Monday, January 9, 2017

Russians Fail to See that Makhachkala is Closer to Aleppo than to Moscow, Israeli Analyst Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 9 – “Russians living in Moscow and St. Petersburg don’t acknowledge even to themselves that the distance between Moscow and Makhachkala is essentially greater” physically, psychologically and politically “than the distance between [the capital of Daghestan] and [the Syrian city of] Aleppo, according to Avraam Shmulyevich.

            The Caucasus of which Daghestan is a part is in turn “part of the Greater Middle East,” the Israeli specialist on the region says, a geographic and cultural fact that Russian governments from tsarist times to the present have ignored as “inconvenient” and thus acted in ways that reinforce rather than reduce these ties (

            Indeed, Shmulyevich says, “despite all the efforts of the Russians, geography wins” whether its opponent is the General Staff of the Russian Empire, the CPSU Central Committee, or the Presidential Administration of the Russian Federation.”

            As a result, “old ties are being restored,” and “what is taking place in the Islamic world … even for those parts still within the Russian Federation has no less significant for the Caucasus than what is occurring in Moscow.”  Even more important in some ways, “what is occurring in the Caucasus is beginning to have an influence on the rest of the Middle East.”

            As a result, Shmulyevich argues, all developments in that larger region are having an impact on the Caucasus, be they the rise of Islamist ideas and organizations or possible redrawing of borders as the world may be forced to do in Syria and Iraq and may have to watch elsewhere given “the artificiality” of borders in the region as a whole.

            According to the Israeli researcher, “the population of Daghestan and the population of Chechnya is very carefully watching what is happening in Syria and Iraq. And this is not simple curiosity: [people they know] have gone there for jihad.” In that region now “live more Circassians, more Abkhazians, and more Crimean Tatars than inside the Russian Federation.”  

            In addition to these personal ties, ties reinforced by this latest trend, he says, there are economic, religious and political ones, some of which Moscow is unwittingly expanding as when Putin sends Kadyrov’s Chechens to fight in Syria. Once again, as so often in the past, “a colonial empire” – and Russia is very much one – is dying as a result of its own stupidity.”

            In the coming year, Shmulyevich says, political Islam will certainly struggle and there are likely to be efforts to redraw Syria’s borders along ethnic lines, something that will produce “a chain reaction of collapse of other poly-ethnic and poly-confessional states in the region, [including] Turkey and Azerbaijan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan.”

            And this “total redrawing of the political map” will have an impact on “other parts of the post-war world, including Europe and Russia.”
            The Russians have only themselves to blame for opening “the Pandora’s box of political Islam” when as the result of “the stupidity of the communist leadership, the USSR invaded Afghanistan. The Russians destroyed the Afghan monarchy, they killed several million people but at the end were forced to leave Afghanistan and admit their defeat.”

            “In the course of that war,” Shmulyevich says, the Rusisans “destroyed the Sufi tariqats, a very powerful structure which had existed for centuries and which fulfilled a most important institutional role in the Islamic world, including in Afghanistan.” As a result, “the genie of political Islam was released into the world.”

            He continues: “Muslims for the first time in several centuries saw that they were in a position to defeat Europeans in war. Since the time of the defeat of the Ottoman Empire at the gates of Vienna, a Muslim could pray, make the haj, and engage in trade, but he understood that the white man was stronger than he was.”

                “After Afghanistan, [the Muslim] for the first time in 500 years felt the taste of Victory.” Indeed, an event in 1988 which is now largely forgotten may turn out to be a major turning point in the history of the world. In that year, Afghan mujahidin “crossed the border of the Soviet Union into Turkmenistan and raided its territory.”

            “Several border units were destroyed as were several rural soviets and militia outposts,” an amazing if largely ignored action because “for the first time in several hundred years, Muslims invaded a European empire and won a victory over it,” Shmulyevich argues. Russia’s invasion of Chechnya had similar consequences.

            “Formally, the Rusisans won having destroyed, having destroyed open armed resistance, but in reality, the Chechen war led only to the explosive growth of Islamic self-consciousness in its most radical jihadist forms. And one has to be very naïve to think that the Caucasians have forgotten and forgiven the Russians for their bloody actions.”

            Compared to Syria, the Caucasus “may seem quiet, but this is not entirely so. The ‘quiescence’ in Chechnya, Ingushetia, Daghestan, and Kabardino-Balkaria … is maintained by the harshest military-police methods” that not only resemble but are viewed as part and parcel of a Russian “occupation” of the region.

            But “terror and repression in general and in the Caucasus in particular work only for a definite period. Then they produce exactly the opposite effect,” Shmulyevich says, arguing that now the Caucasus is like a pot of boiling water that the Russians have put a lid on; but the longer that lid is held down, the more likely an explosion becomes.

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