THE NORTHERN CAUCASUS AS RUSSIA’S “INTERNAL ABROAD”
Viatcheslav Avioutskii, Research associate, Centre d’Analyses et de Recherches Geopolitiques, lecturer in geopolitics, Ecole Supérieure de Management, Marne-la-Vallée (Paris, France)
In the 1990s the Northern Caucasus1 moved to the front pages of the media all over the world. It became subject of heated political debates and as such an inalienable hallmark of post-Soviet Russia. The explosive geopolitics of the region has created a fundamentally new virtual geographic expanse that does not fit the usual logic of Russia. Its contradictory geopolitical images have deformed the folklore clichés typical of “backward and underdeveloped” periphery. Political discourses make frequent use of such vivid descriptions as “the volcanoes that are waking up,”2 the “temple of hatred,”3 “cancer,” “metastases of separatism,” or “a black hole” all of which speak of a lack of definite ideas and understanding of the North Caucasian specifics. All of them create an impression of an imminent danger.
Critical geopolitics based on a rejection to distinguish between the physical and conceptual space combines political economy and geopolitical practices, culturology and folk geopolitics, the species identity and geopolitical discourse, psychoanalysis and geopolitical imagination, telecommunication networks and geopolitical cyber-organizations, cybernetic wars and virtual geopolitics, globalization and restructuring of geopolitical regions.4
“Modern ‘geo-graphing’ becomes postmodern ‘info-graphing.’ Groups of people begin to join global webs while the quickening space of flows erodes traditional divisions between the local, national and global.”5
The above suggests several conclusions. First, the Northern Caucasus should be regarded not only as one of Russia’s ethnically different peripheries. It is also a periphery of the Middle East and the Islamic world. Since the late 1970s this world, the Middle East and the Northern Caucasus have been enveloped in common trans-national processes, re-Islamization and radicalization being the most important of them.
In Search of an Ideal Boundary of Russia6
The Russian Empire and the Soviet Union failed the main imperial task in the Northern Caucasus, that of integrating the ethnic and religious minorities into the centralized political structure. As a result of the Caucasian war of the 19th century the North Caucasian mountainous peoples were isolated in reservations closely guarded by Cossacks. This legally excluded the local ethnoses from the empire’s political system. Having acquired the status of “aliens,” they were if not completely deprived of the status of Russian subjects then at least their rights were limited together with the freedom of movement (just like the Russian serves prior to the reform of 1861). They did not serve in the army, paid special taxes and enjoyed the right to live according to the adats and the Shari‘a. De facto the “mountainous districts” were “internal abroad,” an archipelago of alien enclaves in the “Slavic sea.”
In the 1920s Soviet power made an attempt to include the North Caucasian mountainous peoples in the Trans-Caucasian Federative Soviet Social Republic (TCFSSR). For this purpose all mountainous ethnoses were united into two polyethnic units: Gorskaia Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic and Daghestanian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic to be included into the larger administrative unit—the TCFSSR. Under the pressure of ethnic nationalism and rivalry among the elites in the Gorskaia Republic and the opposition between Armenians and Azerbaijanians in the Trans-Caucasian Republic the two republics fell apart.7 The autonomies of mountainous peoples (what remained of the Gorskaia Republic, and Daghestan) stayed with the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (R.S.F.S.R.). Concerned with the geopolitical balance in the Southern Caucasus the Soviet leaders did not want to let Daghestan join Azerbaijan or to allow other North Caucasian autonomies join Georgia according to the Abkhazian pattern. Moscow decided to preserve the old situation—the mountainous autonomies remained within the R.S.F.S.R.
We should always bear in mind that between the 1920s and 1950s the R.S.F.S.R. considerably changed its southern administrative borders. In the 1920s the Center set up five union republics out of part of Southern Siberia, the Kazakh steppes and Central Asia that had been part of the R.S.F.S.R. Ethnic delimitation in Central Asia and bringing all mountainous peoples into one autonomous republic served the strategy of purposeful Russification of Russia by relieving it of the “problem” (Islamic) lands that were home of “aliens.”
The conflict with the North Caucasian “internal abroad” reached its peak in 1943-1944 when four mountainous peoples (Karachais, Balkars, Chechens and Ingushes) were deported to Kazakhstan and Central Asia under a pretext of their collaboration with fascist occupants. The deportation itself should be seen as a failure of the policy of Sovietization that Moscow had been carrying out in the region since the 1920s.
In 1957 the “punished peoples” started coming back. Thirteen years of exile strengthened the Chechens who had matured enthnopolitically and turned into a sort of a “pseudo-nation.” They were no longer one of the “autonomous ethnoses of Russia” something that their neighbors never questioned. No wonder it was the Chechen-Ingush Republic that in 1990, the first in the region, demanded the status of a union republic. To weaken Yeltsin’s positions President Gorbachev concluded a tactical alliance with the then Chechen leader Zavgaev and the President of Tatarstan Shaimiev within the Novo-Ogarevo process. He promised the status of union republics to Checheno-Ingushetia and Tatarstan. In fact, in August 1991 Checheno-Ingushetia could leave the R.S.F.S.R. on a constitutional basis in the same way as Central Asia and Kazakhstan had done in the 1920s when the Gorskaia Autonomous Republic and Daghestan could do the same.
Creating a Buffer Zone
After 1957 the Chechens assumed the role of a catalyst of the process of revival of all North Caucasian ethnoses. Certain sources say that about 40 percent of the Chechens perished during deportation. Despite this they became one of the fastest growing ethnoses in the region. The high share of young people explains why the Chechens were politically and religiously more active than their neighbors during perestroika and even earlier. It was the youth that formed the soil in which “parallel Islam” and Sufi brotherhoods struck root in Checheno-Ingushetia. In exile the Chechens preserved their structures and even created new, more radical brotherhoods (virds), the “Vis” Haji Zagiev vird among them.
In 1968 there were about 30 virds in Checheno-Ingushetia. In Achkhoi-Martan there were five of them, a clandestine Koran school was working in the village of Samashki, Achkhoi-Martan District. The “Vis” Haji Zagiev vird was even more extremist than others: it interfered with teaching Russian and spread rumors about resumed gazavat (jihad) against Russians and other infidels.8 In the 1970s-1980s the Sufi brotherhoods continued their clandestine activities to which the local authorities turned a blind eye.
The ethnopolitical processes in the Northern Caucasus are a very specific phenomenon that combined religious resurrection with maturing new ethnic identities (transfer from an ethnos to a pseudo-nation). In August-September 1991 the Qadiriyya Sufi brotherhood was the moving force of the Chechen “revolution,” while the Islamic Renaissance Party played an important role in mobilizing the Karachais in 1991-1992.
Since 1991 ethnic conflicts in the Northern Caucasus have become an inalienable part of regional geopolitics while the ethnoses guided by ethnic parties had become geopolitical actors of first magnitude. In fact, two types of conflicts—ethnoterritorial and ethnopolitical—are typical of the region. V.A. Avksentiev who studies ethnic conflicts describes the latter as a “manifestation or discovering of ethnic strife that existed in society through political mechanisms.” He also pointed out that these conflicts are triggered by “contradictions between political statuses of ethnic groups.”9 The Chechen conflict, for example, is mainly an ethnopolitical conflict. A certain part of the Chechen ethnos rejects the status offered by the Russian Federation (a federation subject with certain political and economic autonomy). It wants the status of a nation that will lead to one of the two variants: either Chechnia and the Russian Federation form a two-subject state that cannot be done because of very different “weight divisions,” or Chechnia becomes independent, something that the Russian leaders, the majority of the Russian citizens and part of the Chechens reject outright.
Chechnia’s independence will create a border issue. Moscow might demand two northern districts back (Naurskiy and Shelkovskoi) that became part of Checheno-Ingushetia in 1957 still populated by the Terek Cossacks. Probably the Chechens in the Nadterechniy District will want to join Russia toward which they have been always oriented. From this time on the Chechen conflict will become an ethnoterritorial one. This type of conflicts is hard to resolve. V.A. Avksentiev writes: “A territorial conflict between two ethnoses cannot be settled until the ethnoses exist.” He suggests several variants of settlement: the disputed territory can be temporarily transferred to a third side; people can be resettled on a voluntary basis to alter the territory’s ethnic structure; new borders can be drawn.10
The north of Daghestan is a seat of the most complicated conflict created by several factors: people from the mountains migrated to the valley; Akkintsy Chechens returned to their homes; part of the Kumyks were deported from the Makhachkala suburbs; Avars and Darghins who had been moved to Chechnia in 1944-1957 migrated back to their homes. The conflict also involved the Nogais, Terek Cossacks, Darghins, Kumyks, Akkintsy Chechens, Avars and Lakhs. Northern Daghestan is like a steam boiler at the stability limit. It sends to the Stavropol Territory Russians, Darghins from the valley, and Nogais, which increases the ethnopolitical weight of the Avars. The Kumyks are trying to oppose them.
A more careful analysis of this epicenter of ethnic seismicity in the Northern Caucasus and neighboring territories shows that it is closely connected with Chechnia through the Akkintsy Chechens, one of the 14 autochthonous ethnoses of Daghestan. In the last decade their number increased from 57.9 thous in 1989 to 105 thous in 1998 mainly thanks to refugees from Chechnia.11
The Akkintsy Chechens managed to partly satisfy their demands for territorial rehabilitation and returned to the Novolakskiy District from which they had been deported in 1944. In Khasaviurt where they make a third of the population the Akkintsy are contesting for power with the Avars who elected one of them the mayor. In 1997, under the influence of Maskhadov’s Chechnia part of the Akkintsy community became radicalized. In Grozny northern Daghestan is not infrequently called “smaller Ichkeria.” A number of terrorist acts performed in the name of the Akkintsy political organization called the Sword of Jihad forced Makhachkala to treat the Akkintsy with a greater deal of suspicion.
When Shamil Basaev and Movladi Udugov set up a Congress of the Peoples of Chechnia and Daghestan with an aim of creating an Islamic (Shari‘a) state on the territory of the two autonomous republics the Akkintsy together with the Daghestanian Wahhabis were regarded as one of the forces behind the project. In August and September 1999 when the militants of Basaev and Khattab invaded Daghestan the balance of forces in the north of the republic changed against the Akkintsy who had done the best to remain neutral. Despite somewhat muted activity of the Akkintsy in 1999-2000 the problem did not go away. It worsened under the pressure of new waves of refugees from Chechnia. More Chechens in the north of Daghestan may upturn the Avars’ rather shaky domination and trigger another chain of conflicts. Civilians in Chechnia are leaving the piedmont in which armed clashes never end and settle in the neighboring territories, mainly in Ingushetia and northern Daghestan. In spring 2002 tens of thousands of Chechen refugees decided to permanently settle in Ingushetia—from this time on Ingushetia is gradually becoming more and more Chechen. It is too early to speak about the same process in Daghestan, yet one can expect another turn of the Akkintsy problem, especially in the Khasaviurt District.
The virtual nature of Chechnia’s borders is confirmed by the presence of “near” diaspora in the neighboring regions. The Chechen ethnos is spreading and is extending its ethnic space in the west and east as well as in the south, to the Akhmeta District of Georgia.
The North Caucasian ethnoses and South Caucasian nations mainly move to the south of Russia that has survived the economic crisis and is relatively stable politically. The migrants, however, sharpened ethnic contradictions there and revived old conflicts.12 Between 1989 and 1997 the Krasnodar Territory received 790 thous migrants, the Rostov Region, 480 thous, the Stavropol Territory, 360 thous.
In the first half of the 1990s it was Slavs who moved there. When the military actions in Chechnia reached their peak and when the number of Slavic communities in the Southern Caucasus, Daghestan, Chechnia, and Ingushetia dropped considerably the share of people of Caucasian and North Caucasian origins in the migrant flow to the south of Russia increased.
The share of Russians in the border areas (the eastern part of the Stavropol Territory bordering on Daghestan and Chechnia) dropped. Late in the 1990s Russians made a third of the population in the Neftekumsk District dominated by Nogais, Turkmens, and Darghins. The Territory administration is concerned with an outflow of Russians from the eastern parts.
The situation around the Greater Sochi (Krasnodar Territory) that borders on Abkhazia is no less alarming. In the last decade the share of Armenians there swelled because of migration from Abkhazia and Armenia.
The south of Russia was a scene of a series of mini-conflicts, especially in the Stavropol and Krasnodar Territories. As distinct from the large-scale ethnic conflicts in the Northern Caucasus, Abkhazia and South Ossetia that frequently developed into more or less prolonged local wars or large-scale armed clashes of short duration, the mini-conflicts are not as intensive. They receive less attention yet the majority of them are extending the North Caucasian conflict zone.
There are two conflict territories in the south of Russia directly adjacent to the Northern and Southern Caucasus: the Kuban (Krasnodar Territory) and Stavropol.
In the Kuban conflict area the majority of conflicts occur within the narrow stretch of the Black Sea coast between Taman and Adler. Between 1989 and 1992 the opposition between the Shapsugs and the local authorities and between Russians and Armenians existed in the Lazarevskoe and Tuapse districts. In 1991-1995 the Krymsk District was an arena of conflicts between the Meskhetian Turks and Cossacks, in 1993 there was a conflict between Cossacks and Kurds. The sharpest was a series of conflicts between the Cossacks and Armenians in Krasnodar, Armavir, Timashevsk, Temriuk, and Anapa districts that happened in 1992 and 2000. A side product of the series was a clash between Greeks and Armenians in Adler (in the Greater Sochi area) in April 1994.13
The conflicts in the Stavropol Territory mostly occur in its eastern and southern parts. Between 1991-2001 there were weak conflicts between Nogais and Russians in the Neftekumsk, Stepnovskiy, and Levokumskoe districts; Darghins and Nogais clashed in August 1999 in the village of Irgakly (Stepnovskiy District) and in March 2000 in Makhmud-Mektebe (Neftekumsk District). In May 1999 local conflicts involved Turkmens and Nogais in the village of Tukui-Mekteb of the same district and Russians and Turkmens in Kendzhe-Kulak of the Turkmenskiy District in January 2001.14
In 1994-1999 a series of conflicts in some of the districts put Cossacks and Stavropol Chechens on the opposite sides. The conflicts can be regarded as an echo of events in Chechnia and the Budennovsk raid of Basaev and his militants in June 1995 rather than a result of ethnic contradictions. In the 1990s the conflicts between Armenians and Russians in the Georgievsk District and in the Caucasian Mineral’nye vody area were less intensive and much less frequent than in the neighboring Krasnodar Territory. Late in the 1990s Cossacks and Meskhetian Turks stood opposed in the Kurskaia District.
The conflicts in southern Russia were caused by the North Caucasian and Caucasian diasporas entrenching themselves in the Russian ethnic areas. This complicated process went through several stages: spontaneous or planned arrival of an ethnic group at a place peopled with a different ethnos—its internal consolidation (ethnic professional specialization and economic solidarity) and establishing ties with the original ethnos—its entrenching in the new territory (concentration in the countryside to create chains: production-transportation-sale of products in cities)—creating ethnopolitical enclaves (national cultural autonomies)—squeezing out all dominating ethnic groups through mini-conflicts. This scenario has been realized in the east of Stavropol Territory, is being realized in the Caucasian Mineral’nye vody area, along the Black Sea coast and the adjacent Krasnodar Territory.
This created a buffer zone 50 to 150 km wide that separates the Northern and Southern Caucasus from the south of Russia. There are no numerically dominating ethnic groups there, ethnic composition of the local population is changing chaotically. The zone separates the highly conflicting (North) Caucasian bulge of the “crisis salient” stretching from the Balkans to Xinjiang in China from the southern continuation of “ethnic Russia” that in the past did not coincide with the Russian Empire and does not coincide with the Russian Federation today.
Russians are becoming one of the many ethnic groups of the “buffer zone” with indefinite ethnic identity. The model of fighting for land that has been typical of the North Caucasians for centuries moved to the valley. It acquired more bitterness because for historical reasons the valley lands were not ethnically connected: they belong to everybody and nobody in particular while up in the mountains the tiniest plots are part of the ethnos’ historical memory. The east of the Stavropol Territory is following the patterns seen in the north of Daghestan in the 1950s-1960s when Avars and Lakhs came to settle among Kumyks, Nogais, and Russians. In the Stavropol Territory Darghins play the role of the migration vector; under pressure of more active Avars they were deprived of land in the north Daghestanian valley.
Let’s look inside the processes of radicalization and politization of Islam in the Northern Caucasus. Much has been already written about Islamic resurrection and Islamic fundamentalism known as Wahhabism mainly in Daghestan and Chechnia. Moscow establishment and the North Caucasian elite are using the term “Wahhabism” as synonymous to Islamism, Islamic radicalism, and fundamentalism. This proves that North Caucasian “Wahhabism” is alien to the region: it was imported from Saudi Arabia to detach this strategically important area from Russia. At the same time, the authorities favor the Sufi brotherhoods that have declared a war on the “Wahhabis.” Politicians and journalists normally avoid the term “Sufis” (“murids”) and call them “traditionalists,” that is, supporters of the traditional local Islam rooted in the past though in its time Sufism was also imported.
We should not forget that in the Northern Caucasus Sufism (Muridism) has been and remains a radical pseudo-revolutionary doctrine the aim of which is a Shari‘a state. In fact its final aim (Islamization of all spheres of life according to the Shari‘a) and the means (jihad) differ but little from what Wahhabism is preaching. In the Caucasus Sufism has served as an ideological basis of jihad more than once. For example, Imam Shamil actively used Sufism to gather the Muslims under the banner of jihad. Early in the 1920s one of his supporters Uzun Haji made another attempt at creating an Imamate. He declared that all who wrote from the left to the right, that is, who wrote Russian, should be hanged till death.
Today, the Sufi sheikhs of Daghestan and Chechnia avoid talking about jihad. They hold forth about the dangers of Wahhabism and resolutely oppose separatism. At the same time, they are tightening their control of the official Islamic structures (Muslim spiritual administrations) and actively interfere in their republics’ political life. (Over a third of the Daghestanian deputies belong to Sufi brotherhoods.) Leader of the Daghestanian Sufis Said-Afandi frequently insisted on complete Islamization of the republic’s educational system and a gradual introduction of the Shari‘a15 abolished comparatively recently, in the late 1920s.
A simple comparison between the doctrines of sheikhs who lived in the 19th and early 20th century zealously promoted by the Muslim Spiritual Administration in its official publications (Nur-ul-Islam, As-Salam) and the book by Ayatollah Khomeiny16 will reveal the true meaning of what the Sufis are doing. They are gradually turning Daghestan into a Mid-eastern theocratic state ideologically close to Iran and Saudi Arabia in front of everybody and without unnecessary haste. Moscow has taken an amazing position. In exchange for the Daghestanian elite’s superficial loyalty it feigns indifference to theocratization of one of the 89 federation subjects. According to publicist writer G. Magomedov, “several years later Sufism that is today the form of unification of the Daghestanian Muslims will produce more radical changes than the Islamic extremists of the 1999 type.”17
After the military failure in August-September 1999 some, probably most radical, of the Wahhabis left Daghestan while Wahhabism was banned across the Northern Caucasus. Yet it did not disappear either from Daghestan or from other North Caucasian republics. In the past, too, few of the “revolutionary” religious ideologies melted under pressure.
Wahhabism is much simpler than the Sufi doctrine, which explains why it was easily accepted in the Northern Caucasus.18 Despite Sufism’s considerable popularity among the Wainakhs and Daghestanians the doctrine was considered to be too intellectual for the broad masses while Wahhabism was accepted as a truly folk religion. In several years Wahhabi communities appeared in all North Caucasian republics (Adigey was the only exception) and the Stavropol Territory while the Sufis could not set up a single community to the west of Ingushetia in 200 years.
Late in the 1990s and early 2000s local observers noticed that Wahhabis had moved from Daghestan and Chechnia to other North Caucasian republics. Their communities were acting in Karachaevo-Cherkessia (Moskovskoe at Ust-Dzheguta), Kabardino-Balkaria (Kyzylburun, Baksan, Nalchik, Khasania, Kenzhe and Vol’niy Aul), North Ossetia (Chermen, Maiskii of the Prigorodniy District, and also in Kirova, Iraf, Digora and Mozdok districts), in Ingushetia (Malgobek), in the Stavropol Territory (Tukui-Mekteb and Kaiasula of the Neftekumsk District, Irgakly of the Stepnovskiy District, Kangly of the Mineral’nye vody District and Mirniy of the Predgorniy District).19 One can say that Wahhabism struck root in the buffer zone too, in the Stavropol Territory, adding another dimension to the conflict-prone situation.
Wahhabism has come to other regions: to Tatarstan, Tuva, Iakutia and Buriatia where it also caused ethnic tension. The Northern Caucasus, however, remains the only region of Russia that Russians were leaving en masse. Its conflict potential is much higher than the sum-total of ethnic contradictions in the rest of the country.
The Northern Caucasus Is Becoming Part of Middle Eastern Geopolitics
Until the late 19th century the Northern Caucasus was part of the Middle East and a zone of influence of the Ottoman Empire and Persia. During the Caucasian War the Porte did all to support the Avars, Chechens and Cherkesses fighting Russians. After 1864 the majority of the Cherkess tribes, part of the Chechens and Daghestanians moved to Turkey. When the Ottoman Empire fell apart numerous North Caucasian diasporas found themselves outside Turkey, in Syria and Jordan.
During perestroika the North Caucasian autonomies restored cultural, political, and economic contacts with their Middle Eastern diasporas. The Dudaev Chechnia maintained close contacts with the Chechen diaspora that was widely represented in the General Staff, special services of Turkey, and in Jordan (in the parliament, the royal guard and the king’s nearest circle). The first Chechen president managed to establish ties with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Sudan, the unrecognized republic of Northern Cyprus, and Bosnia. In the fall of 1994 a transport aircraft of the national Chechen airline shuttled between Khartoum and Baku carrying anonymous cargoes, while Soviet weapons Turkey bought in East Germany were moving via Bitlis in Turkish Kurdistan to the military airport Nasosnaia at Baku.20
The North Caucasian diaspora in Turkey and Jordan collected money for Dudaev, placed the wounded in Turkish hospitals and gave shelter to Chechen refugees. The diaspora initiated numerous rallies in Istanbul and Ankara, tried to put pressure on the Turkish government that was critical of what the Russian army was doing in Chechnia. This activity reached its peak in January 1996 when Turkish fighters of the “Grandsons of Shamil” organization captured the Avrasia ferry with Russian citizens on board. The group acted under a certain Muhammed Tokcan, a Turk of Abkhazian extraction. In 1992 he had fought in Abkhazia where he met Shamil Basaev. In 2001 Tokcan took hostages in the Sofitel Hotel in Istanbul. The Islamists parties in Turkey exploited the Chechen issue to enlist more supporters. Russian sources spoke about fighters from the paramilitary Bozkurtlar organization fighting in Chechnia in 1994-1995. It is officially banned in Turkey and is acting semi-legally within the Idealist Hearts youth clubs of the ultra-nationalist Milliyetci Hereket Partisi. In March 1995 during the election campaign leader of the Refah Party Erbakan announced: “The war in Chechnia as all other conflicts (in Palestine, Kashmir, Bosnia) is part of jihad.” His election program demanded “liberation of Azerbaijan, Bosnia, and Chechnia.”21 In December 1995 this party came to power and Erbakan became prime minister.
Chechens established ties with Afghanistan and Pakistan. Back in April 1994 the Chechen delegation headed by Basaev visited Afghanistan where it conducted negotiations with leader of Islamists Hekmatyar about buying “Stingers.” At the same time, they established contacts with the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence of Pakistan). The delegation met influential Pakistani military who were considered patrons of the Taliban: Minister of the Interior General Naseerullah Babar, Minister of Defense General Aftab Shahban Mirani and ISI chief Javed Ashraf. After that about a hundred of Chechens arrived in ISI training camps at Khost in Afghanistan and in Markaz-i-Dawar in Pakistan. In the fall of 1994, the ISI dispatched several mixed units to Chechnia made of Chechens, mujahedin from Afghanistan, and Pakistanis. In December 1994-January 1995 they defended Grozny under command of Pakistani officers and maintained radio connection with its headquarters in Pakistan. Radio interceptions provide a full picture of Grozny under attack in January 1995: “Green flags can be seen everywhere,” reported one of the officers. “They testify to the high moral pitch and strong Islamic spirit. Mujahedin can be seen everywhere preaching huddled together on the streets of Muslim Grozny covered with debris. Many of them hold the Koran together with their weapons. The words ‘Allahu Akbar’ written by foreign mujahedin in Arabic appeared in the most conspicuous places. Mujahedin from the ‘battalion of martyrs’ are recognized by their black headbands. They vowed to fight till death.”22
The Northern Caucasus and the Middle East fortified their ties still more during the second war in Chechnia (1999-2000.) On the eve of an invasion of Daghestan Zelimkhan Iandarbiev visited the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia to raise money for continued jihad. Representatives of Grozny in Turkey approached several local Islamist organizations for money. In August 1999 leader of the Chechen Wahhabis Abdul Malik received $1 million from the World Front of bin Laden’s, Algerian Al-Jamaa al-Musallah, Palestinian Hamaz and Libyan religious figures in exile.
The Chechen diaspora in Jordan played an important role. According to the Foreign Ministry of Russia since the beginning of 1999 the local branch of the Muslim Brothers collected about $20 million for Chechnia, while in the first 10 months of 1999 the Yemeni Al-Islah party gathered $4.5 million.23
A newly found regional solidarity was one of the most significant integration factors in the Northern Caucasus. In 1999 and 2000 mass rallies against the actions of the Russian army in Chechnia were organized in Egypt and Turkey. They demanded that their governments put diplomatic pressure on Moscow. Arabs in Saudi Arabia, Pakistanis, Jordanians and Algerians were closely following the events in “Muslim Chechnia.” North Caucasians responded in kind to the events in Palestine. In October 2000, two weeks after the second Intifada had begun in Palestine, one of the Chechen leaders made a statement: “We are prepared to join Palestinian jihad at any time. Despite the difficult situation in Chechnia our hearts are together with the jihad in Palestine.” Chechens were prepared to send 150 militants to Palestine.24 In spring 2002 when the situation in Palestine became even worse spontaneous rallies in Khasaviurt (Daghestan) condemned the “Zionist policies of the state of Israel.” In fact, nearly all Muslim mass media in the republic took an active anti-Israeli position that differed radically from the Kremlin’s vague neutrality in relation to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
From this it follows that the virtual territory of the Middle East is extending through conflicts.
The Caliphate, bin Laden and Chechnia
The terrorist acts of 11 September, 2001 in New York and Washington changed the balance of forces in Chechnia: the Afghano-Pakistani epicenter was neutralized in the course of the antiterrorist operation led by the United States. When the Taliban had been removed from the political stage and bin Laden retreated from the proscenium Washington recognized for the first time that al-Qa‘eda and the Chechen militants were closely connected. Still, these were not bilateral contacts fed by solidarity born by the global jihad against the infidels. The contacts were rather born by the concrete plan of rearranging the “Islamic nation” (umma) and creating the Caliphate, a global Islamist state.
Bid Laden chose Afghanistan as a place of his voluntary exile not out of nostalgic reminiscences of his youth when he had started his carrier under close coaching of Sheikh Azzam. Afghanistan was his choice for two reasons: first, it was unassailable—in the past neither the British nor the Soviet forces could conquer it; second, it was a region of triumphal jihad. Terrorist No. 1 recognized that the “Islamic revolution” in Iran had lost its impetus while Saudi Arabia could not replace Iran because of the war in Kuwait and the U.S. military presence. After the Taliban’s victorious march across the country when it captured Kabul the center of the “large Islamic circle” had moved to the Pashtoon zone of Afghanistan.25
It was bin Laden’s design to skillfully use the striking potential of the Islamist movements in Ferghana, Xinjiang, Kashmir, and Chechnia to destabilize the large states of which these regions are part: Uzbekistan, China, India, and Russia. This large-scale strategy included recognition of Maskhadov’s Chechnia by the Taliban early in 2000, presence of Arab volunteers (mercenaries) and Afghan veterans in Chechnia. In November 2001 during the storm of Kunduz in the north of Afghanistan journalists reported that the city was defended by several hundreds of Chechens, Uzbeks, Uighurs, and Pakistanis who stood opposed to the Northern Alliance. At the last moment the Pakistani intelligence removed the majority of foreigners by planes. Later, in 2002 Russian sources reported that among the Chechen militants that camped in the Pankisi Gorge in eastern Georgia there were Arab members of al-Qa‘eda. The United States dispatched military instructors to train Georgian antiterrorist units. The Chechen sources resolutely denied that Chechens had been fighting in Afghanistan and that bin Laden’s militants had reached Pankisi.
Today it is impossible to follow all modifications of the structure of bin Laden’s virtual caliphate when he had lost the Afghan epicenter. However, one can guess that the destabilization strategy remained the same. The conflicts in Kashmir and Chechnia are still going on under the banner of jihad while the Islamist parties are still very active in Pakistan.
It was for the first time after 1945 that the U.S. and Russia united against a common danger presented by Islamic extremism. Back in 1946 U.S. diplomat George Kennan warned that communism could not be defeated with military means and suggested the containment strategy instead. The United States revived the strategy to fight Islamism: it is prepared to isolate Afghanistan from the “striking” units of the world Islamic revolution, one of them operating in Chechnia.
What Is in Store?
Is there a solution to the Chechen problem? It cannot be resolved at the tactical, operational or even regional levels. It should be dealt with at the “large-scale strategy” level and through the post-modernist geopolitics that connects local situations with global processes. This alone will lead to an integrated decision of the Chechen problem and settle the situation in the North Caucasian region as a whole. The Russian tradition should be adapted to the local conditions—this is being done in Daghestan and partly in Karachaevo-Cherkessia. Any digressions (such as theocratization of federation subjects) from the basic principles of Russian civilization should be avoided. The geopolitical drift of the Northern Caucasus toward the Middle East can be stopped not by increased military presence but through “ideological re-orientation” of the region from the south to the north by increasing the civilizational attraction of the Russian model. On the global scale this means a reconstruction of the Russian ethnic civilization based on the Russian spirit and Christian Orthodoxy into a genuine civilization of Russia in which the Muslim community will be able to develop independently of the Middle East, by creating Russian Islam in the same way as the Islamic communities in Western Europe are shaping Euro-Islam that fits the democratic system.
1 Geopolitically the Northern Caucasus is an ethno-geographic region that includes territories of autochthonous North Caucasian ethnoses: Adigey, Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Chechnia, and Daghestan. Despite close genetic links between the Abkhazians and South Ossets, on the one hand, and the North Caucasian ethnoses, on the other, Abkhazia and South Ossetia are traditionally included into the Southern Caucasus, while I unite the Stavropol and Krasnodar Territories, Kalmykia and the Rostov Region that have numerous North Caucasian diasporas under a blanket term “South of Russia.”
2 E. Kisriev, “Daghestan—prosypaiushchiesia vulkany,” Severniy Kavkaz, Nalchik, No. 4, January 1999.
3 V. Lezvina, “Khram nenavisti, tainy poslednei voiny: Mertvye ne khodiat ili My ikh biem—oni krepchaiut,” Stavropol’skaia pravda, 24 August, 2001.
4 See: G.O. Tuathail, S. Dalby, “Introduction: Rethinking Geopolitics,” Rethinking Geopolitics, ed. by G.O. Tuathail and S. Dalby, Routledge, London, New York, 1998, p. 14.
5 G.O. Tuathail, “Postmodern Geopolitics? The Modern Geopolitical Imagination and Beyond,” Rethinking Geopolitics, p. 27.
6 According to Russian historian Sergei Panarin, as distinct from the real state border “the term ‘boundary’ expresses an idea about the ideal limits that enclose all elements that are close culturally, share the same territories and are blood relatives. The crisis of the power identity mentioned above pushes to the foreground the ethnic component of human identity … the ideal boundary is seen as an outside limit of ‘territorial correspondence’ of a social boundary between ethnic groups” (see: S. Panarin, “Russkoiazychnye u vneshnikh granits Rossii: vyzovy i otvety (na primere Kazakhstana),” Diaspory, Moscow, No. 2-3, 1999, p. 142).
7 For more detail, see: Iu. Koniev, Avtonomia narodov Severnogo Kavkaza, o zarozhdenii, utverzhdenii i razvitii form sovetskoi etnopoliticheskoi gosudarstvennosti na Severnom Kavkaze, Ir Publishers, Ordzhonikidze, 1973, 256 pp.
8 See: A. Avksentiev, Islam na Severnom Kavkaze, Stavropol Book Publishers, Stavropol, 1984, pp. 156-157.
9 V.A. Avksentiev, Etnicheskaia konfliktologia, in two parts. Part 2, Stavropol State University Press, Stavropol, 1996, p. 112.
10 See: Ibid., Part 1, p. 39.
11 See: Etnicheskii sostav naselenia R.S.F.S.R., po dannym Vsesoiuznoi perepisi naselenia SSSR 1989 goda, Goskomstat R.S.F.S.R., Republican Information Center Publishers, Moscow, 1990, p. 128; Respublika Dagestan. Dannye o territorii i geograficheskaia struktura [www.rd.dgu.ru/dagterr.htm].
12 See: S.V. Riazantsev, Migratsia kak posledstvie i faktor confliktov na Severnom Kavkaze [www.stavsu7ru/COFR/KONFL-CONF/SEC/4.ryaz.html].
13 See: “Mezhetnicheskie otnoshenia ukhudshaiutsia v Adlerskom raione Krasnodarskogo kraia,” Erkramos, Krasnodar, No. 6-7 (24-25), June-July 1998.
14 See: Stavropol’skie gubernskie vedomosti, Stavropol, No. 84, May 1999; Rossiiskaia gazeta, 30 January, 2001.
15 See: D.V. Makarov, Ofitsial’niy i neofitsial’niy Islam v Daghestane, International Center for Strategic and Political Research, Moscow, 2000 [www.icsps-project.arcon.ru].
16 See: Ayatollah Khomeiny, Principes politiques, philosophiques, sociaux et religieux, Editions Libres-Hallier, Paris, 1979, 165 pp.
17 G. Magomedov, “Chto strashnee wahhabizma,” Nezavisimaia gazeta, 7 August, 2001.
18 See: A. Iarlykapov, “Kredo Wahhabita,” Vestnik Evrazii, Moscow, No. 3 (10), 2000, pp. 114-137.
19 See: Severniy Kavkaz, Nalchik, No. 17, May 2001; V. Vassilieva, “Net Wahhabizmu,” Severnaia Osetia, Vladikavkaz, 23 November, 2000; Iu. Sidakov, “Kakoi Islam interesuet molodezh?” Severnaia Osetia, 5 April, 2001; S.V. Riazantsev, “Migratsia nogaitsev v zerkale etnopoliticheskoi situatsii v Stavropol’skom krae,” in: Etnicheskie problemy sovremennosti, Issue 5, Problemy garmonizatsii mezhetnicheskikh otnoshenii v regione. Materialy nauchnoi konferentsii (14-15 September, 1999), SGU Press, Stavropol, 1999, pp. 118-131.
20 See: I. Petrov, “Chechenskiy narkotrafik: sledy vedut v Kreml,” Zavtra, No. 24, 1996.
21 A. Toumarquine, “La diaspora ‘tcherkesse’ en Turquie,” Hérodote, Paris, No. 81, avril-juin 1996, pp. 151-177.
22 Y. Bodansky, Chechnya, The Mujahedin Factor, Freeman Center for Strategic Studies, Houston, January 1998 [www.freeman.org/m_online/bodansky/chechnya7htm].
23 See: K. Poliakov, “Vliianie vneshnego faktora na radikalizatsiu islama v Rossii v 90-e gody XX v,” Islam na postsovetskom prostranstve: vzgliad iznutri, Moscow, 2001, pp. 265-306.
24 Jerusalem Post, Israel, 9 August, 2001.
25 Y. Bodansky, The Man Who Declared War on America, Prima Publishers, Roseville, California, 1999, 440 pp.