Analysts debate the nature of the split within Caucasus Emirate

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 11 Issue: 6

On September 21, Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov, in his capacity as “emir” of the North Caucasus Emirate, issued a video in which he dismissed three emirs from the Emirate’s Chechen sector – Aslambek Vadalov, Khusein Gakaev and Tarkhan Gaziev. In the video, Umarov says that the emirs violated their “baiyat” — or oath of allegiance — to him, that their actions created a split in the ranks of the Emirate and that they should be tried by the group’s Sharia court.
The video features, along with Umarov, three other emirs — Abu Supyan (aka Supyan Abdullaev), Khamzat and Islam. Abdullaev, who is Umarov’s first deputy, said that he would stick by his baiyat to Umarov and called on the mutinous emirs to understand that their actions had no basis. He was than followed by Khamzat and Islam, who made similar statements. The video ended with Abdullaev again, who called on the dissident wing of the Emirate to weigh carefully its decision to violate the pledge of subordination to Umarov, the “chosen emir” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WpixQeLMjNY; www.kommersant.ru, September 22; www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, September 23).
The split in the Caucasus Emirate became evident on August 2, when Umarov announced that he was stepping down as emir of the Caucasus Emirate and handing over the leadership position to one of his deputies – Aslambek Vadalov, aka Emir Alsmbek. However, just two days later, on August 4, pro-rebel websites posted a new video statement by Umarov, in which he announced that he was not stepping down as emir of the Caucasus Emirate and said that the video in which he had announced his resignation had been “fabricated.” On August 15, Khusein Gakaev released a statement announcing that Chechen rebel fighters would no longer take orders from Umarov. He said, however, that they were still part of the Caucasus Emirate. Gakaev said that Umarov, in rescinding his own resignation, had shown disrespect toward the “majlis” – the Caucasus Emirate’s legislative body. “He cannot be our emir, because he was commanded by someone,” Gakaev said (www.kommersant.ru, September 22; www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, September 23).
Aleksei Malashenko of the Carnegie Moscow Center told Kommersant that Umarov, under pressure from one group of rebels, mainly Chechens, had really wanted to step down as emir of the Caucasus Emirate, but had rescinded his resignation under pressure from the leaders of the Kabardino-Balkaria wing of the Emirate. “His more radically- inclined comrades-in-arms, who need a bandit with a well-known name, did not want to let him step down,” Malashenko told the newspaper.
Kommersant quoted political scientist Ruslan Martagov as saying: “Doku Umarov has not controlled anything in a long time; his actions are manipulated by others. This, in particular, is why the Chechen militants refused to subordinate themselves to him.” Martagov said that, in his view, the split in the Caucasus Emirate was the result of the national consciousness of the Chechens clashing with the idea of a global jihad. Martagov said that without the participation of the Chechen rebels, the Caucasus Emirate would be doomed (www.kommerant.ru, September 22).
Similarly, the Kavkazsky Uzel (Caucasus Knot) website quoted Chechen journalist Musa Muradov as saying that the Caucasus Emirate had split over political goals. “I think that the reason lies in the differing views over ultimate goals,” he said, noting that the Caucasus Emirate envisaged the creation of a “caliphate” in the North Caucasus, with the dissolution of national republics like Chechnya and Ingushetia replaced by “vilayats.” According to Muradov, “the Chechens see their goal more locally, in the framework of a national community.” He added: “The movement in Chechnya began not on a religious [basis], but on a national and political basis. It is in these roots that one should look for the reason for the split” (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, September 23).
For his part, Ivan Sukhov of the newspaper Vremya Novostei said he was certain that the split was not the result of Chechen rebels wanting to return to their original separatist goals. “There will be no return to Ichkerian separatism by the Chechen underground,” he told Kavkazsky Uzel. “It should be noted that, along with the three Chechen commanders Umarov is handing over to the Sharia court, the emir of the Arab mujahideen, Abu Anas, always figured. This commander of the Arab militants in the Caucasus is on the side of the mutineers. He remains the link to the global jihad, the ideology and the money.”
Sukhov said that the mutineers were seeking to replace Umarov and that Abu Anas – who the journalist referred to as “the representative of al-Qaeda in the Caucasus” – was playing a key role in the process. According to Sukhov, Abu Anas and the Chechen rebel commanders may have found out something about Umarov – “possibly about negotiations with the federal authorities or with Kadyrov, and given that leveling such accusations against Umarov directly would discredit the idea of the Emirate itself, this semi-under-the-carpet intrigue was taking the place. It is likely that the split was caused by Umarov being caught in something that they could not yet tell other mujahideen in the Caucasus about” (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, September 23).