Ingush Rebels Extend an Olive Branch to Sufis

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 176

Amir Magas of the Ingush jamaat.

The latest move by the insurgency in the North Caucasus was not entirely unexpected. It has finally dawned on the rebel leadership of the Caucasus Emirate that waging a war against everyone is a hopeless proposition. Their perpetual hostility toward Sufi Islam resulted in pushing away the majority of those unhappy with Russia’s posture in the region, or at best, alienating them from the whole concept of a religiously inspired Emirate. The bitter strife between the Salafi and Sufi ideologies occasionally made it look like the militants spend more time and effort fighting Sufis than their real enemy -that is, Moscow.

For the first time since the Caucasus Emirate was announced in the fall of 2007 as a replacement for the former Ichkeria, the Ingush rebel fighters have reached out to Sufis, releasing a statement entitled "Address of Galgay (Ingush) Vilayat’s Mujahideen to Sufis and Tarikat Leaders" and posting it on the Ingush insurgency’s website on September 18 (www.hunafa.com). The statement said that the rebel fighters do not see Sufis as their enemies and are not fighting against them, the only exception being for those who worship their sheikh/leader beyond the level allowed in Islam. It also agreed that many Sufi teachers (ustaza) and leaders of brotherhood orders called for resistance against Russian troops and suffered in the war with Russia.

The statement became the first signal that the resistance movement is prepared to move away from their formerly unrelenting hostility toward Sufism. It apparently became impossible to deny or ignore the fact that 90 percent of the inhabitants of Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan Muslims are followers of Sufi Islam. The militants gained nothing by bashing Sufis; on the contrary, they lost a significant base of supporters that included a majority of the local populace. The Ingush rebels’ move is a first step toward easing the tensions between these two irreconcilable strains of Islam. However, this should not be confused with an actual change of heart on behalf of the Salafis; rather, they are facing the reality that nothing significant in the region can be accomplished without Sufi support. In short, the Salafis have been forced to accept this temporary coalition with the Sufis out of necessity.

Moscow was the first to understand the importance of Sufi Islam in the region, and decided to make a strategic alliance with the Sufis before the Salafis realized the need for the same thing. This strategy allowed Moscow to destabilize the situation somewhat and to neutralize a certain segment of the Sufis. The militant movement did not help things by their harsh stance toward the Sufis; it seemed as if the rebels had decided that the support of Salafis around the world would be a worthy replacement for the loyalty of those among whom they live and fight. Therefore, a competition for the support of Sufi Muslims may soon begin in the region. To wit, in an obvious attempt to court the Sufi leadership, Moscow recently allowed a university named after one of the most respected leaders of the Qadiri tarikat, Kunta-Hajji Kishiyev, to open.

One can only guess as to the reasons for and timing of the statement released by the Ingush rebels. Since the announcement of the creation of the Caucasus Emirate, Amir Magas of the Ingush jamaat (aka Akhmed Yevloev, a successor to Shamil Basaev) has become completely inconspicuous. He might not have completely supported the transformation of Ichkeria into the Caucasus Emirate. Moreover, those who had a real hand in the establishment of the Emirate stepped into the limelight, including Amir Seifullah (Anzor Astemirov) and the former vice president of Ichkeria, Supian Abdullaev. Both men have made a number of statements explaining the motivation for the change in goals and on the prospects of the new virtual state called the Caucasus Emirate. However, the actual military commander was nowhere to be seen or heard – he rarely signed any statements or made public addresses. He has either fallen out of favor or joined the opposition.

The lack of statements from Amir Magas was particularly intriguing, considering that a majority of the military operations during the past two years took place in his backyard. Every statement that came from his jamaat was signed by "The Department of Information and Analysis of Vilayet Galgaiche Headquarters" (www.hunafa.com).

One possible explanation may be his alliance with the brotherhood of Kunta Hajji Kishiyev. It can also be surmised that the decision to announce a virtual state of the Caucasus Emirate was made without his input, which made him shy away from discussing the issue in public.

Therefore, there has been only one instance of a prominent Chechen field commander -Amir Mansur (aka Arbi Evmirzayev)- refusing to recognize the legitimacy of rebel leader Dokka Umarov’s decision to announce the creation of the Caucasus Emirate (http://www.chechenrepublic.net/news/120/ARTICLE/2508/2009-02-06.html). All the rest, regardless of their Sufi roots, recognized the Emirate in the name of unity within the armed resistance’s ranks. Consequently, it would be incorrect to equate the resistance movement with Salafism; the insurgency ranks in Chechnya, Ingushetia and perhaps Dagestan comprise two completely different ideologies -Salafi and Sufi Islam. Salafi followers are probably more numerous than the Sufis; however, this has to do with the arrival of new members, who are joining a movement in which the dominant ideology is that of Salafism.

Finally, the recent statement made by the Riyadus Salikhiyn militant group about the attack on the police district in the Ingush village of Ekazhevo on September 11 introduced a different stand on inter-ethnic relations. Prior to that, the insurgents usually avoided criticizing a particular ethnicity; however, this statement clearly pits the Ingush against the Ossetians, calling the latter "the most despised kaffir people in the Caucasus of Alans" (www.hunafa.com). The statement refers to the decision made by the Ingush President Yunus-Bek Yevkurov to recognize Ossetia’s claim to the disputed area of Prigorodny district of Ossetia (also referred to as Alania). In effect, the Ingush have been presented with a new enemy, the Ossetians, who only a year ago were, according to the resistance leaders, an equally important ethnic element of the Emirate -that is, until May 5 of this year, when their homeland Iriston was "dissolved" and reintegrated into the administrative unit of Galgayche/Ingushetia (www.generalvekalat.org, May 11).

The insurgency’s latest move also indicates that, two years after the announcement of the creation of the Caucasus Emirate, it might be contemplating reverting to its original Ichkerian roots. In fact, there is also no guarantee that the rebels’ return to the ideology of the independent Chechen state of Ichkeria will not be their next move in an effort to regain the lost support of the populace.