Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 6 Issue: 37

In its October 3 issue, Kommersant-Vlast published an in-depth investigation of the Islamist movement in Kabardino-Balkaria. A correspondent for the weekly, Olga Allenova, interviewed Andimirkan Guchaev, a young resident of Kabardino-Balkaria who studied religion in Saudi Arabia and who recently became the unofficial head of the Jamaat of Kabardino-Balkaria after its “emir,” Musa Mukozhev, went underground. Mukozhev went into hiding following the arrest of several of the jamaat’s members for alleged in involvement in the December 2004 attack on a regional branch of the Federal Drug Control in Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria’s capital, which killed four of the service’s employees. The “Yarmuk” Jamaat of Mujahideen of Kabardino-Balkaria claimed responsibility for that attack, and the republic’s authorities subsequently alleged that some leaders of the Jamaat of Kabardino-Balkaria, including Anzor Astemirov, were involved in the attack. Musa Mukozhev was not among those jamaat members accused of involvement, but according to Allenova of Kommersant-Vlast, “some say he is in hiding because he’s guilty; others—because he’s afraid of repression.”

While the Jamaat of Kabardino-Balkaria is a Salafist group that has broken with the region’s traditional Sufi beliefs and the Kabardino-Balkaria’s Muslim religious establishment (see “The Jamaat Movement in Kabardino-Balkaria,” Andrew McGregor, Chechnya Weekly, April 7), Guchaev, its acting “emir,” denied connections between his group and the Yarmuk Jamaat, which, he said, is subordinated to an emir in Chechnya. “They were against us, because we took the decision not to intervene in the war in Chechnya,” he told Allenova. “We are against narcotics, alcohol, debauchery. The newspapers write that we are preparing to overthrow the authorities and establish a caliphate. That is not true. We simply live for our own community and pray.”

According to Allenova, Guchaev accused police in the republic of detaining female university students who read the Koran (see Chechnya Weekly, May 4) and women who wear hijab. He also said that gunmen wearing masks burst into houses of members of the jamaat and that those who are detained by police are often beaten and tortured. “And during special operations in mosques, the OMON [police commandos] do not take off their shoes,” she quoted Guchaev as saying. “Speaking of the boots of the OMON, Andimirkan becomes irritable—it seems that this is what wounds him most of all.”

Asked what would happen if his whole jamaat took up arms, he replied: “This must not happen. But people don’t understand why they are being persecuted. I am often asked how much of this we’ll take. We say that one must not wage war. Our main task is to support the faith and live according to Islam. But Musa [Mukozhev, the emir-CW] managed to do this better, because his word was law…If there are more than three Muslims working at a factory who pray [five times a day-CW], the head of the factory orders that they be fired… People remain unemployed. How are they supposed to earn something for bread? If believers want to open a business, they’re not allowed to.”

Another member of the jamaat, Timur, told Allenova: “The authorities create Wahhabism; it is a good feeding-trough. Money is apportioned from the budget for the fight against religious extremism, the police carry out sweeps, operations, [and] money is written off. Tell me, why storm a house in which a so-called Wahhabi lives if even two prepared officers could simply track him down? No, here they drive up in tanks [and] armored personnel carriers; they organize a war. Our law-enforcement organs need troop operations; quiet operational work doesn’t suit them. They need to create the image of an enemy and provide themselves with a victory over the enemy. Then Moscow will think that the world will collapse without them.”

It should be noted that another Kommersant-Vlast correspondent, Andrei Alekseyev, interviewed the head of the Kabardino-Balkarian Interior Ministry’s anti-religious extremism department, Beslan Mukozhev, who said there is “preliminary information” that all of Yarmuk’s statements that are published on “the websites of the Chechen extremists”—a reference to the Kavkazcenter website, among others—are prepared by members of the Jamaat of Kabardino-Balkaria, and that one of its leaders, Anzor Astemirov, was involved in the December 2004 attack on the Federal Drug Control offices in Nalchik. Mukozhev also said there is an audiocassette on which Shamil Basaev urged the leaders of the Jamaat of Kabardino-Balkaria to carry out some sort of “loud” action in the republic and that the group’s leaders agreed to do so. It should also be noted that a leading supporter of the jamaat—Ruslan Nakhushev, a former KGB officer who is now director of the Islamic Institute and coordinator of the Russian Islamic Heritage movement—told Kommersant-Vlast that jamaat members had committed around 20 crimes. “Mainly they involved a group of young people who threw boys and girls who had been drinking vodka out of their cars and burned the cars or stole them,” Nakhushev said. “This is how they fought for morality. In the police there are people who are responsible for the selection of cadres, and these should be worthy people who should set an example for everyone. There is no department of cadres in the jamaat, not possibility to keep track of the behavior of each [member], and no one has the right to refuse a person who wants to join the jamaat, even if he has come from prison.” Nakhushev, however, denied that there are any links whatsoever between the Jamaat of Kabardino-Balkaria and the Yarmuk Jamaat.

Even the chairman of Kabardino-Balkaria’s Spiritual Board of Muslims, the republic’s official Muslim clergy, reserved his sharpest criticism for the republic’s law-enforcers. “You know, Kabardins have a saying: ‘Tell him to bring a hat, and he will bring a head,'” Anas Pshikhchev told Andrei Alekseyev of Kommersant-Vlast. “The activities of our law-enforcement organs often remind me of the same thing. Under the pretext of the fight against extremism, they are prepared to include among the Wahhabis anyone who wears a beard, a hijab or prays. But one must not conclude that a person is an extremist or a Wahhabi by his outward appearance alone, before communicating with him, getting to know him more closely. But our power structures believe that they know everything better than everyone, and don’t even want to consult with us. We are often reproached for virtually collaborating with the police. But I must tell you that we have very cold relations with the law-enforcement organs, and that [relations] are far from ideal with other representatives of the authorities. If I am often seen at high-level gatherings, I am there only in my official capacity.”

Meanwhile, Kabardino-Balkaria’s new president, Arsen Kanokov, told Itar-Tass on September 29 that religious extremism in the republic is not a mass phenomenon and has no deep roots. “We have to understand what funds there are behind the preachers of extremism, to look into the reasons why some young people have come under their influence, to resist this ideology and to support traditional faiths,” Kanokov said. He added that it is necessary to discover why there is a conflict between the republic’s Spiritual Board of Muslims and young followers of Islam. “The leadership of the board must use their standing among the believers and not give ground,” Kanokov said, adding that administrative and coercive measures are not acceptable in the “dialogue” between “the authorities and people of faith.” He described the closure of local mosques in Nalchik after leases on the premises expired as “a mistake.”