2007 Summed Up: Ichkeria Gets the Emirate

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 9 Issue: 2

After deliberating for a year and a half, Chechen resistance leader Dokka Umarov, who took over after the assassination of Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (ChRI) leaders Aslan Maskhadov and Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev, announced his support for building an Islamic state, which in Umarov’s mind includes not only Chechnya, but all peoples of the North Caucasus.

In a 15 minute long videotaped statement, Umarov responded directly to those who suggested that he should not rush to announce his call for the Emirate—specifically, to the alims (Islamic scholars) who had issued a cautionary statement coordinated by Akhmed Zakaev [1]. During the videotaped statement, Umarov remained rather mild-mannered, attempting to explain his reasons for announcing the creation of the Emirate.

A very different picture emerges during Dokka Umarov’s shorter, 8 minute videotaped statement, in which he reiterates his own appointment as the Amir of the Caucasus Emirate and Vali (leader) of the Vilayat of Chechnya. Following a prolonged silence after the accusations made by Akhmed Zakaev (Chechenpress, October 23, 2007), Ichkeria Minister of Foreign Affairs, Umarov came down hard on Zakaev for allegedly insulting and disdaining the Emirate, which, Umarov said, will be investigated by the judiciary system of the Emirate, seemingly implying that Zakaev will be prosecuted under the Islamic law (Kavkaz TV, November 23, 2007). In all likelihood, Umarov’s video aimed at putting psychological pressure on those who refused to support the Emirate. Otherwise, it is a bit hard to explain what the special services of the resistance movement were doing over the last few years, during which not a single war criminal in Chechnya has been punished.

Another intriguing point in Umarov’s shorter interview was his mention of the alleged contacts made by the Russian special services with a representative of “Abdullah” (a likely reference to Shamil Basaev) to begin negotiations. What is intriguing is the mention itself, and nothing more. In his newly assumed position as the Amir, Dokka Umarov ordered this representative to return to Chechnya immediately to be investigated for his contacts with the Russian special services.

Another notable part of Umarov’s statement was his warning to all dissenting mujahideen that their only choice was between compliance and death. Clearly, Umarov is not open to discussion and has seemingly decided that he can actually rule over those who have fought alongside him for all these years. This is not the best message that Umarov’s camp could send to all those who battled for the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria’s independence for many years.

Thus the conflict between the two sides of the Chechen resistance movement remains unabated. The differences and extreme positions that were kept in check for eight years emerged as a clear rift after Dokka Umarov’s ascent to power. All previous leaders, including Aslan Maskhadov, Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev and Shamil Basaev, did all they could to prevent the split and managed to find the common language with the most zealous of radicals.

In a 50-minute radio address, Anzor Astemirov (aka Amir Seifullah, the leader of the Yarmuk Jamaat who was recently appointed Acting Chairman of the resistance movement’s Supreme Sharia Council) tried to explain the reasons for announcing the Emirate to a wider audience [2]. His story makes clear that Dokka Umarov was under intense pressure from non-Chechen jamaats to clarify under which flag they had to fight and whose interests they had to defend in today’s conflict with Russia—specifically, whether all of them should battle in pursuit of a single goal or whether each individual jamaat should defend its own national interests.

For the jamaats of the North Caucasus, two lingering questions remain: one, how could they participate in the general resistance movement, and two, how would they give an oath of loyalty to the Chechen President while not being citizens of the Chechen Republic? It has also been unclear whether, in the event that the Chechen leadership reached a peace agreement with the Russian Federation, the jamaats of the North Caucasus should continue their fight independently or move to Chechnya. Many other issues have remained unresolved since the moment that all of the resistance groups of the North Caucasus merged under Chechen command.

The radio address of Anzor Astemirov confirms what we have always pointed out: namely, that it was Shamil Basaev who organized the merger of all the resistance jamaats of the North Caucasus. Basaev’s involvement that allowed the jamaats to give an oath of loyalty to Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev, who was—strictly speaking—a Chechen president and not an Islamic Amir who would have sufficient authority to begin discussions on some form of unified Islamic statehood. Their oath followed an ultimatum that Basaev gave to all the jamaats: they could either fight their own fights individually, which could only cause them great concern, or they could swear loyalty to Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev now and make joint decisions about the name and the form of the Islamic state later.

This means that although Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev was a sheikh and a representative of Islamic forces in Chechnya—as moderate as they might be—he could not bring himself to take such a radical step. This also shows that Sadulayev did not consider himself beholden to anyone; he was an independent actor and made his decisions based on his views of what was best for Chechnya.

It was only Dokka Umarov, who is uncomfortable in the leadership role, who felt compelled to toe the line of the parties with clear ties to the radical section of the Chechen resistance movement.

Anzor Astemirov admitted that logically, all these twists and turns gave an advantage to the Moscow camp, which now has additional reasons to claim that they are fighting the Islamists, whose goal is the disintegration of the country.

The issue of jamaat membership is another interesting point. According to Astemirov, the majority of the members are educated, with college and postgraduate decrees, and well versed in Islam and its teachings. By bringing that up, he emphasized that they are fighting out of conviction.

They make a special note that a small group of people is capable of seizing power if their numbers exceed five percent of the active population, which is sufficient to come to power and make the rest of the population follow suit. The will of the people, according to them, is just a remnant of the democracy that the world inherited from the ancient Greeks and no longer needs. To support his case, Astemirov quotes an FSB investigator who he claimed interrogated him during his arrest in Nalchik. The investigator, according to Astemirov, said that the FSB has to take action against any group in any area of the country that crosses the five percent line, because this number is large enough to begin realizing their plans. It is not quite clear why the FSB has to wait until the group is that large as opposed to working to prevent the group from ever reaching the 5-percent mark. For Astemirov, however, this is an indisputable fact that he adds to his arsenal.

Astemirov promises to write a detailed paper on the subject and publish it online in the immediate future to give everyone a chance to learn his views on building an Islamic state.

Therefore, following the footsteps of Magas (Akhmed Yevloev), we can observe the emergence and strengthening of a new figure whose roots are outside of the Chechen resistance movement. In all likelihood, what we are currently observing is the phenomenon of Chechens gradually losing their dominant position in the all-Caucasus resistance movement. With the departure of Shamil Basaev from the political arena, there are now several strong leaders capable of operating independently in Russian regions without looking over their shoulder to Chechnya.

The nature of this new institution is becoming clearer, and according to the thinking of its founders, it will be more unified and more centralized than the one that existed under the banner of Ichkeria. Although the lack of dividing lines between the fighters of the separate jamaats will be an asset, the Emirate’s negatives could outweigh the positives. Ichkeria, which had to cope with the blow of the assassination of its lawfully elected president Aslan Maskhadov, has moved to the brink of political collapse. Now Ichkeria will be more dependent on those outside Chechnya, (i.e. the émigrés) while the Emirate will be represented by those who are fighting inside the region. What is clear is that this state of affairs will hurt the image of Ichkeria and most likely damage the Emirate as well. Counting chickens before they hatch is not the way to raise them.

In all likelihood, what will emerge in the political arena after prolonged bickering between the democrats and the radicals is an organization along the lines of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), with a political wing and a military wing. The radical fighters will still need Zakaev and his democratic wing, just as Zakaev will need the fighters, even as radical as the ones representing the Caucasus Emirate. Of course, in the event that Zakaev manages to win over to his side a number of prominent field commanders who are operating in Chechnya outside Dokka Umarov’s control, he will certainly have some leverage with which to put pressure on the newly emerged Amir.


1. To view the video: https://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5208720213203927620.

In his statement, Akhmed Zakaev described the announcement of the Emirate as a pre-meditated tactic by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) mms://realaudio.rferl.org/…program.wma

2. To listen to the address: https://kavkaz.tv/russ/radio/#latest.