It appears the Caucasus Emirate’s representatives finally realized that it is no longer enough to talk about “worldwide jihad” and position the war in the Caucasus as part of it. Caucasus Emirate websites normally provide information about jihadist achievements around the world – in countries and territories such as Somalia, Yemen, Sudan, Kashmir and so on. However, the leadership of the North Caucasus insurgency now realizes that the region’s ordinary residents are not interested in what is going on in Yemen or Sudan: they are much more concerned with what is happening in neighboring Georgia and Azerbaijan, as the latter are closer to home and more familiar.
May 2012 was probably thought of as an exceptional month as the North Caucasian jihadists planned an event that would illuminate the unity of the Muslims in the North Caucasus. On May 13, 2012, a seminar took place in Istanbul that changed its title several times over the past several weeks. Information about plans to hold an international conference at the University of the Fatih district in Istanbul first appeared on the Internet. The Fatih district is known to be the home to various Muslim organizations and committees that help the North Caucasians in their struggle against Russia. The event was dubbed the “Conference of Caucasian Diasporas,” but on its first day, the event was renamed the “Caucasian Congress” (http://nohchipress.info/?p=6319). Turkish organization Imkander, which positions itself as a humanitarian and human rights-oriented institution, assisted in the preparations for the conference (www.imkander.org.tr/).
In fact, the title “Conference of Caucasus Diasporas” would have been the most appropriate option since the event’s participants were made up of Caucasus Emirate supporters. There were far fewer than the stated “450 delegates” present at the conference; counting women and children who came to the conference, as the jihadi websites did, was misleading. Yet, the importance of this event did not depend on how many people attended. Even if there had been only a couple dozen participants, it would still have been noteworthy since it was the first conference of its kind to be organized by the Caucasus Emirate and held abroad. The conference was designed to show the unified support of the Caucasus diasporas for the Caucasus Emirate and recognize its leader, Doku Umarov, as the only legitimate authority in the North Caucasus. All of the speakers at the conference expressed support for the Caucasus Emirate and its leader.
The conference also had some embarrassing moments. Those participants who had been taken in by the initial title of the conference and who came to report on human rights violations in Russia were subsequently forced to distance themselves from the event. For example, a human rights activist from Finland, Elena Maglevannaya, did just that, refusing to support the Caucasus Emirate in writing. Maglevannaya converted to Islam and has been actively engaged in assisting Chechens who are in Russian prisons (http://kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2012/05/19/90668.shtml). The presence of Alexander Kvakhadze, the representative of the Circassian Cultural Center in Georgia, at the conference was also out of place, although his report was on the tragedy of the Circassians.
The Russian Foreign Ministry reacted indignantly to the “Caucasian Congress” in Istanbul, saying in an official statement that it was unacceptable for conferences that “threaten the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation” to be held in Turkey (www.rosbalt.ru/main/2012/05/18/982487.html). Moscow’s angry reaction indicated that the conference organizers had achieved their goal. The conference stressed that Doku Umarov’s authority in the North Caucasus was the only legitimate force in the region. Moreover, the conference took place despite the official designation of the Caucasus Emirate as a terrorist organization by the United States and the United Nations (http://rusmission.org/17/1/2056). Consequently the event’s organizers practically challenged the international community, disagreeing with its judgment. The conference organizers were also indignant about being ignored by the Russian and pro-democracy Chechen media. Representatives of the Caucasus Emirate who were behind the conference accused the pro-democracy Chechen leaders of showing criminal disregard for their event.
Meanwhile, the North Caucasus jihadist leader followed up on the initiative of his supporters in Istanbul by addressing the Chechen people to explain his position and to ask for a favor. Umarov stated that the militants fought for the Chechen people and asked that Chechens stop making divisive statements, adding that if Chechens were not actively assisting the insurgency it would be helpful if they at least abstained from obstructing the insurgents. The tone of Umarov’s video recording and certain points he made indicated that his address was directed against Russian policies in the North Caucasus in general and Chechnya in particular. In his eight minute address, the insurgent leader emphasized unity with the people – something that had not been heard from him since 2007 (www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=rwHYtD4O6is).
Also, in a separate six-minute video, Umarov called on Russian citizens, in particular the Muslim population of the Russian Federation, to support jihad against the government (http://kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2012/05/22/90743.shtml). Umarov gave the example of a young man who accompanied him in fighting for 18 years, becoming like a son. Now, the young man has his own son who will join the jihad. Umarov warned Vladimir Putin and his entourage that they would not be able to stop the war and deprive the militants of the desire for independence from Russia as new generations of Chechen youth join the resistance. For the first time, the Caucasus Emirate leader mentioned the “independence” of Chechnya among his goals along with an all-out jihad. Since 2007, the year that the Caucasus Emirate was first established, the word independence has been all but absent from Umarov’s vocabulary.
Both video recordings to the Chechens and Muslims of Russia were made against the backdrop of a mass gathering of people. The recordings were probably made at the meeting of commanders of the Western Chechnya sector that took place at a militant base on April 29. Umarov was flanked by his naib (deputy) Emir Khamzat on the left and by Emir Zaurbek on the right. Emir Zaurbek came from the group under Hussein Gakaev’s command in eastern Chechnya.
The jihadists appear determined to launch an ideologically-charged campaign. For a long time, the North Caucasus jihadi ideology was dominated by the constructs of separatist ideologue Movladi Udugov who operates the Kavkazcenter website. Udugov scored a propaganda victory during the first Chechen war in 1994-1996. It is likely that more events, which strive to demonstrate greater international support for the ideas of the Caucasus Emirate, will follow.
However, there is a significant barrier: the Caucasus Emirate’s members adhere to the principle that “he who is not on our side is our enemy,” which will not find much acceptance among an Internet audience. Therefore, supporters of the Caucasus Emirate will need to stop indulging in placing labels on everybody else and instead look for common interests, such as focusing on the primary goal of making the North Caucasus independent of the Russian Federation.