Monday, June 11, 2018

Controversy in Ingushetia Highlights Constraints on Government Control of Region, Kazenin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 11 – The decision of Ingushetia’s mufti to suspend the membership of the republic head is sufficiently unusual that it has attracted attention in the Moscow-centric Moscow media, but outlets there are so non-plussed that they have reached back to compare this event with the excommunication of Tolstoy more than a century ago.

            That isn’t appropriate, Moscow analyst Konstantin Kazenin says; but the events in Magas are significant because they highlight the constraints regional heads and Moscow as well face in keeping the North Caucasus more generally pacified while pursuing the center’s overall objectives (

                What happened is this, the analyst says Isa Khamkhoyev, the head of the Ingushetia Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD), a man who controls “about 80 percent” of the parishes in that republic, directed that Ingush head Yunus-Bek Yevkurov not be allowed to take part in any Muslim religious ceremonies in the MSD mosques.

                Because administrative bodies like the MSD are not canonical in Islam, some Muslims have questioned this move, as have others who do not follow the Sufi version of Islam that Khamkhoyev does. As a result, a controversy has arisen in Ingushetia over the mufti’s actions, especially given that Yevkurov has tried to maintain good relations with all trends in Islam.

                Expulsions from communal Muslim life in the North Caucasus are rare and typically occur only at the local level. Moreover, such bans usually last only until the person who has been expelled recognizes his guilt in public. Once that happens, Kazenin says, he is usually taken back into the community with no further consequences.

            But Yevkurov has shown no signs of admitting error and the mufti isn’t prepared to move either given that there are serious economic, political and extra-republic equities involved in this controversy, many of which have lasted several years and show no sign of lessening, Kazenin continues.

            Economically, Yevkurov has struck at one of the most profit-making parts of the muftiate’s activities, control over the haj. That has undermined the MSD on which the republic head has few other local levers on which he can rely. And the two men have been locked in a conflict over whether to go forward with plans for a central mosque in Magas.

                Politically, the two are at odds because Yevkurov has reached out to all Muslim groups rather than relying first and foremost on the MSD. That offends Khamkhoyev’s pride but also creates problems for the government because the head of that must rely on Muslim groups to rein in the basic family and clan structures of society there.

            And the conflict between the two is exacerbated by the role of Chechnya and Ramzan Kadyrov in Ingushetia.  The Chechen leader has come out in support of the Ingushetia mufti, something that shows just how tense relations between the two republics, according to the Moscow analyst.

            This is part of Kadyrov’s effort to elevate himself into a spokesman for all Muslims in Russia.  But his ability to do so reflects the fact that the situation in Ingushetia is fundamentally different than in Chechnya, Daghestan or most other republics of the North Caucasus, Kazenin continues.

            “In the Soviet period,” he says, “the clan structure in Ingushetia maintained itself better than in the others” largely because there are no major cities in that republic where such relations tend to break down. Since 1991, Ingushetia has been caught between “two fires” – militant Chechnya and the regional conflict over the Prigorodny district in North Ossetia.

            That has meant that clan leaders in Ingushetia have not been as successfully integrated as they have been elsewhere or supplanted by the introduction of massive force either by the local government as in Chechnya most recently or the use of outsiders imposed by Moscow as in Daghestan.

             “Over the course of post-Soviet re-Islamization, along with clan communities in Ingushetia have been strengthened also religious communities, the Sufi brotherhoods and the communities of students of non-Sufi imams.” But “this unusual social fabric is only half of the story.”

            The other half, Kazenin says, is that Yevkurov has no one else to rely on except traditional groups to control the situation. He lacks the backing of the Kremlin and he does not have his own military force in contrast to Chechnya’s Kadyrov.  Consequently, he must find a modus vivendi with the MSD and other Muslim groups – and that gives them power.

            Ingushetia also finds;itself in a very different situation than that in Daghestan, where federal troops only weakly controlled the area for a long time but which now is being run by an outsider and people he has brought in.  “Ingushetia was never a quiet harbor” for anyone, but it also does not have a ruler who is in complete control.

                Yevkurov can’t even count on federal forces the way other regional leaders do, Kazenin says. That is because the wave of disappearances that hit Ingushetia earlier forced the republic head to act as mediator between the population and the Russian siloviki, something that undercut the willingness of the latter to support him. 

            And that has left Yevkurov in a difficult position. “The head of Ingushetia today has no means of administration which would ignore the informal clan and religious communities.”  They know that and so does he – and that situation, the Moscow analyst concludes, is unlikely to change anytime soon.

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