dagestani avars

*update below*

just a reminder that, while the boston bombers — the tsarnaev brothers — are chechen, they are also avars (on their mother’s side). not that that should make too much difference as far as the tsarnaevs being clannish, since the avars are clannish, too.

there are only ca. three million people in dagestan and yet there are several dozen ethnic groups there, one of which is the avars. and then the avars, in turn, are further subdivded in 15+ sub-ethnic groups (who knows which one mrs. tsarnaev comes from), which are further subdivided into tribes (tukkhums), clans (teips), extended families and so on. THIS is a clannish society.

from The Ghost of Freedom: A History of the Caucasus (2008) [pg. 10 – links added by me]:

The Chechens are now considered exemplary of the mountaineers’ historic resistance to Russian rule, but that repuation is only partly deserved. People who lived much higher in the mountains — the Svans and Khevsurs of northern Georgia, for example — were generally the most antipathetic to outsiders; their religious practices, infused with animist beliefs, set them farthest apart from their Christian and Muslim neighbors. The real engine of the highlander uprisings of the nineteenth century lay farther to the east, in Dagestan. The very name of the region — literally ‘the mountainous land’ — is evidence of its central geographical feature: mountains and plateaus cut by fast-flowing rivers. A congeries of distinct languages and customs has long been characteristic of the area, with social ties formed along lines of clans, extended families, and village groupings. The major ethnic groups — the Avars, Dargins, Kumyks, and Lezgins, among others, with none accounting for more than 30 percent of the population — today represent the dominant factions in Dagestan’s precarious balance of regional, ethnic, and clan interests.”

we hear a similar message about the dagestanis (and also learn some more about the chechens) in The Insurgency in Chechnya and the North Caucasus: From Gazavat to Jihad (2010) [pgs. 72-73 – links added by me]:

“Research on the *wirds* and *teips* (clans and families) of the Chechens is difficult to collect and the findings generally frustrate the Western desire for order and clarity. But what this research has demonstrated by its inability to draw straight lines is that *there aren’t straight lines* and the Chechen and Dagestani (or Ingush, Kabard, and Balkarian among others) cultures are not vertical structures, or ‘power verticals’ to use the current Russian vernacular. The Muslim faith is a relatively flat hierarchy to begin with, but by looking at the mountaineer culture and its imposition of yet another layer of clan hierarchy on top of the religious one, it is easy to understand why the Caucasians have so much success at insurgent warfare. North Caucasus social structures are perfect for conducting guerilla and terrorist activity because their societies are already a culture of ‘cells,’ and as we’ve seen, cellular organizations with a high degree of loyalty are paramount to insurgencies. Because familial loyalty sometimes trumps religious authority, and because those same clan are often competing among themselves for status and hegemony, those societal ‘fractures’ were — and still are — exploited by the Russians….

“This particular characteristic of Caucasus culture is what gives it strength as an insurgency and yet ultimately keeps it weak when it comes time to make the final move toward independence.[24]”

“[24] Although Chechnya has been the primary focus of this book thus far, the Dagestanis have been as much a part of this conflict as anyone else. As of this writing, there are more attacks taking place in Dagestan than in Chechnya. The internal dynamics of Dagestan are even more fractured than Chechnya. Aside from the religious and family aspects, Dagestan is made up of more than 13 different ethnic groups — of which the Avars, Dargins, and Lezgins still comprise less than 60 percent of the population. In addition, there are Laks, Tabasarans, Rutuls, Aguls, Tsakhurs, Kumyks, Nogais, Azeris, Chechens, and Russians, and another 40 or so tiny groups numbering only about 200 total — and they all speak their own language — making Chechnya and its Vainakh cousin Ingushetia look downright homogenous.

clannishness is a strength. and at the same time, clannishness is a weakness.

and that quote about north caucasus social structures being perfect for basing insurgencies upon merits repeating:

“North Caucasus social structures are perfect for conducting guerilla and terrorist activity because their societies are already a culture of ‘cells,’ and as we’ve seen, cellular organizations with a high degree of loyalty are paramount to insurgencies.”


dagestan is a mess, and the russians have had to invest heavily in security there. Russia’s Battle with Crime, Corruption and Terrorism (2008) [pgs. 163-165 – links added by me]:

“[T]he personnel strength of the law-enforcement and security task forces in Dagestan was amongst the highest nationwide. The Interior Ministry’s personnel in Dagestan totals 25,000, meaning there is one policeman for every 100 citizens — one of the highest concentrations of policemen in Russia. Dagestan is also the only Russian region that has a specialized department to fight religious extremism within the local branch of the Interior Ministry.

“Information about the number of security officers in the republic is not publically available, but judging by media reports about anti-terrorist and anti-extremist activities in Dagestan, one can presume that the local branch of the FSB is well equipped in terms of manpower and resources. Local agents are reinforced by investigative teams sent on missions from other regional branches of the FSB. The republic is also home to four military brigades and several untis of the Federal Border Guard Service, which are stationed at the borders with Azerbaijan and Georgia in the south and southwest of the republic….

“Dagestani law-enforcement officers are overwhelmingly recruited locally and are active participants in power struggles among local clans and ethnic groups. This circumstance may be a contributing factor in perpetuating the assassination campaign, as the strongest political players in Dagestan may not be interested in pursuing a consolidated campgaign against the attackers, but would prefer to exploit the assassinations for their own political benefit….”

this part might be relevant to the boston bombing:

“In September 1999, Dagestan became the first Russian region to enacts its own law designed to fight religious and other forms of extremism. The republic’s parliament passed the law, entitled ‘On Countering Wahhabism and Other Extremist Activity,’ shortly after Islamist militants led by Shamil Basayev invaded Dagestan from the territory of the then independent Chechnya….

“Dagestan’s anti-extremism law provided a pretext for massive crackdowns by the republic’s law-enforcement agencies on practicing Muslims, and these routinely ended with extortion and abuses. The law also allowed police to detain individuals on such charges as possession of ‘extremist’ literature. These and other actions by the authorities have obstructed freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly in Dagestan.

“As attacks against government targets rose, law-enforcement gradually widened the scop of its crackdown to target Muslims who preached individually. This move backfired, with dozens of abused young Muslim men joining anti-goverment insurgent groups or creating their own….”


“[T]he right of citizens to equal access to the civil service cannot be realized in Dagestan, since existing legislation and tacit agreements among the republic’s elite have put control of state jobs firmly in the hands of local clans and even failed to ensure rotation of the representatives of ethnic groups in these posts as had been required by the previous version of Dagestan’s Constitution.

“These legal provisions served to keep several clans — dominating all three branches of power — at the helm in Dagestan, and these groups have a deep vested interest in preserving the status quo.”

clannishness is a weakness.

dagestanis marry their cousins more regularly than chechens (chechens really do not, except perhaps for maternal third cousins). i’m not sure if this includes the avars or not. further research is required.

from Potentials of Disorder: Explaining Conflict and Stability in the Caucasus (2003) [pg. 120]:

“Evidence of the deep differences between Dagestanis and Chechens in the organisation of life is that among Dagestanis it is permissible and even encouraged for cousins to marry, whereas Chechens are still categorically opposed to marriages even with the same *teip*, i.e. between relatives through the father’s line, the unity of which can be traced deep into antiquity, over the distance of ten-fifteen generations; there cannot be marital relations as they are still considered ‘brother’ and ‘sister’.”

and from Cultures of the World: Dagestan [pgs. 70=71]:

“In most ethnic groups, people married inside their clan and, very often, they married their cousins….

“These traditions have gradually begun to change. More and more often, young people find partners of their own choosing, and marrying within one’s own ethnic group or clan has become less of a social or economic imperative. Although some people still prefer to subscribe to this once traditional pattern, inter-ethnic marriages are common in the republic’s cities. While Dagestani women usually marry men from other Dagestani ethnic groups, Dagestani men more and more often marry Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian women.”

update: stealin’ this from anatoly — a tweet from the younger tsarnaev brother (notice the hashtags):

jahar tweet

for more on the avars see One Europe, many nations: a historical dictionary of European national groups, pg. 67+.

see also: Parallel Evolution of Genes and Languages in the Caucasus Region

previously: those clannish chechens and random notes: 04/22/13

(note: comments do not require an email. avar guy.)



  1. @hbd chick

    Viz my last comment on your “random notes” (04/22/13) I mentioned a *study* I’m prohibited from linking. I would note your first link:

    “Hunt for Boston Clues Reveals Tangled Caucasus Web”

    is an understatement (for the majority of Americans) to the nth degree. And while this I’m pasting below isn’t likely “the stuff of hbd” – it should shine some light on why that Tangled Caucasus Web is more tangled than most appreciate:

    America's Need for a Stronger Partnership with Azerbaijan is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

    There has been as I’m sure you’ve noted, much speculation as to “Why might Russia be advising the FBI to take a look at ‘black hat’ and check him out” – something to consider is the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi.


  2. “not that that should make too much difference as far as the tsarnaevs being clannish, since the avars are clannish, too.”

    So I take it inbred line + different inbred line = still inbred?


  3. @yultuth – “So I take it inbred line + different inbred line = still inbred?”

    well, the thinking is … my thinking is … IF a population can acquire extra amounts of “genes for crazy altruism” with the help of long-term inbreeding, then if you breed across two such populations, you’ll just be exchanging “genes for crazy altruism.”

    possible examples of this that i’ve mentioned previously (buried in comments somewhere): 1) southern spaniards settling in mexico/latin america, 2) vikings settling in medieval scotland/ireland.

    none of these are outbreeding wrt altruism. they are outbreeding, but they’re not the long-term outbreeding + selection for “genes for extra-familial altruism” (or whatever you want to call it) like you had in northwestern, “core” europe starting in the medieval period and onwards.



  4. ““This particular characteristic of Caucasus culture is what gives it strength as an insurgency and yet ultimately keeps it weak when it comes time to make the final move toward independence.[24]“

    Which would be why historically it takes particularly charismatic individuals to hold populations like this together.


  5. Yultuth
    “So I take it inbred line + different inbred line = still inbred?”

    Personally i think there’s a danger here of conflating two inter-connected but not entirely correlated factors.

    1) A violent environment will select for traits that are useful in violence.
    2) Clannish environments select for traits that are useful for clannishness.

    Clannish environments are *also* often violent environments and some of the traits overlap e.g. clannish group-centredness helps in clan-based violence, but the two sets of traits are different. In some environments you might have the clannishness without the violence and in others the violence without the clannishness*.

    Both sets of factors are relevant in discussing the political situation in the Caucasus but they may not *both* be as directly relevant to the brothers. I think the violent traits will be but the clannishness maybe not, except…

    If they were 100% Chechen or 100% Dagestani would they have joined their ethnic mafia instead of going down the religious route?

    Just a thought but i wonder if there’s a correlation between the jihadists and mixed marriages (mixed in Caucasian terms i.e. the next village) because they feel they don’t belong so they jump into the local non-clan-based identity.


  6. “In some environments you might have the clannishness without the violence and in others the violence without the clannishness*.”

    For example Bangladeshis are very clannish but not noticably violent (except where it comes to the social control of women) whereas West Indians are noticably violent but not clannish at all – nationalistic maybe but not clannish.

    I assume the Bangladeshis *were* both once but got the violent traits pacified out of them in the usual way for lowland agriculturists.

    I assume West Indians were clannish once also but they were forcibly outbred by slavery in a similar way to all those Roman slaves from so many different places.


  7. @skincolour – “so are the Tsarnaev brother’s White?”

    well, i go by the old definition of white (check your oed) and that is the european race typified (amongst other features) by having light colored skin.

    since the caucasus region is right on the border of europe and (south) asia, the peoples of this region must be in the border zone, too. races (and other population categories) have fuzzy borders, so the chechens and the peoples of dagestan are in the fuzzy border.

    are the tsarnaev brothers white? probably partly — maybe even mostly. i dunno. possibly/probably partly asian (turkic?), too. i’m not sure ’cause i’ve never looked closely into the genetics of the region — which looks complicated [pdf]. if you can figure it out, let me know!

    in any case, i don’t think the race of these guys matters that much. what matters more is that they’re chechens/avars, both of which are tempermental, clannish peoples.


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