On April 13, 1794, the Chechen sheikh Mansour (Ushurma) Aldinsky ended his life at the Shlisselburg Castle. In his 30 plus years, he managed to achieve what no one before him had ever achieved. He became an example for many generations of heroes after him. Imam Shamil often spoke of him with admiration and considered him a spiritual teacher. Sheikh Mansour was a subject of national pride and many tried to emulate him.
Poor and unknown to most, the young Chechen began to study the foundations of Islam and to think about this world. As he delved into religion, he started to slowly realize that the principles declared in the Noble Quran and the reality significantly diverge from each other. He secluded himself and attempted to understand what remains to be imperceptible for many. Since he was a physically handsome person and an eloquent orator, his sermons in the village of Aldy first attracted only villagers, but later quickly spread the rumor about a young Chechen, who calls people to personal purity and justice and who exemplifies these virtues in his life. He rejected the worldly temptations and donations that were brought to him by his followers and were given away in front of his house. Consequently when he was arrested by Russians, they were shocked to find out that a person of his stature lived in a simple clay hut and owned two horses and two bulls—the fortune of Sheikh Mansour.
Another task that awaited him was when the Russian army came close to the mountains and their expeditions started to become more planned and aimed at rapid colonization of the region. Sheikh Mansour realized that the only way to fight the common enemy was to unite all the highlanders. His first military strikes earned him respect and fame. His reputation was so absolute that the Turks and Europeans started to express an interest in him and in particular in how he had managed to become a leader of such a diverse cultural an socio-economic grouping—from the Caspian to the Black Sea—in such a short period of time. The Turkish Sultan repeatedly sent him envoys in order to establish whether he was a messiah, because his movement across the Caucasus was often accompanied by many rumors and stories of his miracles. In Europe, trying to explain his popularity, there were even absurd tales claiming he was in fact an Italian by the name of Giovanni Battista Boetti from a lawyer’s family .
Yet the main miracle was the Sheikh himself. Sheikh Mansour briefly managed to unite almost all peoples of Caucasus in order to mount joint resistance against the Russians. Understanding that their southward movement brought the peoples of Caucasus death, he was ready to sacrifice himself to achieve success. The banner of struggle was Islam and precisely on this basis other leaders—including Imam Kazi Mullah, Imam Shamil, and Sheikh Uzun-Khaji Gotsinsky— later strived to unite the peoples of North Caucasus.
Mansour understood very well that in order to unite different people, he needed an ideology. That ideology became Islam, which demanded the subordination under its banner of all those who cherished freedom.
Then, as now, Chechens knew that they would not be able to withstand the attack of a conventional army. This is why they acted to involve other peoples in the struggle against Moscow.
Sheikh Mansour united the highlanders under the banner of Islam, but he defended their freedom in much the same way that Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev, as president of Chechnya, has managed to unite military formations of different peoples of North Caucasus to mount a joint resistance to the Russians across the region. Sheikh Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev, like Sheikh Mansour, accomplished his objective only because he relied on Islam (it is easy to discern this if one simply looks at the existing military hierarchy in which military formations are jamaats, headquarters are majlis shura, field commanders are emirs, etc).
Islam was that overarching idea that enabled the unification of the many peoples of North Caucasus. Few would be willing to stand under the banner of Chechnya, but the banner of Islam would receive overwhelming endorsement and would not cause disagreements over the leadership qualities of a representative since everyone would be representing the Muslim community.
Credit is due to the former president of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, Aslan Maskhadov, because it was he who laid the foundation for the common North Caucasian resistance movement. His assassination allowed this process to be completed from the legal point of view, because the disparate jamaats representing different North Caucasian republics, such as Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachaevo-Cherkessia, pledged allegiance to the new Chechen president, thereby expanding the boundaries of the conflict to encompass the entire North Caucasus. Thus, at present the centralization of military authority over different armed units under a unified command is in its final stages, which is something that the Chechen leadership strived to achieve for so long and which was something that the Russian leadership feared so much.
Whereas Sheikh Mansour defended the Chechen way of life, Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev’s task is far more difficult because he will have to defend the course toward independence, which, in practical terms, means to demand the impossible from Russia: the recognition of the independent Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (ChRI). The recognition of the ChRI will lead to the disintegration of Russia, because the Chechen cause will serve as an example for other peoples of the North Caucasus and other regions of Russia (strong trends towards autonomy should not be neglected in Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, Tyva and Yakutia) .
Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev has a real opportunity to become a more influential figure. Although in his capacity as a leader of armed formations he is already playing a very important role, in order for him to be viewed as the leader by the population at large, he needs to become a politician of regional influence. For this purpose he needs support from the intelligentsia of the different peoples of the regions. Yet it is precisely this part of the population that is not ready to support him—or, to be more precise, not willing to accept his vision of what constitutes a modern state. Many cannot picture themselves in an Islamic state, and many more are afraid that they might lose their status because they do not accept the Islamic idea.
Recent pronouncements by the ChRI President Abdul-Khaliom Sadulaev have been noticeably measured and politically correct but do not permit one to discern his long-term vision is or his plans for the country and region. He always talks about current events, but there have been no programmatic statements thus far.
The latest personnel changes that he announced sent an alarming signal to those who thought that he would remain a follower of Aslan Maskahdov’s path. The dismissal of Aslan Maskhadov’s supporters—Akhmed Zakaev, Oumar Khanbie, and Apti Bisultanov—prompts one to think that the new leader of the resistance movement is trying to chart his own path and that for this purpose he needs a new team, which will be probably announced in the near future. It appears that today the prevailing view in the leadership of the resistance is that the Islamic ideology should be used as a basis for the entire resistance movement. Thus, the new course of the ChRI president will be implemented by those who consider Islamic ideology necessary and timely, including Movladi Udugov, Shamil Basaev and others.
Yet in order to achieve unification based on one ideology, even if it is an Islamic one, it is necessary to take into account the opinions of nationalists as well. Otherwise, just like Sheikh Mansour, who decided to ignore this section of the society, Sheikh Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev may soon face a situation in which he will not be understood by those for whom the nationalist card is far more important than the creation of a caliphate.
1. A. Vinogradov, Sheikh Mansour, Moscow, 1934, p.4
2. This is what the head of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), Nikolay Patrushev discussed at the expanded staff meeting of the FSB in Moscow on February 7, 2006. In the beginning of his speech he noted that the situation in country remains difficult and the main sources of tension are Chechnya, Kabardino-Balkaria and Dagestan.