The chair of the Chechen Parliament, Magomed Daudov, has entered into an online spat with Daghestani historian Zurab Gadzhiyev over the construction of a traditional watchtower on the Chechen-Daghestani border.
Daudov responded angrily to a statement by Gadzhiyev that the watchtower was built by Chechnya on the territory of Daghestan’s Botlikh District.
‘What is this? Another “road sign” […] Or a memorable gift for the anniversary of the events of 1999?’ wrote Zurab Gadzhiyev, a historian and member of the Public Commission for Clarifying the Borders between Daghestan and Chechnya.
He made the post on 18 July, alongside a video of a Chechen watchtower near the village of Ansalta in the Botlikh District of Daghestan. The six-story tower, erected in 2018, has sparked the latest row between Chechnya and Daghestan over the proper demarcation of borders between the neighbouring republics.
The post, since deleted by Gadzhiyev, referenced an invasion of armed units from Chechnya to the Botlikh District of Daghestan on 7 August 1999 as well as the recent demolition of Chechen roadsign by Daghestani residents who claimed it had been illegally placed on their land.
After deleting his post, Gadzhitev uploaded a photo of cadastral and satellite maps that indicate the tower was located on the territory of Daghestan.
On 20 July, the chairman of the Chechen parliament, Magomed Daudov, was quoted by Grozny Inform calling Gadzhiyev a ‘sad-excuse for a historian’, saying that his statements about the watchtower were ‘provocative’.
‘The goal is clear — fomenting inter-ethnic discord.’ Daudov was quoted as saying. ‘Can you imagine this sorry “truth-teller” had the audacity to tie the location of the tower, built on native Chechen land, with the events of 1999?’
Daudov suggested setting a time and place to meet with Daghestanis opposed to the tower and to listen carefully to their arguments.
However, he reiterated that the tower was erected on the territory of Chechnya.
‘I assure you, everything will fall into place’, Daudov reportedly said. ‘If you come as a guest? Welcome! If you come with provocations? They will be strictly suppressed, in accordance to the laws of the Russian Federation’.
On 22 July, a comment by the head of Botlikh District, Magomed Patlukhayev, was posted on the website of the district administration. Patlukhayev claimed that the tower was indeed built on Chechen territory, in the Vedeno District, and that the foundation was laid in 2016.
‘A commission, along with the head of the village of Ansalta, travelled to the site. They were land specialists and representatives of the local jamaat [council] who confirmed that the building was being built precisely on the territory of the neighboring republic [of Chechnya]. Residents of the village of Ansalta also took part in laying the foundation of the tower’, Patlukhayev said.
The head of Ansalta, Gaydarbek Gaydarbekov, also spoke out. In a statement released by the press secretary of the Botlikh District administration, Gaydarbekov is quoted saying that the current map showed that the tower was installed on the territory of Chechnya.
‘In 1982, border clarification work was carried out in our village. We have an archival document — an extract from the State Act of 1949; it corresponds to the clarified boundaries of 1982. It is according to these documents, that in December 2018, together with the jamaat, the boundary between the village of Ansalta and the Chechen Republic was determined’, Gaydarbekov said.
He added that he had gone to the site where the tower was built with the former head of Ansalta (1980–1985) and that he had pointed out the border demarcation and confirmed that the tower was indeed built on Chechen territory.
The Government of Daghestan did not respond to the request for comment.
A ‘humorous’ story
Gadzhiyev told OC Media that he was in possession of an appeal dated 8 February 2019 from residents of Ansalta and addressed to the head of Daghestan, Vladimir Vasilyev as well as the speaker of the People’s Assembly of Daghestan, Khizri Shikhsaidov. In this appeal, residents voiced their opposition to the construction of the Chechen watchtower on the lands of the Botlikh District.
He said that the lack of reaction from both the local and republic authorities prompted the local population to declare, through him, that the watchtower was built illegally on the territory of Daghestan and without their consent.
Gadzhiyev said that this appeal was signed by, among others, the head of Ansalta, Gaydarbek Gaydarbekov — despite his current claims to the contrary.
In a Facebook post on 23 July Gadzhiyev also questioned Gaydarbekov’s claim of visiting the site of the tower with the former village head, calling the statement ‘humorous’.
‘He took with him an elderly 83-year-old man […] in December, at an altitude of 2,060 metres, in deep snow, by a steep path which is difficult to use even in the summer’, he wrote. ‘It’s not for nothing that the surveyors who came to take photos of the site waited for June’.
He added that even if Gaydarbekov’s account had been true, the snowy weather conditions would have made it impossible to determine where the boundary lay.
Gadzhiyev also noted that according to a 1956 map, Ansalta was located at a considerable distance from the border with Chechnya.
Shamil Khadulayev, a representative on the Daghestani government commission on demarcation of the borders of Daghestan and Chechnya, told OC Media that he had spoken with Daudov about the border.
Khadulayev said that Daudov told him that the territory on which the tower was built belonged to Daghestan until 1983. That year, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of Daghestan decided to exchange land with the Chechen Republic, and the ownership of the land was transferred to Chechnya.
Khadulayev noted that the tower was built right on the border with Daghestan, but if one looked closely, it was visible that the tower was located on the Chechen side.
In November 2018, a part of the village of Ansalta, along with Lake Kazena-Am, 700 hectares along the Andean ridge, and an area of 164 hectares in Gumbetovsky District were briefly marked on a map on the Chechen parliament’s website within their territory.
Chechnya’s controversial land deals
The border delimitation process has proven highly contentious in Daghestan.
In February, a number of communities in districts of Daghestan bordering with Chechnya demanded more transparency in the process.
Shahban Khapizov, a Daghestani historian and member of the public commission on the harmonization of borders between Chechnya and Daghestan, told OC Media in April that there were a number of potential problem areas in Daghestan which Chechnya claims.
Among them, he named the upper reaches of the Chagiri River, in Daghestan’s Tsumadinsky District, a part of the village of Ansalta, in Daghestan’s Botlikh District, and an area of 74 hectares near Kizlyar.
Border talks between the two republics began several months after a land deal was signed between the leaders of Chechnya and its western neighbour, Ingushetia.
Details of the controversial deal, signed on 26 September by Ingush head Yunus-Bek Yevkurov and his Chechen counterpart, Ramzan Kadyrov, were initially kept secret from the public. It later emerged Ingushetia would transfer 340 square kilometres, about 9% of its territory, to Chechnya.