Soldiers conduct a routine search of a house in Tsuntinsky, checking documents and looking for evidence that insurgents might have visited.
The Republic of Dagestan, in the North Caucasus, is part of the Russian Federation and ethnically extremely diverse. More than 80 percent of the populace practices Islam, though belonging to different sects within the faith. Despite the reduction of large-scale military operations 10 years ago in neighboring Chechnya, Dagestan is the scene of ongoing insurgency, outbreaks of separatism and internal conflict between Islamic groups. Both the Dagestan and Russian governments put substantial resources into counter-insurgency operations, but the violence continues. Official corruption, together with growing support for Islamists among locals, are said to be major reasons for this.
I travelled to Tsuntinsky, a remote district of Dagestan, where insurgent groups live and train in the forest, receiving support from relatives and sympathizers. Here, in 2011, four local hunters were tortured and then murdered by insurgents. For me, the story of Ramazan Magomedov encapsulated the tragedy of the region. A former policeman, he had relatives both among the murdered hunters and the killers, had himself been injured in the operation against the insurgents, and after he recovered he began to wage a personal war against the men hiding in the forest.