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 Mesaj Başlığı: Security in Russia's Muslim Regions
MesajGönderilme zamanı: 13.08.09, 09:18 #mesajın linki (?)

Kayıt: 17.01.09, 16:49
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Security in Russia's Muslim Regions
By Alexander Jackson

Caucasian Review of International Affairs (CRIA)

The Russian-Georgian War of August 2008 overshadowed the situation in the Russian North Caucasus.
Bombings, assassinations, and anti-government protests have become a regular occurrence in the region, particularly in Ingushetia.

Federal and local forces, as well as pro-Moscow governments, are struggling to deal with a low-level insurgency which is best described as a fusion of ethnic separatism and religious militancy.

The question is why some of Russia's Muslim regions are so unstable, and why some of them are, conversely, relatively peaceful.

To answer this question it is first worth assessing Islam within Russia, and the uneasy history of Moscow's relations with its Muslim population.

The expansion of Moscow’s influence brought it into direct conflict with Muslim lands to the south.

Early Confrontations

The Kazan Khanate, in modern-day Tatarstan, was crushed after a series of wars in the 16th century, and heavily "Russified".

It still remains a predominantly Muslim region today. In the early 19th century, Russia expanded to the North Caucasus; the process of subjugating the region took from 1817 to 1864.

This, the "Caucasian War", was a precursor of the Chechen wars of the late 1990s and the present-day Skirmishes.

It was at once a religious war — the resistance was led from 1834 by Imam Shamil under a Muslim banner — and a war for ethnic and cultural independence from the Russian domination.

This separatist sentiment re-emerged in the formation of the "Mountain Republic of the Northern Caucasus" between 1917 and 1920.

Under the atheist Soviet Union, all religions were heavily suppressed, which limited the formation of Muslim identities.

Moreover, many of the Muslim nationalities of the former Soviet Union (USSR) were deported en masse to Central Asia and Siberia in the 1930s and 1940s as a punishment for alleged anti-Soviet activities and "collaboration" with Nazi Germany.

This devastating population transfer contributed to separatist sentiments after the fall of the USSR. When the Soviet Union did fall, there was an upsurge in both ethno-nationalist separatism and Muslim learning and practice; very often the two went together, since Islam was a key feature of identity in some regions.

The growing interest in religious belief led to an influx of foreign — principally Arab — scholars and teachers.

These teachers have spread the Salafi doctrine within Russia, mainly in the North Caucasus. The introduction of the Salafi doctrine has created tension between its adherents and those of more "traditional" local forms of Islam, such as Sufism.

More broadly, Muslims in Russia follow the Sunni (Hanifa) school of theology and jurisprudence. There are believed to be between 7 and 9 million Muslims within Russia; these are found predominantly within the Volga basin, and the North Caucasus. There are also around 500,000 Muslims within Moscow itself.

Aggressive and Friendly Russia

Today, Tatarstan and Bashkortostan republics (in the Volga basin) are peaceful and relatively prosperous parts of the Russian Federation. By contrast, Russia's North Caucasus is violent and unstable. Why? It is worth assessing a number of factors — political history, geography, ideology, and external influences.

The political histories of the North Caucasus and the Volga basin have been dramatically different.

For one thing, the Muslim population of the Volga basin was absorbed into the Russian empire three centuries before the Caucasus, so it has become accustomed to being a part of Russia. For the Caucasian peoples, the wars against Russian occupation were still fresh in their minds. The Tatar population of Tatarstan is also only around 48 percent of the republic's total population, while in Chechnya the Chechens constitute 93 percent — this limits the appeal of Muslim or nationalist appeals in Tatarstan.

The two regions were also differently affected by the breakup of the Soviet Union. In Tatarstan and Bashkortostan, the independence movements were limited and were weakened by former president Yeltsin's willingness to provide a high level of autonomy to the republics.

Muslim independence movements in the 1990s were generally unsuccessful, and continue to be so.

In Chechnya, by contrast, the independence movement was vigorous and violent almost from the beginning.

There are a number of reasons for this. For one, individuals such as Dudayev (the first President of the "independent" Chechnya) took a much more aggressive approach towards the authorities in Moscow than did leaders in the Volga basin.

For another, Chechen society had traditionally been opposed to outside interference — it took the fall of the USSR as a chance to reassert their historic independence.

Thirdly, geography helped; Chechnya is extremely mountainous, and borders Georgia, which makes communications more difficult and tends to fragment society. The Volga basin, by contrast, is flat and surrounded entirely by Russian territory — therefore the chances of starting a guerrilla war there are considerably lower.

Russian policy itself was crucial towards generating the current Muslim reaction. The Russian military response of 1994 and the brutality of Russian tactics stirred widespread resentment across Chechnya and neighbouring regions; the belief that the war was directed at all Chechens soon morphed into the belief that the war was directed at Muslims.

Initially, Dudayev did not use Islam to rally support. However, in 1995, Chief Mufti of Chechnya Akhmad Kadyrov — the father of the current Kremlin-backed President of Chechnya — declared that the Chechen conflict was a jihad against the Russian infidels; separatist authorities were quick to portray the war as a Muslim crusade in order to gather support.

Muslim sentiments as a response to the Russian invasion quickly spread across the Caucasus. It was aided by the influx of foreign fighters who came to join the Chechen side, many of whom preached "Salafism" as the only correct way of life (they are, therefore, the military equivalents of the Arab scholars who travelled to Russia throughout the 1990s).


In 1998, the establishment of the Muslim Republic of Ichkeria was announced, which would operate in Chechnya under Shari`ah law. In 2008, this idea was taken further by the guerrilla leader Dokku Umarov, who declared a "Caucasus Emirate" with himself as Emir. The divided reaction to Umarov's announcement within the resistance movement has illustrated the tension between strictly nationalist "separatists", who aim only at ensuring Chechnya's independence, and religious-oriented ones, who decree the formation of a wider Caucasian community under Islam.

While the nationalists may be pacified by extensive autonomy and Vladimir Putin's policy of "Chechenization" (reducing the federal presence in Chechnya and passing most of the work onto local authorities paid for with federal money), the religious within the movement are unlikely to be appeased by anything less than the removal of all traces of Russia from the Caucasus and the establishment of Shari`ah.

Contrastingly, Islam in the Volga basin has never developed this strong anti-Russian aspect, in part because Islam has never found itself utilised to promote violent movements. Furthermore, a long tradition of relatively peaceful co-existence with Russian Orthodox Christianity has fostered a greater tolerance within regional Muslim structures.

Muslim ideology therefore plays an important role in the local attitudes towards Moscow. Muslim social structures, principally jamaats, are also important in understanding resistance to Russia.

Jamaats function as decentralised social and political structures outside the influence of official or large-scale mosques, where Islam can be pressured into subservience by state authorities.

Jamaats, by contrast, are largely underground and tend to be focal points for those who feel disillusioned by the failings of the regional and federal authorities. Muslim independence movements have utilised the jamaats to act as pre-existing combat cells for operations. The jamaats also heavily criticise local Sufi traditions, which venerate saints, as "idolatry" — through this criticism, and advertising themselves as "true" Muslims, they have attempted to recruit more members.

Muslim movements in the North Caucasus have also benefited from ties with the Middle East. As well as receiving teachers and fighters from the region, they have also received considerable financial backing from religious organisations in the Middle East, primarily Saudi Arabia.

This financial support has encouraged Caucasian independence movements to bolster their "Salafi" credentials in order to attract more money and support from backers overseas. Nonetheless these Middle Eastern ties have unintended consequences.

After 9/11, they allowed Moscow to portray the Caucasian resistance movements as affiliates of Al-Qaeda in order to justify the Russian military campaign.

The socio-economic devastation caused by the military campaign and by the failure of the authorities to impose peace on the region has generated another link between Islam and insecurity.

Endemic corruption, police violence, and high poverty levels have all acted as recruiting tools for Muslim movements, which — through "Salafism" and associated doctrines — offer a restoration of public morality and a source of employment, particularly for young men who lack other economic opportunities.

Larger resistance movements obviously create more insecurity, poverty, and corruption which, in turn, encourage more people to join the Muslim resistance groups to redress social and economic problems.

The situation in the Caucasus is by no means as bleak as it was in the early 2000s, when the Second Chechen War simmered on.

Aggressive Russian tactics and the transfer of power to local authorities have weakened the "separatist" movements, and the Muslim resistance has lost much of its strength through Russian assassinations.

The impact of Muslim resistance group on Russian society as a whole partly explains the dramatic rise in racist violence within Russian cities towards dark-skinned minorities, who are viewed (correctly or incorrectly) as Muslims.

The lack of tension between the Russian state and the Muslim republics of the Volga basin is largely attributable to political stability, economic prosperity, and a historical acceptance of being part of the Russian empire.

The North Caucasus, on the other hand, is poor, mountainous, politically and ethnically very divided, and has not fully accepted Russian dominance.

Islam gives shape and purpose to guerrilla movements there, but it does not create them. Rather, "Salafism" offers an alternative to the corruption and poverty of daily political, social and economic life

Alexander Jacksonis an Editorial Assistant at the Caucasian Review of International Affairs (CRIA - He is currently pursuing Master's degree of war studies at Kings College London.

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