A Deeper Look At The Anti-Semitic Mob At The Dagestan Airport
Was it a pogrom? Could it happen again? Vazhnyye Istorii looks at the recent history, ethnic makeup and politics of the Russian Republic.
The scenes were captured on video last Sunday: hundreds of rioters storming Dagestan’s main airport to protest against the arrival of a flight from Israel amid its war in Gaza.
This tumultuous event unfolded in the capital of Makhachkala, a city characterized by a volatile blend of factors: poverty combined with a high proportion of young people, a culture predisposed to aggressive conflict resolution and a willingness to engage in rallies, a diverse and multinational population that includes a large Islamic presence, and a public perception of law enforcement as weak and indecisive.
This potent combination culminated in a situation where anti-Israeli propaganda served as the catalyst for an explosive outburst.
Dagestan is situated in the volatile Caucasus region, known for its multi-ethnic makeup, diverse faiths and languages, as well as a complex web of customary and Islamic laws. Poverty and a youthful demographic exacerbate these challenges, with crumbling infrastructure, high unemployment, and lower incomes compared to the national average. This combination creates a precarious environment, ripe for radical ideologies to find footholds.
What sets Dagestan apart from other regions in Russia is its enduring culture of grassroots political activism, a rarity in the modern Russian landscape. This was evident when the region witnessed substantial protests against mobilization since the start of the war in Ukraine. The inclination to resort to force when dealing with disputes is deeply ingrained in the local culture, albeit with mixed success.
Role of Russian state media
The strong condemnation of "Israeli aggression" in Russian state media made it clear that holding a rally was both possible and necessary. Protests supporting the people of Gaza were taking place worldwide, including Europe and the U.S., with particularly widespread demonstrations in Muslim countries. These demonstrations were considered legitimate as long as they remained non-violent.
As a result, the residents of Makhachkala also had the right to organize their pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli rally. While organizing spontaneous rallies in Russia can be challenging, in Dagestan, they continue for various reasons, and the intense Russian media condemnation of "Israeli aggression" reinforced the idea that such a rally was acceptable.
As a result, the Muslims in Dagestan, prompted by information about the conflict in Gaza and global demonstrations in support of Palestinian Muslims, decided to stage their own rally. The crowd headed to the airport, knowing that flights regularly arrived from Tel Aviv, and aimed to express their dissatisfaction with Israel and the Israelis on those flights who were believed (falsely) to be seeking refuge in Dagestan. At this point, the situation was unfolding abruptly and spontaneously but remained peaceful.
Subsequently, the situation took on distinctly Dagestani and Russian characteristics.
Despite the relatively small number of participants, estimated at less than 3,000 according to media reports, the rally consisted primarily of young men - women, traditionally, do not attend such events. As the rally continued, the crowd grew restless, realizing that merely standing and shouting was growing tedious. It was at this point that they decided to escalate, venturing toward the airfield with a display of anger.
Though the situation came perilously close to disaster, there were no serious injuries.
A local man holds up a sign with a message reading ''We Are Against Jewish Refugees'' during a pro-Palestinian rally at the Makhachkala Airport
The Russian character of this incident was marked by a significant failure of law enforcement agencies. Even though anti-Semitic incidents had occurred in Khasavyurt, Cherkessk, and Nalchik just two days earlier, the Dagestani security forces were not on high alert. In a situation like the one at the Makhachkala airport, where a rally was taking place, the area should have been secured by the police, forming barriers to deter any activities beyond standing and shouting.
The events did not amount to a full-scale "pogrom," even if it was characterized by anti-Semitic rage.
Instead, the authorities were slow to respond Sunday, issuing loud statements without giving clear commands, allowing the situation to devolve and become more and more violent.
The events did not amount to a full-scale "pogrom," as some have called it, even if it was characterized by anti-Semitic rage. In such a situation, individuals go from house to house causing large-scale destruction. This was more a case of public disorder or hooliganism.
Indeed, it is unlikely that large-scale systemic anti-Semitic violence will occur in this region. The Caucasus remains strongly tied to tradition, built over years of mutual assistance and hospitality. In the event that individuals attempted a pogrom, neighbors, regardless of their religious or ethnic background, would likely come to the aid of the targeted peoples. Community and neighborhood identities play a significant role in this dynamic, and those intending to incite and inflict violence would likely be aware of this.
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