CONFESSIONAL GEOPOLITICS IN SOUTHERN RUSSIA AND THE NORTHERN CAUCASUS
Viatcheslav Avioutskii, Associate researcher, Centre de Recherches et d’analyses Géopolitiques (Paris Viii university); lecturer in geopolitics, Ecole Supérieure de Management en Alternance (Esm-A), Marne-La-Vallée (Paris, France)
Due to the conflict in Chechnia, Southern Russia and the Northern Caucasus1 have become a focus of attention for Russian and western analysts. This region, fraught with geopolitical ruptures, is usually studied from the perspective of ethnoterritorial and ethnopolitical conflicts.2 However, the Chechen conflict’s progressive shift into the religious realm has made it imperative to study this Russian borderland in the confessional respect. This need has been further amplified by the media’s increased focus on the jihadist component within the Chechen guerrilla contingents.
The radicalization of militant Islam in the region (in Chechnia and Daghestan, and with less intensity, in the Stavropol Territory, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Karachaevo-Cherkessia) is accompanied by a remarkable rebirth in the Northern Caucasus not only of Islam, but also of Orthodox Christianity, Buddhism, and a large number of Protestant, Armenian monophysite, Catholic, Judaist, Krishnaits, and old-believer communities.
Since the end of the 1980s, the region has seen the appearance of several hundred Orthodox churches, mosques, Armenian churches, Khuruls, synagogues, and kostels (Polish Roman Catholic churches). Several thousand religious organizations (parishes and religious communities) have been registered. A great many religious traditions have been brought back, as well as Orthodox and Muslim holidays and religious processions. Hundreds of Orthodox parish schools, maktabs, dozens of Islamic universities, and several Orthodox seminaries have opened. Religious periodicals are being increasingly published, a certain portion of the population regularly participate in religious ceremonies and rites, and priests take an active part in everyday life and have considerable influence on the political process.
After several decades of militant atheism and its destructive influence on the spirituality of the nation, it is still too early to evaluate the results of the religious rebirth in this Russian borderland. It is important to take into account this powerful identity-building factor, even if it isn’t conflictive, since it defines the geopolitical opposition and performs a decisive mobilizing function for the radical components in regional and local conflicts.
The Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) is widely represented throughout the region. In 1989, more than 12 million believers were Christian Orthodox, mainly Eastern Slavs (Russians, Ukrainians, and Belorussians). There were also Ossets (nearly 60% of the population of North Ossetia) and a relatively small community of Kabards.
Structurally, the ROC was subdivided into six dioceses of various sizes. The largest and most important is the Diocese of Stavropol and Vladikavkaz, which is composed of some 353 parishes spread throughout the Stavropol Territory, Kabardino-Balkaria (20), Karachaevo-Cherkessia (18), and North Ossetia and Ingushetia (3). The Diocese of Rostov-Novocherkassk oversees the 263 parishes located in the Rostov Region. The Diocese of Ekaterinodar-Kuban administers 180 parishes in the northern part of the Krasnodar Territory. The Diocese of Maykop-Armavir has 111 parishes in Southern Kuban, including 22 parishes in Adigey. The Diocese of Elista-Kalmykia controls 14 parishes in Kalmykia. Finally, the Diocese of Baku-Caspian has 23 parishes, including 12 located in Daghestan (Buynaksk, Derbent, Izberbash, and Kaspiysk, and two in Kizlyar, Koktubey, Kochubey, Kraynovka, Makhachkala, Tarumovka, and Khasavyurt) and seven in Chechnia (Grozny, Isherskaya, Kalinovskaya, Mekenskaya, Naurskaya, Khankala, and Shelkovskaya).
Once numbering tens of thousands in the Don and Terek areas, the old-believers are now represented in only a few small communities of Nekrassov Cossacks in Rostov-on-Don, the village of Nekrassovka (the Tarumovskiy District of Daghestan), the Levokumskiy District of the Stavropol Territory (the village of Novokumskiy—Church of the Dormition, Levokumskaya Valley—Church of the Trinity), and the Primorsko-Akhtarskiy District of the Krasnodar Territory (Nekrassovskiy, Novonekrassovskiy and Novopokrovskiy). During the past three centuries, most of the old-believers were absorbed by the ROC.
In the 1990s, the Orthodox Church managed to avoid a schism in the Russian South. The problem was that many parishes (“renovation” and “autonomous” dissident churches) attempted to separate from the ROC following the fall of the Soviet Union. Today, almost all the parishes of the “renovation” and “autonomous” churches have been drawn into the fold of the ROC. Only one parish continues to recognize the authority of the Russian Orthodox Church abroad—the Pokrovsko-Tikhonovskiy parish of Slavyansk-on-Kuban in the Krasnodar Territory.
Apart from the Consultative Coordination Council, Islam does not have any centralized structure in the Northern Caucasus. Nine Spiritual Directorates of Muslims (SDM) oversee the local Islamic organizations, which mainly formed or were created around a specific mosque (the Islamic equivalent of the Christian parish). The absence of a place of worship (no mosque has been built or a special facility set up for this purpose) does not however significantly hinder the registration or functioning of local Islamic associations. The Muslims can congregate either in apartments or private homes, and this is the method generally used in larger cities where they have recently taken up residence. We will use the term “mosque” to designate a local Islamic organization, regardless of whether an actual building is used as the place of worship.
The most important structure in the region is the great SDM of Daghestan, which administers 1,606 mosques. However, it is important to add that the SDM effectively controls only a portion of this number (around 1,000 mosques). More than three quarters of these mosques are located in the Avar or Darghin areas situated in Western or Central Daghestan.
The SDM of Chechnia unites approximately 300 mosques, only 150 of which are registered. It is impossible to calculate their exact number, since a significant portion was destroyed during the armed conflict of 1999-2000.
The SDM of Ingushetia oversees 85 mosques, only six of which are registered. The mufti of Ingushetia declared that almost every municipality of the republic had a recently opened mosque.
The SDM of North Ossetia numbers 19 mosques, located essentially in the villages of the Prigorodny District comprising several Ingush minorities (Dachny, Kartsa, Kurtat, Mayskiy, and Chermen), the Mozdokskiy District (Mozdok, and two mosques in the Kumyk village of Kizlyar), Beslan, and Vladikavkaz.
The SDM of Kabardino-Balkaria runs 130 mosques.
The SDM of Karachaevo-Cherkessia and the Stavropol Territory is in charge of 113 mosques (108 registered mosques) in Karachaevo-Cherkessia, along with the 39 mosques in the Stavropol Territory, mainly in the Sovetskiy and Neftekumskiy Districts in the east of the territory. There are also Muslim communities in the southern and western parts of this territory in Kislovodsk, Mirny, and the village of Kangly in the Mineralovodskiy District, and in Stavropol and the village of Sernovodskoye in the Kurskiy District.
The SDM of Adigey and the Krasnodar Territory regroups 28 mosques (15 registered) in Adigey and 11 mosques in the Krasnodar Territory (Krasnodar, Sochi, Taman, and Anapa, and in the Cherkess villages of the Uspenskiy District).
The SDM of the Rostov Region numbers 17 mosques. The SDM of Kalmykia controls seven mosques. These two regional structures are part of the SDM of the European part of Russia.
The communities of the Armenian-Gregorian church are active in the Rostov Region (Rostov), the Krasnodar Territory (Armavir, Adler, Krasnodar, Novorossiysk, Slavyansk-on-Kuban, Sochi, and Tenginka), the Stavropol Territory (Kislovodsk, Budennovsk, Pyatigorsk, Stavropol, and the village of Edissia), North Ossetia (Vladikavkaz), Daghestan (Derbent and Kizlyar), and Adigey (Maykop). Most of these communities are at the structural stage.
The Catholic Church has become very widespread. The parishioners include Poles who settled in the Northern Caucasus in the 19th century, Catholic Armenians who arrived from Armenia in the last decade, and Russians who converted recently. It has a total of 32 parishes, two of which are located in Kabardino-Balkaria (Nalchik and Prokhladny), three in Kalmykia (the village of Vesseloye, Gorodovikovsk, and Elista), ten in the Krasnodar Territory (Adler, Anapskaya, Armavir, Akhtarskiy, Krasnodar, Leningradskaya, Lazarevskoye, Semenovskiy, Sochi, and Tuapse), five in the Stavropol Territory (Kislovodsk, Nevinnomyssk, Novopavlovsk, Pyatigorsk, and Stavropol), one in Daghestan (Makhachkala), nine in the Rostov Region (Azov, Bataysk, Volgodonsk, Novocherkassk, Novoshakhtinsk, Rostov-on-Don, Salsk, Taganrog, and Shakhty), one in North Ossetia (Vladikavkaz), and one in Chechnia (Grozny).
Buddhist communities (Khuruls) are found on Kalmyk territory, 23 communities. The capital of the republic, Elista, has six communities and religious centers. The others are found in Altsyn Khuta, Arshan-Zelmen, Gorodovikovsk, Jalykovo, Iki-Burul, Iki-Chonos, Ketchenery, Komsomolskiy, Lagan, Troitskoye, Khanata, Khar-Buluk, Khomutnikovskiy, Tsagan-Aman, Tsaryn, Chapayev sovkhoz, and Yashkul. The Kalmyk communities form the Association of Buddhists of Kalmykia. There are also Russian Buddhist micro-communities in the Krasnodar Territory (Krasnodar and Labinsk), the Rostov Region (Rostov), and the Stavropol Territory (Nevinnomyssk and Pyatigorsk).
The Krishnaits (vayshnavits) have eight communities in the Rostov Region (Bataysk), the Krasnodar Territory (Elizavetinskaya, Sochi, and Tsemdolina), the Stavropol Territory (Stavropol and Essentuki), Karachaevo-Cherkessia (Kurdjinovo), and North Ossetia (Vladikavkaz).
There are 11 Judaic communities in Southern Russia and the Northern Caucasus. They function in Kabardino-Balkaria (Nalchik), the Krasnodar Territory (Krasnodar and Novorossiysk), the Stavropol Territory (Pyatigorsk), Daghestan (Makhachkala, Derbent, Khassavyurt, and Buynaksk), and the Rostov Region (two communities in Rostov, and one in Taganrog).
Christian Evangelical Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, 7th Day Adventists, and Lutherans represent the Protestant communities.
Four Lutheran communities function in the Krasnodar Territory (Sochi and Krasnodar), Kabardino-Balkaria (Mayskiy), and the Rostov Region (Rostov). The parishioners are essentially Russian Germans. The 7th Day Adventists have several communities in Rostov, Stavropol, Mineralnye Vody, and Daghestan.
Christian Evangelical Baptists appeared in the region in the 19th century. Today, the church is composed of 169 parishes in the Russian South and the Northern Caucasus. Along with the ROC and Islam, the Baptists functioned during Soviet times despite many attempts to restrict their activity. The Baptists are represented the most in the Rostov Region (28 communities), the Krasnodar Territory (71), and the Stavropol Territory (32). They also function in Kabardino-Balkaria (Nalchik, Mayskiy, Nartkala, Prokhladny, and Terek), in Kalmykia (Elista, Gorodovikovsk, and Vinogradnoye), Karachaevo-Cherkessia (Cherkessk, Zelenchukskaya, Karachaevsk, Kurdjinovo, Urup, and Ust-Jeguta), Adigey (Maykop, Kamennomostskiy, Tulskiy, and Khanskaya), North Ossetia (Vladikavkaz, Alagir, Beslan, Gizel, Digora, Mizur, Mozdok, Pavlodolskaya, and Khumalat), and Daghestan (Makhachkala, Kizlyar, Bukhnak, and Tskhnak in the Tabassaranskiy District, and the village of Tashkapur in the Levashinskiy District).
Jehovah’s Witnesses are without doubt the most active and fastest growing Protestant community. Traditional religion perceives their predication as ideological aggression. They are included on the list of destructive sects. Their community is in constant conflict with the federal and regional authorities. Jehovah’s Witnesses have communities in the Stavropol Territory (Georgievsk and Nevinnomyssk), the Krasnodar Territory (Abinsk, Anapa, Gelenjik, Eysk, the Krasnoarmeyskiy District, Krasnodar, the Krymskiy District, Novorossiysk, Primorsko-Akhtarskiy, the Slavyanskiy and Temrukskiy districts), the Rostov Region (Bataysk and Rostov), Adigey (Maykop), and Kabardino-Balkaria (Novopokrovskiy, Primalkinskoye, and Prokhladny).
Dynamics of the Renaissance
It is quite difficult to analyze the religious renaissance in Southern Russia and the Northern Caucasus, especially that of the ROC, since the borders of its dioceses have changed many times. Let’s take the Rostov-Novocherkassk Diocese for example, which has not changed its borders from 1987 to 2003. The number of parishes increased from 84 in 1987 to 196 in 1997, 222 in 1999, 228 in 2001, and 263 in 2003. The increase in number of ROC parishes in Karachaevo-Cherkessia is also significant, from 9 in 1989, to 15 in 1996, and 18 in 1999. The rate of Orthodox Christian rebirth in Daghestan is also stable: 9 parishes in 1998, 10 in 2001, and 12 in 2002. The Stavropol-Vladikavkaz Diocese has without doubt been the most active. In 1987-2002 the number of its parishes increased from 100 to 353. We should take into account that the parishes of Azerbaijan, Kalmykia, Chechnia, and Daghestan were separated from the diocese before 2001.
Nevertheless, the rate of Islamic rebirth has far surpassed the restoration of the ROC’s structures. The example of Daghestan speaks for itself. This republic had 27 mosques in 1988, 94—in 1991, more than 800—in 1992, 850—in 1995, 1,200—in 1997, 1,585—in 2001, and 1,606—in 2002. Between 1992 and 1995 alone, 388 mosques were built, and more than 300 ancient mosques were returned to believers or reconstructed. It is also remarkable that the largest mosque in the Russian Federation built by Turks and with a capacity for eight thousand persons is located in Makhachkala. We can compare the regional Islamic renaissance with the national. The Russian Federation had 159 mosques in 1979,3 189—in 1986,4 870—in 1991, 1,216—in 1992, 1,732—in 1993, 2,037—in 1994, 2,294—in 1995, 2,494—in 1996, 2,738—in 1997, 2,891—in 1998, 3,072—in 1999, and 3,060—in 2001.5 Only the rate of Islamic rebirth in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan is similar to that of Daghestan. Tatarstan had 700 mosques in 1997, 802—in 2000, and 985—in 2001.6 Bashkortostan reunited 490 mosques in 1997 and 560—in 2001.7
Due to the decade-long rebirth of Orthodoxy and Islam, the regional religious map has considerably changed. Large cities have become thriving religious centers. In Daghestan, for example, 62 mosques are located in Makhachkala8 (including the suburbs), 30—in the village of Durgeli in the Karabudakhkentskiy District, 7—in Derbent, 98—in the Buynakskiy District, 100—in the Babayurtovskiy District, and 31—in the Gumbetovskiy District. Outside of Daghestan, we can only find such a concentration of mosques in Nalchik (including the suburbs)—11.
In the 1990s, the construction rate of Orthodox Christian churches was especially impressive in Russian towns and cities where before perestroika there was generally only one church per town. For example, there are 27 parishes of the ROC in Rostov-on-Don, 10—in Novocherkassk, 4—in Taganrog, 3—in Belaya Kalita, 3—in Bataysk, 12—in Krasnodar, 22—in Sochi (including the suburbs), 6—in Armavir, 3—in Anapa, 3—in Novorossiysk, 3—in Gelenjik, 15—in Stavropol, 8—in Pyatigorsk, 4—in Izobilny, 3—in Nevinnomyssk, 3—in Kislovodsk, 5—in Vladikavkaz, and 3—in Prokhladny.
Until now, neither the ROC nor Islam could reach all their potential believers. Many villages in Southern Daghestan, as well as most of the Muslim Diasporas in the Russian South, do not have access to mosques. Likewise, many Slavic localities do not have parishes. The leaders of the ROC hope to open a parish in every “Orthodox” locality.
The ROC is working actively to rebuild monasteries, which often go on to become pilgrimage sites. For example, a regular Orthodox pilgrimage site is the Second Athos Monastery located on Beshtau Mountain (Predgorny District of the Stavropol Territory). The campaign to reinstate the Transkuban Athos Monastery in the ROC mobilized local Cossacks along with the Diocese of Maykop, as well as Russian public opinion. A similar phenomenon is beginning in Karachaevo-Cherkessia to transfer the Old Athos Monastery (Nijniy Arkhyz) to the ROC on the territory where the most ancient active Orthodox church in the Russian Federation is located. This church of the Prophet Elijah was built in the 10th century. The reconstruction of the Saint-Don Monastery in Starocherkassk (Rostov Region) is also of immense significance. Rebuilt on the initiative of Patriarch Alexis and with active support from General Kazantsev (a representative of the Russian President in the Southern Federal District), this monastery will become a spiritual center of Orthodoxy in the Russian South.
There is an unwritten rule according to which the ROC and the SDMs cannot embark on mutual proselytism. This tradition finds its roots in the 19th century and can be explained by the failed attempt to convert the Ingushes to Orthodoxy. This endeavor toward mass conversion lasted over ten years and remained largely ineffective. Conversions are isolated cases and resulted from personal choice and spiritual longing rather than from organized missionary activity.
However, despite their rarity, the religious media widely covers these cases. For example, several dozen Russians who converted to Islam have created an association of Russian Muslims, whose activity was extensively covered by the Daghestani press. A local rabbi’s conversion to Islam in Daghestan was likewise discussed and chronicled by the media.
A publication issued by the Stavropol Diocese dedicated an entire article, provocatively titled “The Way To Life,” to a Daghestani Muslim migrant’s conversion to Orthodoxy. This case was interesting in that this ex-Muslim was a seminary graduate and currently works in a parish near Daghestan (Praskoveya in the Budennovskiy District).9
It is nevertheless important to remember that such media coverage of conversions on either side does not constitute any real friction between the ROC and Islam. In fact, the only considerable tension between the two sides occurs during the construction of mosques in cities with an overwhelming Orthodox population, such as Stavropol, Kislovodsk, Cherkessk, Sochi, and Taganrog.
Stavropol is a case in point, where the Muslim community requested the restitution of an old mosque built at the beginning of the 20th century and now used as a museum. So far the thirty members of this Islamic community, consisting mainly of Chechens and Daghestanis, have been forced to gather in a private home for prayer. In response to the request, the Cossacks of the city organized a protest where they claimed that this building was never used as a mosque, despite the obvious fact that it was built for this purpose right before the Russian revolution of 1917. The Cossacks cannot accept the existence of a functioning mosque in the city center. As a result of this conflict, the Muslims of Stavropol faced many obstacles in registering their community and were forced to operate illegally for a certain amount of time.
In Kislovodsk, the local Orthodox community opposed the construction of a mosque in front of their church. The conflict was resolved by the intervention of Metropolitan Gedeon, head of the Stavropol-Vladikavkaz Diocese. Likewise, a similar conflict occurred in 2002 in Cherkessk, where the Orthodox Russians constitute the most important religious group. The mayor of the city, who comes from Belorussia, decided that a mosque should not be built in the center of the Republic’s capital and subsequently sparked protests from the local Islamic communities. It is difficult to suspect the mayor of sympathies toward the ROC since he was one of the leaders of the local communist organization. A similar protest took place in Sochi where the local Islamic organization was suspected of having links with the “Wahhabis”; and in Taganrog, the Don Cossaks mobilized against the construction of a mosque with the slogan “There Will Be No Mosque on the Don.”
The local Orthodox population, especially the Cossacks, have great difficulty in accepting the construction of mosques by Islamic minorities. Similarly, the Russians see this process as a fundamentally negative development. It is important to remember that the Cossaks played an active role in the renaissance of Orthodoxy in the region. The Orthodox parishes are especially active in the stanitsas, where they are in direct contact with Muslims. Examples are the towns of Prokhladny (Kabardino-Balkaria), Novopavlovsk (Stavropol Territory), and Zelenchukskaya (Karachaevo-Cherkessia) where the Cossacks participate in the renaissance of parish life and also in the consolidation of Orthodox traditions among the population. The Cossacks are involved in charitable organizations and in Orthodox education. This missionary activity is directed first and foremost toward eradicating atheism among the Russians and Cossacks.
The conflict in Chechnia intensified the “borderland fears” of the local Russian population, who became aware that their homeland constitutes the outer limits of Orthodox Russia, holy Russia, and that further south another world exists, the world of Islam with its own traditions and its own specific way of life. The appearance of militant Islamism (salafism, otherwise known as “Wahhabism” throughout Russia) in the Northern Caucasus, coupled with the intensified Islamization of the Ingushes, Chechens, and Daghestanis, constitutes a source of worry and discomfort for a certain part of the Russian population. Indeed, part of the Cossack population traditionally considers its historical mission to be defending Orthodoxy on the Russian border.
The local Russian residents romantically liken the Cossacks to Orthodox “knights” forming “Holy Russia’s” first line of defense. It is no coincidence that during the first Chechen war (1994-1996), Cossack contingents (the Ermolov Cossack Battalion) actively participated in the armed conflict against the Chechens. Starting in 1999, during the second Chechen war, Orthodox priests became permanent features of the Russian military units based in Chechnia. The priests carry out baptisms and other religious rites for the soldiers of the federal army. They also bless the weapons, military hardware, and barracks.
The Russian media have widely covered the kidnapping and subsequent execution of Orthodox priests belonging to churches located in Chechnia and Ingushetia. The brutal death of a 19-year-old border guard, Evgeni Rodionov, born in Vacha in the Nizhny Novgorod Region, was interpreted as an act of martyrdom. The following is the Orthodox media’s account of Rodionov’s death: “Chechen bandits demanded that, if he wanted to stay alive, Evgeni must take off his cross and convert to Islam. Evgeni refused and, after long bouts of torture (three months), the enraged Chechens sawed off his head.” The author equates Rodionov’s death to those of Orthodox knights martyred in the name of Holy Russia: “This holy feat of arms was not in vain ... perhaps in this war no one has done more for Russia than the soldier Evgeni Rodionov, [who] endured unimaginable suffering, but did not renounce the Orthodox faith. Thus he proved that Orthodoxy is still alive, despite decades of aggressive atheism and perverted democracy, and that Russia is still capable of giving birth to martyrs in the name of Christ, which means that it is invincible.”10 Today, Orthodox Christians are calling for the canonization of Rodionov.
Another example is that of the Orthodox parish of the stanitsa Sleptsovskaya (Ingushetia) whose priest, Pyotr Sukhonossov, was kidnapped and executed in 1999 by Chechen rebels. This parish is located in a stanitsa on the Sunzha River, the Cossack population of which left Ingushetia en masse after 1990. This parish was seen as the last stronghold of Russian life in the republic. The priest enjoyed great prestige in Ingushetia; his assassination on Chechen territory was interpreted as the last warning to the Russian community of Ingushetia. His death was also considered an act of martyrdom: “The name of another martyr was added to the list of Russian Knights martyred in the name of Christ, who committed a great deed of Christian bravery at the end of the twentieth century, priest…” The priest’s biography has a very revealing title, “Caucasian Golgotha.”11 In June 2003, the believers of the diocese proposed canonizing Pyotr Sukhonossov. We must also mention the many aggressions against Orthodox churches and priests in Chechnia (Assinovskaya and Grozny). Actually the ROC is doing everything in its power to reanimate parish life in the rebel republic. Despite the relatively small size of the Orthodox population in Chechnia (around 9,000 people), the activities of Orthodox churches in Chechnia constitute the only proof that at least half of this republic can be considered “the historical land of the Russian Cossacks”.
However, the leaders of Orthodoxy and Islam have tried to sustain a dialog between the religions. This dialog has been extremely active between Metropolitan Gedeon and the muftis of the North Caucasian republics concerned by the rise in extremism. The metropolitan has declared himself on many occasions in favor of peace between the religions and against the demonization of Islam, particularly following the incursion into Daghestan by Islamists led by Shamil Bassaev in the summer of 1999. During meetings with the Islamic clergy, the metropolitan would recall how in February 1944 he saw trains packed with deported Chechens and how he gave them water to drink from a teapot. This was an important turning point in his spiritual journey. After the death of the metropolitan in April 2003, the new head of the Stavropol Diocese, Feofan, proved an active supporter of the inter-religious dialog. In June 2003, the bishop declared in an interview to the diocese journal: “We have great responsibility for bringing peace to the Northern Caucasus, we have to pray and do all that we can to ensure that peace and understanding come to our land. The dearest thing is human life, and we must preserve it.”12
Regional leaders from both religions considered to be traditional have declared themselves against sectarian domination. The term “sect” is used not only as a means to designate associations known to be destructive in nature (the Jehovah’s Witnesses), but also other protestant movements seen in Russia as non-traditional, as well as Bahaism and Krishnaism.
We should also draw attention to the problems that the Catholic community in Rostov-on-Don has with respect to renting a plot of land for their temple. In response, the Vatican prelate made an official visit to the Don to support the local Catholic community. Another threat to inter-religious peace was the recent bomb attack by unknown assailants against an Armenian church in Krasnodar. The ROC and the territorial authorities condemned the extremist act.
Is Huntington’s Theory of a Civilizational Clash Inevitable in the Northern Caucasus?
Samuel Huntington, an American professor close to the White House, widely known for his famous article, published in 1993, entitled "The Clash of Civilizations?", developed his theories, four years later, in a book of the same name. Two mains ideas typify his approach: (1) after the fall of the U.S.S.R. in 1991, religious conflicts have replaced ideological conflicts, and (2) these conflicts will be based on religious solidarity. He concluded that humanity would encounter a new world war, this time a war of civilizations.
To what extent is Huntington’s prognosis appropriate for the region under discussion? To answer this question, we must decide which civilizations Southern Russia and the Northern Caucasus belong to and what role religion plays in regional conflicts. The Russian frontier we are analyzing can simultaneously belong to five distinct civilizational blocs: the Caucasian, Soviet, Slavic-Orthodox, Russian, and Muslim. The Soviet civilizational bloc was extremely weakened by the disappearance of the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, the remaining Soviet influence was sufficient to somewhat cushion the shock of the immigrant waves that came from the Transcaucasus to the Russian South. This bloc will very likely dissolve once the generational shift in those nostalgic (generally the older generation) for the Soviet Union occurs. The Caucasian bloc is relatively weak; its civilizational influence is limited to Russian populations from the plains of southern Russia. Only a few Russian communities and the Terek Cossacks who have lived in a Caucasian environment or in direct contact with the Caucasians were able to assimilate part of the Caucasian culture. In addition, Caucasian solidarity is extremely weak; there are numerous conflicts and contradictions within this bloc.
The “Russian civilization” is increasingly seen as a kind of extension of the “Slavic-Orthodox civilization”, thereby creating a kind of fusion between the two blocs. The major problem in this civilizational structure lies in the fact that non-Orthodox groups (15% of the population of the Russian Federation), Muslims and Buddhists, were given the roles of minorities and not components.
The Muslim civilization bloc is traditionally the most stable in the Northern Caucasus. In the 19th century, after the first Caucasian war and particularly after the “punished peoples” (Muslims) of the Northern Caucasus were deported in 1943-44, this civilization gradually receded and withdrew into itself. Later, however, not only did it restore its potential, it managed to expand toward the north. The migration of the Muslim population of the Northern Caucasus toward Southern Russia, which offers more economic incentives, is a recent phenomenon. However, even during this brief period the migratory flux has considerably changed the religious map of the southern Russian borderland.
We should also emphasize the presence of Jihadism (in both its Sufi and Salafi form) in the Northern Caucasus, and this presence is not coincidental. Together with the Muslims of the Balkans, the Volga area, and Central Asia, the North Caucasians constitute the northern zone of the Islamic borderland. This borderland was given the name Ajab. The ideologies of Islamism and Jihadism have played a significant role in the formation of the Ajab. The Sufis were the first vehicles of Islamization, while today it is the Salafis who have the important role of re-Islamizing the region. Sooner or later, the re-Islamization of historical Muslims will be completed, and the revolutionary energy of the Islamic revival will channel outward, beyond the confines of the borderland of the Slavic-Orthodox Russian South.
The Islamic community cannot integrate itself into the Russian civilizational matrix, since it defines itself directly through its Orthodox heritage; the latter is considered the ideological basis of the state structure of the Russian Federation. At present, Russian society is far from reaching its declared objective—building a secular state and complete separation of religion from the state. It would appear that the Russians are building a Christian society. For example, the bishop of Stavropol recently declared: “Our diocese is the last frontier of the state, it is the beginning of Russia”. This will entail a long-term project that relies on mobilizing the spiritual potential of Russians. It is no coincidence that a new subject has been introduced into the curriculum in secondary schools, “The Fundamental Principles of the Orthodox Culture,” which aroused protest from the Muslim community. In turn, the Muslims have opened maktabs in numerous localities of the Northern Caucasus. There are 245 in Daghestan alone.13 The Muslims are building, or more accurately rebuilding, an Islamic society.
Regional religious leaders are conscious of the danger of a civilizational clash, which there is a sure way to avoid. However, it was easier to Russify the North Caucasians than to convert them to Orthodoxy. I hope that Russian politicians will follow the example of the ROC bishops, who prefer civilizational exchanges to the clash of civilizations. I would like to end this article with a quotation from Odessa’s top political scientist, Vladimir Dergachev: “While one can tame the geographical space with the help of technology, no military strategist has ever been able to conquer the summits of the spiritual space, which can only be reached through one’s own conscience.”14
1 The Russian South and the Northern Caucasus include the Rostov Region, Kalmykia, Stavropol and Krasnodar territories, Adigey, Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Kabardino-Balkaria, North Ossetia-Alania, Ingushetia, Chechnia, and Daghestan.
2 See: Sotsial’nye konflikty: ekspertiza, prognozirovanie, tekhnologii resheniia, Issue 18, Etnicheskaia i regional’naia konfliktologiia, Russian Academy of Sciences, Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation, Stavropol State University, Moscow, Stavropol, 2002, 468 pp.; Etnicheskie konflikty i ikh uregulirovanie, vzaimodeistvie nauki, Ministry of Education of the Russian Federation, Stavropol State University, Open Society Institute, Moscow, Stavropol, 2002, 654 pp.
3 See: A. Malashenko, Islamskoe vozrozhdenie v sovremennoi Rossii, Moscow Carnegie Center, Moscow, 1998, p. 76.
4 See: Ibid., p.75.
5 See: F.M. Mukhametshin, A.A. Dubkov, Musul’manskie organizatsii v Rossiiskoi Federatsii [www.state-religion.ru].
6 See: A. Malashenko, op. cit., p. 75.
7 See: F.M. Mukhametshin, A.A. Dubkov, op. cit.
8 See : A.M. Magomedov, Religia, obshchestvo, gosudarstvo v sovremennom Dagestane [www.dagpravda.ru/sov/sov100402_3.htm].
9 See: Stavropolskiy Blagovest, Diocese’s Newspaper, No. 6 (76), June 2003.
10 N. Koniaev, Sviatomu bylo 19 let. Evgeni Rodionov
novy muchenik za Khrista [www.voskres.ru/army/spirit/eugen.htm].
11 See: Kavkazskaia Golgofa, zhizneopisanie protoiereia Petra Sukhonossova—muchenicheski pogibshego ot ruk chechenskikh boevikov v 1999 g. [www.savenko.org].
12 Stavropolskiy Blagovest, No. 6 (76), June 2003.
13 See: Novoye Delo (Makhachkala), 7 December, 2001.
14 V. Dergachev, Geoeconomics, Vira-R Publishers, Kiev, 2002, p. 48.