"All that is happening today is a mirage" (interview with a Chechen insurgent)
With the ending of Russia’s counter-terrorist operation, the question of the fighting capability, numbers, strategy, tactics and ideology of the armed insurgency in Chechnya is becoming increasingly topical. The Chechen leadership claims that by relying solely on its own forces it is in a position to maintain internal order in the republic. It says that it needs no additional federal units in order to deal with the insurgents, even though those units bore the main burden of responsibility for combating them.
If this is indeed the way things are going, does it mean that the resistance is a small marginal sect of religious fanatics, acting against the will of the majority, as the Russian authorities claim? Or is it that, like the Bolsheviks in their day, Ramzan Kadyrov has simply managed to establish an efficient repressive apparatus which is able to keep a whole nation in fear? The interview we publish below interview does not really answer all these questions, but it represents the insurgency’s view of the situation.
First, a word or two about the history of the material. The subject of the interview contacted our correspondent by telephone. Abdul-Malik – that is his name – is not a rank-and-file member of the mujahideen, but one of the commanders of the Vedeno Dzhamaat. At the end of March Abdul-Malik’s group shot and killed a police officer in a village in Vedensky district. This episode is referred to in particular at the beginning of the interview.
There are quite a few points in the insurgent’s story that may be characterized as “not necessarily true”. Thus, his claim that the whole of the Chechen people secretly sympathize with the armed insurgency is naturally open to doubt. It is obvious that among the supporters of Ramzan Kadyrov there are sincere people who support the government because of their own beliefs, not money or fear. There cannot, of course, be any question of statistics here – no one today is in a position to calculate how many Chechens are ready to support armed resistance and how many to support the government, because the Chechens are denied all opportunity of speaking openly about their political views.
But it would be logical to suppose that the mujahideen operate with the support (possibly quite considerable) of several categories of the population: first, those who favour the imposition of Sharia law in the North Caucasus (The Caucasian Emirate), proclaimed by the insurgent leadership; and a second, much larger group which rejects the aims outlined by Dokka Umarov, but is unwilling to tolerate Kadyrov’s dictatorship.
The reader should note the very important moment (we believe) in the interview, when Abdul-Malik talks about how Kadyrov’s police are operating with great energy against the insurgents. The police seek out their enemies by day and by night, and make no attempt to avoid clashes. We believe that this is the first time the Kadyrovites have been described in these terms.
This can only mean that, like the insurgents, the police have placed themselves on the border between life and death. Following Abdul-Malik’s logic, which he extends only to his fellow insurgents, a man who is prepared to die cannot be tempted by money or the other blessings of earthly existence. He is taking part in a battle, defending his own faith, the order for which he is willing to lay down his life. But this same assertion is also perfectly applicable to the policemen. Thus it may be assumed that in the present confrontation the various parties involved are all equally convinced of the need to defend their truth at the price of their own lives.
The interview was translated from Chechen into Russian, and from Russian into English.
Prague Watchdog: Do you think that it’s normal for Chechens to be killing Chechens?
Abdul-Malik: We really didn’t want this kind of war, and at first we did everything we could to avoid it. But the Russians are pushing the Kadyrovites onto the front line and conducting ambushes against us. The Kadyrovites are themselves trying every means of gaining favour with the Russians. I warned the man whom I killed. But he did not listen; instead he mobilized and started shooting at us. His cousin is here with us. And he says that this policeman almost took pride in the fact that he was able to earn his living by fighting the insurgents in the forest.
We had nowhere to go. And we started a war with them. Why? On the battlefield it is the Chechen whom we face. In Russian uniform. That is, a Russian, only with Chechen nationality – but he’s our enemy. In Russian uniform, with a Russian weapon in his hands, he went against his people and his religion. Therefore both our religion and our customs tell us that it’s our duty to fight him. That’s the only way they can be stopped. I repeat, we always warn them and urge them to give up their jobs.
A year ago I personally asked this man to resign from the police. And he sent a reply: "Try to make me!" That is why Allah used our hands to take his life away. From afar it is difficult to understand. To us here on the spot it is all obvious. These people persecute us day and night, without a break. That is why we conduct our operations against them. We have no choice. They fight us just like the Russians do, with the Russians’ weapons and vehicles. We have to respond. Anyone who fights in a war will understand this only too well.
I would like to say that we haven’t violated anything that is connected with the traditions of the Chechen people, the requirements of Islam. We stand firm on this. They are the ones who are the violators.
PW: But after all, you didn’t kill him on the battlefield, but dragged him from his home and shot him. Is that consistent with Islamic law?
A.-M.: Today whoever takes up arms to defend the Russian government and shoots at us – they can be killed. That is our starting point. He shot a lot of our people, I know that for a fact. But even in these conditions we say, as we did before, that we will not touch a single one of those who are willing to give up their job and stay at home. But there are those who continue to fight with us, and even more furiously than the Russians themselves. They are the ones who won’t allow the war to end. If it weren’t for, the war would have stopped.
PW: The homes of insurgents are burned down, their relatives are harassed and persecuted. What effect does that have on your people?
A.-M.: For two years now they’ve been persecuting our relatives, day and night. We never touch their relatives, only them. We seek justice and retribution. All that we do is in harmony with our religion. But they burn homes, they punish our sisters, our mothers, our brothers. That way they seek to influence us, to weaken our hearts. But we know what we are moving towards. They try to harm us in every way they can. They want to destroy our spirit. But by the will of Allah we will stand on the path of Islam. We will strengthen Islam and broaden it. We believe in it.
PW: Many of Chechnya’s civilians are pleased at what the authorities are doing: the authorities are building homes, they constructed the largest mosque in Europe, they’re improving people's lives. Don’t you see any changes for the better?
A.-M.: Kadyrov brings Tyson to Chechnya, and he’ll be bringing Michael Jackson. Then it will be some artistes, some Arabs. Why? He’s conducting a policy of the stick and carrot.. Beat the man, beat him and beat him, then throw him a piece of bread. He thinks that’s the way to deal with people, but it’s all just temporary. I swear, even the Muslim prayers they’re allowed to hold today will be banned tomorrow. For no one in Chechnya today can follow the ways of the Prophet. Young people complain to us that they’re being told at home not to go to the mosques. They’re even being taken out of the mosques. And all the rest is just for show, there’s nothing to it... If they were truly supportive of Islam, do you think we’d be against it? No, of course we wouldn’t.
And all this show is being paid for by our oil. The republic doesn’t even get 10 percent of the oil revenues. So why do we take their bait? They’re grabbing all the oil and throwing us handouts. Telling us meanwhile that “Russia feeds us”. No, it doesn’t. Today, if it wasn’t for the mujahideen they’d be able to send us into exile as they did in 1944. We have to remember that. They’re the people who tormented our fathers, and now they’re tormenting us. So everything that Kadyrov does is hypocrisy. It’s just that they have control of information, of television. And they can deceive people. And our people are very willing to believe what they’re told on TV. There is almost no one left in Chechnya who is able to openly speak the truth. Everything is under the thumb of the authorities. Even religion is interpreted in the way they want.
If we had an independent state, our oil would pay for a fine standard of living. That’s why we’ve taken the path of struggle – so we can have our state, so that the Muslims can live in peace. All that is happening today is a mirage. And it will pass.. Allah is testing the Muslims.
PW: But many Chechens support the authorities. You say that you’re fighting for the people’s happiness. The people praise Kadyrov. Perhaps you haven’t noticed that you’ve moved away from the people and lost contact with it?
A.-M.: I can quote a hadith. Ali’s son was going to Iraq. He asked those whom he met: "What is happening there?" They replied: "The hearts of all the people of Iraq are with you, but their swords are turned against you." What does that mean? The hearts of the people of Chechnya are with us. They have all told us that. They love us, but they love us in their hearts. If they talk about it openly, they’ll be persecuted. They are all living under a very heavy yoke of oppression. You just have to lift your head and you’re crushed. So they’re afraid. They have no weapons – they’re civilians. What can they do? They have to stay silent. I don’t blame them, because I understand. I live here and see it all. The people are oppressed, as in the days of Stalin. Nothing can be said openly. But in reality, people respect us and support us. If that were not the case, we wouldn’t have so many people coming to join us. And they come in their multitudes. They see the injustice of the authorities and they come to us. But if any one of them says a word in support of us, tomorrow he will find himself in a basement in Khosi-Yurt, and he’ll be tortured.
PW: Who is doing the fighting today? What sort of people are they, how many of them are there – what is their age, their social status, their level of education? What does an insurgent look like?
A.-M.: I can talk about myself. Two years ago I arrived here from Austria. I had a good life there, didn’t want for anything. But I gave it all up and came back when I realized a lot of things. Although people may not believe it, there are a great many insurgents. They sincerely believe in Allah. And all the talk about how they have taken this path in search of money is a lie. Does one earn money by dying? What do I need money for if I can die today? Money won’t help me when I stand before Allah. It will only help my deeds.
If I had wanted to earn money, I’d have looked for it elsewhere. After all, the world is a big place, you can live anywhere. But that’s not the life we are looking for. We seek Allah’s blessing in the next world. We want to strengthen Islam. What we have done today will help us tomorrow. Why? If we are victorious today, the Muslims will be free. They will be able to freely practice their faith. Each person will have all the rights that are given to him by Allah. And we will die on that path. Allah will give us paradise. We believe that. Inshallah! Those who have social and financial problems will not come to us. They will yield to the munafiqs. And there they will find a way to resolve their issues. But we seek advantage from Allah. And Allah willing, we will find it. Allah gives everyone what they seek.
Allah said that no one on his path will be left without benefit – either he will be victorious or he will receive paradise after he dies. We have this choice. If we are victorious, we will be open for the Muslims. We will not be criminal for them. If a criminal appears among us, we have the power to stop him. And we will not let the others do evil. We shall be for justice. Many things have been cleared up in comparison with the first war. And they go on being cleared up. After all, at each moment we stand before death.
Of our ranks I will say this: among us there are young and old, there are doctors, construction workers, graduates of institutes and universities. We have a program of Islamic studies and international current affairs. We know what we want. I am 30 years old. A time for life. But this, the best time of my life, I have devoted to Islam and the strengthening of the Word of Allah. And Allah will not forsake me! This I believe!
Photo: islam.com.ua (Forum).
(Translation by DM)