Prisoner of Caucasus Said Amirov 

Prisoner of Caucasus Said Amirov
Said Amirov is likely to remain in prison till the end of his days

Ex-Mayor of Makhachkala Said Amirov, who was sentenced to life imprisonment, has already spent almost three years behind bars. How did the most powerful politician in Dagestan end up being a defendant in the criminal case? Is it really possible to resolve long-standing problems of the region with a couple of such cases?

The best mayor of the country

In late March, the Russian Supreme Court upheld the life sentence of ex-Mayor of Makhachkala Said Amirov. Confined to a wheelchair, the 62 year-old Amirov will stay behind bars despite the two judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. Why the court is so severe to the man who was glorified by the Russian authorities merely two years ago? The answer is obvious: Amirov’s influence on the events in Dagestan was and, perhaps, still remains so great that placing him under house arrest will be equal to helping him regain the mayor's seat.

Said Amirov headed Makhachkala since 1998 and until his arrest in June 2013. However, his case cannot be compared with that of any other mayor, though the long run for power is a common thing in Russia. Amirov’s power was the greatest in all of the republic: heads of Dagestan, ministers and security officials came and went, but Amirov always remained a force to be reckoned with. Most were simply afraid of him. Amirov indeed handled his opponents without mittens, but cruelty is never enough to wield such power. Said Amirov was the main supporter for Kremlin, and he also integrated federal decisions in Dagestan. In 1999, he organized armed resistance against the militants of Shamil Basayev, who attacked the republic. It was Amirov who had spoken against separatism in the Caucasus even before the federal money started pouring in the region. For all of that the top branch turned the blind eye to things like series of high-profile killings, which had started as early as in 90s, and the fact that Amirov and his family took almost of the key positions in the republic. With such unlimited power, it was the former president of Dagestan, Mukhu Aliyev who had to get an appointment with the Mayor of Makhachkala, not the other way around. In the spring of 2013, Russian Ministry of Regional Development even recognized Amirov as "The Best Head of the Municipal Entity of the Russian Federation." Still, there was a limit to Kremlin’s confidence after all.

The power of Said Amirov’s influence on the Caucasus was often compared with that of the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. But unlike the latter, Amirov failed to ease social tensions in the region. This being said, he strived for the presidential post.

The mayor's arrest could easily pass as a Hollywood blockbuster. On June 1, 2013, the traffic on the streets of Makhachkala was blocked off by armored vehicles, citizens could see helicopters in the sky. The operation of the federal security forces to detain Amirov was executed swiftly. None of the heads of the republican security agencies was informed about the planned actions. As stated by the correspondent of Novaya Gazeta Irina Gordienko, sources in various departments were saying off the record that Amirov had been offered to resign voluntarily. Instead, Amirov allegedly laid down his own resignation conditions: he wanted to be appointed head of the republican parliament, and for his son to become the head of the republican branch of Sberbank. Sadly, Moscow tends to see its offers as orders. Perhaps, Amirov’s answer sealed his fate. If this is how the things really were, we must give proper respect to Amirov, who had already survived 14 assassination attempts: he did not resist arrest, he was not trying to escape in advance, seeing as shadows gather over him. Even after the arrest he refused to voluntarily resign.

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If choose to punish, than punish accordingly?

With the arrest of the almighty Mayor of Makhachkala it would be logical to expect that the investigation will finally have a dig at the assassinations imputed to Amirov. But then the case would inevitably feature new defendants from law enforcement agencies that persistently chose not to notice those murders. As a result, the main indictments in the Amirov’s case turned up to be the murder of the investigator Arsen Hajibekov, an attempt on the life of Chief Public Prosecutor of Dagestan Natalia Mamedkerimova, and the terrorist attack in the shopping center Moscow in the city of Kaspiysk. It is worth noting that during that terrorist act in Kaspiysk a shot from grenade launcher hit the transmission line pole, no casualties were reported.

According to one of the existing versions, the investigators have tried to play a win-win scenario for the Caucasus by proving Amirov’s connections with the militants. Shortly before Amirov’s arrest, security forces had caught the head of Makhachkala militants Sirazhutdin Guchuchaliev whose testimony they intended to put forward as the basis for the charges against the mayor. This turn of the investigation covered a lot of oddities. For instance, the timing of the Guchuchaliev’s arrest could not have been better, and it was even stranger that he was taken alive (which is quite uncommon for counter-terrorist operations in Russia). The militant’s father, an experienced lawyer Magomed Guchuchaliev, stated that his son had been beaten to obtain this testimony. Apparently, in the end these statements cost Magomed Guchuchaliev his life. After that, Amirov was charged with preparing a terrorist attack to kill Sagid Murtazaliev, head of Dagestan's Pension Fund, who prevented Dzhaparov from becoming Mayor of Kaspiysk.

Judging from the materials of the case, the plan was to bring down the plane, which was supposed to carry Murtazaliev, with the surface-to-air missile system Strela-2M. This helped ensure a military court trial without a jury. Witnesses in the case made the line of the public prosecutor look particularly convincing. These witnesses were the head of the organized crime group, which executed those orders, a former employee of Kizlyar prosecutor’s office Magomed Abdulgalimov (also known as Kolkhoznik) and other members of the group (all as one, in prison). The last witness was former mayor of Kaspiysk Ruslan Hajibekov, who was accused of kidnapping at the time of giving evidence against Amirov, and later sentenced to seven years in a maximum security prison. Despite the fact that the witnesses one by one rejected their testimonies, Said Amirov received a life sentence, and Yusup Dzhaparov - 18 years.

The whole of Caucasus spread before his eyes…

Both Amirov and his lawyers have told that the former mayor is prosecuted for political reasons. Still, in this matter even the adamant Said Amirov has been cautious, going only as far as to make vague statements. However, nobody actually denied that politics play a huge part in this case. All the assumptions about why Said Amirov was removed from the political arena, can be summed up in two versions: a power struggle within Dagestan itself, and Kremlin's decision to start cleansing the power structures in the Caucasus. The issue of clan struggle in Dagestan is more acute than anywhere else in the Caucasus. There are plenty of reasons for that, and chief among them is the multi-ethnic composition of the republic. If it had been simply a redistribution of power within the republic, the events would not have involved the federal government. Legal punishment is also not common in this region. The mere fact that the Amirov’s arrest was carried out by the FSB special forces, while Dagestan security agencies were completely unaware of it, tells us that the decision was made at the top level.

Dagestan is effectively the most explosive region of the Caucasus. Widespread youth unemployment, lack of social mobility, high crime rates and corruption lead to the total marginalization of the population and the desire to leave the depressed region. The outflow of the population of the Caucasian republics, mainly from Dagestan and Chechnya to Stavropol, Kuban and Rostov region, did not look like the usual internal migration from the very beginning. Both the regional and the federal government tried to ignore the issue. But in the end, the aggravated tensions in the regions neighboring the Krasnodar Region, especially on the eve of the Olympic Games in Sochi, demanded certain actions from the authorities. In February 2013, the Rossiya-1 TV channel released a documentary called "Project Caucasus," showing the real situation in the Stavropol region.

The power of Said Amirov’s influence on the Caucasus was often compared with that of the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. But unlike the latter, Amirov failed to ease social tensions in the region. This being said, he strived for the presidential post.

"They wanted to eliminate me for being a strong political opponent. In theory, if we had held election by direct vote in Dagestan, I would have had all the chances to become the head of the republic. And if my candidacy had been brought before the parliament for a vote, I would have been able to score an overwhelming majority of votes," - Amirov said in an interview with Slon.ru.

Perhaps, it were his ambitions, in the complete absence of positive developments in the country, which exhausted Moscow’s patience. By the way, the direct election of the head of the republic in Dagestan was canceled shortly before the Amirov’s arrest. But is it possible to win a game of chess, when you remove the queen from the board? 

The sound of silence

The high-profile arrest of Said Amirov was followed with harbored expectations of changes and dozens of assumptions about the structural reforms in the Caucasus. But the republic failed to find itself a prophet, and the expectations were once again misplaced. The example of Dagestan proves that the ruling elite remained mostly the same, and there were no visible improvement to the social climate. With the help of the federal government, the Head of Dagestan Ramazan Abdullatipov attempted to cleanse the staff of the republic, and as a result criminal proceedings were initiated against 29 officials of different levels. Sagid Murtazaliev, whose life had previously been threatened by the ex-Mayor of Makhachkala, according to the court ruling, happened to among the accused. Murtazaliev has been put on the wanted list and stands accused of murder, financing terrorism and other crimes. It is easy to notice that many people on the list have already received more than lenient sentences. Some of them, such as the ex-Mayor of Khasavyurt Saygidpasha Umakhanov, have even been promoted. Today Umakhanov is already the Minister of Transport, Energy and Communications of Dagestan.

And if we go back to the issue of Dagestani clans, we should not forget that the Amirovs clan was one of the strongest. It was hardly affected by the arrest of Said Amirov. Below you can see a picture of how the Amirovs clan looked like before the former mayor’s arrest.

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Despite the fact that Dalgat and Magomedsalam Amirovs and Perziyat Bagandova lost their jobs, the second son of Said, Magomed, remains a member of the National Assembly of the Republic of Dagestan of the 5th convocation. Amirov’s nephews Magomedkadi and Dzhamaladin Hasanovs are still members of the State Duma of the Russian Federation.

The Hasanov brothers will be gone from the State Duma of the next convocation. They quickly grasped the situation, and chose not nominate for the primaries. However, the Hasanovs are highly unlikely to withdraw from politics for good. If we add to this fact the support of influential families in Dagestan (the Omarovs, the Dzhaparovs, the Sulaimanovs, and the Hamidovs, as well as those who are personally have a debt before Said Amirov), we can see that the ex-mayor still has enormous weight on the political scene of the republic.

Under the circumstances, Said Amirov looks more like a winner than a loser. And while the intentions of federal government are clear, its actions do not look as convincing. Maybe it is time to move from the policy of public executions to the complex daily work without fanfare? Ultimately, in different conditions Said Amirov could really be the best mayor of the country.

Video: Project Caucasus    

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