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Viewing cable 06MOSCOW9533, A CAUCASUS WEDDING

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Reference ID Date Classification Origin
06MOSCOW9533 2006-08-31 06:06 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow
DE RUEHMO #9533/01 2430639
P 310639Z AUG 06
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 MOSCOW 009533 



E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/30/2016 

Classified By: Deputy Chief of Mission Daniel A. Russell. Reason 1.4 ( 
b, d) 


1. (C) Weddings are elaborate in Dagestan, the largest 
autonomy in the North Caucasus. On August 22 we attended a 
wedding in Makhachkala, Dagestan’s capital: Duma member and 
Dagestan Oil Company chief Gadzhi Makhachev’s son married a 
classmate. The lavish display and heavy drinking concealed 
the deadly serious North Caucasus politics of land, 
ethnicity, clan, and alliance. The guest list spanned the 
Caucasus power structure -- guest starring Chechen leader 
Ramzan Kadyrov -- and underlined just how personal the 
region’s politics can be. End Summary. 

2. (C) Dagestani weddings are serious business: a forum for 
showing respect, fealty and alliance among families; the 
bride and groom themselves are little more than showpieces. 
Weddings take place in discrete parts over three days. On 
the first day the groom’s family and the bride’s family 
simultaneously hold separate receptions. During the 
receptions the groom leads a delegation to the bride’s 
reception and escorts her back to his own reception, at which 
point she formally becomes a member of the groom’s family, 
forsaking her old family and clan. The next day, the groom’s 
parents hold another reception, this time for the bride’s 
family and friends, who can “inspect” the family they have 
given their daughter to. On the third day, the bride’s 
family holds a reception for the groom’s parents and family. 

Father of the Groom 

3. (C) On August 22, Gadzhi Makhachev married off his 19 
year-old son Dalgat to Aida Sharipova. The wedding in 
Makhachkala, which we attended, was a microcosm of the social 
and political relations of the North Caucasus, beginning with 
Gadzhi’s own biography. Gadzhi started off as an Avar clan 
leader. Enver Kisriyev, the leading scholar of Dagestani 
society, told us that as Soviet power receded from Dagestan 
in the late 1980s, the complex society fell back to its 
pre-Russian structure. The basic structural unit is the 
monoethnic “jamaat,” in this usage best translated as 
”canton” or “commune.” The ethnic groups themselves are a 
Russian construct: faced with hundreds of jamaats, the 19th 
century Russian conquerors lumped cantons speaking related 
dialects together and called them “Avar,” “Dargin,” etc. to 
reduce the number of “nationalities” in Dagestan to 38. Ever 
since then, jamaats within each ethnic group have been 
competing with one another to lead the ethnic group. This 
competition is especially marked among the Avars, the largest 
nationality in Dagestan. 

4. (C) As Russian power faded, each canton fielded a militia 
to defend its people both in the mountains and the capital 
Makhachkala. Gadzhi became the leader from his home canton 
of Burtunay, in Kazbek Rayon. He later asserted pan-Avar 
ambitions, founding the Imam Shamil Popular Front -- named 
after the great Avar leader of mountaineer resistance to the 
Russians -- to promote the interests of the Avars and of 
Burtunay’s role within the ethnic group. Among his exploits 
was a role in the military defense of Dagestan against the 
1999 invasion from Chechnya by Shamil Basayev and al-Khattab, 
and his political defense of Avar villages under pressure in 
Chechnya, Georgia and Azerbaijan. 

5. (C) Gadzhi has cashed in the social capital he made from 
nationalism, translating it into financial and political 
capital -- as head of Dagestan’s state oil company and as the 
single-mandate representative for Makhachkala in Russia’s 
State Duma. His dealings in the oil business -- including 
close cooperation with U.S. firms -- have left him well off 
enough to afford luxurious houses in Makhachkala, Kaspiysk, 
Moscow, Paris and San Diego; and a large collection of luxury 
automobiles, including the Rolls Royce Silver Phantom in 
which Dalgat fetched Aida from her parents’ reception. 
(Gadzhi gave us a lift in the Rolls once in Moscow, but the 
legroom was somewhat constricted by the presence of a 
Kalashnikov carbine at our feet. Gadzhi has survived 
numerous assassination attempts, as have most of the 
still-living leaders of Dagestan. In Dagestan he always 
travels in an armored BMW with one, sometimes two follow cars 
full of uniformed armed guards.) 

6. (C) Gadzhi has gone beyond his Avar base, pursuing a 
multi-ethnic cadre policy to develop a network of loyalists. 
He has sent Dagestani youths, including his sons, to a 
military type high school near San Diego (we met one 
graduate, a Jewish boy from Derbent now studying at San Diego 
state. He has no plans to enter the Russian military). 

MOSCOW 00009533 002 OF 005 

Gadzhi’s multi-ethnic reach illustrates what the editor of 
the Dagestani paper “Chernovik” told us: that in the last 
few years the development of inter-ethnic business clans has 
eroded traditional jamaat loyalties. 

7. (C) But the Avar symbolism is still strong. Gadzhi’s 
brother, an artist from St. Petersburg, ordered as a wedding 
gift a life-sized statue of Imam Shamil. Shamil is the 
iconic national symbol, despite his stern and inflexible 
character (portrayed in Tolstoy’s “Hadji-Murat” as the 
mountaineers’ tyrannical counterpart to the absolutist Tsar). 
Connection with Shamil makes for nobility among Avars today. 
Gadzhi often mentions that he is a descendant on his 
mother’s side of Gair-Bek, one of Shamil’s deputies. 

The Day Before 

8. (C) Gadzhi’s Kaspiysk summer house is an enormous 
structure on the shore of the Caspian, essentially a huge 
circular reception room -- much like a large restaurant -- 
attached to a 40-meter high green airport tower on columns, 
accessible only by elevator, with a couple of bedrooms, a 
reception room, and a grotto whose glass floor was the roof 
of a huge fish tank. The heavily guarded compound also 
boasts a second house, outbuildings, a tennis court, and two 
piers out into the Caspian, one rigged with block and tackle 
for launching jet skis. The house filled up with visitors 
from all over the Caucasus during the afternoon of August 21. 
The Chair of Ingushetia’s parliament drove in with two 
colleagues; visitors from Moscow included politicians, 
businessmen and an Avar football coach. Many of the visitors 
grew up with Gadzhi in Khasavyurt, including an Ingush 
Olympic wrestler named Vakha who seemed to be perpetually 
tipsy. Another group of Gadzhi’s boyhood friends from 
Khasavyurt was led by a man who looked like Shamil Basayev on 
his day off -- flip-flops, t-shirt, baseball cap, beard -- 
but turned out to be the chief rabbi of Stavropol Kray. He 
told us he has 12,000 co-religionists in the province, 8,000 
of them in its capital, Pyatigorsk. 70 percent are, like 
him, Persian-speaking Mountain Jews; the rest are a mixture 
of Europeans, Georgians and Bukharans. 

9. (C) Also present was XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX. He was reserved at the time, but in a 
follow-up conversation in Moscow on August 29 (please 
protect) he complained that Chechnya, lacking experts to 
develop programs for economic recovery, is simply demanding 
and disposing of cash from the central government. When we 
pressed him on disappearances, he admitted some took place, 
but claimed that often parents alleged their children had 
been abducted when in fact their sons had run off to join the 
fighters or -- in a case the week before -- they had murdered 
their daughter in an honor killing. We mentioned the 
abduction of a widow of Basayev, allegedly to gain access to 
his money. XXXXXX said he had not heard of the case, but 
knew that Basayev had had no interest in wealth; he may have 
been a religious fanatic, but he was a “normal” person. The 
fighters who remain are not a serious military force, in XXXXX view, and many would surrender under the proper 
terms and immunities. He himself is arranging the immunity 
of a senior official of the Maskhadov era, whose name he 
would not reveal. 

10. (C) During lunch, Gadzhi took a congratulatory call from 
Dagestan’s president, Mukhu Aliyev. Gadzhi told Aliyev how 
honored he would be if Aliyev could drop in at the wedding 
reception. There was a degree of tension in the 
conversation, which was between two figures each implicitly 
claiming the mantle of leadership of the Avars. In the 
event, Aliyev snubbed Gadzhi and did not show up for the 
wedding, though the rest of Dagestan’s political leadership 

11. (C) Though Gadzhi’s house was not the venue for the main 
wedding reception, he ensured that all his guests were 
constantly plied with food and drink. The cooks seemed to 
keep whole sheep and whole cows boiling in a cauldron 
somewhere day and night, dumping disjointed fragments of the 
carcass on the tables whenever someone entered the room. 
Gadzhi’s two chefs kept a wide variety of unusual dishes in 
circulation (in addition to the omnipresent boiled meat and 
fatty bouillon). The alcohol consumption before, during and 
after this Muslim wedding was stupendous. Amidst an alcohol 
shortage, Gadzhi had flown in from the Urals thousands of 
bottles of Beluga Export vodka (“Best consumed with caviar”). 
There was also entertainment, beginning even that day, with 
the big-name performers appearing both at the wedding hall 
and at Gadzhi’s summer house. Gadzhi’s main act, a 
Syrian-born singer named Avraam Russo, could not make it 
because he was shot a few days before the wedding, but there 

MOSCOW 00009533 003 OF 005 

was a “gypsy” troupe from St. Petersburg, a couple of Azeri 
pop stars, and from Moscow, Benya the Accordion King with his 
family of singers. A host of local bands, singing in Avar 
and Dargin, rounded out the entertainment, which was constant 
and extremely amplified. 

10. (C) The main activity of the day was eating and drinking 
-- starting from 4 p.m., about eight hours worth, all told -- 
punctuated, when all were laden with food and sodden with 
drink, with a bout of jet skiing in the Caspian. After 
dinner, though, the first band started an informal 
performance -- drums, accordion and clarinet playing the 
lezginka, the universal dance of the Caucasus. To the 
uninitiated Westerner, the music sounds like an 
undifferentiated wall of sound. This was a signal for 
dancing: one by one, each of the dramatically paunchy men 
(there were no women present) would enter the arena and 
exhibit his personal lezginka for the limit of his duration, 
usually 30 seconds to a minute. Each ethnic group’s lezginka 
was different -- the Dagestani lezginka the most energetic, 
the Chechen the most aggressive and belligerent, and the 
Ingush smoother. 

Wedding Day 1 

11. (C) An hour before the wedding reception was set to begin 
the “Marrakech” reception hall was full of guests -- men 
taking the air outside and women already filling a number of 
the tables inside, older ones with headscarves chaperoning 
dozens of teenaged girls. A Dagestani parliamentarian 
explained that weddings are a principal venue for teenagers 
-- and more importantly their parents -- to get a look at one 
another with a view to future matches. Security was tight -- 
police presence on the ground plus police snipers positioned 
on the roof of an overlooking apartment block. Gadzhi even 
assigned one of his guards as our personal bodyguard inside 
the reception. The manager told Gadzhi there were seats for 
over a thousand guests at a time. At the height of the 
reception, it was standing room only. 

12. (C) At precisely two p.m. the male guests started filing 
in. They varied from pols and oligarchs of all sorts -- the 
slick to the Jurassic; wizened brown peasants from Burtunay; 
and Dagestan’s sports and cultural celebrities XXXXXXX presided over a political table in the smaller of 
the two halls (the music was in the other) along with Vakha 
the drunken wrestler, the Ingush parliamentarians, a member 
of the Federation Council who is also a nanophysicist and has 
lectured in Silicon Valley, and Gadzhi’s cousin Ismail 
Alibekov, a submariner first rank naval captain now serving 
at the General Staff in Moscow. The Dagestani milieu appears 
to be one in which the highly educated and the gun-toting can 
mix easily -- often in the same person. 

13. (C) After a couple of hours Dalgat’s convoy returned with 
Aida, horns honking. Dalgat and Aida got out of the Rolls 
and were serenaded into the hall, and into the Makhachev 
family, by a boys’ chorus lining both sides of the red 
carpet, dressed in costumes aping medieval Dagestani armor 
with little shields and swords. The couple’s entry was the 
signal for the emcee to roll into high gear, and after a few 
toasts the Piter “gypsies” began their performance. (The 
next day one of Gadzhi’s houseguests sneered, “Some gypsies! 
The bandleader was certainly Jewish, and the rest of them 
were blonde.” There was some truth to this, but at least the 
two dancing girls appeared to be Roma.) 

14. (C) As the bands played, the marriageable girls came out 
to dance the lezginka in what looked like a slowly revolving 
conga line while the boys sat together at tables staring 
intently. The boys were all in white shirts and black 
slacks, while the girls wore a wide variety of multicolored 
but fashionable cocktail dresses. Every so often someone 
would shower the dancers with money -- there were some 
thousand ruble notes but the currency of choice was the U.S. 
hundred dollar bill. The floor was covered with them; young 
children would scoop the money up to distribute among the 

15. (C) Gadzhi was locked into his role as host. He greeted 
every guest personally as they entered the hall -- failure to 
do so would cause great insult -- and later moved constantly 
from table to table drinking toasts with everyone. The 120 
toasts he estimated he drank would have killed anyone, 
hardened drinker or not, but Gadzhi had his Afghan waiter 
Khan following him around to pour his drinks from a special 
vodka bottle containing water. Still, he was much the worse 
for wear by evening’s end. At one point we caught up with 
him dancing with two scantily clad Russian women who looked 
far from home. One, it turned out was a Moscow poet (later 
she recited an incomprehensible poem in Gadzhi’s honor) who 

MOSCOW 00009533 004 OF 005 

was in town with a film director to write the screenplay for 
a film immortalizing Gadzhi’s defense of Dagestan against 
Shamil Basayev. By 6 p.m. most of the houseguests had 
returned to Gadzhi’s seaside home for more swimming and more 
jet-skiing-under-the-influence. But by 8 the summer house’s 
restaurant was full once more, the food and drink were 
flowing, the name performers were giving acoustic renditions 
of the songs they had sung at the reception, and some 
stupendously fat guests were displaying their lezginkas for 
the benefit of the two visiting Russian women, who had 
wandered over from the reception. 

The Wedding -- Day 2: Enter The Man 

16. (C) The next day’s reception at the Marrakech was 
Gadzhi’s tribute to Aida’s family, after which we all 
returned to a dinner at Gadzhi’s summer home. Most of the 
tables were set with the usual dishes plus whole roast 
sturgeons and sheep. But at 8:00 p.m. the compound was 
invaded by dozens of heavily armed mujahedin for the grand 
entrance of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, dressed in jeans 
and a t-shirt, looking shorter and less muscular than in his 
photos, and with a somewhat cock-eyed expression on his face. 
After greetings from Gadzhi, Ramzan and about 20 of his 
retinue sat around the tables eating and listening to Benya 
the Accordion King. Gadzhi then announced a fireworks 
display in honor of the birthday of Ramzan’s late father, 
Ahmat-Hadji Kadyrov. The fireworks started with a bang that 
made both Gadzhi and Ramzan flinch. Gadzhi had from the 
beginning requested that none of his guests, most of whom 
carried sidearms, fire their weapons in celebration. 
Throughout the wedding they complied, not even joining in the 
magnificent fireworks display. 

17. (C) After the fireworks, the musicians struck up the 
lezginka in the courtyard and a group of two girls and three 
boys -- one no more than six years old -- performed gymnastic 
versions of the dance. First Gadzhi joined them and then 
Ramzan, who danced clumsily with his gold-plated automatic 
stuck down in the back of his jeans (a houseguest later 
pointed out that the gold housing eliminated any practical 
use of the gun, but smirked that Ramzan probably couldn’t 
fire it anyway). Both Gadzhi and Ramzan showered the dancing 
children with hundred dollar bills; the dancers probably 
picked upwards of USD 5000 off the cobblestones. Gadzhi told 
us later that Ramzan had brought the happy couple “a five 
kilo lump of gold” as his wedding present. After the dancing 
and a quick tour of the premises, Ramzan and his army drove 
off back to Chechnya. We asked why Ramzan did not spend the 
night in Makhachkala, and were told, “Ramzan never spends the 
night anywhere.” 

18. (C) After Ramzan sped off, the dinner and drinking -- 
especially the latter -- continued. An Avar FSB colonel 
sitting next to us, dead drunk, was highly insulted that we 
would not allow him to add “cognac” to our wine. “It’s 
practically the same thing,” he insisted, until a Russian FSB 
general sitting opposite told him to drop it. We were 
inclined to cut the Colonel some slack, though: he is head 
of the unit to combat terrorism in Dagestan, and Gadzhi told 
us that extremists have sooner or later assassinated everyone 
who has joined that unit. We were more worried when an 
Afghan war buddy of the Colonel’s, Rector of the Dagestan 
University Law School and too drunk to sit, let alone stand, 
pulled out his automatic and asked if we needed any 
protection. At this point Gadzhi and his people came over, 
propped the rector between their shoulders, and let us get 
out of range. 

Postscript: The Practical Uses of a Caucasus Wedding 
--------------------------------------------- -------- 

19. (C) Kadyrov’s attendance was a mark of respect and 
alliance, the result of Gadzhi’s careful cultivation -- 
dating back to personal friendship with Ramzan’s father. 
This is a necessary political tool in a region where 
difficulties can only be resolved by using personal 
relationships to reach ad hoc informal agreements. An 
example was readily to hand: on August 22 Chechnya’s 
parliamentary speaker, Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov, gave an 
interview in which he made specific territorial claims to the 
Kizlyar, Khasavyurt and Novolak regions of Dagestan. The 
first two have significant Chechen-Akkin populations, and the 
last was part of Chechnya until the 1944 deportation, when 
Stalin forcibly resettled ethnic Laks (a Dagestani 
nationality) there. Gadzhi said he would have to answer 
Abdurakhmanov and work closely with Ramzan to reduce the 
tensions “that fool” had caused. Asked why he took such 
statements seriously, he told us that in the Caucasus all 
disputes revolve around land, and such claims can never be 

MOSCOW 00009533 005 OF 005 

dismissed. Unresolved land claims are the “threads” the 
Russian center always kept in play to pull when needed. We 
asked why these claims are coming out now, and were told it 
was euphoria, pure and simple. After all they had received, 
the Chechen leadership’s feet are miles off the ground. (A 
well-connected Chechen contact later told us he thought that 
raising nationalistic irredentism was part of Abdurakhmanov’s 
effort to gain a political base independent from Kadyrov.) 

20. (C) The “horizontal of power” represented by Gadzhi’s 
relationship with Ramzan is the antithesis of the 
Moscow-imposed “vertical of power.” Gadzhi’s business 
partner Khalik Gindiyev, head of Rosneft-Kaspoil, complained 
that Moscow should let local Caucasians rather than Russians 
-- “Magomadovs and Aliyevs, not Ivanovs and Petrovs” -- 
resolve the region’s conflicts. The vertical of power, he 
said, is inapplicable to the Caucasus, a region that Moscow 
bureaucrats such as PolPred Kozak would never understand. 
The Caucasus needs to be given the scope to resolve its own 
problems. But this was not a plug for democracy. Gadzhi 
told us democracy would always fail in the Caucasus, where 
the conception of the state is as an extension of the 
Caucasus family, in which the father’s word is law. “Where 
is the room for democracy in that?” he asked. We paraphrased 
Hayek: if you run a family as you do a state, you destroy 
the family. Running a state as you do a family destroys the 
state: ties of kinship and friendship will always trump the 
rule of law. Gadzhi’s partner agreed, shaking his head 
sadly. “That’s a matter for generations to come,” he said.