Staunton, September 6 – In the course of the 2002 Russian census, officials in some Daghestani cities and villages falsely reported higher population counts lest their districts be amalgamated with neighboring ones. Now, as the 2010 census begins, some Daghestanis are convinced that it too will be marked by crude falsifications.
In an article in the current issue of Makhachkala’s “Novoye delo” entitled “The Distorted Mirror of Daghestani Statistics,” that journal’s reporters both describe what happened eight years ago and point out that, Moscow’s complaints notwithstanding, “attempts to distort” the 2010 results “are already in evidence” (www.ndelo.ru/one_stat.php?id=3287).
At the time of the 2002 census, they report, rumors were rife that any district with less than 10,000 people would be combined with its neighbors to form a larger unit. And not surprisingly, officials in those just under that number sought to boost population figures in order to avoid losing their positions.
In the intervening inter-censal period, municipal officials have been the most concerned about boosting their numbers, and some have pushed them up beyond the plausible. The city of Izbersha, for example, reported a population growth of 30 percent between 2002 and 2009, a rise that would have required a growth of more than five percent a year given obvious outmigration.
In 11 mountainous and piedmont districts of Daghestan between 2002 and 2009, declines in population as a result of outmigration were observed but not always reported, “Novoye delo” continues. And as for Makhachkala, its actual population is 100 to 150,000 more than reported, with those people being counted elsewhere even though they live in the republic capital.
Census handling of declarations of nationality is an especially sensitive issue given that positions in the government are generally allocated according to the relative size of different ethnic groups in a particular municipality or region or for the republic as a whole according to the size of these various groups throughout Daghestan.
One of the places where the ethnic balance might shift if the numbers were reported accurately is Khasavyurt, where the mayor is an Avar. There at present, the Chechens form 30 percent of the population, compared to the Avars’ 28 percent, a change from 2002. As a result, the Chechens are likely to insist that the top job go to one of their own.
Meanwhile, in Derbent, the Lezgins have now passed the previously dominant ethnic Azerbaijanis, a trend that has led to a change at the top but one that may be contested. And in some places, again Khasvyurt is a clear example, smaller groups like the Kumyks were undercounted and are likely to be undercounted again.
“According to the results of the 1989 census, in the [Khasavyurt] district were 91,000 residents of whom the Avars formed 33 percent, the Kumyks 28 percent and the Chechens 25 percent. [But] according to the 2002 census, which was conducted already not under such tight control … the number of the population increased to 125,000.”
“The Kumyks according to its data came out in first place, forming 32 percent of the population of the district and pushing the Avars (30.5 percent) into second place, [while] the share of the Chechens increased by 0.5 percent.” Then officials reported in 2006-2007, that the Avars formed 33 percent, the Kumyks 29 percent, [and] the Chechens 25 percent.”
“These numbers,” the “Novoye delo” journalists say, “also need correct, but their greater correspondence to reality in comparison with the data from the 2002 census is more than obvious.”
The authors of this article add that “data about the number of particular peoples and their percentages also are attracting great interest to the extent that these data again are connected with the key positions at the republic level,” all the more so because the 2002 results were so obviously falsified.
At that time, it had been widely expected that the Lezgins would pass the Kumyks in both numbers and share, something that would have meant that they would have had to be offered more positions in the republic leadership than they had had earlier. Now, they will expect the 2010 census to confirm their rise.
And there is yet another set of results from the upcoming census will be closely watched: data about the relative size of sub-ethnic groups of the major Daghestani nationalities. These too are changing rapidly, and if groups that had been dominant numerically lose their position, those on the rise will demand more.
In short, the 2010 census like the 2002 one is certain to exacerbate tensions in Daghestan and quite likely trigger falsification of the results by officials and ethnic leaders either fearful that their groups are declining in relative size or hopeful that new numbers can boost their political chances.