On April 28, 2011, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its 2011 Annual Report. A full chapter concerns the Chechen Republic—the only Russian region to which the report pays special attention.
The report emphasizes that since Ramzan Kadyrov has been appointed to head the Chechen republic, “he has exploited Islam, distorting Chechen Sufi traditions to serve his own ambitions and justify his arbitrary rule. He has declared that Chechnya would be better off if it were ruled by Sharia law, which contradicts secular Russian constitutional and legal precepts.” The report points out rough violations of human rights, and in particular, the rights of women. The USCIRF recommends the US government to institute a visa ban and freeze the Chechen leader’s assets, and to urge its European partners to do the same (The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, 2011 Annual Report, www.uscirf.gov).
The author visited Chechnya at the end of last year and the results of that visit strongly indicated that Ramzan Kadyrov appears to be laying the foundation for the creation of an Islamic state in the North Caucasus. On the streets of the Chechen capital, for example, one may see posters with the image of two girls: one in a scarf with a mosque in the background, and another with dismissed hair with a precipice behind her. The devout Muslim addresses to the apostate: “I am Chechen, and I am proud of it. I follow the traditions of my nation. And who are you? Your dress is profane for the image of a Chechen woman.”
This propaganda material is placed in the streets of the city by the Chechen Republic ministry of external communications, national policy, media and information. Today, women who are working for state institutions are not allowed to come to work without a covered head.
“We found many cases of Ramzan Kadyrov’s guardsmen shooting with air guns at women with uncovered heads. Nowadays, a woman in Chechnya is considered a person of second grade. However, Kadyrov’s men not only struggle with the ‘frivolous’ appearance of women, but men with long hair are also stopped and threatened as well. Chechen human rights activist Kheida Saratova told the author during his 2010 visit that men are also stopped and told that they would have problems if they do not dress as is proper for a Muslim.”
In Grozny, the sale of strong alcohol products is allowed only from 8:00 am to 10:00 am. During the month of Ramadan, for example, the sale of alcohol is prohibited completely, and the work of cafes and restaurants is forbidden during the whole period from sunrise to sunset.
Sometimes, Kadyrov’s version of Islam exhibits itself in rather exotic forms. For example, in Chechnya, the Center of Islamic Medicine has been established. There, mullahs are trying to cure mentally ill people by prayer alone. “We expel demons from people, reading to them suras from the Koran. Before starting a treatment, patients go through a test. We have to be sure that the patient is not just mad, but that there really is a genie sitting inside of him. Our center was founded with the support of the President of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov in February of this year,” Adam Eljukaev, the principal physician of the center, told the Jamestown Foundation during an extended interview.
It is noteworthy to mention that Ramzan Kadyrov also seeks to establish the Sufi tradition of Islam in Chechnya, in opposition to the so called “Wahhabi” version of Islam, which is frequently found among the insurgents operating in the region. In the North Caucasus, the term “Wahhabi” is used for adherents of the branch of Islam that is worshiped in Saudi Arabia and several other countries. However, supporters of this version of Islam in the North Caucasus consider this term a label with a negative connotation, and call themselves Salafis or fundamentalists.
Today, Ramzan Kadyrov is trying to present the war in the North Caucasus as a religious one—as a fight between traditional Sufi Islam of the North Caucasus against the “Wahhabi heresy.” It is worth mentioning that during the time of Ramzan’s father, Ahmed Kadyrov, who was the Mufti of Chechnya, that it was he who declared jihad against Russia. The mufti switched to the Kremlin side only in 1999, after a conflict with the so-called Wahhabis. “During the war, groups of volunteer Wahhabis came to Chechnya from Arab countries. These groups have been very well armed and therefore our Chechen men willingly joined them. Many of them [Chechen men who joined the Arab Wahhabi militants] adopted their [Arab Wahhabi] doctrine and tried to teach us, claiming that it was we who distorted Islam. We perfectly understood that any internal contention among us will play into hands of Moscow, which dreams of pitting Chechens against each other—to split the people by religious attributes. We tried to come to an agreement with them peacefully: ‘You are welcome to do what you want, but please, do not impose your views on us, do not accuse us of heresy.’ Alas, a dialog was not successful,” Ahmed Kadyrov said in a conversation with the author, not long before he switched to the federal side.
Since Ramzan Kadyrov today struggles with supporters who favor creating an independent Islamic state in the North Caucasus, the Kremlin is ready to forgive him for even the roughest infringements of Russian laws. Paradoxically, Kadyrov’s Chechen Republic differs from the Russian Federation to a much greater extent than the Chechen Republic of Dzhokhar Dudaev’s time. One of the reasons why, in 1994, the Russian army came into Chechnya, was the fact that at that time Chechnya became a “criminal, lack of restrictions zone”—a base of raids into neighboring Russian regions. However, in this sense, today’s Chechnya does not differ much from that of Dudaev’s time. It is indicative that nowadays Chechens who committed crimes in Russia are harbored in the Chechen Republic where they feel themselves relatively safe from arrest. Kadyrov’s men repeatedly initiated shootings in the streets of Moscow, and then came back to their Motherland without any punishment (Interfax, May 30 2008).
In its internal policy, the Chechen Republic has all the appearances of being relatively independent from Russia. Actually, Kadyrov’s Chechnya may be considered a precedent for the creation of an Islamic state inside the Russian Federation. Ramzan Kadyrov, with Moscow’s permission, possesses his own efficient army, which implicitly obeys its leader. The unpredictability and eccentricity of Ramzan Kadyrov allows one to conjecture that at some point he might refuse the union with Russia, and then the Kremlin will face an enemy probably much more dangerous that today’s insurgents.