The word Daghestan or Daghistan means "country of mountains", it is derived from the Turkic word dağ meaning mountain and Persian suffix -stan meaning "land of". The name is written in Arabic alphabet as داغستان. The spelling Dagestan is a transliteration of the Russian name and is rather modern.
There are over 1,800 rivers in the republic. Major rivers include:
Because its mountainous terrain impedes travel and communication, Dagestan is unusually ethnically diverse, and still largely tribal. Unlike most other parts of Russia, the population of Dagestan is rapidly growing.
Birth rate was 15.2 in the first half of 2007.
|census 1926||census 1939||census 1959||census 1970||census 1979||census 1989||census 2002|
|Avars||177,189 (22.5%)||230,488 (24.8%)||239,373 (22.5%)||349,304 (24.5%)||418,634 (25.7%)||496,077 (27.5%)||758,438 (29.4%)|
|Dargins||125,707 (16.0%)||150,421 (16.2%)||148,194 (13.9%)||207,776 (14.5%)||246,854 (15.2%)||280,431 (15.6%)||425,526 (16.5%)|
|Lezgins||90,509 (11.5%)||96,723 (10.4%)||108,615 (10.2%)||162,721 (11.4%)||188,804 (11.6%)||204,370 (11.3%)||336,698 (13.1%)|
|Laks||39,878 (5.1%)||51,671 (5.6%)||53,451 (5.0%)||72,240 (5.1%)||83,457 (5.1%)||91,682 (5.1%)||139,732 (5.4%)|
|Tabasarans||31,915 (4.0%)||33,432 (3.6%)||33,548 (3.2%)||53,253 (3.7%)||71,722 (4.4%)||78,196 (4.3%)||101,152 (4.3%)|
|Rutuls||10,333 (1.3%)||20,408 (2.2%)||6,566 (0.6%)||11,799 (0.8%)||14,288 (0.9%)||14,955 (0.8%)||24,298 (0.9%)|
|Aguls||7,653 (1.0%)||6,378 (0.6%)||8,644 (0.6%)||11,459 (0.7%)||13,791 (0.8%)||23,314 (0.9%)|
|Tsakhurs||3,531 (0.4%)||4,278 (0.4%)||4,309 (0.3%)||4,560 (0.3%)||5,194 (0.3%)||8,168 (0.3%)|
|Kumyks||87,960 (11.2%)||100,053 (10.8%)||120,859 (11.4%)||169,019 (11.8%)||202,297 (12.4%)||231,805 (12.9%)||365,804 (14.2%)|
|Nogais||26,086 (3.3%)||4,677 (0.5%)||14,939 (1.4%)||21,750 (1.5%)||24,977 (1.5%)||28,294 (1.6%)||38,168 (1.5%)|
|Russians||98,197 (12.5%)||132,952 (14.3%)||213,754 (20.1%)||209,570 (14.7%)||189,474 (11.6%)||165,940 (9.2%)||120,875 (4.7%)|
|Azeris||23,428 (3.0%)||31,141 (3.3%)||38,224 (3.6%)||54,403 (3.8%)||64,514 (4.0%)||75,463 (4.2%)||111,656 (4.3%)|
|Chechens||21,851 (2.8%)||26,419 (2.8%)||12,798 (1.2%)||39,965 (2.8%)||49,227 (3.0%)||57,877 (3.2%)||87,867 (3.4%)|
|Others||43,861 (5.6%)||52,031 (5.6%)||61,495 (5.8%)||63,787 (4.5%)||57,892 (3.6%)||58,113 (3.2%)||25,835 (1.0%)|
There are also forty or so tiny groups such as the Hinukh, numbering 200, or the Akhwakh, who are members of a complex family of indigenous Caucasians. Notable are also the Hunzib or Khunzal people who live in only four towns in the interior.
The oldest records about the region refer to the state of Caucasian Albania in the south, with its capital at Derbent and other important centres at Chola, Toprakh Qala, and Urtseki. The northern parts were held by a confederation of pagan tribes. In the first few centuries AD, Caucasian Albania continued to rule over what is present day Azerbaijan and the area occupied by the present day Lezghians. It was fought over in classical times by Rome and the Persian Sassanids and was early converted to Christianity.
In the fifth century AD, the Sassanids gained the upper hand and constructed a strong citadel at Derbent, known henceforward as the Caspian Gates, while the northern part of Dagestan was overrun by the Huns, followed by the Caucasian Avars. It is not clear whether the latter were instrumental in the rise of the Christian kingdom in Central Dagestan highlands. Known as Sarir, this Avar-dominated state maintained a precarious existence in the shadow of Khazaria and the Caliphate until the ninth century, when it managed to assert its supremacy in the region.
In 664, the Persians were succeeded in Derbent by the Arabs who clashed with the Khazars over control of Dagestan. Although the local population rose against the Arabs of Derbent in 905 and 913, Islam was eventually adopted in urban centres, such as Samandar and Kubachi (Zerechgeran), from where it steadily penetrated into the highlands. By the 15th century, Albanian Christianity had died away, leaving a tenth-century church at Datuna as the sole monument to its existence.
Due to Muslim pressure and internal disunity, Sarir disintegrated in the early twelfth century, giving way to the Khanate of Avaristan, a long-lived Muslim state which relied on the alliance with the Golden Horde and braved the devastating Mongol invasions of 1222 and 1239, followed by Tamerlane's raid in 1389.
As the Mongol authority gradually eroded, new centres of power emerged in Kaitagi and Tarki. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, legal traditions were codified, mountainous communities (djamaats) obtained a considerable degree of autonomy, while the Kumyk potentates (shamhals) asked for the Tsar's protection. Russians intensified their hold in the region in the eighteenth century, when Peter the Great annexed maritime Dagestan in the course of the First Russo-Persian War. Although the territories were returned to Persia in 1735, the next bout of hostilities resulted in the Russian capture of Derbent in 1796.
The eighteenth century also saw the resurgence of the Khanate of Avaristan, which managed to repulse the attacks of Nadir Shah of Persia and impose tribute on Shirvan and Georgia. In 1803 the khanate voluntarily submitted to Russian authority, but it took Persia a decade to recognize all of Dagestan as the Russian possession (Treaty of Gulistan).
The Russian administration, however, disappointed and embittered the highlanders. The institution of heavy taxation, coupled with the expropriation of estates and the construction of fortresses (including Makhachkala), electrified highlanders into rising under the aegis of the Muslim Imamate of Dagestan, led by Ghazi Mohammed (1828-32), Gamzat-bek (1832-34) and Shamil (1834-59). This Caucasian War raged until 1864, when Shamil was captured and the Khanate of Avaristan was abolished.
Dagestan and Chechnya profited from the Russo-Turkish War, 1877-1878, to rise against Imperial Russia for the last time. During the Russian Civil War, the region became part of the short-lived Republic of the Mountaineers of the North Caucasus. After more than three years of fighting White movement reactionaries and local nationalists, the Dagestan Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was proclaimed on 20 January 1921. Nevertheless, Stalin's industrialization largely bypassed Dagestan and the economy stagnated, making the republic the poorest region in Russia.
In 1999, a group of Muslim fundamentalists from Chechnya under Shamil Basayev, together with local converts and exiles from the 1998 uprising attempt, staged an abortive insurrection in Dagestan in which hundreds of combatants and civilians died. Russian forces subsequently reinvaded Chechnya later that year.
More recently, among other incidents:
According to the Constitution of Dagestan, the highest executive authority lies with the State Council, comprising representatives of fourteen ethnicities. The members of the State Council are appointed by the Constitutional Assembly of Dagestan for a term of four years. The State Council appoints the members of the Government.
Formerly, the Chairman of the State Council was the highest executive post in the republic, held by Magomedali Magomedovich Magomedov until 2006. On February 20, 2006, the People's Assembly passed a resolution terminating this post and disbanding the State Council. Russian President Vladimir Putin offered the People's Assembly the candidature of Mukhu Aliyev for the newly established post of the President of Dagestan. The nomination was accepted by the People's Assembly, and Mukhu Aliyev became the first President of Dagestan.
As of 2000, the economy of Dagestan consisted of the following sectors:
Important industries include food processing, power generation, oil drilling, machine building, chemicals, and instrument making. Dagestan's major exports are oil and fuel. Important agricultural products include fish from the Caspian Sea, wine and brandy, and various garden fruits.
As with much of the Caucasus region, Dagestan's native Islam consists of Sunni Sufi orders that have been in place for centuries. Resul Magomedov, who is a contemporary writer of Daghestan, writes about the unifying role of Islam: “Before Islam, all Daghestan tribes were divided in respect of language, religion, ethnic structure and geography like all other Caucasian peoples. This situation caused severe hostility and conflicts. After all native tribes became Muslims, a unity in belief could be sustained among Daghestan tribes which also stopped ethnic conflicts among them. If these conflicts continued, our homeland would face great disasters. This unity could only be established by medressehs spread out all the country. The scientists, scholars, imams graduated from these medressehs had an important role in stopping these conflicts in this multinational region and they helped tribes to establish friendly relations. Islam should also serve such a goal today.”