Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
According to the 2010 national census, there are 589,386 Dargins in the Russian Federation. Dargins are the second largest group in Dagestan. They live primarily in south-central Dagestan and are Sunni Muslim, although there is a small Shi’a minority. The Dargin (or Dargwa) language belongs to the Caucasian family of languages.
The Dargin are indigenous to the North Caucasus. They were converted to Islam in the eighth century under Arab influence. The Dargin came under Russian influence from the onset of the nineteenth century. During the Soviet period an official Dargin nationality was consolidated to include a number of smaller but culturally related groups such as the Kaidak and Kubachi. The Dargin have traditionally been a trading people, and maintain traditional Caucasian social structures, including village (aul) assemblies and councils of elders.
During the late Soviet period Dargins came to become one of the most politically influential ethnic groups in Dagestan, holding the republican leadership from 1983.
Competition between Dargins and Avars for political influence in Dagestan intensified in the early 2000s and culminated in the replacement of a Dargin by an Avar as holder of the State Council chairmanship. Magomedali Magomedov, the Dargin who was Dagestan’s de facto leader since 1983, resigned in February 2006. In contravention of the informal power-sharing arrangement between Dargins and Avars, which split the republic’s two top posts between the two ethnic groups, the new Avar president appointed an ethnic Kumyk as prime minister.
Dargins, along with other ethnic groups, were also involved in intersecting ethnic and mafia struggles for political and economic power in Dagestan. Together with knock-on effects from the Chechen conflict, these rivalries account for a dramatic deterioration in the security environment in Dagestan around this time.
Political power in the Republic of Dagestan is divided between national clans. Currently the ‘Mekegi clan’, named after a village in Dagestan’s Lavash Region, is considered to be the most influential Dargin group. Inter-ethnic tensions continue to emerge between Dargins and ethnic Russians. For instance, in August 2014, a Dargin was killed in a violent clash in Stavropol Krai after a clash between a number of Russians and Dargins escalated into a brawl involving hundreds of people.
The Dargin language is used widely among Dargins, the majority of whom still speak it as their native language. It is still taught at primary school in the Republic of Dagestan and various publications including journals, newspapers and novels are published in Dargin.
Updated December 2020
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