Dagestan’s Sharia Jamaat acquired a new leader this past week, six months after the death on the night of December 31, 2009 of the previous Emir al-Bar (aka Umalat Magomedov). Seifullah of Gubden (aka Magomed Vagapov), the emir of the Gubden Jamaat, has been chosen for this position on the orders of Doku Umarov, the leader of the Caucasus Emirate (www.kavkazcenter.com, July 15). Seifullah of Gubden is now not merely the emir of Dagestan, but has also become the chief qadi of the Caucasus Emirate under a separate decree by Umarov. Vagapov has thus also assumed the responsibilities that were filled by Emir Seifullah (aka Anzor Astemirov), the leader of Kabardino-Balkaria’s Yarmuk Jamaat, before he was killed on March 25, 2010 (www.generalvekalat.org, March 25) and left the post vacant. The new leader of the Dagestani rebels thus enjoys a bigger role than his predecessors did since he now leads both the military branch of the Sharia Jamaat and the judiciary branch of the entire Caucasus Emirate.
The appointment of Seifullah of Gubden is not surprising. He was one of two potential candidates. A trickier part of the question is why the selection process for the new emir took such a long time –more than six months. It could well be true that the leadership of the Caucasus rebels was considering someone else for that position, who might have died between March and April. Among the purported candidates was also Ibrahim Gadzhidadaev, a two-time champion of Europe and the world in Chinese martial arts (wushu) (www.runewsweek.ru, February 3), who organized the assassination of Dagestan’s Interior Minister, Adilgirei Magomedtagirov, on June 5, 2009 in the Dagestani capital, Makhachkala (Kommersant, June 6, 2009). Gadzhidadaev now serves as the leader of the Gimri Jamaat, one of the active units on the Dagestani front of the North Caucasus insurgency. Despite the fact that many Russian press sources had long circulated information on Gadzhidadaev’s appointment, Caucasus Emirate representatives did not hurry to either confirm or deny the Russian media speculation. In any case, an official decree on the appointment of the successor to Emir al-Bar has appeared only in regard to Emir Seifullah (Magomed Vagapov).
No matter what, the incumbent emir is well known across Dagestan as a tough and uncompromising man toward everyone who supports Russian rule in the North Caucasus. He received his Islamic education overseas, including in Pakistan (www.chernovik.net/print.php?new=3444). Apparently, his knowledge of Islamic law was taken into account when he was appointed as supreme qadi of the Caucasus Emirate. Emir Seifullah started his rebel career in Chechnya with the beginning of the second Russo-Chechen war in 1999. The Gubden Jamaat that he leads is thought to be quite numerous, and includes approximately 50 men and has the reputation for being one of the most efficient military units in the entire Dagestan Jamaat.
Now that a man with a ten-year war experience in Dagestan and Chechnya is in charge of the jamaat, it might be assumed that rebel attacks would intensify all across the Dagestan front of rebel activities. But even without a further intensification, that part of the North Caucasus is already dangerously active. For instance, after the decree on Emir Seifullah’s appointment was published, on July 15 yet another armored train was blown up in Dagestan, interrupting the connection with the southern part of the republic, as well as with Azerbaijan for both passenger and freight trains. That same day, the head of the administration of the village of Kirov-aul was killed in Makhachkala’s Separatorny district. Around the same time, unidentified rebels fired for fifteen minutes on the house of a local police officer in the Dagestani village of Sergokala. A little later, Arthur Suleimanov, the 49-year-old minister of the Hosanna Protestant Church was killed in the Dagestani capital. And finally, Russian law enforcement officers engaged in a 16-hour-long battle in the city of Khasavyurt as they attempted to storm a house where two rebels were hiding.
Details of these attacks are from open source information that is freely accessible on the Internet. But, obviously, there are other incidents, especially in the mountainous sections of Dagestan, routinely left outside media coverage. It is just such information that the Russian authorities are trying as hard as they can to hide from the public.
Meanwhile, disturbing reports have started to emerge from the Black Sea coastline on the opposite side of the Caucasus. With the arrival of the Russian army in Abkhazia and simultaneously wider Internet accessibility, there has been (paradoxically) more news from that region, which is not controlled by either the local or Russian authorities. For instance, the Spiritual Board of Abkhaz Muslims announced that there had been an attempt to kill the imam of the Sukhumi mosque, Salikh Kvaratskhelia, on July 10 (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, July 12). Three days later, in the town of Gagra in Abkhazia, unidentified gunmen shot dead a member of the public chamber and the chairman of the Gagra division of the Spiritual Board of Abkhaz Muslims, Emmik Chachmach-ogly (www.kavkazcenter.com, July 17). It is worth remembering that the first murder in Abkhazia of a member of the Muslim clergy was committed in 2007, when Imam Khamzat (Rokki) Gitsba and a resident of the Russian city of Ufa, Ruslan Assadulin, were killed in the town of Gudauta in Abkhazia (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/123425/). Investigators have not even come up with official interpretations of those three murders.
Given that Abkhazia has a very small population and Islam is observed by a majority of the population (unofficially, Islam, Christianity and Animism are very much mixed up here and at times it is difficult to attribute a certain person to a perticular religion), it would be difficult to say that those murders were religiously motivated. But, in fact, hundreds of thousands of Abkhaz living in Turkey are Muslims. They are rather influential and are capable of impacting the situation in Abkhazia. The Abkhaz Diaspora allegedly has political rather than religious motivations, and there seems to be a force in Abkhazia that opposes Turkish influence in Sukhumi. Given the political leverage of the Abkhaz Diaspora in Turkey, they have to make concessions to it. The initial thought that the Abkhaz themselves could use tourism for their economic prosperity now already lacks credibility (http://beslan-arat.livejournal.com/1121.html). To change the situation, significant financial resources are needed. Having recognized Abkhazia’s independence from Georgia, Moscow would probably not like to have yet another Muslim republic in its southern flank that could strongly influence the neighboring Circassian lands in Russia’s Northern Caucasus. It can be concluded that the assault on and murders of Abkhazia’s Muslim figures are directly linked to Russian policy in the region. As the Muslim part of the population becomes stronger, Christians will depend on help from the outside. If this trend continues, then in two or three years the region might have new problems that would be impossible to regulate from Moscow.