Saturday, February 16, 2019

Conflict over Border Accord has Boosted Influence and Power of Islamic Leaders in Ingushetia, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 15 – Islamic leaders with their roots in the Ingush population have long been more popular and authoritative than the political elite appointed by Moscow, experts at a seminar organized by the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies this week say; but the recent protests over the Ingush-Chechen border accord have only increased their advantage.

            Makka Albogachiyeva of the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography says that the Ingush have always viewed the Muslim leaders as their own and the political elite especially in recent years as outsiders. Not surprisingly, they accept the positions of the mufti, imams and Sufi sheikhs far more readily than they do those of the politicians (

            Akhmet Yarlykapov of MGIMO agrees. He says that “some expected” that the Muslim leaders of Ingushetia would remain neutral after the September 26 border agreement between Yunus-Bek Yevkurov and Chechnya’s Ramzan Kadyrov; but instead, these leaders supported the protests and have gained even greater popular authority as a result.

                Even before the protests, Vadim Mukhanov, another specialist on the North Caucasus at MGIMO says, the authority of the Muslim leaders was higher than that of the political class in Ingushetia but the protests over the last four months and the support the Muslim leaders have given to it have only increased that gap.

            The expert community expected such a development, he continues, but the authorities failed to turn to it and therefore operated on the mistaken assumption that they could push through a border accord, overcome protests, and not put the Muslim leadership on the path to even greater influence and power in Ingushetia.

            An important indication of this change in the relative standing of the secular and religious leadership has been the call to use shariat rather than civil law to resolve the dispute over the border accord. Both Chechens and Ingush are inclined to do so, but the secular authorities have done everything they can to block it.

            Few major issues have been decided by shariat courts in recent years, Yarlykapov and Mukhanov point out; but many in the region remember that in the early 1990s, independence-minded Chechens tried to do so. Those were suppressed along with Ichkeria; but now, many in Daghestan as in Ingusheti are pushing to have the shariat courts address such issues.

            In Daghestan, this is especially the case among the Kumyks; and Yarlykapov says that the experience of that nation in using shariat law to resolve land disputes means that that approach should not be ignored all the more so because it is likely to increase in frequency in the future.

            In short, by allowing Chechen leader Kadyrov to pursue the aggrandizement of his republic, Moscow has simultaneously weakened the secular authorities in the region and strengthened the Islamic ones, an outcome that few if any in Moscow want and one that presages ever greater difficulties for the center there.

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