Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Chechnya has Become De Facto an Islamic State, Analyst Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 18 – In exchange for constant expressions of the loyalty, the Kremlin has made unprecedented concessions to Chechnya and it leader Ramzan Kadyrov that have allowed the latter to establish what is a “de facto Islamic state with clear signs of an eastern despotism,” according to a leading Russian analyst.

            In many ways, Igor Rotar writes in a post on yesterday, “the Kremlin’s relations with Chechnya are very similar to the actions of tsarist Russia in one of its protectorates – the Emirate of Bukhara,” whose leader was allowed to do what he wanted within that territory but had to show loyalty to Imperial Russia (

            But there are increasing indications that this model is breaking down because Kadyrov is “consciously seeking to broaden the influence of Chechnya on other subjects of the Russian Federation” because he would like to spread his model of “’an Islamic subject in a secular state’” to other republics and regions.

            Kadyrov’s interest in that regard is suggested by his backing of Chechen groups elsewhere in Russia, his promotion of the Grozny mosque as a symbol of the Russian Federation, and most recently by his decision to erect a monument to Chechens who fought and died in the struggle against the Russian Empire in the 19th century.

            According to Rotar, all of those reflect deeper patterns both within the Chechen nation and in Moscow’s policies toward the Chechen Republic, policies associated with President Vladimir Putin that “until recently” and despite the criticism of human rights activists “seemed to many to be the only correct choice.”

            The Moscow analyst notes that “a particular feature of the psychology of the Chechens is that in the event of an external intervention, they will forgetting their internal differences unite against him,” at the level of street fighting or even at the level of a war between Chechnya and the Russian Federation.

            The first and second post-Soviet Chechen wars demonstrated this clearly, and Moscow resolved to address this problem by playing up internal divisions among the Chechens on religious grounds as a way of reducing more immediate political tensions between the Chechens and the Russians.

            However, the Kadyrovs, father and son, while the perfect Chechens to implement such a policy shift nevertheless have exploited it to build their own power and promote their own Islamic vision of society and state.

            Some may see this problem as something dreamed up, Rotar continues, “but for many believing Chechens, the defense” of what is for them traditional Islam against Wahhabist radicalism is “a holy responsibility,” leading to a clash characteristic of many Islamic countries such as Syria.

            This “religious schism in Chechnya has been very useful for the Kremlin, because many Chechens do not want to fight their co-ethnics, and the number of militants has fallen sharply,” Rotar says.  But that success has come at a price: the Islamization, albeit in a traditional ways, of Chechen society far beyond what it ever was before.

            In Grozny, today, the Russian expert notes, “one can see posters showing two girls: one in a hijab in front of a mosque, and the other with uncovered hair in front of an abyss. The orthodox Muslim turns to the apostate: ‘I’m a Chechen and proud of this. I support the traditions of the nation. Who are you? Your clothes profane the image of a Chechen woman.”

            And it is not just a matter of posters. Women who work for the Chechen government must wear the hijab as must girls in schools. Alcohol is sold only from eight to ten in the mornings. And “in essence, a ‘morals police’ is operating de facto in Chechnya,” a Kadyrov group that ensures women wear hijabs and men don’t wear long hair.

            Moscow may not be entirely happy with what its policies have led to, Rotar suggests, but at the same time, the Russian government does not want to get in an argument with Kadyrov: the Chechen leader right now has “a much better supplied and organized army than the one that Dzhokhar Dudayev, the first leader of the Chechen separatists, had.”

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