In the North Caucasus
of faith" praised by Bassayev and others had a dramatic impact
on the development of the North Caucasus in previous centuries as
well as contemporary times. The first of these men were Christians
but, by the 8th century, Arabs began to convert many of the Caucasians
to Islam. In the first part of this study we will focus on the role
of religion in Daghestan, Ingushetia and Chechnya. We will also
examine the situation in some of the less frequently studied parts
of the North Caucasus.
of Daghestan spreads over 50 thousand square kilometers and has
a population of approximately two million people. The overwhelming
majority of them are Muslims - 85%, while 4% are Shiites, primarily
Azerbaijanis, and 8.5% are Orthodox Christians. There are also small
communities of Catholics and Baptists. Daghestan once had a Jewish
community of over 30,000, but most of them moved to Israel. As a
result, the Jewish population now numbers only 1,000 people.
is the overwhelmingly dominant religious group in contemporary Daghestan.
Spiritual leadership and governance in Daghestan began to change
with the appearance of perestroika and the subsequent social disintegration.
Up to that time, there had traditionally been a single dominant
Muslim leader for Daghestan. During this disruptive transitional
period, numerous independent Muslim leaders appeared and gained
local followings and cultivated their own acolytes. Consequently,
one may identify the following communities as those having independent
spiritual governance (muftiyas): Avartses with a population of 600,000;
Dargintses with a 320,000 population; Kumyks with 260, 000; Lezghins
with 240,000; and Laktsts with 100,000. This diversity reflects
the national composition of Daghestan. There are 95,000 Chechens-Akkins
in the region, 30,000 Naghaitses, and an assortment of about forty
additional national groups. Most of Daghestan's Sunni Muslim population
belongs to the shafiit mazhab organization. During the last decade,
the Sufi brotherhoods, which had lost importance during the Soviet
era, have been restored.
are over 40 Sufi brotherhoods in Daghestan. The major representatives
of modern Sufism in Daghestan are theologists Said Chirkeisk and
Tadjuin Hasavyurt. Together, these men hold the allegiance of many
devout Muslims who are adherents of a strict interpretation of the
Koran. Historians will record that in this region of the Northern
Caucasus there are other people, individuals such as Maghomed Djeranskyi,
who are less concerned about theology and, through their violent
actions, bear much responsibility for the violence in the Caucasus.
Djeranskyi, of course, is not alone as there are many others who
share his militant attitude.
there are approximately 1700 large and as many as 6000 small "district
mosques." There are nine Islamic spiritual educational institutes
and 600 mosque schools throughout the republic. In addition, a significant
number of Daghestani students study in Muslim schools abroad. Of
the 17,000 -18,000 Russian citizens participating in annual hadj,
no less than 13,000 to 14,000 of them are citizens of Daghestan.
It is, therefore, reasonable to conclude that the Daghestanis are
more active in Muslim affairs that the entire populations of Tatars,
Bashkirs, and other Muslim nationalities.
A group that
has attracted great attention in recent years is the Vakhabites
or Vakhabists. They are referred to as fundamentalists in much of
the Western literature on Islam. They first appeared in the North
Caucasus in the 1980's and emerged as a serious force in the next
decade. Most recently, their main communities were in Mahachkala
activity is prohibited in Daghestan. As a result, their schools
and organizations operate secretly and they are involved in a variety
of clandestine activities. There are three main Vakhab factions
in Daghestan. The first faction is under the leadership of Ahmed
Ahtayev, an activist with a long history of clandestine work. The
second faction is led by Baghaudin Muhhamad Daghestani. Because
of official pressure against his activities, he left Daghestan and
is now based in Chechnya. The third faction is based in communities
in the Astrakhan region, a stronghold of Vakhabite support, but
has not prominent individual leader.
In August 1999,
many Daghestani radicals began training in the camps run by a Saudi
Arabian calling himself Khattab. Khattab's group had joined Chechen
extremists and numerous Arab terrorists who invaded Daghestan. The
goal of this union of Islamic radicals is to bring about the secession
of Daghestan from the Russian Federation. While this association
failed to achieve its immediate goal, it did bring about the introduction
of Russian forces into Chechnya, a situation that has greatly increased
hardships throughout the region. Many feel that this was probably
one of the objectives of those who organized the attacks in Daghestan.
One of the main
reasons for the growth of Vakhabism in Daghestan and Chechnya is
the difficult social and economic situation in the North Caucasus
as well as the generous financing of the Vakhabites from abroad.
Thus, it is not surprising that the joint attacks by the Daghestani
and Chechen militants coincided with the aggravation of tensions
in the Middle East and the renewed international confrontations
over oil and gas routes.