October 29th 2008 · Prague Watchdog / Tamara Magomedova · PRINTER FRIENDLY FORMAT · E-MAIL THIS · ALSO AVAILABLE IN: RUSSIAN 

Dagestan: the justice deficit

Dagestan: the justice deficit

By Tamara Magomedova, special to Prague Watchdog

The use of the phrase "civil war" as applied to the situation in the republic of Dagestan is not perceived there as an exaggeration or as political speculation. For a long time now in Dagestan, special operations have long become an almost daily routine. They take place one after another, following a single pattern, the only difference being in the details.

Indeed, in Dagestan the man who takes up arms and goes into the forest is not a mythical figure. Over the years of guerrilla warfare the numbers of such young men have reached several hundred. Many of them have had an unenviable fate. Some now lie in their graves, while others are under investigation or serving prison sentences of varying length.

Much has been written about the beating of confessions out of the accused. The law enforcers have few scruples about the methods they use. The men’s relatives hold rallies outside the prosecutor's office, pre-trial detention centres and police stations to protest against the use of torture. After that there is a trial, usually one by jury. The most common outcome of the proceedings is a guilty verdict, though occasionally there is an acquittal.

Then there are the abductions. Young men who have not yet managed to take up arms and join the guerrillas, and who may never have even contemplated doing so, find themselves on mysterious secret lists of people who are a danger to the authorities. They are seized on the streets or dragged from their beds by strange men in camouflage uniform. Some of the abductees disappear without trace, while others mysteriously turn up at the local police station. Then the familiar sequence begins again: rallies by relatives, the trial, the verdict.

Where did they come from?

In the mid-1990s the adherents of "pure Islam" differed significantly from other Muslims in their rejection of the prevailing traditions in Dagestan society. The Wahhabis advocated the abandonment of practices they called “pagan”, such as the worship of ancestors and ziyarats [graves of sheikhs]. They condemned the payment of kalyma [bride price] and opposed the holding of lavish weddings and funerals. At the same time they advocated simplicity in human relations, and supported the principle of mutual assistance, including its material form, and rejected the institution of sheikhs and their murids [disciples], arguing that all Muslims are equal before God.

They accused the official clergy of being ignorant of the Koran and the Sunna, and of deviating from Shariah. They said that the official clergy had soiled its hands with a struggle for power and money and that it had ignored the interests of ordinary people. The Wahhabis urged a return to the original sources of Islam – rules that governed the lives of the earliest Muslim communities.

This confrontation between two forms of Islam, official and unofficial, gradually entered on a phase of open conflict, and the Wahhabi radicals called for a jihad – an open war against infidels and munafiks (Muslim hypocrites who pay lip-service to Islam, acting in its name but in reality violating the foundations of Islamic faith and teaching).

The result was not long in coming: on August 15, 1998 residents of the villages of Karamakhi and Chabanmakhi and Kadar of the Buinaksk district (Kadar enclave) announced that they would no longer obey the Dagestan authorities and were going to set up their own Islamic enclave. In these places the organs of state power were removed and replaced by Shariah courts. The villages gradually turned into militarized fortresses.

On August 7 1999, Chechen guerrillas crossed the administrative border of Dagestan and started a war here in order, they claimed, to assist their brothers from Kadar zone. It was after this invasion that Dagestan society changed its attitude towards Salafism. People now use the very word "Wahhabi" in a sharply negative sense. In September 1999 the National Assembly passed a law officially banning Wahhabism in the territory of Dagestan, and hundreds of "Wahhabis" were arrested.

Who are they?

Meanwhile, the Wahhabis’ criticism of the institutions of government is finding a sympathetic response in the minds and souls of many thousands of people, mainly young people, who are trying to find the truth and who believe in the need to “live not by lies". The state, which is mired in corruption and clan politics and maintains a system in which most young people are unable to obtain education and decent jobs, is becoming an object of hatred. The quest for the algorithm of truth within the boundaries of so-called traditional Islam does not produce the desired result because the Directorate of Moslems of Dagestan (DUMD) is closely linked to the government, and suffers from all its weaknesses.

When they draw their portrait of the typical Wahhabi, the siloviki usually characterize them as young men aged from 25 to 35, who have no education or definite occupation.

However, among those who have gone to the forest, there are many of very high social status, individuals who are successful and have brilliant prospects. Suffice it to mention Yasin Rasulov, who not only had a good education and job, but was also active in scientific work. The guerrillas are often students who have earned degrees at universities in Arab countries and are well versed in the details of Islamic teachings and law. It is also worth mentioning the growing popularity of Salafist ideas among young, educated Dagestanis who, although they avoid direct involvement in jihad, are none the less sympathetic to the ideas of social reform promoted by the Wahhabis.

In recent years the ranks of the guerrillas have been swelled by teenagers: on June 6 this year, 15-year-old Movsar Sharipov, a Southern Russia free-style wrestling champion, was killed in Dagestan’s Khasavyurtovsky district. Although he was just a boy, he showed resistance to arrest and was shot.

Many guerrilla group members with whom journalists have managed to speak after their arrest have recounted similar stories of how they were more or less forced to take up arms. Many of these accounts were given by law enforcement officers: "Either you work for us, or you can forget about a quiet life." Those who refused were subjected to persecution.

One example is the story of Bammatkhan Sheikhov, leader of the so-called “Buynaksk dzhamaat”, who not so long ago surrendered to the authorities under a guarantee of amnesty. An interview with him was published in the Dagestan weekly Chernovik. Sheikhov said that the law enforcers had no grounds for persecuting him. The only reason for his detention was so that he could be made to identify suspected guerrillas from their photographs. "When I realized that I was being tailed and that suspicious people were appearing outside my house in vehicles with no number plates, decided to join the guerrillas.”

At present Sheikhov is in the Makhachkala detention centre awaiting trial. The amnesty he was promised turned out to be a trick.

The struggle continues

Although officials continually report progress in the fight against extremism and in the reduction of the number of terrorist attacks, the resistance is becoming increasingly cruel and intransigent.

Whereas in 2002 members of guerrilla groups were merely detained, today they are killed. This can be explained by the anger of the police, whose officers are constantly targeted by the guerrillas with deadly effect.

In its turn, the cruelty of the Wahhabis is a reaction to the torture and humiliation to which they have been subjected during their detention as suspected collaborators with the guerrillas.

A counter-terrorist operation lasting more than six months was conducted in the village of Gimry in Dagestan’s Unukulsky district. It ended on July 1. When they entered the village, the law enforcers said they not leave until every last guerrilla had laid down his arms. This police action resulted in complete failure: while a few individuals surrendered, most of the fighters quietly went into the forest. At a meeting of the anti-terrorism commission in Makhachkala on July 23, Vyacheslav Shanshin, head of the FSB’s Dagestan directorate, publicly admitted that the state was losing the ideological war to the underground. He said that the authorities were “not capable of offering any clear alternative".

The reason for this is obvious. After all the years that have passed, the officials are no less corrupt than before. Indeed, the corruption is gaining momentum, as the DUMD sinks further and further into a morass of worldly sin. Against this backdrop, the preaching of Islamic brotherhood founded on social justice, equality and fraternity is bound to succeed.

The photograph is borrowed from the website "".

(Translation by DM)




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