Amirov heads Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party in Makhachkala. He said he is busy building the housing and infrastructure required for a city of 710,000 whose population is expected to grow to a million. The birthrate in Dagestan is much higher than in the rest of Russia, and people are moving to the city looking for work.
“We want a secular state here, as part of the Russian Federation,” he said. “If those in the forest stop fighting and drop their guns, they can rejoin the peaceful population. They are our people, too.”
‘We want to live under sharia’
On a hot, sunny afternoon, a half-dozen police officers in street clothes are talking about the forest. Publishing their names would put them in grave danger from the authorities.
“All this fighting is the consequence of bad political, social and economic policies,” said a 47-year-old captain with gold teeth, quoting Jean Jacques Rousseau on the social contract and Thomas Jefferson on the rights of man. “All the institutions in the country are corrupt, and Russian federal power is the source of it.”
On a Saturday night, a young Salafi couple offered tea and cake in their small Makhachkala apartment, as their 14-month-old son toddled on newly walking legs and their 6-year-old son played quietly.
“Russians came here to our land and told us how to live,” said Ayat Abdurakhmanova, 28, who wears the hijab, or head scarf. “They brought prostitution, alcohol and cigarettes and told us if we didn’t like it, we should leave.”
As Abdurakhmanova kissed her giggling toddler, her husband, Rashid, played a YouTube video, recorded by a store surveillance camera, that showed an acquaintance entering a liquor store, clearing out staff and customers, and setting off an explosion.
The friend’s 21-year-old wife, wearing a hijab and pink dress, watches, drinking tea and saying nothing, as her husband becomes a hero. He strides out of the store before the bomb goes off, wearing camouflage and holding a gun. The video does not show him and his accomplices coming under police fire soon after, dying in their exploding car, leaving her a widow with a baby.
“We don’t want to impose our beliefs on anyone else,” Rashid said, “but we want them to let us live as we wish. We want to live under sharia.”