Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 140

In Chechnya, the operation to disarm fighters of the Shariah Guards and the Special Islamic Battalion continues. All approaches to the capital, Djohar, have been blocked by security forces. Meanwhile, fighters from the disbanded groups are gathering in the village of Starye Atagi, at the behest of former President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev. As presidential adviser Isa Bizhaev has told the Monitor, these fighters intend to hold a wake for their comrades who died in last week’s fighting at Gudermes. In Bizhaev’s opinion, this gathering should not be interpreted as an act of defiance against Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. But Chechnya’s prosecutor general, Khavazh Serbiev, disagrees. He has given Yandarbiev an official warning that the gathering is unacceptable to the authorities. (NTV, July 21; Nezavisimaya gazeta, July 22)

Until recently, disagreements between the Chechen field commanders were carefully concealed by Djohar. Now they are out in the open. For the first time, the government has admitted that there is a real danger that civil war may break out in the republic. (NTV, July 21) As recently as last month, when Maskhadov declared a state of emergency in response to an attempt by field commander Salman Raduev to seize the television center in Djohar, the authorities were denying that there was any likelihood of civil war. The state of emergency, they said, had been imposed simply because of the need to fight against crime. Now, by contrast, the government is justifying its crackdown by reference to the need to prevent the outbreak of civil war.

Officially, the authorities describe conflicts in the republic as sectarian in nature. The armed bands subject to disarmament are said to consist of “Wahhabis.” Maskhadov has ordered the deportation of a number of foreign citizens accused of spreading “Wahhabism”. (See the Monitor, July 16) The Mufti of Chechnya, Ahmad-Hadji Kadyrov, has come out with a condemnation of “Wahhabism” and accused Yandarbiev of spreading “Wahhabism” in Chechnya. (Nezavisimaya gazeta, July 22)

Most of Maskhadov’s opponents cannot be termed “Wahhabis,” however. Not long before the presidential elections, the very same Kadyrov told the Monitor that the muftiate was inclined to support Yandarbiev since, of all the Chechen politicians, he had done the most to form a true Islamic state in Chechnya. And Maskhadov’s fiercest opponent, Raduev, has criticized “Wahhabism” on more than one occasion.

In reality, disagreements are more political than religious. The struggle is between the moderate leadership of President Maskhadov and Islamic radicals who are not inclined even to try to find a compromise with Moscow. Djohar needs the specter of “Wahhabism” to turn the population of the republic, most of whom adhere to the forms of Islam traditional to Chechnya, against the radicals.