Will the Rebels Declare the “Caucasian Emirate”?

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 8 Issue: 42

Akhmed Zakaev

On October 22, Ahmed Zakaev, foreign minister of the separatist Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, declared that instead of Ichkeria, the rebels in the North Caucasus wanted to create a unified separatist state in the region that would be called the “Caucasian Emirate.” In his statement, Zakaev fiercely rejected the idea and charged that the Russian secret services were behind this plot. According to Zakaev, Moscow has allocated $500 million for preparing and carrying out the “Emirate” operation. Zakaev believes that the declaration of the Emirate “would allow Moscow to justify repression in the North Caucasus as part of the global war against al-Qaeda” (Chechnya Weekly, October 25).

On October 30, eight days after the statement made by Ahmed Zakaev, Radio Marsho, the Chechen-language service of Radio Liberty, broadcast an audio speech of the top rebel leader Dokka Umarov. This tape, which has been circulating among the Chechens since the beginning of October, most likely provoked Zakaev to protest loudly against the attempts to declare “the Caucasian Emirate.”

Umarov’s thick voice is clearly recognizable on the audio tape; furthermore, Radio Marsho is famous for its close ties to the Chechen rebels and it receives information from them on a regular basis. This means that the tape is unlikely to be a fake and that the person speaking is indeed none other than Dokka Umarov.

In his audio message Umarov says that he has headed Jihad by the will of Allah and that, being the Amir (Commander) of the Caucasian Mujahideen, he is the only legitimate authority in all the territories “where there are mujahideen who have sworn to me.”

Umarov continues: “I am announcing to all Muslims that I am at war against the infidels under the banner of Allah. This means that I, Amir of the Caucasian Mujahideen, reject all infidel laws that have been established in this world. I reject all laws and systems that the infidels have established on the land of the Caucasus. I reject and outlaw all names that the infidels use to split the Muslims. I outlaw all ethnic, territorial and colonial zones named ‘North-Caucasian republics’, etc… We renounce all these names.”

In his audio declaration, Dokka Umarov does not stop at this. He goes further by declaring war against the whole non-Muslim world. “Today our brothers are fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Palestine,” he says. “Those who attack Muslims are our common enemies; our enemy is not only Russia, but also America, England, and Israel – all those who conduct war against Islam and Muslims”.

At first glance, Dokka Umarov’s statement sounds rather radical, but that is only at first glance. First, one cannot see here any declaration of a “Caucasian Emirate,” as Zakaev puts it. Dokka Umarov calls himself Amir of the Caucasian Mujahideen and says that all rebels in the Caucasus should obey him, but there is nothing new in this declaration. Umarov became Caucasian Amir at the same time as he became the president of Ichkeria after the death of his predecessor, Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev, in the summer 2006.

One should agree that there is a difference between the position of Amir of the Caucasian Mujahideen (the leader of the Caucasian rebels) and a declaration of an Emirate. In his speech, Umarov does not mention the word Emirate at all. Moreover, Umarov says nothing about the end of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. The rebel leader “outlaws all North Caucasian republics” that have been created “to split Muslims of the Caucasus.” The Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, however, was declared in 1991 as an independent Muslim state, so it cannot be called “a colonial zone” like other Caucasian republics such as Kabardino-Balkaria or Karachaevo-Cherkessia, which indeed have been made by the Soviet authorities to split Caucasian ethnic groups in the Western Caucasus in order to control them.

The most shocking part of Umarov’s speech is his solidarity with the Taliban, insurgents in Iraq and other conflict areas, as well as calling the United Sates, Great Britain and Israel enemies of the Caucasian insurgency. Nevertheless, one should understand that calling Great Britain or the United States an enemy does not mean that Chechen or Caucasian terrorists will start bombing British subways or U.S. airplanes.

In fact, there appears to be nothing new in Umarov’s statement. In his previous declarations, he already refers to himself as the leader of the Caucasian insurgency, expressing his solidarity with Islamists all over the world and condemning the West for its “war against Islam.”

Many of those who know Dokka Umarov personally describe him as a man who has no principles and, if necessary, can say anything to his advantage. It should be noted that Umarov did not send the tape to any official site of the Chechen separatists (Kavkaz-Center, Daymohk, Chechenpress), but to an independent unofficial source like Radio Marsho.

There are two possible explanations for why Umarov would have made the speech. First, he may be seeking financial support from the Middle East. The latest video of Osama bin Laden criticizing the disunity of the insurgents in Iraq broadcasted by Al Jazeera TV channel reveals the current deep crisis of the international jihadi movement. Against such a backdrop, Umarov is trying to advertise the struggle in the North Caucasus in order to attract more money to come to the Caucasian insurgency (Chechnya Weekly, October 25).

Another reason could be linked with the possible discord inside the insurgency in the North Caucasus. This year Umarov appointed two non-Chechen commanders (Anzor Astemirov and Akhmed Yevloev) to two main positions in the rebel leadership and this move demonstrates the growing influence of non-Chechen commanders in general. In their turn, non-Chechen fighters have not been able to trust fully the Chechens since the time of Beslan, when the terrorists who seized the school distributed a letter to Putin from the Chechen warlord Shamil Basaev in which Basaev said he would disband all militant groups in the North Caucasus if Russia recognized Chechen independence. It looked like a betrayal by the Chechens of the Caucasian insurgency, which appeared to be a betrayal of the Caucasian insurgency.

By declaring unification of the Caucasus as one land of Jihad under his command, Umarov wants to destroy the wall of distrust that still exists between Chechen and Caucasian mujahideen. The rebel leader wants to demonstrate to his brothers-in-arms from other Caucasian regions that the Chechens are not simply using them to force Russia to recognize their independence, but that they all have one common goal: the formation of a unified Caucasian Islamic state with no ethnic or other borders.

It is too early to talk about possible political or military consequences of the new Umarov’s declaration. In any case, much will depend on the military success of the rebels. If the insurgents in the North Caucasus manage to damage Russian domination of the region, then the idea of an Emirate might be considered more seriously. If, however, the situation stabilizes, Umarov’s statement could be simply treated as a virtual threat or some sort of a joke by the Chechen separatist leader.