Euro-Ichkeria against the Emirate

Prague Watchdog publishes this material by mutual agreement with the Caucasus Times.

By Murat Kardanov

PRAGUE, November 22 – On November 21 the Kavkaz Center web site published an official statement by Emir Dokka Umarov, the latest successor to the President of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (ChRI) Aslan Maskhadov, concerning the proclamation of a Caucasian Emirate. Earlier Akhmed Zakayev, who had just resigned as ChRI foreign minister, condemned Umarov for proclaiming an Islamic state and accused the Russian authorities of an attempt to divide the ChRI leadership. One way or another, by this decision of its latest ruler the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria had ceased to exist, as it has now become an administrative and territorial province (or vilâyet) that forms part of the Caucasian Emirate.

As the Chechen resistance network long ago transformed itself into a totalitarian religious sect, the question of what name it adopts as it lives out its days is not so important – whether it be “warriors of Allah”, “Ichkerians”, or citizens of the newly-declared Emirate. It is no secret to anyone that the Chechen underground has been operating under the slogans of radical Islam for many years. And this makes the response of European Chechens – led by Akhmed Zakayev – to Umarov’s actions appear all the more strange.

It is obvious that Zakayev and his supporters learned of the factors that served as the formal pretext for the Russian leadership to launch the second Chechen war long before today. The invasion of Dagestan by Wahhabist armed groups under the leadership of Basayev and Khattab back in 2000 was described by most Chechens as a provocation, which untied the hands of those politicians in Russia who dreamed of military revenge. How is it that this insight has struck them only now? Why for so many years have the various representatives of the Chechen resistance in Europe refrained from any criticism of their compatriots who were conducting an armed struggle in their homeland?

Two years ago, after Abdul-Khalim Sadullayev appointed Shamil Basayev first Vice Premier of the underground government, Akhmed Zakayev had no difficulty in finding arguments to publicly justify the decision. It came as a genuine shock to a very large number of European officials and activistswho had supported the national liberation movement in Chechnya (at least, that was how it appeared to them) when they learned that the man responsible for the bloodiest terrorist attacks in Russia had become the resistance’s second in command. At the time, Zakayev tried to explain to all supporters of Chechen independence in Europe that the blame for the radicalization of the underground lay with European institutions, which had never lifted a finger to stop the war. Moreover, the increasing prominence given under Sadullayev to the views of Movladi Udugov, the inveterate ideologue of “Wahhabism”, did not prevent Zakayev from remaining an official of the Ichkerian government.

The proclamation of a Caucasian Emirate is a serious event, but if Zakayev had reasons of an ideological kind for breaking with Dokka Umarov, he could (and perhaps should) have done so a long time ago. Thus, the attempt to save Ichkeria, a state now abolished, by means of a transfer of power to a non-existent Parliament, was motivated by something other than ideological differences between the Euro-Chechens and the Salafists fighting in Chechnya.

In the Chechen underground, the descent in the direction of radical Islamism was already evident back in the Maskhadov era, at a time when the most capable fighting units proved to be precisely the ones that fought under Islamic banners. However, Aslan Maskhadov continued to rely primarily on European support, calling on Europe to act as an arbitration judge in the conflict between Chechnya and Russia.

After Maskhadov was assassinated, his successor Abdul-Khalim Sadullayev openly stated that the European line had not lived up to expectations. The problems was not even that Europe proved to be unable to insist on peace talks between Russia and the resistance. The West consciously refused to be a source of legitimacy for the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, and did not recognize the right of its warring representatives to express the interests of the entire Chechen people.

Even though Sadullayev announced a policy of reducing negotiations in favour of a continuation of the armed struggle, he did not move towards an open break with the West. On the one hand, he apparently continued to hope for political support, while on the other he was unwilling to split the resistance, which formed a complex political conglomerate. He was a rather firm adherent of the views of the Maskhadovites, who based themselves in an appeal to the values of Western democracy. However, the Ichkerian leader himself finally opted for the radical version of Islam. He openly asserted that the aim of Jihad in the North Caucasus was a common Islamic state for the Muslim peoples of the region.

Having formulated the main idea, Abdul-Khalim Sadullayev did not manage to put it into practice. He created an intermediate structure (the so-called Caucasus Front), dividing it into sectors whose borders coincided with the frontiers of the North Caucasian republics. He began to change not only the resistance’s ideology but also its strategy, focusing on the development of a network of armed jamaats across the whole of the North Caucasus. Sadullayev saw his first priority as being to scatter the seeds of holy war throughout the entire region, instead of limiting military action, as Aslan Maskhadov had insisted, within the confines of the Chechen Republic. This swelled the ranks of the Chechen underground with supporters from other Muslim countries who saw no sense in taking part in the liberation of a foreign state, but were prepared to take up arms to fight for the Islamic faith.

Effectively Umarov inherited a structure that was already complete, and merely gave it a different name.

While the Euro-Chechens’ assumption (for no evidence has so far been presented) that in return for his proclamation of an Emirate and his de facto declaration of war on the Western world Dokka Umarov received the sum of 500 million dollars appears not to be devoid of foundation, it is by no means mandatory. Indeed, why should jihadist Arab organizations not provide additional aid to their ally if there is a prospect of the imminent opening in the North Caucasus of new fronts in the global jihad? On the other hand, the evolution of the underground seems to be entirely organic and devoid of contradiction. The Salafists fundamentally reject all the prescriptions of modern Western democracy as pagan and based on the power of human beings. The only source of statehood they recognize is the will of Allah, and therefore the only possible form of social communion is theocracy. So Dokka Umarov was perfectly well able to reach his decision to proclaim an Emirate without any supplementary financial donations.

Why was the reaction of Chechen mohajirs [émigrés] who had seen the light in the expanses of Europe such a violent one?

The answer seems obvious. Today a North Caucasian Emirate is just another candidate for inclusion on the list of terrorist organizations – simply by the fact of Umarov’s announcement that the newly created State is joining the global jihad against Western civilization. Of course, the list is not updated every day, but when it eventually is, the Emirate will take its place on the roster as inevitably as the sinner awaits the fires of hell.

The Euro-Chechens are not stupid people, and they anticipated this prospect at the very moment when information about the forthcoming decision began to leak out in Europe. Being cast in the role of a terrorist organization in Europe was not something that brought a smile to the exiles’ lips. Having become the envoys of an Emirate at war with the West, sooner or later they might very well be threatened with deportation or prison. Now, the most far-sighted of them have managed to insure themselves against any risk of prosecution in the future.

But they will hardly succeed in saving Ichkeria.

Murat Kardanov, Prague, Caucasus Times

Translation by David McDuff for Prague Watchdog and the Caucasus Times.


 · EuroIchkeria vs Emirates (in Russian, Caucasus Times, 22.11.2007)



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