Lives are lost in Dagestan practically every day. The situation in the republic is chronically tense, and many analysts, including those in the region, think that the civil war there continues. Dagestanis are tired of this war; they are sick of permanently living under stress. War has become part of their lives, and some even learned to talk about it with a morbid sense of humor.

The question of what sparked the civil war is no longer relevant. The question of how order in the republic can be restored has been left unanswered for almost two decades. Hardly anyone believes that the conflict can be resolved. Ramazan Abdulatipov, Dagestan’s president who was appointed in 2013, promised to restore order, but has found himself unable to effect any meaningful change.

The conflict is accompanied by Dagestan’s social Islamicization, as well as the growing influence of radical Islam and Salafi movements. The term “shariatization” is now increasingly used to describe the revival of sharia legal system (more than twenty sharia courts operate in Dagestan), the establishment of behavioral norms based exclusively on Islamic values, and the strict observance of religious restrictions. In some reported instances, “unknown assailants” knocked kvass (non-alcoholic Russian beverage) mugs out of people’s hands on the streets. It has become extremely hard to buy alcohol in Dagestan, even in its capital Makhachkala, despite the fact that 86 percent of Russian brandy is produced in Dagestan. Alcohol vendors have every reason to fear for their lives—a few stores and kiosks that sold alcoholic beverages were blown up by the militants.

Dagestani society is essentially split into three groups.

The first more numerous one adheres to traditional Islam and is supportive of the authorities.

The second one is smaller but more active. To varying degrees it endorses the Salafi ideas, and opposes the regime.

In general, both these groups support Dagestan’s Islamicization. However, while the first group believes this can be accomplished within the framework of the Russian Federation, the second group sees the creation of an Islamic state as the eventual goal, which is only possible outside of Russia. In other words, the second group harbors separatist aspirations.

There is also a third group which continues to stand up for the secular state, believing that Islamicization reverses modern trends and takes Dagestan farther away from Russia. This situation contributes to turning Dagestan and some other Caucasus regions into Russia’s internal abroad, living in accordance to their own traditions and norms. It appears that those supporting the secular state are gradually losing their positions.

During my Dagestan trip in December 2013, I occasionally came across the view that the tensions there may escalate even more, and a new flare-up of terrorist attacks is possible. The low-level civil war continues.

  • Alexey Malashenko