Autonomous republic in the southwestern Russian Federation, in northern Caucasia; area 50,300 sq km/19,421 sq mi; population (2002) 2,576,500; (2006 est) 2,641,000. The main cities are Makhachkala (capital) and Derbent. Situated mainly on the northeastern slopes of the main Caucasus Mountains, Dagestan is bounded on the east by the northwestern shore of the Caspian Sea; the Nogay steppe lowland is in the north, and the principal river is the Terek. There are plentiful oil and natural-gas deposits. Chief industries are oil and gas extraction, metalworking, and traditional crafts (carpet weaving); agricultural activities centre on the raising of livestock, the cultivation of grain and grapevines, and horticulture.
The area has been inhabited and cultivated from prehistoric (Palaeolithic) times and is thought to be one of the cradles of civilization. The Ottomans and Mongols successively controlled this region, and it was gradually annexed by Russia from Persia over the period 1722–1859. Dagestan became a republic in 1921. There is a complex mix of over 30 ethnic groups in this strongly Muslim republic (including Avar, Dargin, and Kumyk).
In the course of 1990s, there was growing ethnic tension between rival factions in Dagestan, fuelled even further by the conflict in neighbouring Chechnya. In May 1998 the main government building in Makhachkala was seized by an armed group, which further precipitated the increasing escalation of the conflict. Militant Islamic separatist movement also grew stronger and, in 1999, the Russian army intervened in Dagestan.
Crisis in the Caucasus: Russia's Conflict in Chechnya and Dagestan