From Derbent to Nazran: Rebels Step up Attacks in the North Caucasus

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 9 Issue: 30

This summer, which was discussed with much fear in the offices of the pro-Moscow authorities in the North Caucasus as well as among the top brass of the Russian armed forces in the region, turned out exactly as was predicted. Militant activities by members of the resistance from Derbent to Nazran were truly unprecedented. Just in the course of one night alone—from June 23 to June 24—according to the independent Ingushetia.ru website, six armed assaults were carried out, including an attack on the prime minister of the Republic of Ingushetia, Kharun Dzeitov (www.ingushetiya.ru/news/14895.html). In the morning, in plain view of the police, another assassination attempt was carried out against the Deputy Mufti of Ingushetia Kambulat Zyazikov (www.rbcdaily.ru/2008/07/25/focus/364139; North Caucasus Weekly, July 24). This was clearly meant to demonstrate to the authorities that the militants do not differentiate between day and night despite an increase in the number of police checkpoints.

In the meantime, against the backdrop of the 70 police officers, military personnel and FSB operatives who perished in the past six months (www.ingushetiya.ru/news/14865.html), Ingushetia’s president, Murat Zyazikov, thinks that all the blame should be laid squarely on news agencies that focus only on negative developments. According to Zyazikov, this negative information campaign is orchestrated by the United States and, of course, not without the help from the Jamestown Foundation, which is to be blamed for everything that is taking place in southern Russia. These views are presented at length in a rambling article published in 100 Natsii (100 Nations), a journal established under the aegis of Russia’s Federation Council (see 100 Natsii, July 2008, No.6-7 (60-61), pp.34-39). The journalist conducting the interview with Zyazykov occasionally forgets and answers his own questions, which are supplemented by materials extracted from the archives of information agencies. Such digressions are presented as historical facts by a Moscow-based magazine that a majority of the people in Russia has never even heard of. The groundless accusation that the situation in Ingushetia is being systematically destabilized by external forces has become something of a tradition among Ingush political and cultural elites, who sincerely think that everything unfolds according to instructions from Washington. Before the breakup of the Soviet Union everything was blamed on the CIA and now all blame is heaped on the Jamestown Foundation simply because it follows and analyzes the developments in the region.

Meanwhile, as attacks on federal forces reportedly took place in Chechnya (http://kavkaz.tv/russ/content/2008/07/24/59666.shtml), Grozny was again accused of separatism, but this time in connection with soccer. Someone hung the flag of Kosovo, which has not been recognized by Russia, at Grozny’s Sultan Bilimkhanov Stadium during a soccer game (North Caucasus Weekly, July 24) and despite rebuttals of this story in the mainstream Russian media (www.rian.ru/society/20080721/114566450.html), which claimed both that there was no flag to begin with and that it was confused with the flag of Albania, the issue will be discussed in Moscow. It is not clear how one can confuse the red flag of Albania with the blue flag of Kosovo, but it is possible that Chechen Sports Minister Khaidar Alkhanov never saw either flag in his life (a photo of the flag displayed Grozny’s Sultan Bilimkhanov Stadium can be seen at www.gazeta.ru/politics/2008/07/21_a_2788483.shtml). There have also been cases of soccer fans displaying the flags of independent Ichkeria, which is risky under the present conditions of Chechnya’s authoritarian regime, and those who dare to do so could face serious trouble. All of this represents different forms of popular expression of sympathy and support for the resistance fighters holed up in mountains.

The mass exodus of Chechen youth to the mountains was something that Ramzan Kadyrov particularly emphasized during his meeting with the Muftiyat (the Islamic clerical establishment) and all the imams of mosques and village kadis (Islamic judges) of the republic. Kadyrov’s angry address to the meeting’s participants contained several revelatory moments. He admitted that the young men continue to join the ranks of the resistance fighters in the mountains (www.grozny-inform.ru/main.mhtml?Part=11&PubID=7937) and acknowledged that the village imams, despite the fact that he provided them with funds and security details, either cannot or are afraid to carry out propaganda activities against the spread of Salafi ideology. Kadyrov vowed he would hold the family and relatives of every youth who departs for the mountains responsible for the youth’s decision to join the rebels. Finally, Kadyrov said that anyone in a position of authority up to the post of director with relatives who joined the militants would have to convince those relatives to return or risk losing their jobs. It will be easier to find the runaways in the rural areas, where blood ties between neighboring villages are close, and this will provide a way to get rid of this or that government official in order to take his job. In today’s Chechnya, where the official unemployment level is a staggering 75 percent and unofficially hovers close to 90 percent, Kadyrov’s newly announced stipulation may further exacerbate the situation in society.

Chechnya’s mullahs and imams, who receive their salaries from the authorities, are already not true representatives of society because they represent the government and this turns them into a special category of government bureaucrats. They are equated with the authorities and this leads to their removal from their communities. The day after Kadyrov made his remarks, Grozny Mayor Muslim Khuchiev, one of Kadyrov’s closest confidants, convened a meeting of regional imams and kadis of the republican capital, during which he urged them to pay more attention to the socially vulnerable part of the society because children from such a background are the most likely to be susceptible to the ideas of extremism and terrorism (www.grozny-inform.ru/main.mhtml?Part=8&PubID=7956). Of course, he did not disclose that the absolute majority of citizens of Chechnya fall into this category. Nor did he reveal how he intended to help them.

The authorities in Kabardino-Balkaria are preoccupied with the same problem and the odious chief ideologue and mouthpiece of Russian ideology in the North Caucasus, Ali Kazikhanov, who is editor-in-chief of the newspaper Severny Kavkaz (North Caucasus), recently offered two solutions: to agree to remain in the shadow of the “great” Russia or to remain allied with radical Islam (www.sknews.ru/main/9096-poslednijj-zvonok.html). As editor-in-chief of Severny Kavkaz, Kazikhanov cannot offer anything else. This should not be surprising given that the generation that was raised on the ideas of the great Soviet Union refuses to see itself outside its borders and is horrified by the prospect that the North Caucasus could be removed from Moscow’s control. Ali Kazikhanov’s article clearly demonstrates this fear.

In the same issue of Severny Kavkaz, Musa Musaev, a journalist for the newspaper who comes from Dagestan, juxtaposed the arguments, rebutting Ali Kazikhanov and reaching the following rational conclusion: “… when there is a protest electorate in society because of injustice and violence, then this disenfranchised part of society becomes extremely religious and quickly adheres to the radical movements. And the lifestyle of other Dagestanis becomes simply incompatible with their lifestyle” (www.sknews.ru/issue/9219-protestnyjj-jelektorat-dagestana-bystro.html).

In a spirit similar to that of the desperate outburst of the editor-in-chief of Severniy Kavkaz, the press service of the President of Kabardino-Balkaria issued a press release entitled “The republic needs pro-Russian spiritual leaders” (www.sknews.ru/regions/region07/9094-respublike-nuzhny-prorossijjski.html). In other words, the task is the same as it was during the atheistic reign of the Soviet state, when the spiritual authorities with this orientation were automatically considered by society at large to be affiliated with the KGB.

Meanwhile, on July 22, the Yarmuk Jamaat presented a roster of its activities for the spring/summer period that resembled a report by a financial organization striving to show that it is not sitting idly by (http://kavkaz.tv/russ/content/2008/07/22/59617.shtml). And, indeed, one cannot deny that there have been more such activities this year compared to the previous one.

Thus, the problem of youths, the reason for their departure to the mountains and the popular attitudes toward the militants worry practically all republics of the Northern Caucasus, but each sees the resolution of these issues differently. More often than not, the authorities hope to resolve these issues by force and undoubtedly with the support of Moscow. In practice, however, a solution to the accumulated problems is possible only by adopting a comprehensive approach that takes into account the interests of those who do not agree with the official point of view on this or that tenet of Islam.