Monday, December 7, 2015

Russians Going to Syria Not to Join Something but to Escape Something, Abarinov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 7 – Many Muslims in the Russian Federation are going to Syria to fight in the ranks of ISIS because they find its ideas attractive, but ethnic Russians who are doing so are going less because they want to join something than because they are doing so because of the intolerable conditions they have faced at home, according to Vladimir Abarinov.

            In a commentary for Radio Liberty today, Abarinov points to the two Russians who appeared in a video clip: both were ethnic Russians who had converted to Islam and gone to Syria to fight alongside ISIS, but now one was the executioner and the other the executed as “’a Russian spy’” (

                Russian journalists have tracked down the details on each: “Both were ethnic Russians. Newly minted Muslims” and “not Chechens or Daghestanis fighting for ‘the Caucasus Emirate.’” And that must be cause for reflection about why the two were there, the Washington-based commentator says.

            As is typical in such cases, information about their pasts is “incomplete and contradictory,” but there is enough to draw some conclusions.  Yevgeny Yudin was born in a village in Chelyabinsk oblast. At nine, he became an orphan or at least a social orphan and ended up in a Chechen orphanage.

            At ten, he adopted Islam. He was taken in by a Bryansk pediatrician, but that didn’t work, and he changed his name to Magomed Khasiyev and returned to the orphanage. Some say he was recruited by the FSB and sent to ISIS as a Russian agent, as it is quite well established that the FSB wanted to send such militants away from Russia.

            Anatoly Zemlyanki, his murderer, “has a no less cloudy biography.” He was born in Belgorod and then moved with his family to Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District, received a higher education in Tyumen and there made the acquaintance of “radical Islamists or even recruiters,” Abarinov says.

            According to some reports, he began to visit a mosque already in Noyabrsk. “He began to call himself Taymulla (‘servant of the Lord’) but did not become a fanatic Muslim at least at the beginning.” When he went to Syria is unknown, but what is known is that 13 percent of the population of Yamal are Muslims and “about 20” of them have gone to Syria.

            “As always in such situations, those he went to school with say they cannot imagine that Tolya would be capable of cutting off someone’s head.”  Generally when people find themselves far from home, they stick together. But he “committed murder in a calm manner and his threats to Russia were delivered… solemnly and proudly.”

            In attempting to understand how this could have happened, Abarinov says that he read the murderer’s posts on his VKontakte page. They showed that he had had problems with women and that his other problems were quite typical of any young person once one stripped away “the Islamic aphorisms.”

            Of course, people are horrified by what happened, “but this is not an answer to the question of how these became such beasts. Why are Russian young people going there and not just militants of the armed underground?”  And then the Russian commentator offers his own “answer.”

            According to Abarinov, these young Russians “are not going to somewhere but from something. From restlessness and hopelessness, from lies, hypocrisy, indifference, the lack of principles, and the brazen lawlessness of the powers that be. They are going where as they believe they will be needed, understood and loved.”

            In short, they are being driven by the circumstances they have grown up in than by a belief in the ideology of ISIS.  To the extent he is right, that makes the struggle against such horrors far more difficult and far broader than most now seem to think.

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