Thursday, July 18, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Crackdown on Moderate Salafis in Daghestan Driving Them into the Ranks of Extremists, ICG Expert Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 18 – Daghestan leader Ramazan Abdulatipov’s campaign against even moderate Salafi Muslims is driving them underground and into the ranks of the extremists, thus further destabilizing conditions in what is already now the most unsettled and unstable republic of the North Caucasus, according to experts.

            And that trend is made still worse, other experts say, by the republic head’s decision to rely on druzhinniki in local areas, popular police forces that often reflect the complex ethnic divisions of Daghestan and thus may be used less for the establishment of law and order than for the promotion of the personal or ethnic goals of the officials who organize them.

            Indeed, in Daghestan at the present time, the only positive change Abdulatipov has made that could reduce the number of miitants fighting in the mountains is his decision to make the –re-adaption process anonymous so that those who go through it will be less likely to face reprisals from the fighters.

            As a result of this combination and Makhchkala’s increasing reliance on the use of force despite all its suggestions that it is doing otherwise, Daghestanis “now fear the siloviki, but by all appearances, the siloviki are afraid of the local residents,” a situation that does not promise stability anytime soon.

            In a presentation to a Moscow roundtable earlier this week, Ekaterina Sokiryanskaya, a regional expert of the International Crisis Group, gives credit to Abdulatipov for making the program to re-adapt militants anonymous, something she says will make more militants willing to use it.

            But she says that the new republic head’s campaign against even moderate Salafi Muslim groups is driving ever more of them underground and into the embrace of the armed militants Makhachkala and Moscow hope to defeat ( and

                Abdulatipov’s new anti-Salafi effort looks like “a purge” more than anything else. If under his predecessor, the Daghestani authorities allowed moderate Salafis to “participate in social life” and engage in religious work, “now almost all these initiatives have ceased to function,” with the Salafi mosques and courses closed down.

            Many of these moderate Salafis, Sokiryanskaya says, now “are being subjected to tracking, repression and pressure. A significant portion of them have been forced to leave, some are in a semi-legal status.” That in turn means that some of them, albeit still a small proportion, “will take up arms” against the regime.

            But the prospects for the future are not good, she continues. “In the absence of the opportunity for free action and also under conditions of repression which now exists in many villages of Daghestan, one can expect unfortunately a radicalization of this community and a deterioration of the security situation.”

            In an article on the site this week, journalist Rasul Kadiyev suggests that Abdulatipov’s support for local governments to form druzhinniki from among local people is also making the security situation worse. Indeed, he says, they constitute a most “dangerous game” as far as security is concerned (

            Some local officials in Daghestan, he points out, are using these druzhinniki not to fight terrorists but rather to settle scores with local people of their own or different nationality with whom these leader have problems. Thos subject to such attacks aren’t going to Makhachkala or Moscow; they are “going into the forest” to fight.

            Abdulatipov, Kadiyev points out, “is not a criminologist and he does not know that there are risks of increasing the number of cases of violence if the number of people having arms goes up or who are given the right to promote law and order but without a corresponding system of preparation.”

            Because Abdulatipov has said that there must not be any Salafis in these groups, what is in fact happening, Kadiyev continues, is that local officials are “arming and organizing one part of the population against another according to a religious principle,” an arrangement that is exacerbating tensions and mking the situation worse.

            The journalist says that he “does not consider that Abdulatipov and his command are intentionally pushing [Daghestanis] oward a civicl war.  They have simply made a mistake,” one made more likely and more dangerous because of the absence of transparency in the way these decisions are being made.

            Meanwhile, a second journalist, Mariya Klimova, argues on that what Makhachkala is doing so is what the Chechen authorities did a few years ago but that this approach won’t work in Daghestan because of its complicated ethnic and religious population (

            But Abdulatipov, she says, citing the words of several experts, does not recognize that the Chechen model is going to prove counterproductive and has already created the most dangerous of situations: Daghestanis “are afraid of the siloviki, but by all appearances, the siloviki are afraid of the local residents.”

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