North Caucasus Insurgency Attracting Mainly Young and Committed Members

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 10 Issue: 2

The profiles of those who join the ranks of the resistance fighters in the North Caucasus have often been young and for the most part either come from rural areas or have gone over to the resistance in order to take revenge for a murder or for a humiliation that they or their family members have experienced. Such descriptions, however, are now out of date.

The qualitative composition of the armed underground in the North Caucasus today is a grade higher than it was at the outset of military activities in the North Caucasus in 1999-2000. This implies that those who join the ranks of militants are not only young people motivated by romanticism, but also those who consciously choose not to be reconciled with the authorities based on political as well as religious motivations.

Observers frequently conclude that young people are drawn to the militants because of an accumulation of unresolved problems in society. Human rights organizations also simplify everything by attempting to explain grievances only in terms of revenge for crimes committed by the authorities (http://www.livechechnya.org/Archiv/12_09_08.htm). According to this interpretation, everything is simple: if one does not have work, one is ready to fight; if one is humiliated by police officers, one is ready to fight.

Actually it is not quite that simple. Before leaving to join the militants in the forests or mountains and before taking up arms, young people learn a lot on the Internet, where the militants are portrayed as liberators and the romanticism surrounding this image is strengthened ideologically by the desire to free the homeland from the “kafirs,” which means infidels and is the most widely used term on the resistance movement’s propaganda websites. They leave for mountains when they become absolutely convinced by the adherents of radical points of view on the situation in the region. For them the question of religion becomes the primary issue, while the rest (achievement of independence, revenge) assumes secondary importance. At present many on-line youth forums on the Internet function precisely in the vein (see, for example, http://www.amina.com/kamina, http://www.kavkazchat.com/forumindex.php).

A simple analysis of those who visit such forums can yield an average profile of an ardent adherent of Salafi doctrine on the Internet. He or she is young—in the 18-20 age range—and almost always a college student, often away from home. They might be a student in Moscow or in one of the Western countries or, on rare occasions, a student at an Islamic institute in the Middle East. Whatever the case, he or she is a young person who is only about to begin an independent life; a person who is easily attracted to idea of comprehending the truth and distinguishing it from untruth. Thus, while criticizing what he or she saw or continues to see at home, he or she begins to seek the “truth” in Salafi teachings which, unlike others, convey their main tenets in terms that are easily accessible for young people.

Although young people do represent the majority of those who join the ranks of militants in the mountains (www.ng.ru/regions/2008-05-21/1_chechnia.html), they still do not form the core of the various militant groups. More mature and experienced militants represent continuity between those who have died at the hands of spetsnaz and police and those who have recently joined the militants’ ranks. It is worth noting that the attitude of the youth can change given that the initial romanticism usually evaporates with the realization that life in the mountains is quite difficult. But even if a recruit returns home, it does not mean he completely loses contact with his former unit. In fact, he essentially becomes its contact in a given village or town in order to help provide the militants with food supplies, clothes and operational information. Thus, the elements of resistance are present not only in the mountains and forests in the form of jamaat members directly involved in the armed struggle, but also in the form of average residents, who extend assistance to the resistance movement while blending in with the general population of every village.

The militants have no age requirements. For instance, among those killed during the operation to dislodge militants holed up in a residential apartment building in Dagestan on August 26, 2006, there was Zubail Khiyasov, a former Dagestani culture minister and director of the Kumyck National Theater of Dagestan, who was close to 70 years old (http://kavkaz.memo.ru/newstext/chronics/id/790621.html). Khiyasov was not an isolated case. For instance, the father of Shamil Basaev, who was over 70, was also a resistance fighter and even commanded a small armed group that was liquidated in the Nozhai-Yurt district of Chechnya in 2002 (http://www.lenta.ru/news/2006/07/18/tsakaev/). Similar instances can be cited in virtually each of the jamaats and provide vivid examples of the fact that people of all ages are participating in the war against the authorities.

It is also possible to put under the militants’ broad umbrella that part of the population which helps the armed opposition because of family ties. Whether or not there are shared ideological views, any interaction with relatives who happen to be militants is governed by the mechanism of highland ethics that is inherent in all Caucasian peoples. It implies that if a person invokes a name of a relative, then to assist him or her is not simply an obligation but also a matter of personal honor. The invisible forces of customary law or adat enter into force and make it possible for a person seeking assistance from strangers to know that he or she will not be turned down just because he or she has relatives who are in the ranks of militants. Of course, equally important here is that people treat the authorities as a hostile force from which they expect trouble (http://www.old.mil.ru/print/articles/article11836.shtml). This explains why the authorities cannot defeat the militants despite the fact that the number of security forces has increased exponentially. For instance, according to Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, his combined combat-ready law enforcement forces in the Chechen Republic now totals approximately 27,000 people. This total does not include the tens of thousands of military personnel in the republic, including several thousand operatives from the Federal Security Service (FSB) and Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), as well as a few thousand servicemen from the detachments of the Special Operations Police Squad (OMON), Special Rapid Reaction Unit (SOBR) and regular police units dispatched from other regions of Russia.

Moreover, there is another group of people who do not assist and do not participate in armed clashes but continue to latently sympathize with everything that the militants do against the authorities. This is a sizeable part of society, and it is absolutely passive. Under present conditions, this group may even support the authorities. Yet an opinion survey carried out in the capital Grozny in December found that 39 percent of respondents think the resumption of military activities in the republic is possible. This group thinks that the security situation has not improved in the past several years (http://www.caucasustimes.com/article.asp?id=18259) Hence, what people say in front of the camera and what they actually think drastically differ. It is this part of the population that is becoming a decisive force in the conflict, because the balance of power between the opposing forces depends on the degree of its involvement.

In conclusion, although the youth represent the main element filling the ranks of jamaat members, they also include people from other age categories. Moreover, it is important to consider all forms of support—both from the active and passive parts of the population—because without these various forms of support the very existence of resistance would become problematic. Judging by the current developments in the region, it is possible to state that the armed resistance is driven mainly by small victories, but that with regard to the dissemination of its ideas and views, it is more successful than the authorities. The authorities give priority to the use of force and try to sweep the problems under the rug. Based on this, one can be absolutely certain that the resistance movement will not incur any cardinal losses in the coming years. This means that the North Caucasus will remain a volatile area for many years to come.