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 473,722 Lezgins in the Russian Federation. Lezgins are the fourth largest ethnic group in Dagestan, and according to official Azerbaijani statistics the largest minority group in neighbouring Azerbaijan. They live in south-western parts of Dagestan and adjacent areas in Azerbaijan. Lezgin belongs to the Caucasian family of languages.
The Lezgin Democratic Movement Sadval (‘Unity’) was created in 1990. Its leadership called for the unification of all Lezgins. In December 1991, the All-National Congress of Lezgins established the Lezgin National Council. The Council has called on Russia, Azerbaijan and Dagestan to redraw present borders to unite the Lezgins in the region. The introduction of a border regime between Dagestan and Azerbaijan produced strong protests from Lezgins.
In 1998 Sadval split into ‘radical’ and ‘moderate’ wings, with the former continuing to advocate the creation of an independent Lezgin state and latter settling for advocacy of a Lezgin territorial autonomy in Dagestan. As a result of infighting between the two wings, the movement reportedly lost much of the popular support it had once enjoyed.
In March 1999 another organization, the Federal Lezgin National Cultural Autonomy (FLNCA), was established as an extraterritorial movement advocating cultural autonomy for Lezgins. In January 2006 renewed calls from within the Sadval movement in January 2006 for a redrawing of the Russian-Azerbaijani border to incorporate Lezgin-populated areas of southern Dagestan within Azerbaijan.
While unemployment rates in Dagestan are markedly greater than the average levels in the Russian Federation as whole, Lezgins in Dagestan suffer disproportionately from unemployment, with unemployment rates in Lezgin-populated areas of southern Dagestan much higher than in other areas of the republic.
The Federal Lezgin National and Cultural Autonomy (FLNCA), founded in 1999, actively represents the interests and of the Lezgin community both before local and federal state authorities. In particular, new local representative offices of the FLNCA were established in Ryazan Oblast, Yaroslavl Oblast and the Republic of Komi in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Moreover, the FLNCA President and ethnic Lezgin Arif Kerimov became a member of the Russian Presidential Council on ethnic relations in June 2012.
An international fact-finding mission in 2013 highlighted the limited public funding, poor political representation and the continue domination of the Russian language, though it also acknowledged progress by local authorities in Dagestan in supporting Lezgin culture and traditions.
Updated December 2020
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