Zakaev’s Attempts to Persuade Dokka Umarov are in Vain

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 9 Issue: 24

Akhmed Zakaev

The developments surrounding the announcement of the Caucasus Emirate by the current leader of the Chechen resistance movement, Dokka Umarov, on November 7, 2007, forced all resistance members as well as those whose sympathies were with the rebels to face the fact that power has been seized by supporters of the radical Islamist movement of Salafism. The decrees announcing the establishment of the Islamic state of the Caucasus Emirate were not actually released until December 2007 (http://kavkaz.tv/russ/content/2007/12/09/54888.shtml), which seemed to indicate that Umarov’s closest associates abroad were not prepared for this turn of events and had been trying to talk him out of the Emirate idea for two months. Notably, all those who dared to oppose the idea initially—such as Amir Mansur; Zaurbek Avdorkhanov, commander of the Nozhai-Yurt military sector of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (ChRI) armed forces; Ayub Khaladov, commander of the Kurchaloi sector of the ChRI armed forces; Amir Surkho, commander of the Staraya Sunzha diversionary group “SSDG” of the ChRI armed forces; Amir Usman, commander of the Vedeno sector of the ChRI armed forces; Amir Rashid, commander of the Shali sector of the ChRI armed forces—have ultimately conceded that establishing a mythical Islamic state in all of the Caucasus is both necessary and timely (www.chechenews.com, May 3).

The author has already commented on the matter (Chechnya Weekly, January 18), and would now like to focus on a few recently emerged nuances in the internal political squabbles between the radical and the democratic camps. As of right now, everyone except Amir Mansur (who has not been heard from in Chechnya for a long time) has sided with Dokka Umarov and the radicals, although they may not actually subscribe to their ideas. This was the most serious loss for Akhmed Zakaev, who was left leader in name only, without the army or any support of the military resistance movement.

Zakaev’s miscalculation was that he tried to jump the gun by taking advantage of his inside knowledge of the correspondence between the resistance leader and his overseas representatives, and by declaring that preparations for a coup d’état were underway before Umarov had a chance to speak. He also insinuated that Umarov’s move was made with the full knowledge and financial support of Russia’s FSB (http://chechenpress.org/events/2007/10/23/05.shtml), which transformed Umarov and Zakaev into instant enemies.

This loss is particularly hurtful to Zakaev, because his close friendship with Dokka Umarov dating back to the first Chechen war made him believe that Umarov would be instrumental in turning his future goals into reality. It is therefore unsurprising that while Zakaev accused Umarov of criminally undermining the constitutional foundations of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, he kept hoping, and probably still does, that Umarov would come to see the light. This was the real motivation behind Zakaev’s actions and his continued informal contacts with Umarov—that is, his attempted contacts, given that all communications with the new Amir have to be cleared by Umarov’s new team. The latter includes the “founding fathers” of the Islamic revival party in Chechnya (Supian Abdullaev, Issa Umarov, Movladi Udugov, Abdul-Malik Mezhidov), who control the tactics and strategies of the resistance struggle in Chechnya and the entire North Caucasus.

A few days ago Internet web sites controlled by Emirate supporters released an audio recording of Zakaev’s appeal to Dokka Umarov (http://www.chechentimes.net/media/zakaev_2.mp3, May 27). Analysis of the recording shows that this was Zakaev’s second appeal directed at Dokka Umarov, and that Umarov’s response to Zakaev’s first audio appeal was already published online but was not addressed to Zakaev directly and either ignored or skirted his questions. Zakaev criticized the manner in which the response was released and made available online, and stated that that there should not be that kind of communication between himself and Umarov. Time and again, Zakaev reiterated that he had no quarrel with Dokka Umarov personally and still considered him a very good acquaintance. Zakaev said he believed that their relationship should not be sorted out via the Internet and called for closer contacts.

In his second appeal, which was 47 minutes 32 seconds in length, Zakaev explained his opposition to the Emirate once again and provided a detailed account of the role of Movladi Udugov and his brother Issa Umarov in the announcement of the Islamic state. He also noted that both Aslan Maskhadov and Abdul-Khalim Sadulaev had emphatically opposed that plan and kept the radical members of the Chechen resistance movement at arm’s length. Zakaev asked his audience to examine the past events and their reasons again carefully, and claimed that Dokka Umarov had made the longtime plans of Russia’s FSB a reality. Zakaev added that he had unshakeable proof that members of the Islamic revival party controlled by Russia’s FSB were behind these events.

The intriguing part of Zakaev’s audio address is that he remains convinced that the establishment of the Emirate was an FSB tactic and that the appearance of his first appeal to Umarov online was also an FSB tactic. Notably, Dokka Umarov (perhaps prompted by Issa Umarov and Movladi Udugov) ignored Zakaev’s appeal, and by announcing the creation of the Emirate online sent Zakaev a message that he has no intention of listening to him in the future. In all likelihood, the Emirate’s leaders wanted to expose the discrepancies of Zakaev’s public policies—that is, his official statements and his appeals to Dokka Umarov directly.

In the meantime, video footage of Umarov meeting with a unit of the Achkhoi-Martan sector of the Southwestern Front of the Caucasus Emirate Armed Forces that is being used as a propaganda tool to promote the idea of the Islamic state (http://www.chechentimes.net/ru/content/blogsection/2/31) is interesting in several ways. The footage shows that this military unit is composed of approximately 80 men. Shown next to Dokka Umarov are his now-permanent assistants Supian Abdullaev and Issa Umarov, who became obsessed with the idea of forming the Islamic state in the mid-1980s. Notably, many of the fighters are young men aged 18 years or older. The resistance leaders state that “we are alone, no one will help us, we must take our lives into our own hands.” Umarov also claims that Akhmed Zakaev’s case will be decided by qadi Anzor Astemirov (chairman of the Sharia Court, one of the top four people in the hierarchy of the entire resistance moment). Coincidentally, Astemirov was the first to provide an explication of the announcement of the Emirate (http://kavkaz.tv/russ/content/2007/11/20/54479.shtml).

Against the backdrop of his falling out with Umarov, Zakaev is trying to gain an edge in the political arena. In this department, he has no rivals, given that no one in Europe will want to talk to Umarov’s representatives, and appointing such representatives brings nothing useful to Umarov other than moral satisfaction. Astonishingly, the European representative appointed by the Emirate camp is none other than Bukhari Baraev (the father of Movsar Baraev, see http://generalvekalat.org/content/view/28/30), who could hardly be popular in Europe given the general sentiment toward his son and the operation he staged at Moscow’s Dubrovka theater five and a half years ago. (On October 23, 2002, Movsar Baraev’s group took hostage an audience of the Russian musical theater production Nord-Ost performance; 125 people were killed in the security forces’ raid to release hostages, during which chemical gas was used.) In time, Dokka Umarov will have to look for allies among those he contemptuously describes as “Euro-Chechens” today.

At the same time, when Akhmed Zakaev makes odd statements referring to the “positive” role of Ramzan Kadyrov (http://www.gazeta.ru/news/lenta/2008/05/18/n_1220263.shtml; Chechnya Weekly, May 22 and 29), he runs the risk of losing the allegiance of his few remaining supporters, who continue to see him as the defender of an independent Ichkeria. Zakaev’s attempts to provoke a conflict between Ramzan Kadyrov and the Russian government may have been misinterpreted by the public: indeed, Zakaev’s statements about Kadyrov triggered a flood of accusations and may push the sympathies of the Chechen populace away from him and toward the Emirate’s camp.