The Caucasus Emirate on the road from Yemen to Algeria (Part 2)
By Sergei Davydov, special to Prague Watchdog
The first part of the article can be read here.
The willingness of the Caucasus Emirate’s leaders to ignore the traditional Islamic rules of war brings to mind the infamous communiqué of Djamel Zitouni, head of the Armed Islamic Group (AIG) of Algeria, which was published in February 1995. The leader of the Algerian radicals told his fighters that “for every Muslim woman who is arrested, the wife of an apostate shall be killed.”
It is worth noting that the debates which periodically erupt between the supporters of the government of Akhmed Zakayev and the followers of Dokka Umarov bear a marked resemblance to similar “discussions” that took place between the frequently changing “emirs” of the AIG and the leaders of the Islamic Salvation Front (ISF). There arose at the time a distinct impression that an invisible hand was guiding the AIG’s activities in a direction that was favourable to the authorities. If we go to the websites of the “Ichkerians” and the “Emiratists”, we find practically the same arguments and mutual recriminations.
In Algeria a subsequent communiqué from Zitouni’s successor Antar Zouabri classified as muharib all Algerians who dared to flout Islamic norms of conduct (zakat, namaz, the wearing of the hijab), and who entered into any relations with the “godless” Algerian government (by voting in elections or having recourse to the courts of law). In his last communiqué, of late September 1997, Zouabri said that the AIG claimed responsibility for all the previous atrocities. which had involved the widespread massacre of civilians and amounted to genocide. Zouabri condemned the entire Algerian nation for kufr (disbelief) and proclaimed that all Algerians who did not belong to the AIG were atheists. Thus depriving itself of the backing even of radical circles, as well as of its traditional supporters – the poor urban youth – the group finally marginalized itself and disappeared from the Algerian political scene.
Naturally, then, one may ask whether it is legitimate to compare the recent public utterances of Dokka Umarov to the misanthropic texts of the leaders of the AIG. After all, when the “Emir of the Caucasus Mujahideen” refers to “peaceful civilians” he has in mind the citizens of Russia, who in his opinion give their passive support to the armed forces of the occupation.
Let us turn our attention to the following passage in one of Umarov’s recent statements: speaking of the revival of the jamaat of “our dear brother Shamil”, the “emir” mentions two of his successful operations, the second of which “was carried out by our mujahedin on Russian territory, in the city of Vladikavkaz.” On Caucasus Emirate websites this city has until recently been called the administrative centre of the “Vilayet of Iriston”. If what is being referred to is the terrorist attack which took place in the North Ossetian capital last year and resulted in the deaths of twelve civilians, it is hard to see these words as anything other than the legitimatization of the murder of peaceful citizens of the rebels’ own state – for according to the concepts of law espoused by the leaders of the North Caucasus resistance, the victims of the attack were citizens of the Caucasus Emirate.
Thus, by viewing their theoretical compatriots as “permitted” targets for attack whose only “guilt” is their forced participation in the activities of Russia’s state institutions, the Caucasus Emirate “emirs” are embarking upon the path already traversed by the Salafist leaders of the Algerian factions.
At first sight it might seem that the civil war in Algeria and the low-level conflict in the North Caucasus have little in common – in the case of the former there can be no talk of a liberation movement whose aim was to shed the imperial colonial yoke. Yet strangely enough, the speeches of the AIG “emirs” were also characterized by anti-colonial rhetoric. Like any analogy, however, the parallels with Algeria are not absolute – the nature of the French presence in the country, which for was for the most part cultural and linguistic, cannot be compared with the involvement of the Russian Federation in Chechen affairs, which has a quite tangible and material embodiment.
If the Caucasus Emirate were a real state, its political structure, established by the new decree of Dokka Umarov, could be described as an absolute theocratic monarchy with consultative institutions. Viewed in the context of the Islamic states of the last century, its closest counterparts are the Zaidi Imamate of the three Hamid al-Dinovs in Yemen (which fell as a result of an army revolt in 1962), and the Ibadi Imamate of Oman, which was restored in the second half of the nineteenth century and defeated in 1959 by troops of the Sultanate of Muscat with the help of a British expeditionary force.
However, Dokka Umarov’s decree renders problematic any attempt to speculate about how the Emirate would look on the political map of the North Caucasus. “Omra No. 14” abolishes the Vilayet of Ossetia (which has more than 700,000 inhabitants) and includes it in the Vilayet of Ingushetia (circa 500,000 inhabitants), the mujahideen now operating on the republic’s territory being required to transfer themselves under the command of “Emir Magas” (Akhmed Yevloyev).
It is clear that even in theory it would be hard to imagine the mainly Russian Orthodox North Ossetia becoming part of the theocratic state of the mujahideen. Its allocation to a special “Vilayet of Iriston” emphasized, as it were, the universal Islamic nature of the clandestine Emirate, one that sets it apart from any narrow conception of Vainakh identity.
Regardless of what such an “amalgamation policy” may symbolize -- a complete detachment from reality or, conversely, a desire to gain more support in Ingushetia, which has long been a major bridgehead for the mujahideen – the fact remains that along with the “abolished” Vilayet of Iriston the Caucasus Emirate is losing the last of the features which made it possible for it to be seen even as a potential state.
Picture: Institute of Religion and Policy.
(Translation by DM)