Weddings are elaborate in Dagestan
December 2, 2010 7:15 PM   Subscribe

"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." Thus begins a highly informative and somewhat amusing diplomatic cable, recently leaked by wikileaks.

Slightly better formatting here, via the NY Times

Wikipedia entry on Dagestan.

Related, although it seems the video link is dead.
posted by Guernsey Halleck (38 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
You know, that was actually fun reading. I enjoyed the section title heading: "Enter the Man."
posted by jadepearl at 7:30 PM on December 2, 2010


Regional politics are best illustrated with sharply observed descriptions of individuals. This cable writer has a neat hand at understatement. I hope a novel [comic romantic thriller?] is being optioned.

I love paragraphs 16 (C) and 17 (C), the warlords flinching as the fireworks start, Ramzan dancing to the music of Benya the Accordion King, with his "gold-plated automatic stuck down in the back of his jeans" [which will probably be the most quoted line from the cable], and finally Ramzan departing for his mountain fortress with the explanation "Ramzan never spends the night anywhere."

[Golf Clap] Well Played!
posted by ohshenandoah at 7:37 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I kept expecting to see ads for the new electric Rabbit wine bottle opener and diacritics over the second "o" in "coöperation."
posted by The White Hat at 7:40 PM on December 2, 2010 [8 favorites]


That was great.

In case anyone else is curious: lezginka.
posted by rtha at 7:41 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I like to think classical antiquity was a lot like this.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:52 PM on December 2, 2010


This story of a 74 year old escaping from Iran was also pretty epic.
posted by delmoi at 7:52 PM on December 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Great read, thanks. Thy do that trick with the special bottle of water rather than vodka (or rice liquor in our case) following you round as you do the toasts at Chinese banquets too, otherwise your life would similarly be in danger.
posted by Abiezer at 7:54 PM on December 2, 2010


Thanks, that was great.
posted by BinGregory at 7:55 PM on December 2, 2010


Just an aside, that Beluga vodka runs $34/750ml. And they were drinking bottles by the thousands. I think I'd like to party with the Avars.
posted by jsavimbi at 8:09 PM on December 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


So many great lines, like this: "The Dagestani milieu appears to be one in which the highly educated and the gun-toting can mix easily -- often in the same person."

US Stae Dept. gives good cable!
posted by bonefish at 8:27 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thank you, Guernsey Halleck. This was an excellent post.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 8:31 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have a feeling Embassy staff compete to get their cables read. This is very well written with an eye for details that really give color to the situation.
posted by cell divide at 8:50 PM on December 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Dagestan, previously.
posted by jasonstevanhill at 9:07 PM on December 2, 2010


This like a Tool video.
posted by clavdivs at 9:19 PM on December 2, 2010


Wikileaks is down Huffington Post
posted by DougFromDover at 9:45 PM on December 2, 2010


Yeah, they just tweeted that their DNS access got cut off.

They'll be back.
posted by Asparagirl at 9:57 PM on December 2, 2010


Somehow the proceedings reminded me of the wedding of Arkan and Ceca.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:35 PM on December 2, 2010


Dagestani weddings are serious business!
posted by Jacqueline at 11:20 PM on December 2, 2010


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.

This made me curious if there were any photos of this place. Found this which seems to match the description (except, unfortunately, the fish tank floor, which sounds awesome).
posted by blue mustard at 12:27 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, they just tweeted that their DNS access got cut off.

Whatever happened to "the Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it"? I guess that's sooooo 1993.
posted by Justinian at 12:51 AM on December 3, 2010


Whatever happened to "the Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it"? I guess that's sooooo 1993.

This is why US government agencies like to assert ownership of the root servers.
posted by rodgerd at 2:45 AM on December 3, 2010


I don't think the title of this post is quite apt. I think it's more like "Weddings of the elite are elaborate in Dagestan". The groom's father is an MP, by my understanding, as well as the head of an oil company. It's not like "My Super Sweet 16" was representative of American birthday parties.
posted by knile at 2:59 AM on December 3, 2010


Routing: http://wikileaks.dd19.de/, http://wikileaks.ch
posted by molecicco at 3:06 AM on December 3, 2010


Great read btw!
posted by molecicco at 3:07 AM on December 3, 2010


This passage was quoted yesterday on NPR:
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.
They remarked that it used narrative technique to explain things about the culture of the caucasus. I'll say: This is some of the tightest narrative "show don't tell" writing I've seen in a long time. From this brief passage you learn:
  • The Dagestanis are crazy, and a little dangerous when they're drunk.
  • The Russians have enough influence and power that they can shut them up even when they're dangrous-drunk.
  • A law school education has something to do with guns.
posted by lodurr at 6:23 AM on December 3, 2010


I keep thinking about this piece, and I'd really like it if there were some way to sift through everything wikileaks has released to find more posts by this author. And I sure hope he's writing a book.
posted by rtha at 6:29 AM on December 3, 2010


Here's an example of the shenanigans that transpire at a Dagestan wedding. The shoe shot was a particularly inspired touch.
posted by schleppo at 6:39 AM on December 3, 2010


Man, I envy attending weddings like these. Also, the writing of this cable is great and I hope to come across more of this fine diplomat's writing.
posted by jadepearl at 6:54 AM on December 3, 2010


Is the Pulitzer board reading this stuff? Wikileaks cables as literature.
posted by Kabanos at 7:08 AM on December 3, 2010


hearing the brits are gonna arrest him. wikipedia's currently hosted in france and the french government is trying to stop that too.

what a dumbass. is anyone learning anything from these cables? this is the big winner after days, a colorful description of a dagestani wedding? there's been no earth shattering revelations. spying at the UN? guess what? they're all doing it. i want my government to spy at the un. i want it to have up to date info on everyone and keep it from prying eyes.

this is what i don't get, everyone rails against secrecy as if it got us into the iraq war. sorry, but no. all that shit was in plain fucking sight. anyone with half a brain knew that. secrecy had nothing to do with the invasion of iraq.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:51 AM on December 3, 2010


A fantastic read, thanks. I was particularly fascinated to read that the "main act, a Syrian-born singer named Avraam Russo, could not make it because he was shot a few days before the wedding." Yikes.
posted by marginaliana at 7:56 AM on December 3, 2010


is anyone learning anything from these cables?

The Economist says there were some surprises, and it's a fairly cynical, realpolitik-oriented paper, so I think if it says there were surprises then there were indeed surprises. For example: the fact that pretty much the entire Middle East dislikes Iran's nuclear ambitions and general aggressiveness--often to the point of being okay with military action by the US. And I think the extent if not the existence of State Department spying was surprising.

this is the big winner after days, a colorful description of a dagestani wedding?

No, it's not 'the big winner.' It's just a well-written piece that makes for great journalism independent of its source. It's not being offered as a shocking revelation that will shake the global balance of power.

spying at the UN? guess what? they're all doing it.

But now it's out in the open with evidence to back up the suspicion. And it's not just embarrassing, it's a treaty violation. There could be real repercussions. Slate thinks it may or should lead to Hillary Clinton stepping down as Secretary of State.
posted by jedicus at 8:58 AM on December 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


For example: the fact that pretty much the entire Middle East dislikes Iran's nuclear ambitions and general aggressiveness--often to the point of being okay with military action by the US.

I don't know why this was a surprise to anybody. I've been hearing people say this for ten years. As far as I can see it's kind of the Inspector Renaud moment of the whole affair ("I'm shocked -- shocked I say! -- to find Sunni Arab leaders badmouthing Persians Shi'ites!")

As for why this would lead to Hillary Clinton stepping down -- I'm fuzzy on that, too. If this is something that every head of the State Dept in US history has condoned (and my knowledge of history & my gut suggest the answer is "yes"), and that that's something everyone in diplomacy (who's not hopelessly, haplessly naive) already knows, then...what, we'd be asking for her resignation as a form of human sacrifice, knowing that the next Sec'y of State would be doing exactly the same thing? Because to not do it would be a gross dereliction of duty?
posted by lodurr at 9:42 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


"I'm shocked -- shocked I say! -- to find Sunni Arab leaders badmouthing Persians Shi'ites!"

Badmouthing is one thing. But consider "I'm shocked -- shocked I say! -- to find Sunni Arab leaders condoning or even urging US military intervention in the Middle East even after the disasters in Iraq and Afghanistan!" That's a very different thing.

As for why this would lead to Hillary Clinton stepping down -- I'm fuzzy on that, too.

Because it's evidence of intentional treaty-breaking.

If this is something that every head of the State Dept in US history has condoned

If we had proof they had done it then they should have stepped down, too.

and that that's something everyone in diplomacy...already knows

Knowing something is different from being able to prove it. And even if it could have been proven before, likely no one wanted to be the one to actually say anything out of fear of reprisal from the US. Since a third party has brought it out into the open, it gives cover to other countries to say something must be done about it.

Because to not do it would be a gross dereliction of duty?

How exactly is intentionally violating international law a duty of the Secretary of State? I would hope that would be the exact opposite of his or her duty.
posted by jedicus at 9:54 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's a very different thing.

Nevertheless, I've been hearing analysts say exactly that for at least 10 years.

I still see it as a form of blood-sacrifice, and I predict that no major power will say a damn thing to suggest that Clinton do anything of the sort, because they know damn well that when push comes to shove, all this activity can be proven about any of them that are important enough to matter. They will not upset this cart; instead the dumber ones among them will hope to leverage Clinton's supposed weakness to their advantage. The smarter ones will realize that's useless, because she's not going to admit she's hurt by it, which for her purposes basically means she's not.
posted by lodurr at 10:49 AM on December 3, 2010


That diplomat should have a try at writing when he quits his current career. That was one of the choiciest examples of travel literature since Mark Twain:

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

posted by Skeptic at 1:40 PM on December 3, 2010


rtha: The author of the Caucasus Wedding appears to be then-ambassador William Burns, now the Undersecretary of State and political affairs.

From the format of the cables, my guess is that any cable with "BURNS" at the bottom is from him, so you might text search for that. From the wiki page linked above, you might also try cables from Moscow between 2005 and 2008 (when he was ambassador).

This cable about the causes of the Chechen War is one such cable, and is incredibly interesting (although admittedly I am a Caucasus fetishist). Well written, and, unlike press and academic accounts, not couched in language designed to hide opinion.

Another from Burns I haven't read yet is one about Ramzan Kadyrov. Kadyrov is an important man, but not quite important enough to rate proper coverage in the English language press, and sufficiently feared to stop any honest coverage in the Russian press (he is widely believed to have had Politikovskaya killed).

The audience of this writing being other diplomats, and the risk of offending being removed by secrecy, you see people named where you normally would not in academic writing. Because the audience for news stories on these topics is limited, there is rarely as much effort and knowledge in popular accounts.

That is what makes these leaks such a brilliant resource - not the gossip about Berlusconi or Gaddafi. Where else would you see such details about the various dodgy Iranian types in Baku but here, with names and backstories?
posted by claudius at 10:40 PM on December 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


claudius - thank you, thank you!

gossip about Berlusconi or Gaddafi


Seriously. When the cables were being discussed on various news outlets and people were like "OMG they said Berlusconi is a corrupt womanizer!" I was all, um, this is secret? Because Sylvia Poggioli (who has one of the greatest voices in radio history) has been saying that for years on NPR, and the Italian press has been saying it even longer.
posted by rtha at 7:45 AM on December 4, 2010


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