Valery Melnikov

vmBorn in 1973 in Nevinnomyssk in the Stavropol Territory. Studied at Stavropol State University (1994-99) and as a photojournalist he documented the changes taking place in the North and South Caucasus. In 2000-09 he was a staff photographer at Kommersant. In 2009-13 he was a special correspondent for RIA Novosti.

According to human rights organizations, Dagestan is the most dangerous place to live in Europe. On one side is increasing Islamic radicalism and armed groups of fighters. On the other are the state security forces. Between them, in a vice, are the lives of normal people, simple Muslims. The mountain village of Gimry is the birthplace of two revered figures in the history of the Caucasus, Ghazi-Mohammed and Shamil, imams of Dagestan and Chechnya. Under their leadership an Islamic state was created in the 19th century. For 30 years they resisted the onslaughts of tsarist Russia. Initially I wanted to visit Gimry to see how people lived there. The most remarkable thing was that on the surface there was no sense of any of this. But there was a powerful sense of tension. There seemed to be hidden opposition — historical, religious, social — in the air. And you could really feel that people live here in their own world, a world that doesn’t really change with the passage of time. Centuries have passed, and today Gimry is again on the front line. This line runs between a secular way of life and strengthened Islamic traditions. The security forces are trying to clamp down on the rapid Islamicization of Dagestan, and Gimry is constantly a site of counter-terrorist operations. But these efforts seem fruitless: The greater the pressure on local Muslims, the strong the resistance. This is where the border lies between the Russian way of thinking and the new Caucasian mentality.

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