EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH FORMER CHECHEN PRESIDENT SADULAEV
Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 7 Issue: 27
This week’s issue of Chechnya Weekly contains an exclusive interview with Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev which was obtained by The Jamestown Foundation through its sources in Chechnya before he was killed in Argun on June 17, making this his last known interview with a Western organization. The rebel leader’s answers were videotaped and submitted to The Jamestown Foundation. The Russian-language video file of the interview can be downloaded at the following URL: https://www.jamestown.org/docs/sadulaev6july06.avi
The following are the answers of Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (ChRI) President Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev to questions posed by The Jamestown Foundation:
(He recites prayers)
We greet all our friends, all people who worry about the freedom and independence of the Chechen people, all of those who objectively and correctly see the picture in our republic [and] around us; who recognize the right of the Chechen people to self-determination and independence. In this attempt to answer some questions we will try to explain and show our position clearly. The questions that we have received from our friends are:
1. How do you assess the situation in Chechnya after the death of Aslan Maskhadov; has the death of Maskhadov influenced the Chechen resistance¬¬—its military tactics and policy?
We adopted the tactic of widening the jihad in 2002 at the big Majlis-ul-Shura, and today we are still working on that plan. That plan, presented by the Military Committee of the Majlis-ul-Shura of the ChRI, is meant to last until 2010. The policy has undergone small changes. The plan that we are guided by today stems from those plans and decisions that were adopted at that Majlis-ul-Shura, which was headed by our president, Aslan Maskhadov (a shaheed, Inshallah).
2. Aslan Maskhadov repeatedly demonstrated his adherence to the idea of negotiations with the Russian side. In particular, the deceased president stated that a 30-minute conversation with Putin would be enough to end the war. Will you now insist on the withdrawal of troops from Chechnya as an inalienable condition for the start of negotiations?
In order to stop the war, our opponents need a strong will and courage, [and] to think strategically. We do not see these qualities in the Russian leadership, unfortunately. Of course, it is not possible to stop the war in 30 minutes; it is possible to stop the active phase of battle operations. We could achieve that. Although the presence of their troops in our republic is not a positive factor, the start of any negotiations with the Russian side is not a great obstacle. To paraphrase Yaroslav Gashek, negotiations with a noose around one’s neck cannot be called real negotiations [Sadulaev may have meant Julius Fuchik, the Czech Communist journalist and poet who wrote “Notes from the Gallows,” of which the Russian version is literally translated, “Reporting with a Noose around One’s Neck”]. Nevertheless, the presence of troops is not a great obstacle because all of this can be stipulated in the process of negotiations. We will not try to make this a sticking point.
3. Do you regard the operation of the mujahideen in Nalchik on October 13, 2005 as a success? Do you have precise information about its results (losses on both sides, how many innocent civilians were killed, the taking of captured weapons)? Were those who attacked the buildings of the power structures that day in the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria acting on your orders? Were Chechen fighters there? Will similar sorties (vylazki) be repeated? How justifiable is the death of innocent civilians during such large-scale attacks?
First of all, I would like to avoid such Russian propaganda terminology, words such as “sorties” (vylazki) and the like. The operation in Nalchik was a classical sabotage operation, and while there were losses there among the mujahideen and, unfortunately, among the civilian population, which hit us particularly hard, and the main objectives and goals were not achieved, the operation was considered successful.
There was no need to give special orders to the mujahideen. The plan was presented to me, [and] I approved and authorized it. There was no need to send our fighters from the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, Dagestan, Ingushetia or the remaining sectors of our fronts. Naturally, military emir Shamil Basaev took part in the development and preparation of the operation, but we did not take away fighters from the other sectors [to send to Nalchik].
The military losses among our mujahideen amounted to 37 people. The rest of those who were killed by the Russian aggressors and occupiers were mainly civilians. We see this even from the scanty Russian sources. According to parents—fathers and mothers—a young man left the house a half an hour [before the attack] and was then found dead among the “gunmen.” Another young man went out to the yard [of his house] and did not return, [and] was found among the dead. We don’t have such mujahideen, who go and fight for a half an hour and then come back. There are well-trained and highly-qualified professionals or younger men under the leadership of our experienced mujahideen.
A huge number of people were killed among the civilian population of Kabardino-Balkaria; thousands of people, including pregnant women, were persecuted by the Russian aggressors. Naturally, there is no way we can approve of losses among innocent civilians, no matter what the operation is. And our operations are always worked out—and have always been worked out—by taking into consideration that the civilian population should not suffer, even though the aggressor always places its bases and installations only within the boundaries of population centers and in the most densely populated locations. They protect themselves in this way. We understand perfectly why they do this, and they understand it perfectly as well. Nevertheless, for us, the main factor is the protection of our population and so there cannot be any justification for the deaths of innocent civilians.
4. What are your relations with Shamil Basaev? Some believe that he, not you, controls all of the resistance’s units. What is the mechanism for the formation and coordination of the military units operating outside the borders of Chechnya?
Members of the media always ask us such questions concerning our relations with Shamil Basaev and with such well-known people like Dokku Umarov. We have normal, good relations. The fact that such a question arises, however, does not surprise us because these people have enormous authority both in Chechnya and in the North Caucasus; these people are really leaders of their cause. If anyone is trying to find out whether this hinders our work—our struggle to liberate our land—then [the answer is] quite the contrary: each of the mujahideen, each of the emirs, knows his duty, his position. Shamil Basaev holds the position of military emir of the Majlis-ul-Shura and, naturally, all our units are subordinated to him. And, naturally, he is subordinated to the Commander-in-Chief—that is, to me. Thus, there have never been any contradictions or problems in these questions, absolutely none.
As for our units, they all submit directly to the Military Committee, the Ministry of Defense and the Joint Staff alike. There are no big differences between mujahideen units operating inside and outside Chechnya. We are all one unified mechanism, and all of our mujahideen are divided into fronts and sectors. Each sector and each front knows its direct emir; each knows the objectives put before it. The emirs of sectors and fronts are often authorized to solve many tasks. Many operations are planned and conducted in this way. We also carry out large-scale military operations, though only naturally with the authorization of the Commander-in-Chief and the Military Committee of the Majlis-ul-Shura.
5. When Maskhadov was alive, the leadership of Ichkeria repeatedly condemned any terrorist methods of conducting warfare. What is your attitude toward this issue as ChRI president?
We regard terrorist methods as unacceptable, and this is evidenced by the fact that for a year and a half now, we have managed to observe the agreements reached at Maskhadov’s insistence for a unilateral rejection of terrorist acts. These are currently being observed. Yet, despite this gesture of good will and the efforts of the ChRI leadership and the Military Committee of the Majlis-ul-Shura, we do not see corresponding actions on the part of the Russian aggressors. The murder of our innocent people continues; the kidnappings, extra-judicial killings [and] torture continue. To this day, a system of clandestine prisons is operating that has developed not only in Chechnya, but across the entire North Caucasus. People in these prisons are tortured, raped and killed. Though the Russian aggressors have ignored this move of ours [rejecting acts of terror], we continue to adhere to it, although it has not been easy for me, the leader, the emir of the Majlis-ul-Shura and president of the ChRI, to restrain some hotheads who would like to act the same way the Russian militarists act in Chechnya and the North Caucasus.
6. In your first appeal as president, you observed that “the Chechen leadership will continue to keep close contacts and friendship with the whole civilized world, but in doing so, its ideological base should take the worldview of the Muslim people of Chechnya into consideration.” Could you explain whether this means that after the war, Chechnya will create a religious state based on Sharia law and not a secular one based on the constitution adopted in 1992? Or, do you think that a compromise between these two [options], combining religious and secular laws, is possible?
After the war, we will continue to create the state that we planned from the very beginning based on the constitution that was adopted in 1992. The point is that this constitution, according to the decision made not only by the executive and legislative organs of power of the ChRI, but also by the Military Committee of the Majlis-ul-Shura, [by] all the committees that are part of the Majlis-ul-Shura and also by the will of a vast number of the population, should reflect the Islamic essence of the Chechen people. Not a single regime, not even the Soviet regime, with all of its totalitarianism, with all of its misanthropic policy, could force either the Chechens or the neighboring peoples to abandon the practice of resolving their problems through Sharia courts. Naturally, they [the Sharia courts] could not function in full measure, but people resolved all issues through the Sharia courts, through [appealing to] the elders, and no one has been able to extirpate this system in the North Caucasus.
I myself was witness to how in Russia, in the former Soviet Union, three constitutions replaced one another in a short period and then came perestroika [and] then developed democracy and after that [came] the revanchist regime that once again is pulling Russia into wars and conflicts—a regime that has begun to fight once again for “Great Russia.” It is not clear what is behind these words, but it is clear that when “Great Russia” is spoken of, neither freedom nor human rights is implied. It [“Great Russia”] means endless wars, death and the deception of millions of people.
Therefore, we do not want to pass such laws that would have to be changed every 10-15-20 years; laws that would only be good for one leader, calculated for some sort of temporary period. All laws should be based on the main principles of humanity that are found in religion—in the Quran, the Gospels and the Torah. The basic principles are expressed by the holy books, sent down by the Almighty Allah and humanity should not ignore them. When somebody tries to escape from this and introduce other values that contradict human nature, this ends in conflict, local or regional.
Islam has three enemies. The first one is the militant atheist. The atheist is a danger for any country, for any nation, because it is a person without any values. I want to be understood properly here: when Muslims use the word “infidel,” they mean people who have not accepted Islam, but they are still Christians, Hebrews or representatives of other religions. That is, they are people who have norms that they follow. People who have such values, such norms, can find a common language.
The second enemy of Islam is fanaticism—the fanaticism of the theologian who incorrectly interprets Islam. That is what we are also seeing today in many Islamic countries where people are suffering under dictatorial totalitarian regimes instead of enjoying human rights and freedoms, which are values that ought to be protected for each person. This in no way conforms to Islam.
The third enemy is the fanatical ignoramus. Such people are a danger to any society.
As to my first appeal, I simply said that nobody should interfere in the internal affairs of a sovereign state.
7. What, in your opinion, ought to be the policy of the world community and, in particular, the governments of Muslim countries, that could have a real impact and stop the war in Chechnya? Do you think it is possible that international mediators could take part in negotiations between Russia and the ChRI? What is your attitude to [Ilyas] Akhmadov’s plan, which proposes temporary international trusteeship [for Chechnya] under the United Nations?
The policy of the world community should not deviate from the basic values that can be taken from the Quran, the Gospels or the Torah. The participation of international mediators is possible, but is not obligatory. Akhmadov’s plan was given a green light over several years, but unfortunately it did not work. Not because the plan was bad, but because our opponents were not ready for any peaceful resolution of the issue. Today, the plan does not suit the current realities; we have held out and grown stronger. We no longer need this plan and there are other proposals and solutions to this problem. But the main thing is that the Kremlin ought to part with its militarism and become more pragmatic, correct and respectful of law—international law.
8. Would you personally accept direct negotiations with the pro-Russian leadership of Chechnya—Alu Alkhanov and Ramzan Kadyrov—and, if so, what format, in your opinion, should they take?
I would like to use an example understandable to everyone. Let’s imagine that you are attacked by a pack of dogs belonging to your neighbor. You would have to talk to the dogs’ owner, wouldn’t you? There would be no point in talking to the animals, to the dogs. They [the pro-Russian leaders of Chechnya] fulfill the dishonorable, undignified role of ordinary puppets. If we pinned our hopes on them, we would injure not only the honor and dignity of the fallen shaheeds but also the honor of the whole Chechen nation. What can these puppets do? What problem can they solve? Everything they do, they do with the permission of the Kremlin and the Russian special services. They have never made a singe decision on their own. They have never decided anything on their own and never will. So this question must be properly understood. It is not a matter of our unwillingness to halt military operations; it is simply that it makes no sense to conduct negotiations with that pack.
9. In case of negotiations between the ChRI and the Russian Federation, what role could be played by emirs of the jamaats of the other republics of the North Caucasus? What is the ultimate aim of the struggle led by these jamaats? How does their struggle correlate with the war fought by the Chechens for their independence? Do you see the prospect of you becoming the political leader of the whole North Caucasus?
Certainly, if negotiations between the ChRI and Russia start, all issues will be resolved between us consultatively, observing the principles of the Shura. Not only will the emirs of the jamaats take part in the discussions, but also ordinary mujahideen will take part as equals. We all have one common goal—liberation from colonial slavery and achieving freedom and independence. Like the Chechen people, all the peoples around us have risen up and want freedom and independence. There are jamaats on the territory of Russia, some consisting of [ethnic] Russians, many of which have taken the oath of allegiance to me as emir of the Majlis-ul-Shura and have directly subordinated themselves to us. There are some Muslim groups that would like to remain within Russia on the condition that their freedom of belief is observed—a freedom that is guaranteed by the Russian Federation constitution.
There are such groups, but above all, it is the Chechen people who in the past have never had any desire to remain in Russia and do not have such a wish today. There are also the neighboring nations who share our demand for independence. All these questions will be decided consultatively, collegially and by mutual consent.
I am the leader not because I want to be, but because it is a universally recognized fact in the North Caucasus; the Majlis-ul-Shura is the legal body for all the Muslims of the North Caucasus and, as has already been said, not only for the North Caucasus, but also inside Russia, where there are many jamaats that that have taken an oath of allegiance to us. This is a fact, but it is not as if we ourselves have specially tried to bring this about.
10. Which position is more important to you—being a sheik and Emir of the Majlis-ul-Shura or being the president of the ChRI?
According to Islam, the word “sheik” expresses a respectful attitude to a scholar or to an elder in a family line. It is close in meaning to the English word “sir.” The Emir of the Majlis-ul-Shura and the president have the same function and the same role. The only difference is that the Emir of the Majlis-ul-Shura has more rights and more duties. Naturally, the Chechen people have always behaved according to the constitution, where the position of ChRI president is assigned. “Sheik,” as has already been noted, is just a respectful form of address in Islam.
11. Let us touch upon your attitude toward Western countries. Do you regard the United States as a potential friend of the ChRI or do you regard America as an enemy, like Russia?
I think that we can make friends not only with the United States, but with Russia as well. Despite this murderous, dirty, barbarous war that Russia has waged against us, we have never rejected good neighborly and friendly relations with Russia. Unfortunately, this has always hit a wall of misunderstanding, arrogance and imperial ambitions. Nevertheless, we are not people who can be made into slaves. It is better to have us as friends. If a nation [or] country, especially a world superpower like the United States, is ready to have a dialogue with us, we are always open and will be open to this. If we are ready to be good neighbors with Russia, then we cannot have any problems with America.
12. Did Aslan Maskhadov have any influence on forming your views?
Undoubtedly. Aslan Maskhadov has always been an enormous example for all our mujahideen and the whole population. Maskhadov was a great leader and with his shaheed’s death he became even greater because with his martyr’s death he showed how a leader should go out, how an emir should go out. Those Russian dogs that danced around his dead body should be ashamed. Even dead, Maskhadov was great, while Russia disgraced herself in the eyes of all honest and respectable people of the world. As the saying goes, a dead lion can be kicked even by a rabbit. Even after his death, Maskhadov remains a great leader and an example for me.
13. Could you please give a few facts from your personal history? There are a lot of contradictory facts in the press. Were you really born in the town of Argun? Have you taken part in military operations against the Russian army? The Russian press has characterized you as an ardent Wahhabi. Do you belong to any particular school of Islam?
I really do come from the town of Argun. If Allah permits, I’ll soon be 40 years old. I was born in Argun in 1966.
The Islamic school [of thought] that I have studied and followed, I learned mainly from the teachings of Imam Shafi’i, although I am also acquainted with the works of the other three great Imams and the teachings of the four basic Islamic schools, the Four Madhabs. I have also tried to draw on Hanbali Maskhab, but Chechens have always belonged to Imam Shafi’i; that is the reason I have thoroughly studied him. As for Wahhabism, the word is used in Russia to describe a few decorative Muslims—muftis. Besides these decorative puppets, any Muslim who prays five times a day, who grows sort of a beard and who tries to follow the Sunna of Muhammad the Prophet is without fail given the epithet “Wahhabi” or the like. Therefore, it [Wahhabism] has nothing to do either with our religion or with our beliefs. We do not have a religion such as Wahhabism and do not adhere to it.
I hope that I was able in my short speech, Inshallah, to answer some of our friends’ questions and to clarify the situation that we find ourselves in. Every country and every nation supporting the Chechen people support not only us, but themselves as well, because if you deny freedom to someone, you deny freedom to your own people. The fact that our friends in America ask such questions serve the cause of peace and bring our peoples—the Chechen leadership and nation and the American leadership and nation—closer. I thank you for your sympathy and for your efforts in covering the situation in our republic. I thank all of you.
Allah Akbar (Let Allah be glorious)!