Death of Anzor Astemirov Does not Mark the End of the Insurgency in Kabardino-Balkaria

The end of March 2010 turned out to be eventful in the North Caucasus. First of all, on March 24 the leader of Kabardino-Balkaria’s Yarmuk Jamaat, Anzor Astemirov, was killed in Nalchik, the republic’s capital. Astemirov, known more widely by the name Emir Seifullah (Kommersant, March 26), was born in 1976 in Kremenchuk, Ukraine. He was an ethnic Kabardin and belonged to the prominent princely clan of Kabarda. He held the third highest rank in the hierarchy of the North Caucasus armed resistance (after the emir and the military emir of Caucasus Emirate). He was a qadi, (the head of the Supreme Sharia court). Astemirov was the intellectual component of armed resistance, as was Said Buryatsky, who was recently killed in Ingushetia. Numerous operations aimed to capture Astemirov were clear evidence of his importance to the Russian secret services. He was finally killed after 30 previous attempts to neutralize him failed (Gazeta, March 26).
Astemirov did not join the armed resistance right away. At first, he tried to change the whole system legally. After obtaining his education in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, he returned home in 1993. Together with young Kabardins and Balkars he founded the Islamic Center of Kabardino-Balkaria. The Center was not registered with the justice ministry, but became a real opponent of the official Spiritual Board of Muslims of Kabardino-Balkaria. The center served as the basis of the Kabardino-Balkarian jamaat, which split into two parts –the militarized wing (the Yarmuk Jamaat) and legal “political” wing– almost at the very start. In 2002, the “political” wing became the Kabardino-Balkarian Institute of Islamic Investigations (KBIII), where Anzor Astemirov occupied the position of deputy director for scientific affairs.
In this capacity, he traveled to Moscow twice (in 2002 and 2004) to participate in conferences organized by the Soros Foundation and the Ethnographic Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, where he was regarded as a highly erudite individual. However, his activities went against the official line of the religious community, and did not appeal to the local authorities in Kabardino-Balkaria, who under various pretexts attempted to detain him and initiate legal proceedings against him. He was able to evade charges twice, but was declared a wanted man for participating in an attack on a Federal Department for Narcotics Control building in Nalchik on December 14, 2004, in which four policemen were shot dead and over 250 weapons stolen. As a result, Astemirov went into hiding permanently: he had to have realized that a ring of suspicion on the part of the special services was tightening around him (www.strana.ru, November 15, 2007). Thus, the authorities themselves made him who he was. The government forced him into the militant underground that he had tried to avoid, because he thought he could accomplish more by legal means than with a rifle in his hands.
Starting in late 2004, he ended all forms of legal activity, committed himself fully to the militants and became the deputy of the Yarmuk Jamaat emir, Musa Mukozhev.
On October 13, 2005, the militants carried out attacks on siloviki infrastructure in Nalchik. Among the targets were police units, the republican interior ministry (MVD) building, the building of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the airport, a military base, a military commissariat, and a hunting supply store called “Arsenal.” Some of the targets were taken after being stormed. An attempt was made to bomb a relay station belonging to the mobile telecommunications company “Megafon.” Battles were waged in the streets of the city; some buildings were set ablaze; telecommunications lines were cut off. The man named responsible for this offensive was Anzor Astemirov (Kommersant, March 26).
The first serious rethinking of the military operations in Chechnya on the part of Kabardino-Balkarian society should be fully associated with Astemirov. The militant offensive on Nalchik in 2005, became a watershed moment for the entire population. For the first time the republic’s citizens felt the personal closeness of war: they saw the authorities condemn completely innocent people as militants and then exact heavy reprisals; they saw the corpses of dead militants desecrated; witnessed people falsely implicated and arrested for being accomplices in the raid; they noticed that young people detained by the siloviki and special services disappeared; and saw the torture and repression of people wearing ostensibly Muslim forms of clothing. All this became the chief outcome of the Nalchik operation, undertaken under Astemirov’s command.
Astemirov is seen as one of the spiritual founders of the ideology of the Caucasus Emirate (www.jamaatshariat.com/ru/content/view/531/29/). He was not content with being part of one of the military units of the armed forces of Ichkeria, and regarded it as imperative to create a pan-Caucasian scheme of management for the militant underground of the North Caucasus, which would make it possible to avoid the subordination of all the other peoples of the region to Ichkeria. Under Shamil Basaev’s leadership, discussions of that sort were ruthlessly crushed, however, his death and that of the president of the separatist Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev, and Doku Umarov’s assumption of the rebel movement’s leadership in 2006 allowed Astemirov to achieve partial changes and declare the transformation of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria into the Caucasus Emirate (http://generalvekalat.org/content/view/12/31/). As the qadi of the Caucasus Emirate, he decidedly objected to the European part of Ichkeria’s politicians, who did not recognize the transformation of the ideology of Ichkeria’s independence into an Islamic ideology. First and foremost, he stood against Akhmed Zakaev, declaring him an enemy and passing a death sentence against him (http://hunafa.com/?p=1936). Actions of this sort could not have been received well in Chechen political circles.
The materials displayed on Emir Seifullah’s website (www.islamdin.com) were primarily ideological in character, rather than military-related. The period of his rule is also marked by the decline of the Karachai Jamaat, which was subsequently included in the overall Kabarda, Balkaria, and Karachai structure. However, there were reasons for this. For instance, the siloviki inflicted major casualties on the Karachai Jamaat between 2005 and 2006. On the other hand, there was little done to support this jamaat as a separate fighting unit of the resistance movement. Nevertheless, the Yarmuk Jamaat itself became more active as of 2009, when it began mounting attacks against policemen, although even these were episodic in nature. Astemirov’s actions could not be compared with Chechen, Ingush, and Dagestani resistance members’ undertakings in any way. Despite this fact, Emir Seifullah’s actions permitted the inclusion of this region as an active sphere of militant resistance.
Anzor Astemirov’s place will be taken, without a doubt, by someone who is not such a high-level ideologue, but this should not be viewed as a weakening. It can be assumed that the new emir of the jamaat of Kabarda, Balkaria, and Karachai will place more emphasis on actions against the siloviki, which will breathe new life into the resistance movement in this part of the North Caucasus.