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A Salafi woman with a child seen in a street of Kaspiysk.
A Salafi woman with a child seen in a street of Kaspiysk.Maria Turchenkova
A Salafi woman with a child seen in a street of Kaspiysk.
A policeman seen in forest. Being a hunter he knows all the forest very well and disappointed with failure of local special forces he searches the area himself trying to find traces, insurgents and dugouts. He survived 3 attempts of insurgents to kill him.
Friends dance at a house party.
A portrait of a military man seen in a village house in Bezhta.
Regular house check by military forces in the mountain village. Dagestan has almost a half of its territory locked down under a special security regime, known as the CTO - abbreviation for “counter-terrorist operation”. It means: martial law, curfews and random searches enforced by the Russian military and ongoing talks about the new bloody war in the North Caucasus.
Yesterday special forces operation was held near the house of  Zhukhra. 4 insurgents – 3 men and 1 woman were killed by the police, while Zhukhra  brought another women, wounded at leg, pulling her to this room. She was arrested immediately and was interrogated for 2 days  suspected in support to insurgents
Regular house check held by military forces in the mountain village.
Magomed, a school teacher, shows to his 2year-old nephew how to hold a weapon.Dagestan is the biggest and the most multinational republic in the North Caucasus region. The society is mostly based on traditions and still is very conservative.
Military helicopter searching the forest early in the morning. Dagestan has almost a half of its territory locked down under a special security regime, known as the CTO - abbreviation for “counter-terrorist operation”. It means: martial law, curfews and random searches enforced by the Russian military.
Military checkpoint at a mountain road.2011 scored more then 1200 people including policemen, insurgents and civilians killed in terrorism acts, Special Forces operations and street shootings.
A discovered blindage seen in forest.Insurgents build a lot of blindages in forest so they can hide here from the police for a long time. Usually they are located not far from the villages to make it easier for insurgents to take food and observe the locality and the road. This blindage is 1 km away from Kidero village.
A woman believed to be a prostitute poses in her bed.
A bed seen in the house after the special forces operation when 4 people were killed suspected to be insurgents.
Patimat rocks her son in traditional Dagestany manner. Patimat is a Salafi woman, she was 3 times married, all her husbands were killed by the police during special forces operations.
Photos of a young man killed by the police in 2008.Officially he was considered an insurgent, once stopped by the police at a checkpoint he've started to shoot and was killed by counterfire.According to his family he was killed by no reason near his house, his relatives claim for prosecution but no investigation has been started yet. About 100 bullets were found in his body.
Funerals in Gimry.
A man seen in a burned mosque. 3 days ago unknown armed people came here after the evening pray, killed imam and 2 parishioners and burned the mosque.
An evening in Salafi family in Gimry.
A boy studying Koran in a mosque in Makhachkala.
Anticorruption rally in downtown.Russian law and order doesn't have real power in Dagestan, the justice system is ruled by nepotism. People often can't find justice and truth from official authorities. And at the same time, Jamaats' leaders claim to be "legitimate authority of Dagestan" with the aim of establishing a "fair society" based on Shari'a law.
Ropewalker performance in the legendary village of ropewalkers.
Local people wait before the performance during celebration of the day of administrative separation of Beztinsky region.
Men praying in mosque.
Poster and mosque seen in the memorial at the place where Ghazi Mullah, the first Imam of the Caucasian Imamate, died in 1832 in a fight against Russian army.
A Salafi woman with a child seen in a street of Kaspiysk.
Maria Turchenkova
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The Hidden War in the Caucasus

Apr 29, 2013

Despite the reduction of large-scale military operations 10 years ago in Chechnya, a guerrilla war waged by Islamic fundamentalists rages on, and has brought a striking level of violence and bloody insurgency to the neighboring Caucasus republic of Dagestan.

For decades, and in much of the world's eyes, all the news coming from the North Caucasus seemed focused on the cataclysm in Chechnya. Now, with Grozny slowly emerging from decades of chaos, Dagestan – the largest, most heterogeneous and, today, the most violent republic in the North Caucasus region – is raising its international profile, but for all the wrong reasons.

With a population of about 3 million people, Dagestan -- bordering Chechnya, with the Caspian Sea to the east and Georgia and Azerbaijan to the south -- is comprised of more then 40 ethnic groups. Ethnic Russians make up roughly four and half percent of the republic's total population, while political power is held mainly by the two largest groups: the Avar and Dargin, both of whom practice Sufism, or the region's traditional brand of Islam. Recently, however, Salafism -- a puritanical form of Islam practiced largely in Saudi Arabia -- has begun to make inroads, further complicating the already tangled political and religious picture.

Split by seemingly intractable social and religious differences and with almost a half of its territory locked down under a special security regimen (CTO, or "counter-terrorist operation"), Dagestan's populace endures martial law, rigid curfews and random searches enforced by the Russian military.

For most Russian citizens, meanwhile, the North Caucasus is peopled not by neighbors or citizens but by stereotypes. A mountain region, alien and dangerous, it is populated (in the Russian popular imagination) by suicide bombers and terrorists. Period.

The Jamaats—local Islamic societies—comprise the vast majority of active anti-Russian Islamist fighters in Dagestan. Numbering somewhere around 500, by best estimates, Jamaats manage to replace those killed in action with newly joined militants in a remarkably timely manner. The reason for this renewable source of fighters is, in fact, rather simple: namely, the fundamentalists find fertile ground to propagate their ideas in the region's remote, mountainous villages -- as well as via the Internet. As the Dagestan justice system is largely ruled by nepotism, Russian law and order doesn't have real power and most people find it impossible to receive justice from local authorities. Jamaats' leaders, meanwhile, claim to be the "legitimate authority of Dagestan" and are candid about their aim of establishing a "fair society" based on Shari'a law. As the years pass, more and more people convert to Salafism.

Dagestan's society is still deeply split. The gap between the richest and the poorest is enormous -- and, like everywhere else, is rapidly growing. Conservatives, including many traditional Muslims, who still feel an allegiance to Russia certainly do not accept the "Islamization" of their country and their culture, while many others simply vote with their passports -- emigrating from the republic entirely. The men, women and children who stay behind must somehow find ways to endure in the midst of their country's hidden war.

Maria Turchenkova is a freelance documentary photographer based in Moscow. She was recently selected to attend the 2013 World Press Joop Swart Masterclass.

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