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Page last updated at 10:58 GMT, Thursday, 27 August 2009 11:58 UK

North Caucasus bloggers speak out

People at a market in the village of Kubachi, Dagestan, file pic from 2007
Dagestan, which translates as "land of the mountains", is famed for its ethnic and linguistic diversity, being home to more than 30 languages

News from the North Caucasus is starting to look more and more like reports from the frontline. But behind the headlines, what is daily life like for the region's people?

The BBC Russian Service has joined forces with online news portal Caucasian Knot to answer that question. The project - entitled North Caucasus through the eyes of bloggers - brings together a variety of thoughts and opinions from the region. Here are a selection:

Lechi Khamzatov

Lechi Khamzatov (a pen-name) was born in the southern Russian region of Astrakhan, and now lives in the Chechen capital, Grozny. A history graduate, he has been a journalist for two years and also runs a small business. He discusses the changing face of the young in Chechnya.

Young people in today's Chechnya are dramatically different from those of 10 to 15 years ago. In the past, all Chechen youth uniformly dreamed of becoming cosmonauts, sailors and scientists. They wanted to be of use to their motherland.

Ramzan Kadyrov
Kadyrov took power in Chechnya after his father was assassinated

Today an average young man in Chechnya dreams of a flash motor and a nice shooter - like a Stechkin pistol. And, of course, he dreams of money. Loads of it.

Under [Chechen president] Ramzan Kadyrov, few youths in Chechnya can get to the top. To do this you have to belong in some way to powers-that-be, to be related to high-ranking bureaucrats or at least to live in [Kadyrov's home village of] Hosi-Yurt.

By the way, some young people in Chechnya still leave to fight in the mountains. They do this in spite of the fact that as a result certain forces burn down their parents' homes and keep pressuring their families to make the stray son come back home.

Why do young people still do this? Maybe because they watch the incompetent filthy rich live it out to the full and enjoy their impunity while other young people lead miserable lives.

So instead of "choosing Pepsi" some young people in Chechnya choose jihad. Because they think if they choose the latter there is at least a chance they'll make it to paradise, which has been denied to them in this life. It's a lost generation, no doubt about it.

Ruslan Tarkiev

Ruslan Tarkiev (not his real name) was born in 1970 in Dagestan and has two university degrees, in economy and law. He works as a deputy director of a commercial company in Dagestan. In the two blog entries below, he assesses the state of Islamic schooling - and Islamic radicalism - in the area.

There has been much discussion lately about separate schooling for boys and girls in Dagestan. The Muslim clergy there have been supporting it more actively and in some villages, parents don't let their daughters go to school at all.

Map of Dagestan

Some theologians use British schools as an example, where boys attend separate classes from girls without hindrance or interference.

There was a poll in Makhachkala about single-sex education. It turned out that more than 90% of parents and children opposed the idea.

Most of the country's universities are located in the capital, which is also known for its vibrant cultural life, and it is there that people are trying the hardest to keep secular traditions in society.

Children of almost all of the believers I know go to secular schools and colleges because parents understand that graduates of an Islamic school are less likely to have a good career.

But even in secular colleges some religious students try to have things their own way.

My aunt is a university professor and tells me that some students simply leave classes early on Fridays to go to mosque. When one professor refused to let them leave early, he received threats.

There's an impression that there are two parallel worlds in Dagestan. One of crowded mosques, daily preaching about "eternal life" and everyday things such as hijabs and the muezzin's voice which wakens morning sleepers.

The other Dagestan is one of exhibitions of fashionable painters and sculptors, never empty (crisis notwithstanding) restaurants and night clubs, and beautiful, smiling girls dressed a la European.

Talking religion

Islamic radicalism in Dagestan keeps getting stronger and stronger every year and resembles a plague - everyone is afraid of catching it, but no-one knows what to do about it.


In the republic where women had never worn a hijab, there are more and more girls covered from head to toe

I once had a friend who enjoyed good company, drinking and hitting on women. I hadn't seen him for a while and when we met, I didn't recognise him.

He was wearing a skullcap and talked only about religion. He asked me if I was doing namaz - an obligatory daily prayer - and if I wasn't drinking too much. He was trying to teach me to live in a proper way.

Such new converts worry me most.

I don't know what Parisians or Londoners think of immigrants who not only refuse to assimilate into the new environment, but also attempt to have things their way.

In Makhachkala, Dagestan's capital, it pains me to see gloomy, unshaven faces of people with prayer beads, wandering around a city that has always been a happy, cheerful and secular place.

In the republic where women had never worn a hijab, there are more and more girls covered from head to toe.

Why, according to radicals, is a girl in a mini-skirt necessarily a prostitute? At the same time, there are lots of bureaucrats in Dagestan who use the money they got from criminal activities to build mosques - and that, to wash off their sins. So who is better before the Almighty?

Murad Magomatov

A journalist, publicist and writer, Murad Magomatov was born and still lives in Chechnya's capital, Grozny. He used to write for the local newspaper, Chechen Society, and the UK-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting. Here he analyses the possible future roles of separatist Chechen leader Akhmed Zakayev, who is currently living in London.

File image of Akhmed Zakayev, from December 2006
Akhmed Zakayev represents Chechen separatists' political, not military wing

Will Akhmed Zakayev return to Chechnya? Will he be given the position of Culture Minister or simply be a theatre director? And what are the president and the FSB (Russia's security service) thinking: will they really allow the amnesty of a former field commander?

Reading the news, you get the impression that these questions are worrying the entire world… with the exception of the Chechen Republic.

People are always a bit ironic when they talk about Zakayev as a politician. Chechens see Zakayev more as a refugee who uses his semi-virtual status of "representative of [the self-proclaimed Republic of] Ichkeria" to get political asylum and live a better life in the UK, than as a real minister or a prime minister in exile.

People don't think Zakayev is capable of stopping militant attacks, and it doesn't matter if he's in Bow Street in London or on Kadyrov Street in the Chechen capital of Grozny.

For militants in the Chechen mountains he has long become an outsider without any authority.

There's much talk about the possible political reasons behind Zakayev's return that might benefit, people say, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov.

Some believe that by luring Zakayev to his side, Kadyrov will score political points from Putin and Medvedev.

Everything is possible. And the likelihood that Ichkeria might lose its legitimacy in the eyes of Europe, which is pretty much a given anyway, might be another point scored by Ramzan Kadyrov.



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