Islam and the Caucasus

Posted on 22/06 by bruceholl



ML&L 3342 Dr. Holl
Islam and the Caucasus Summer 2018


Islam Today
• Source: Alexei V. Malashenko, "Islam in Russia," Social Research 76 (2009), 321-358. Online via EBSCO.
• The total population of the Russian Federation at present is slightly more than 142 million
• [The government estimates that since 2009 the total population of the Russian Federation has grown to around 147 million.]
• Approximately 20 million, or about 14%, are Muslims
• Many -- possibly as many as 90% -- do not attend mosques regularly, but most self-identify as Muslims
• They live predominantly in two areas: in the Tatar-Bashkir region of Central Asia, and the North Caucasus mountain range
• There are also Muslim populations in Siberia and in other regions, including greater Moscow, with communities of Muslims who have moved from the North Caucasus region
• There are seven Subjects of the Russian Federation with Muslim majorities: Tatarstan and Bashkortostan in Central Asia, and Ingushetia, Chechnya, Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkariya, Karachaevo-Cherkesiya in the North Caucasus
• The Muslim population is multi-ethnic: Islam is the faith of 38 native peoples of the Russian Federation
• The Muslim population has been growing, although demographers do not believe it is on track to become the majority population of the Russian Federation at any time
• Anti-immigrant and Russian nationalist groups, however, make this claim, and some government policies seem designed at increasing the country's ethnic Russian population
• Since the dissolution of the USSR there has been a Muslim revival in the Russian Federation
• National organizations have been formed, sometimes in competition with one another
• There has been engagement by these organizations in national politics
• This, however, has diminished with the rise of the United Russia Party in the post-2004 period
• The number of officially recognized mosques had grown by 2004 to 3,537 and is now reported by many sources to be over 8000 – considerably more than in Soviet times, but far fewer than the 12,000 that existed on the same territory in 1917
• Islamic financial institutions have been established, and have recently received the support of the Russian Orthodox Church (see BloombergBusiness.com, June 3, 2015)
• Islamic schools and universities have been established
• Students from Muslim regions of Russia have studied abroad at Arab and Turkish universities
• There has also been, primarily in the North Caucasus, the development of an Islamic extremist movement that seeks separation from the Russian Federation
• There are many areas of disagreement on this subject: the size of the movement; whether it is primarily a religious movement or a political movement that uses Islam as a pretext to attack the Russian government; whether it is confined to the North Caucasus or is spreading to Tatarstan and Bashkiria; and whether it poses a serious threat to Russia.
• The origins of the movement are in Chechnya and Dagestan
• The Russians fought two wars there in the 1990s to suppress it
• In recent years, the situation in Chechnya has stabilized, but attacks on Russian personnel and property have shifted to other regions of the North Caucasus as well as targets in Russia itself

The Caucasus [UT-Austin maps]
• We are speaking about the North Caucasus mountain range on the southern border of the Russian Federation
• What I will say here mainly pertains to the Republics, and especially Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan, where most of the violence has occurred
• The people are indigenous to the region as far as historians can determine
• Most are related as to language, culture, and religion (most are Muslim), but there have been significant political divisions among them.
• This region was among the first territories that Russia attempted to acquire in its period of expansion.


Historical Survey
• Beginning in 1556 Ivan IV attempted to incorporate the North Caucasus into the Russian empire but was unsuccessful
• There was no further serious Russian incursion into the North Caucasus until the reign of Peter I "The Great" (reigned 1689-1725)
• The Russians first established a permanent presence in Chechnya during the second half of Peter's reign, so it is possible to see the current fighting as part of a 300 year conflict.
• The first attempt to mount armed resistance against the Russians occurred during Peter's reign, in 1707.
• It was unsuccessful, and by the early 19th century, and particularly after the end of the Napoleonic wars, the Russians strengthened their control of the North Caucasus.
• The Russians, in the Caucasus as elsewhere in the Russian empire, established control primarily by co-opting as many local leaders as possible
• The Russians did not, therefore, attempt to destroy Islam, but rather to gain control of the religious leadership of the North Caucasus
• The first serious and partially successful rebellion against Russian authority occurred in the period of 1785-91 under the leadership of a religious and political leader named Sheikh Mansur Ushurma
• The next and by far most successful uprising began in the 1820s under the leadership of another religious leader, Sheikh Imam Shamil
• Shamil made it his mission to establish an Imamate or Islamic state in the eastern part of the Northern Caucasus
• At the height of Shamil's power, this Imamate grew to include most of Dagestan, Chechnya and parts of Ingushetia (in the western part of current Chechnya)
• The following should be also be pointed out:
• The rights of women were advanced; for example (according to one source), divorced women were allowed financial compensation from their husbands
• Shamil also took great pains to defend the rights of non-Muslims within the Imamate, even to the extent of having an Orthodox church built for Russian prisoners-of-war and deserters
• There were, it should be noted, other Islamic leaders in the Caucasus in the 19th century
• Some were allied with Shamil but others were not
• The Russians continued to seek and find allies among Islamic leaders who did not support Shamil
• Shamil struggled, not altogether successfully, to suppress movements against him
• He had also to contend with dissatisfaction within his own ranks over the protracted war, since the Russians, who considered the Caucasus of strategic importance, were willing to continue spending time and resources there.
• Ultimately Shamil was leading an army of 18-20 thousand men against a Russian army of 350,000 men.
• Shamil finally capitulated in August of 1859 when he ceased military operations and gave himself up to Russian authorities
• Other leaders continued to fight until 1864 when the Caucasus war came to an end
• Shamil himself was treated fairly well by the government of Alexander II, who allowed him to live with his family in captivity in Kiev and finally released him to make a Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca in 1870
• He died February 4, 1871 while on this pilgrimage
• As a result of the Caucasus war, some 40% of the male population of Dagestan was killed, and there began a mass migration of peoples to Turkey and elsewhere, numbering perhaps as many as 750,000 people
• Also as a result of the war the Russian government did grant some measure of religious and economic autonomy to the peoples of the Caucasus, to the extent that Islam continued to exist and grow through the imperial period
• This policy was observed as well in Central Asia, most of which was taken into the Russian empire later.
• Political autonomy was not granted, of course

The Caucasus in the Soviet Period
• During the revolution and civil war, various groups sided with both the Anti-soviet and Soviet forces in attempts to establish a sovereign state in Chechnya
• When the Bolsheviks ultimately prevailed in the civil war independence was not granted, and Chechnya, along with the rest of the North Caucasus, was incorporated into the Soviet Union.
• In the 1930s many thousands of religious leaders were arrested and executed, mosques and religious schools were destroyed, and the propagation of the faith in any way was severely repressed by the Soviet government.
• There was some resistance on the part of the Chechens
• The most noteworthy attacks against the Soviets occurred in 1940, when the military was severely weakened by the purge of its officer corps, and 1942, when it was engaged elsewhere and could not devote resources to the North Caucasus.
• These rebellions failed, however, and Stalin retaliated with an act which most Caucasians regard as the single most important antecedent of their current fight
• In February of 1944 Stalin ordered that the population of Chechnya, as well as several other regions of the North Caucasus, be transported into internal exile in Central Asia.
• The nominal reason for this action was the supposed collaboration of some Chechens with the Germans, and failure of the rest of the population to fight against this collaboration
• In fact, there were few if any collaborators, although there were members of every Soviet nationality (including Russian and Ukrainian) who tried to establish countries independent of both Germany and the USSR
• The Germans, moreover, never penetrated very far into the North Caucasus, and had been driven back by 1944.
• Notwithstanding these facts, nearly 500,000 (and perhaps more) Chechens, as well as roughly the same number from other regions, were placed on railroad cars and sent to Kazakhstan in Soviet Central Asia.
• The move was announced to residents on the morning that it began, and took eight days to accomplish
• It is now believed that more than 130,000 Chechens and more than 250,000 North Caucasians in all died en route or were executed at the time of the deportation.
• The Chechens remained in Central Asia, segregated on collective farms or in work camps and still charged with treason, until Khrushchev's official denunciation of Stalin in 1956
• In 1957, the Chechens and other North Caucasians were allowed to return home
• When they arrived, they found a greatly increased ethnic Russian population as a result of the oil industry
• They also found that all remaining religious institutions had been eradicated

The Post-Soviet Period in Chechnya
• The Chechens and Russians co-existed in Chechnya until 1992, at which time there were roughly 900,000 Chechens and 400,000 Russians in the region
• In 1992, when the Soviet Union collapsed and the Russian Federation was formed, the Chechens refused to sign the Federation Treaty
• From 1992-1994 there took place simultaneously a struggle for power within Chechnya among various groups, and an attempt by some of these groups to form a government independent of the Russian Federation
• In 1994 the Russians, in support of a group that favored joining the Federation, began its first campaign in Chechnya

The First Chechen War (see Cristopher Zurcher, The Post-Soviet Wars)
• The Russians initially entered Chechnya with 40,000 troops
• It is widely believed that President Yeltsin hoped to gain popularity and political capital by winning the war quickly
• Russia claimed (correctly, in fact) that the group in control of Chechnya had violated the Russian constitution by seceding, which was not allowed
• It was argued that permitting Chechnya to secede might open the door for the secession of other regions
• The oil industry is also cited as a possible reason for the invasion, although others argue that it was by 1994 not very lucrative either as a source of crude oil or as a transshipment point
• The Russian army met with extremely fierce resistance despite expectations of an easy victory
• It took them three weeks to capture Grozny at a cost of 4000 Russian troops killed and 25,000 civilians
• Destruction of property and atrocities against the civilian population were widespread
• The campaign was condemned by foreign governments, unpopular at home, and unsuccessful militarily
• In 1996 President Yeltsin stopped the campaign and agreed to grant the Chechens provisional autonomy until a permanent solution could be found.
• No such solution was found
• In 1999, as a result of a series of bombings in Russia and at Russian installations in the Caucasus, and a series of other incidents, President Yeltsin resumed the war, committing some 100,000 troops
• Among these incidents were incursions into Ingushetia and Dagestan by Chechen militants hoping to spread their rebellion against Russia to that region
• There were also widespread kidnappings of missionaries, journalists and others, and the real or perceived prominence of Chechens in Russia’s growing organized crime syndicates
• The Russians could also argue that Chechnya has been a part of Russia for some 300 years, and despite intermittent resistance to Russian rule, which is not unlike the resistance of the Native Americans in the United States, it is now irreversibly a part of Russia.
• Prime Minister (and soon to be president) Putin managed the war and benefited from it politically
• Indeed, some observers argue to this day that he, not the Chechens, was responsible for the two apartment bombings, in Moscow and Volgodonsk, that killed several hundred people and aroused public sentiment for resuming the war
• This is not a plausible theory, however
• In the second Chechen war, the Russians relied chiefly on artillery and air strikes, and were again accused of atrocities and destruction of property
• The nature of the opposition changed as well: it was increasingly identified with the international Jihadist movement exemplified by Al-Qaeda
• The extent of the Islamization of the opposition is a matter of some debate, but there is no doubt that this element gained strength between the wars (See Zurcher, as well as Gordon Hahn, Russia's Islamic Threat [New Haven: Yale UP 2007]).
• Not everyone agrees with this characterization, but the view of the rebels as Islamists gained credence in the west, however, after Sept. 11, 2001
• It was reinforced by a series of episodes:
• On October 22, 2002 Chechen separatists took over a theater in Moscow full of 800 people watching the play "Nord-Ost" and held them hostage
• They demanded the immediate withdrawal of all Russian forces from Chechnya
• Ultimately the Police incapacitated everyone in the theater with nerve gas
• All the hostage takers and some 130 others were killed
• On September 1, 2004 in the village of Beslan separatists took over a school on the first day of classes and held hundreds of children, teachers and parents hostage until September 3, when security forces and the separatists fought a battle
• 344 people were killed
• Only one separatist survived. He was sentenced to life in prison (Russia does not have the death penalty)
• On October 13, 2005 a group of militants in the city of Nalchik in the Kabardino-Balkar Republic carried out a daylight raid against facilities of the Russian Security Forces. 139 people were killed in the fighting, including some civilians.
• On October 7, 2006, Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, was murdered. She had written about Russian atrocities in the Caucasus and suggested that some Russian and Caucasian leaders at the highest levels were deliberately prolonging the war because they profited from it in various ways.
• Three men were arrested and charged in the case but all were acquitted
• The investigation has taken various turns over the years
• In 2013 a former police officer was convicted of supplying the murder weapon
• In May, 2014 5 men were convicted of the murder. Two got life sentences while the others got from 12 to 20 years in prison
• The BBC reported on May 20, 2014 that "A committee set up to investigate the shooting said it was still looking for the person who ordered the operation."
• One of the convicted killers, Lom-Ali Gatukayev, died in prison on June 10, 2017
• In the past few years in Chechnya a leader favored by the Kremlin, Ramzan Kadyrov, the son of a former leader who was assassinated, has consolidated power.
• It was he who provided 100% turnout in national elections with on 100% support for United Russia, the party of Putin and Medvedev.
• In return he has (allegedly) been allowed to eliminate his enemies with impunity.
• He has attempted to create a sense of normalcy in Chechnya, organizing a "Miss Chechnya" pageant, permitting Premiership soccer matches to be played in the capital of Grozny, and building the largest Mosque in Europe.
• As a result, many of the attacks on Russian officials that were formerly common in Chechnya now take place in Ingushetia, Dagestan and elsewhere throughout the North Caucasus.
• The Russians, officially, announced a few years ago the end of major military operations in Chechnya and a few other areas.
• However, there has been a wave of increased violence both inside and outside of Chechnya in response
• In the spring of 2017 there were reports of widespread persecution of gay men in Chechnya, including violence, arrest, and even murder.
• The reports were first published in a Russian opposition newspaper, Novaya gazeta
• Kadyrov, as well as Russian autorities on the national level, have treated these reports with derision, although Putin at one point said they would be investigated.
• There have been a number of terrorist attacks in Russia in the 2010s
• On March 29, 2010 two bombs in separate Moscow subway stations killed a total of 40 people
• On January 24, 2011, a suicide bomber detonated a bomb in Moscow’s Domodedovo airport, killing 37 and wounding 180
• In October and December of 2013, as Russia made final preparations for the Winter Olympics, there were bombings at a trolley station and on a bus in Volgograd, killing 18 and 16 people, respectively.
• On December 4, 2014 miitants attacked civilian targets in Grozny. 14 police officers, 2 civilians, and 11 miltants were killed
• On April 3, 2017, a bomb at the subway station in St. Petersburg in front of the Institute where Trinity Russian students take courses killed 15 people and wounded 15 (there were no Trinity students in Russia at the time)
• Attacks on government installations occur in the Caucasus on more or less a daily basis

Separatist Regions
• There are several regions in various former Soviet republics with substantial Russian populations or indigenous populations sympathetic to the Russians.
• Some residents in these regions seek either independence, or affiliation with Russia.
• They are generally supported in their efforts by the Russians.
• These regions include:

Transdniester
• Transdniestr [aka Transnistria] is a region in Moldova with a large Russian population that gained de facto independence after heavy fighting by Russian-backed paramilitary forces in 1992
• Residents of the region have formed the Pridenstrovskaia Moldavskaia Respublika [Moldovan Republic of Transdniestr] which is unrecognized internationally but supported by the Russians
• One June 14, 2015, a member of the parliament of this Republic, Andrei Sipchenko, appeared on the Russian talk show "Sunday Evening with Vladimir Soloviev," whose moderator, and for the most part guests, express the views of the Russian government
• Recently a member of the Russian Duma, Viacheslav Nikonov (who is the grandson of Stalin's foreign minister Viacheslav Molotov), to proclaim that a siege of Transdniestr would also constitute a siege of Russian peacekeeping forces, which would be an act of war
• He accused the United States of orchestrating events in Transdniestr to draw Russia into a wider conflict, and ended by vowing that Russia would never abandon its friends there, who have expressed overwhelmingly in a referendum their desire to become a part of Russia

Nagorno Karabakh
• Nagorno-Karabakh is a predominantly Armenian region within Azerbaijan that gained de facto independence in the 1980s in fighting against the Azeri government. Russia has been involved with both sides in the dispute and has tried to negotiate a settlement

Georgia, Abhazia and South Ossetia
• Georgia (along with Ossetia and Abhazia) was annexed into the Russian empire in the early 19th century.
• Along with other regions in the Caucasus it was briefly independent during the Russian civil war but was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1922.
• In Soviet times it was a vacation destination, a wine producer and a relatively affluent region.
• After the dissolution of the USSR, however, it has experienced a series of internal and external conflicts.
• Two of the conflicts entailed South Ossetia and Abkhazia, regions in Georgia which sought independence
• These conflicts ended in ceasefires whose enforcement was entrusted by the United Nations to Russian troops. The two regions thus gained de facto independence from Georgia, which still claimed them as its territories.
• The Russians supported South Ossetia and Abkhazia but did not recognize them formally as independent countries.
• The situation in South Ossetia and Abkhazia did not change until 2004.
• Beginning in that year there was increased tension and repeated conflicts between South Ossetian and Abkhazian separatists supported by the Russians, and the Georgians.
• In 2008 the frequency and intensity of these conflicts escalated. Each side accused the other provoking conflict.
• Open hostilities began on August 7 and proceeded for several days until both sides signed a cease fire agreement brokered by the French.