Vienna, June 26 – Although overshadowed by violence in Daghestan, Chechnya, and Ingushetia and dismissed by the media as “hooliganism,” a clash between Dargins and Nogays in a district in Stavropol kray last weekend may point to what is likely to be a more serious problem for the Russian Federation as a whole, according to a leading Moscow expert on ethnicity.
That is because, Sergey Markedonov says in an analysis posted online yesterday, these clashes show that now, “Stavropol has become a frontier, a unique border line dividing ‘the Russian world’ and ‘the Caucasus world,’” and if this frontier becomes a divide, then Russia will face “a split, a real one but not necessarily according to the Belovezhskaya model.”
Stavropol’s location and the composition of its population make it vitally important to the country, Markedonov continues. On the one hand, it borders on eight subjects of Southern Federal District, “six of which,” he points out, are “national state formations” in the North Caucasus (www.chaskor.ru/p.php?id=7827).
And on the other, the kray, while “traditionally considered a poly-ethnic region,” has always been “a center of attraction” for ethnic Russians in the region, leading to calls in the 1990s by some for combining Russian areas of neighboring republics with the kray and attracting Russian during that decade from what Markedonov labels Russia’s “’internal abroad.’”
While the kray is overwhelmingly ethnic Russian in population, four percent of its residents are Armenians, three percent are Ukrainians, 1.4 percent are Dargins, 1.2 percent are Greeks, 0.5 percent are Chechens, 0.7 percent are Nogays, and 0.5 percent are Turkmens, along with a scattering of smaller groups.
Both individually and collectively, the Moscow analyst says, these groups have a “latent” potential for conflict. For example, the influx of Armenians since 1990 has changed their relative position in the kray. And there are today more Chechens in Stavropol kray than in any federal subject except Chechnya itself, Ingushetia, and Daghestan.
At one point or another, there have been clashes between and among these groups as well as between some of them and the ethnic Russian majority. But the clash last weekend between nearly 200 Nogays and the Dargins, Markedonov argues, was the product of the specific histories and situations of these two small communities.
The Turkic Nogays live primarily in Daghestan, Chechnya and Stavropol, with 20.6 percent of their total living in the kray. There, the economic situation of that community is better than elsewhere, but they are not represented in government and administrative institutions, something that limits the maintenance of their ethnic unity and leads to clashes with others.
The Dargins began to arrive in the east portion of Stavropol kray in the early 1990s. Because they were outsiders and sometimes displaced those who had been there before, Markedonov continues, that led to clashes, in the first instance with Nogays in 1999 and with Turkmens in 2001 and 2002.
This ethnic mosaic has both produced and been made more complicated by “the growth of Russian ethno-nationalist attitudes and mass xenophobia,” the Moscow analyst says, especially because many of the Russians who came into the kray in the 1990s were fleeing from ethnic conflicts in the North Caucasus and thus had a clearly defined sense of “us and them”
In such a situation, regional officials should have been ready for “possible ethnic excesses” and Moscow should have recognized that Stavropol kray required constant supervision and investment. Unfortunately, until recently, regional officials have not been helpful in this regard, and Moscow has been more concerned with tourist sites than avoiding an ethnic disaster.
What is critical, Markedonov says, is a common recognition that Russian nationality policy in Stavropol kray must be based on “one single word – ‘integration. If that integration project is not realized, then we will obtain and in fact have already obtained a segregated regional community.”
By way of highlighting just how dangerous this is, Markedonov concludes his essay by recalling that Mikhail Gorbachev, who came from Stavropol, once remarked that “the [Soviet] powers that be ‘were three hours late’” in intervening to put a stop to the ethnic violence in Sumgait that triggered the Karabakh war.
“Then,” Markedonov said, “three hour delay cost the life of a nuclear super-power. Today, the Russian powers that be do not have the right to any new delay” because the results could be equally fateful, a possibility that should prompt them to be honest about the problems in Stavropol and to recognize that what happens there will affect the entire country.