Last Updated: Monday, 30 May 2016, 07:59 GMT

Russia: Treatment of ethnic Lezgins and available state protection (1999-June 2000)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 7 July 2000
Citation / Document Symbol RUS34780.E
Reference 2
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Russia: Treatment of ethnic Lezgins and available state protection (1999-June 2000), 7 July 2000, RUS34780.E, available at: [accessed 30 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

While the Webpage of Joshua Project 2000-Unreached People Profile indicates that there are 189,000 Lezgins living in Russia (1 June 2000), the World Directory of Minorities puts the number of Lezgins in Dagestan in 1997 at 257,000 (Minority Rights Group International 1997, 304). Further background information on the Lezgins in Russia can be found in the Minorities at Risk Project report entitled Lezgins of Dagestan in Russia.

A 16 May 2000 Itar-Tass article indicates that Dagestan's capital Makhachkala is divided into 14 ethnic/territorial districts corresponding to various indigenous ethnic groups (Itar-Tass 16 May 2000). Under Articles 11 and 34 of the law, Lezgins, like other ethnic groups, may run only in the election of the Lezgin district (ibid.).

Following the first Chechen incursion into Dagestan in August 1999, the Dagestani authorities decided to set up groups of armed volunteers who would help the Interior Ministry forces fight the Chechen guerrillas (RFE/RL 24 Sept. 1999). However, Moscow objected to the distribution of weapons that could be used against the authorities or by the Lezgin "separatists" in southern Dagestan (ibid.). After protest statements sent by the volunteers to Moscow and Dagestani authorities, the Dagestani military "commissar", an ethnic Avar, decided to distribute weapons "primarily" to his co-ethnics (ibid.).

In a 2 September 1999 article, Oxford Analytica claimed that:

 In the case of Dagestan, they [Russia's rulers] allowed local president Magomedali Magomedov to favor the Lezgin and Dargin ethnic groups who now dominate the heavily armed local security forces fighting alongside the Russians (Korea Economic Weekly).


On 15 June 2000, Sadval, described by the Azerbaijani newspaper Yeddi Gun as an "outlawed Lezgin separatist organization active in Russia's Dagestan and in Azerbaijan", was to hold its congress in Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan (15 June 2000). No further mention of this congress could be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. Yeddi Gun also mentioned that there were references to Sadval on a Webpage described as "the official Internet site of the Dagestani Republic" (ibid.).

On 21 July 1999, several hundred people gathered in Kasumkent in southern Dagestan and at the Yarag-Kazmalyar bridge linking Russia to Azerbaijan to protest the arrest of Nasyr Primov, co-leader of the Sadval Lezgin National Movement (also Sadval) and of four of his supporters accused in connection with the illegal release of Kasum (Gasym) Makhmudov (Mahmudov), a Lezgin man accused by the Azerbaijani authorities of planning the Baku subway bombing in 1994, who had been arrested in Saint Petersburg and was to be extradited to Baku (Nezavisimaya Gazeta 22 July 1999; The Caspian Times July 1999). However, Viktor Ilyukhin, chairman of the Russian State Duma's Security Committee revoked the extradition order issued by the Russian Federation Prosecutor-General's Office (Nezavisimaya Gazeta 22 July 1999). The demonstrators were also denouncing the fact the Makhmudov's name had been put on a wanted list ( The Caspian Times July 1999). According to Abdul Musayev, the head of the press service of the Dagestani Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Lezgin demonstrations were illegal (Nezavisimaya Gazeta 22 July 1999). Azadlyg, an Azerbaijani newspaper,reported that the Dagestani Interior Ministry troops had forced the demonstrators to break up and had detained by administrative means seventy of them who had been then taken to Makhachkala (The Caspian Times July 1999). Remaining demonstrators gathered in a concert hall in Maharramkand (ibid.).

Nezavisimaya Gazeta described the demonstrations as "the most serious public disturbances" and the situation of southern Dagestan as "definitely explosive" (22 July 1999). The newspaper further claimed that "the indefinite status of the divided Lezgin nationality, …, could have the most dire consequences" (ibid.). Lezgin activists reportedly vowed to resort to "every possible method" to have Nasyr Primov, his four supportersand all the other Lezgin convicts in Azerbaijan released (ibid.). Commenting on Primov's arrest, Ruslan Ashuraliyev, the other co-leader of Sadval and Deputy of the Dagestani National Assembly condemned the actions of the security forces, but downplayed the seriousness of the demonstration, although, according to him, "many people are hungry now, and that is why they want to destabilize the situation" (ibid.).

In its report on the Lezgins of Dagestan updated on 14 June 2000, the Minorities at Risk Project states that:

The activity of the Lezgin movements seems to have lessened considerably since the support of the Russian Federation has dissipated. However, relations between Lezgins and other groups continue to be tense with occasional minor incidents. The Lezgin are among the most disadvantaged of the Dagestani groups, and there appears to be little effort to rectify the situation on the part of Dagestani officials. Despite their economic woes (or perhaps due to them), the Lezgin have not been very active in opposition to government policies. The only protests which occur seem to be ethnically-based disputes. However, this may be due to a reporting bias on the part of Russian press agencies.

The Lezgin movement seems to be somewhat active on a regional level, but very factionalized. Much of the energies of the Lezgins are by necessity focused on keeping open the various regional and state boundaries that divide their people, and showing support for their kinsmen in other areas.

We do not see the situation of the Lezgins getting worse in the short-term even though there is little reason to forecast improvement either. The Lezgin are not well-organized at the grassroots level and it appears that when flare-ups do occur, there are few trying to incite escalatory actions. This may be due to the fact that few, if any, would benefit from such actions. The curious aspect is the lack of protests by Lezgins against the unemployment situation. Either the government is providing them with bountiful unemployment subsidies, or there is a serious hole in the media coverage from this republic. The bottom line is that the ethnic balance in Dagestan is based on a balance of power, and only with the maintenance of this balance is the situation of the Lezgin likely to improve.

Additional information on Sadval can be found in the 17 May 1999 article "Sadval Plans Lezghin Conference", posted on MINELRES Webpage.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

The Caspian Times. [Hastings, UK]. July 1999. "Lezgin Nationalists Demand Release of Arrested Militants in Dagestan." [Accessed 5 July 2000]

[Moscow]. 16 May 2000. Aleksei Agureyev. "Putin Meets Constitutional Court Chairman." (NEXIS)

Joshua Project 2000 - Unreached People Profile [Colorado Springs]. 6 June 2000. Lezgian (Lezghi). [Accessed 5 July 2000]

Korea Economic Weekly. 6 September 1999. "Russia: Dagestan Crisis." (NEXIS)

Minorities-at-Risk Project. 14 June 2000. "Lezgins of Dagestan in Russia." [Accessed 5 July 2000]

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) [London]. 1997. World Directory of Minorities. London: Minority Rights Group International

Nezavisimaya Gazeta [Moscow, in Russian]. 22 July 1999. "Russia: Dagestan's Lezgin Nationality Situation Explosive - Newspaper." (BBC Worldwide Monitoring 29 July 1999/NEXIS)

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) [Prague]. "Volunteers From Some Ethnic Groups, But not Others, Armed in Daghestan." [Accessed 5 July 2000]

Yeddi Gun[Baku, in Azeri]. 15 June 2000. "Dagestani Web Site Reports on Azerbaijan's 'Designs' on North Caucasus - Paper." (BBC Worldwide Monitoring 17 June 2000/NEXIS)

Additional Sources Consulted

Countries of the World and Their Leaders Yearbook 2000

Frémy, Dominique et Michèle Frémy. 1998. Quid 1999. Paris: Robert Laffont.

Grimes, Barbara F. (edO. 1996. Ethnologue. Languages of the World. Dallas: Summer Institute of Lingusitics.

IRB Databases

Minahan James. 1996. Nations Without States. A Historical Dictionary of Contemporary National Movements. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press.

Resource Centre Country File on Russia

Yemelianova, Galina M. December 1999. "Islam and Nation Building in Tatarstan and Dagestan of the Russian Federation." Nationalities Papers, Vol. 27, No. 4, pp. 605-630.

Internet sites including:

Amnesty International

Carnegie Moscow Center

Central Asia - Caucasus Institute

European Centre for Minority Issues (ECMI)

Human Rights Watch

The Indigenous Studies Virtual Library

International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF-HR)

Local Government and Public Service Reform Initiative

Minority Rights Group International

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL)

Transitions [Prague]

Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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