Monday, June 10, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Moscow No Longer Views Clans as Stabilizing Force in North Caucasus, Analyst Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 10 – Having long viewed clans in the North Caucasus republics as “a powerful stabilizing factor” and the basis of “authoritarian power ‘in the localities,’” Moscow now views them as a threat because their corruption and close ties with the criminal world is “harming the image of the federal authorities,” according to a Memorial analyst.

            Ekaterina Sokryanskaya of the Memorial Human Rights Center argues that this shift in opinion at the center rather than concern about upcoming elections explains the recent arrest of two Daghestani officials, Said Amirov, the mayor of Makhachkala, and Nurmagomed Shikkhmagomedov, the head of the Tabasaran district (

            The North Caucasus expert points out that Amirov was someone on whom Moscow had long felt it could rely because “he would not go against the will of the Kremlin knowing the possible consequences” for himself if he did. Consequently, she argues, his arrest represents “the beginning of a large scale campaign against corruption and the criminal world” in the region.

            Despite her own objection to the use of the word “clan” to describe “groups united economically, politically and socially and having close ties with the band formations, Sokryanskaya says, that it has become “all the same a historical term” and thus will continue to be used.

“In Daghestan,” she says, “there has existed what is in essence a neo-colonial system of administration which for many years the federal authorities tried ‘not to touch.’ But now the situation has changed, and [in the judgment of officials at the center] the clans have begun to interfere” with what the Kremlin wants to achieve.

 That is because “the clans have ceased to be a stabilizing force.”  Until recently, North Caucasus clans were quite useful to the supreme power in Moscow, the Memorial analyst says.  Such small groups of people “controlled practically all spheres of life,” “stabilizing” the situation, and guaranteeing that there would not be “any meetings, protests actions or other manifestations of free thought.”

From the point of view of Moscow, she continues, “it is simply to agree with such leading groups and not burden oneself by dealing with the people.”

“But now,” Sokryanskaya argues “the groups have finally combined with the criminal world, dirtied themselves with corruption, and openly violate the laws,” actions that have the effect of hurting Moscow’s image and driving more and more people in the region into the ranks of the radical Islamists.

Moscow has begun this campaign in Daghestan because the problems in this regard are most severe there.  Corruption there is so bad that “an individual in such a society is deeply unhappy and does not believe in justice,” a major reason why “many Daghestanis are becoming radical Islamists and joining bandit groups.”

Until relatively recently, Daghestan was not characterized by radical Islamism, Sokryanskaya continues.  Most Daghestanis are Sufis, but “the fundamentalists of Wahhabis appeared in large numbers in the region in the 1990s when many young people begin to travel for instruction to countries with other Islamic traditions.”

When Makhachkala perceived this trend as a threat, she notes, it prohibited fundamentalist Islam. As a result, the fundamentalists went “underground.”  But now, the situation has deteriorated so far that “one can speak about a great intensification of radical Islamist ideas in society” as a whole.

In large part, Sokryanskaya says, that is because many people in Daghestan “see in Wahhabism a key to the resolution of the basic problems of Daghestani society,” including not least of all the corruption of officials, particularly those in places like the Tabasaran district whose head has just been arrested.

At the end of her interview, the Memorial expert was asked by “Novyye izvestiya” about other related topic: the increasing number of female suicide bombers in Daghestan, a phenomenon Makhachkala officials have explained as the result of the use of drugs by bandit leaders.

“I assure you,” Sokryanskaya says, “that the majority of women take this step completely voluntarily. Despite its traditionalism, Daghestan is hardly a society of oppressed women. Many girls now, when they come into conflict with their families, by their own desire leave home and join radical groups.”

“The reason for that is again a feeling of the lack of any other way out,” she concludes. “Such women want to die more than you and I want to live!”  One would like to hope, Sokryanskaya adds, that the “campaign now being launched against the clans will help overcome such radical attitudes.”

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