Publication: Monitor Volume: 3 Issue: 96

One person was killed, three were wounded, and eighteen people were taken hostage on the evening of May 12 during an armed confrontation between representatives of two religious sects in the village of Chabana-Makhi in Dagestan’s Buinaksk District. Following the intervention of the Dagestani authorities, a truce was reached between the two sides, the hostages were released, and those suspected of committing the murder were arrested. (Interfax, May 13)

The confrontation took place between adherents of the Sunni branch of Islam traditional to Dagestan and so-called "Wahabis." Wahabis are followers of a religious and political doctrine in Sunni Islam, which arose in Arabia in the mid-eighteenth century and called for a purification of Islam. It is the official ideology of Saudi Arabia. But the people who are called "Wahabis" in Russia and other parts of the former Soviet Union cannot be called adherents of that religious doctrine in the strict sense of the word. "Wahabis" appeared for the first time in the USSR at the dawn of perestroika, and were Muslims who protested against the close links maintained by the traditional clergy with the Communist authorities. Today, opponents of the Tajik opposition call opposition members "Wahabis," though in reality the Tajik opposition is influenced more by Shiite Iran than by Saudi Arabia.

Today, "Wahabism" is strongest in Chechnya and Dagestan, and this week’s conflict between traditional Muslims and "Wahabis" in Dagestan is the fourth since 1995 to have cost human life. The situation in Dagestan is exacerbated by the fact that, in neighboring Chechnya, detachments of Wahabi volunteers from the Middle East fought on the Chechen side during the recent war. (Best-known was the detachment led by the Jordanian Khattab, who destroyed a column of Russian troops near Yarysh-Mardy in April 1995.) Today, armed detachments of Wahabis, seeking to spread their doctrine among "backsliding" Muslims, represent a serious challenge not only to Djohar-gala but also to the government of neighboring Dagestan. Indeed, talking recently to the Monitor, the chairman of the Dagestani parliament, Mukhu Aliev, listed three factors which could destabilize the situation in the republic: bands of rogue Chechen fighters, local Mafia gangs, and "Wahabi" groups.

Protests Continue in Vladivostok.