The Kumyks' campaign for more self-determination in Dagestan must be prevented from escalating!

A volatile situation: Hundreds of protesters holding out in a camp for weeks.

On Monday, the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) sent an appeal to the Russian government in Moscow and to the regional government of Dagestan demanding them not to ignore the protests of Turkic Muslim Kumyks in the troubled republic of Dagestan. "There is still a chance to find a peaceful solution for the problems of the Kumyks, who are campaigning – nonviolently – for more autonomy and for the preservation of their language and culture. Please try to start a dialogue with them very soon," says the letter the human rights organization sent to the Russian President Vladimir Putin and the President of the Republic of Dagestan, Magomedsalam Magomedov. "Dagestan is already close to a civil war – so please do not let the protest of this ethnic group escalate too. Any additional conflict will seriously affect the civilian population."

Since May 2012, at least a dozen people got killed in attacks and bombings – for which Islamist terrorists are blamed. More than 20 people were reported missing in the Russian republic since the beginning of 2012. The police and military forces react with counter-terrorism operations, meaning indiscriminate violence, arrests, torture and also disappearances of innocent people. Terrorists and security forces are trying to undermine every political initiative to resolve the conflict.

At the end of April, hundreds of Kumyk set up a camp north of Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan, to show that they feel neglected, discriminated and driven from their home territory by other ethnic groups. They demand an independent administrative district and self-determination to preserve their language and culture. So far this campaign was ignored by politicians and the media – but Ramazan Alpautow, an independent expert on inter-ethnic relations, warns about a seriously high potential for social conflicts. "The moderate activists in the camp are trying to keep young people away from the site – otherwise the movement would probably have been radicalized already." Alpautow is a Kumyk himself. He worked for the Russian the Regional Ministry until recently.

With 431,700 members, the Kumyk are the third largest ethnic group in Dagestan. Unlike the larger groups of the Avars and Dargins, they do not traditionally settle in the republic's mountainous regions, but live in the lowlands between the Caspian Sea and the foothills. Their number has quintupled since the 1940's and there is not enough land available for them to live off any more. During the Second World War, some of the Kumyks were deported to Chechnya because oil reserves were assumed on their settlement areas and because collective farming projects were planned for these regions. The displaced Kumyks were resettled to areas from which the Chechen people had previously been deported to Central Asia. When the Chechen were able to return in 1957, they drove away the Kumyk again – but they weren't able to return home, because their houses and their territories had already been sold to new owners. Until today, the Kumyk remember this injustice as a collective trauma.