Russian Dagestan village defies odds with ancient art

Fri May 21, 2010 7:40am EDT
 
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By Amie Ferris-Rotman and Olga Petrova

KUBACHI, Russia (Reuters Life!) - The cacophony of hammered silver reverberates through the sole school of this tiny village nestled in the lush and craggy Caucasus mountains of Russia's deeply turbulent Muslim region of Dagestan.

Villagers in Kubachi, whose population is a mere 2,300, boast that every man, woman and child has mastered the ancient tradition of delicate silverwork, first brought to the region by Persian traders almost two millennia ago.

Teacher Kultum Kutsulova, clad in a flowing white hijab decorated with gold paisley teardrops she has embroidered, carefully watches over students etching elaborate, swirled flowers into silver and copper goblets and earrings.

"We are a blacksmiths' village and we have it in our blood. Every child must know the work of their parents," she told Reuters in Russian, before switching back to her native Kubachi, a Caucasian dialect only spoken by the villagers.

Perched 2,000 metres (6,560 ft) in the Caucasus overlooking steep mist-covered valleys and ramshackle farms, Kubachi is 90 km (56 miles) south of Makhachkala, the Caspian Sea capital of Dagestan, a Russian region home to over 40 ethnicities.

An Islamist insurgency is raging in Russia's North Caucasus region, particularly in Dagestan, Ingushetia and neighbouring Chechnya, site of two separatist wars with Moscow since the mid-1990s. Twin suicide bomb attacks on the Moscow metro in March, which killed 40, turned the global spotlight on the North Caucasus. Authorities blamed the attacks on women from Dagestan.

In this turbulent trio, militants fueled by poverty and the ideology of global jihad stage near-daily attacks, and many want to carve out a separate sharia state.

"Even though this republic is suffering from so many problems, we have kept our culture," Kutsulova said.   Continued...