Staunton, January 5 – On Thursday, as they have each year since 2009, thousands of Chechens and Ingush took part in public demonstrations in memory of the 155th anniversary of the deportation by Russian forces of Kunta-Haji Kishiyev, a Sufi leader often called “the North Caucasian Gandhi” because of his calls for non-violent resistance.
Kunta-Haji Kishiyev was a Chechen Islamic mystic who belonged to the Sufi Qadyria order. As Kavkaz-Uzel notes, “he is often called ‘the Chechen Gandhi’ because he called for passive resistance to evil” Nonetheless, he was viewed as a threat by Russian imperial forces and deported to Novgorod oblast where he died (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/329959/).
Services were held in the mosques of two republics and at cemeteries, places where Sufi saints have long been venerated. The largest of these this year was in Shali where more than 300 murids of the sheikh are buried. These 300 were shot by Russian forces when they peacefully demonstrated against Kunta-Haji’s arrest in 1864.
The commemoration in Chechnya was far larger than in Ingushetia, with Grozny religious leaders putting the total number taking part in the tens of thousands while Ingush officials said no more than 4,000 had done so in their republic. A major reason is that the imams of Chechnya told their parishioners that participation was compulsory.
The reason they did so is that Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of Chechnya, is a member of the same Sufi brotherhood (“wird”) as was Kunta-Haji; and he views such celebrations of the Sufi divine as a means of mobilizing support for himself and his regime, many of whose officials are from the same “wird” as well.
Kadyrov spoke at one of the ceremonies, celebrating Kunta-Haji for his role as a model for Chechens. The current Chechen leader did not elaborate on just how that is the case, but it is likely that many of his listeners would draw the obvious conclusion: Chechens can often achieve more by non-violent resistance to a Russian foe than by engaging in military action.
To the extent that Chechens share that view, they may thus pose a far more serious challenge to the current Russian leadership than Moscow may imagine. Commemorations like this one are thus critically important because they keep alive an approach to dealing with outside conquerors that is often neglected in studies of the region.