| · Population: 650,000 (est.)
| · Dagestan Population: 2,910,249
In the course of the migration of peoples the Avars were pushed westwards out of the steppes of Central Asia. Many of them got as far as the Balkans in South-Eastern Europe. Today there are no more direct descendants of those Avars.
Some researchers think that a small part of the Avar people migrated into the Caucasus. They call themselves “Maarual” and they are the numerically largest people group in Dagestan, which has a total number of two million inhabitants. Situated on the west coast of the Caspian Sea Dagestan is part of the “Russian Federation.” Its capital is called Makhachkala (population 350,000). “Dagestan” means “Mountain Country” and is the home to about 30 different people groups. The Avars live in the Western and the central part in the high mountains. There are about 60,000 Avars in the capital Makhachkala. They speak five dialects which are so different that they cannot understand one another.
Wars among the Avars in Dagestan
In all Dagestan women are the most ardent keepers of tradition and faith. Out of great fear of the “evil eye” their husbands don’t call them by their names. Because of the prevailing moral standards women are nearly invisible in public until their 60th year. Dagestan people are very hospitable and sociable.
Dagestan’s history is closely connected with the Chechens living to the west of them. After the decline of the Soviet Union no independence movement arose in Dagestan, because this would have probably caused war between the different people groups, and also because the region being poor is heavily dependent on Russian Federation subsidies. Of course the first Chechen war) greatly affected Dagestan because of the numerous refugees. In 1996 a Chechen commando unit raided the town of Kizilja, in 1999 Chechens invaded Dagestan causing the second Chechen war.
Islamization of the Avars in Dagestan
Since its Islamization in the eighth century Dagestan has always been a Muslim stronghold. Presently there were many mosques and Islamic training centres. In the 19th century Muslim mystics came into the area. These Sufi mystics are aiming for a personal encounter with Allah through meditative practices, apart from keeping Islamic religious rules. During the Soviet era Islam was heavily suppressed so religious movements were formed in secret. After the end of Soviet rule the Islamic religion flourished again. A relatively recent phenomenon in the region is the coming of the “Wahhabite” movement which is a purist form of Islam originating in Saudi Arabia. Often the Wahhabite movement is being expressed as an alternative Islam which is hostile to Sufism. With the arrival of the Wahhabite influence the unity of the Muslim community broke down and infighting and competition arose between the Sufis and the Wahhabites.
Christianity reached Dagestan from Armenia as of the fourth century. But with the Islamization all traces of Christianity disappeared. Nothing is known about churches emerging during the reign of the Soviets or the Tsars. In 1979 the Gospel of John was published in the Dagestan language. In 1998 an American staff member was kidnapped and released only in 1999. Like Chechnya, Dagestan is very dangerous for foreigners.
Pray for the Muslims in Dagestan:
* May there be peace and stability in Dagestan and openness towards the Gospel.
* May their be increased possibilities for Bible translation despite the difficult circumstances.
* May God open doors for encounters between Christians and Avars outside of Dagestan.
90% of the people of Dagestan are Muslim, mostly Sunni. The peoples of Dagestan are tribal and ethnically diverse. Dagestan has been a scene of low-level Islamic insurgency, occasional outbreaks of separatism, ethnic tensions and terrorism since the 1990s. According to International Crisis Group, the militant Islamist organization Shariat Jamaat is responsible for much of the violence. Much of the tension is rooted in an internal Islamic conflict between traditional Sufi groups advocating secular government and more recently introduced Salafist teachers preaching the implementation of Sharia law in Dagestan. It is a rugged and somewhat wild part of the world. Keep the people of Dagestan in your prayers!
Population: 2,910,249 (2013 est.)