps along the Caspian shore. I pulled the sheet over my head and managed to sleep until six, then got up and packed. Because of the time change, they said, the dining room was not open until 8:30--imagine a hotel catering to travellers and government officials anywhere in the developed world that does not have a coffee shop open at 6:30 in the morning! But eventually we all assembled and compared departure plans. The American engineer, Mr. Fensick, we met last week, told us more about his work here. He is helping rehabilitate a plant in Khasavyurt, has another three or four weeks of work, is going up there this morning. Makhachkala for him is the big city. He comes to expedite equipment. Though Mohamedkhan assured us the bus would be ready to leave for the border at 9:00 so we could meet our driver at noon, there was no sign of it for the next two hours. Meanwhile I sketched out further impressions of Dagestan.
Dagestanis seem caught in a time-warp which keeps them in the late Soviet Union. I saw a series of apartment houses as we drove out of Makhachkala Saturday morning with signs on top: perestroika, glasnost', demokratia, and finally sotsializm. Gorby's hope is well represented here: he intended not to abandon but to save socialism. The left-over communists who still dominate this southern outpost of the old USSR are still 90% socialist. They celebrate Shamil but they show little evidence of using his tradition really to liberate themselves. The leadership is not even taking advantage of the comparative independence they now have--they are simply making do. The majority of the people, on the other hand, feel free because the heavy pressure of Soviet compulsion no longer weighs them down. Nevertheless the whole society is still permeated by the peculiar irrationality that infected the whole Soviet system. Nobody works harder than he has to.
I think of the differences I have experienced in former British territories such as Pakistan and India. The residue of colonialism persists, but it is more a positive inheritance than a negative one. There is a concept of service in those countries and people feel personal pride and responsibility. Communism drove that out of people. European colonialism left people with a sense of enterprise and some degree of community responsibility. It exists here only deep in the society. People look out for themselves and families, their clans, to some extent their nationalities. But everywhere you see evidence of the attitudes generated by Russian and Soviet divide-and-rule techniques. Among the larger nationalities here there are subgroups that compete with each other. The smaller nationalities demand their paltry "rights". There is talk of human rights here but such rights are seen entirely in ethnic and political terms. Dagestanis seem poorly served by their intellectuals who are mired in the past, even the best of them, and seem incapable of looking toward the future.
In terms of geography, history, and culture Dagestan is one of the most dramatic and attractive parts of the world. But Russia and the Soviet Union have saddled it with an almost unbearable burden. What will come of it? I tried to inspire people and spread hope in the toasts and talks I made. I hope I had the right effect. The birthrate, to judge by what we have observed and heard, is still high. Employment possibilities are clearly limited. Nevertheless sources of employment could be found. The region is famous for its rugs and handicrafts. With an intelligent system of supply of raw materials and means of selling output, large numbers of people could be put to work making rugs. Most of the profit on old ones that are sent out goes to dealers in Istanbul and Europe. Quality carpet-weaving could become a major industry. Dagestanis could clearly be producing more food than they do and it could be processed in a variety of ways that would provide employment. There are probably possibilities for fishing in the Caspian. But in the end they will have to export labor. They do, already, to Russia, but it brings only minimal returns to people here. Where else? To the South Caucasian countries as they develop? To the Middle East? Perhaps even to Turkey which is becoming an absorber of low-level labor while it still supplies higher-level labor to Europe.
There is some oil here. Perhaps more in the Caspian. Russia wants to control it. There are minerals, no doubt. There is plenty of stone to support a building materials industry and there are still good craftsmen in stone. I told one of the more thoughtful local academics who was on our tour who wanted to discuss future prospects, they must learn to regard the past only as a hobby and a source of inspiration but concentrate on practical ways to influence their future. They can only harm themselves if they fall into communal strife. By letting ethnic demands reach serious proportions they only keep themselves in their present position of stagnation, or worse, they will deteriorate. He seemed to understand that the lesson of the Chechen War is that war will do them no good.
On the other hand Dagestanis are not inclined to kowtow to Russians. There are not many Russians here. We have seen almost none. The Russians have learned from the Chechen War that there is nothing to be gained by trying to force Caucasians to their will, whatever their will may be. The problem is that they don't know.
1The official title of the conference was "North Caucasian Peoples' War of Liberation under Leadership of Shamil: Its International Importance.
2For example, "Unrewriting History" in Walter Z. Laqueuer (ed.), The Middle East in Transition, London, 1958; numerous contributions to the Radio Free Europe information series in the 1950s; "Fire and Sword in the Caucasus: the 19th Century Resistance of the North Caucasian Mountaineers", Central Asian Survey, July 1983; "The Spectre and Implications of Internal Nationalist Dissent" in S.E. Wimbush (ed.) Soviet Nationalities in Strategic Perspective, Croom Helm, London, 1985; "Circassia in the 19th Century: the Futile Fight for Freedom" in Lemercier-Quelquejay, Veinstein & Wimbush (eds.), Turco-Tatar Past, Soviet Present, Studies presented to Alexandre Bennigsen, Peeters, Louvain-Paris, 1986; in the 1980s and 1990s, numerous RAND studies and research notes.
3Director of the Central Asia and Caucasus Institute of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Washington, DC.
4Israeli scholar from Tel Aviv University, author of the most complete history of the North Caucasian resistance movement led by Shamil, Muslim Resistance to the Tsar, Shamil and the Conquest of Chechnia and Daghestan, Frank Cass, London, 1994.
5Her grandfather: Karl Marx. I published excerpts from his writings as "Marx on Muslims and Russians" in Central Asian Survey, 6/4, 1987, pp. 33-45. The Soviets attempted to suppress the fact that Marx had praised Shamil and the Caucasian resistance in the 1850s and had nothing good to say for the Russians.
6Head of the Chechen Institute of Humanitarian Studies, host of the International Alert international observer group I headed in Chechnya in 1992: Chechnia, Report of an International Fact-finding Mission, London, 1992.
7Muslims of the Soviet Empire, Hurst, London, 1985.
8Chairman of the Presidium of the Dagestan Scientific Center of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Chairman of the Organizing Committee of the conference.
10Women, both Muslims and foreigners, participated in this conference on equal terms with men.
11Former First Secretary of the Communist Party of Dagestan, now Speaker of the People's Assembly of Dagestan, i.e. the parliament.
12We hear they are to be renamed during these celebrations, but the old signs are still up.
13A Dagestani Avar, Chairman of the Federation Council of the Russian Federation.
14Then First Secretary of the Communist Party of Azerbaijan.
15This was both a clever reference to Russia's historic divide-and-rule approach to the Caucasus and a warning to Dagestanis to be wary of Russian attempts to set them against each other now.
16Today's Dagestanskaya Pravda has photograph of the Kaluga delegation being welcomed in Makhachkala yesterday.
17Taken as a whole this impressive museum demonstrated that Dagestan has begun to overcome one of the most insidious aspects of Soviet cultural policy as applied to non-Russian peoples. Alleging that communism liberated non-Russian peoples from cultural oppression and led to a flowering of art and all forms of self-expression, the Soviets attempted to obliterate much of their historical heritage. Dagestanis were prevented from using religious or true historical themes in their art, literature and poetry and traditional craftsmen were forbidden to exercise their skills independently and forced into "cooperatives" that reduced output of carpet weavers and specialists in wood- and metal-working to a banal level. The resulting impoverishment of Dagestan's art comes through clearly in a Soviet-period coffee-table volume, Iskusstvo Dagestana, Moscow, 1981 and is discussed at length in a recent book by Robert Chenciner, Daghestan, Traditional and Survival, Curzon, London, 1997. A new kind of cultural impoverishment has, unfortunately, developed since the Soviet collapse. We learned in Makhachkala that every Dagestani Airlines flight to Istanbul carries shipments of old carpets and weavings consigned to dealers in the Grand Bazaar from where they go out to the world at large. The production of new carpets in Dagestan has not yet kept pace with the loss of old ones.
18The First Imam, Gazi Mohamed, was a few years younger than Shamil. When he was killed in his last stand with the Russians in 1832, the elders appointed Gamzat Bek (Hamza Beg) Second Imam. He was a few years older than his predecessor. He continued energetic resistance to Russian incursions. Shamil, though badly wounded, escaped from the battle at Gimri and recovered to serve Gamzat Bek loyally during his brief tenure. When he was assassinated few months later Shamil was the natural successor, the Third Imam. Gammer, Muslim Resistance, recounts these events in detail, pp. 39-80.
19It was published at full length in Dagestanskaya Pravda of 24 October 1997.
20Regrettably, we returned too late Sunday evening to make contact.
21There was no alcohol on this occasion or during the rest of the visit to the town of Gimri, and we did not miss it.
22This man, Gamzat G. Gazi-Magomedov, we learned the following morning, when he gave us his cards, held the title of People's Artist of Dagestan, a Soviet honor for his work as a traditional craftsman.