In the North Caucasus
Before the military
clashes of 1994-1996, Chechnya covered a territory of 17,300 square
kilometers with the population of 1,200,000 people. Of this group,
800-850,000 were Chechens, 200-250,000 were Russians, 20,000 were
Inghush and about 15,000 Armenian.
As a result
of the conflict, Chechnya's population has been reduced to 500,000
people, with a Slavic population of only 10,000 people. The physical
destruction of the region is widespread and capital Grozny itself
is now gradually being covered by new forests as few people are
willing to invest the resources required for rebuilding the devastated
and the Ingush are Muslims-Sunnits. Approximately 90% of the Russians,
Ukrainians and Belorussians of the Chechen Republic belonged to
the Christian Orthodox church, while the others belonged to the
Evangelical and the Baptist Churches. During the late 1990's, several
Christian priests in Chechnya were kidnapped and murdered.
The intensity of religiosity in Chechnya can be measured by two
important indicators. First, several thousand mosques, both regional
and district ones, were built during the last 15 years to serve
the spiritual needs of this community. Second, in the Russian Federation,
only Daghestan exceeds Chechnya in terms of the number of pilgrims
who journey to Mecca. One to two thousand Chechens participate in
the hadj each year.
Spiritual governance of Checnhya since the early 1990s was in the
hands of a body known as the Council of Ulems and of an individual
known as the Muftiya. The former is a group of theological scholars
and the latter is the head of Muslims. From 1995 until early 2000,
the Muftiya was Ahmad Hadji Kadyrov, who has recently been appointed
as the head of Administration of the Chechen Republic. In the summer
of 2000, a new Muftiya was elected by the Council of Ulems. That
individual is the former Iman of the Shatoi, region Ahmed Adji Shaman.
several centuries Chechnya's traditional Islam has been represented
by two Sufi trends: the Naqshbandi and the Qadiri. The best known
of the naqshbandi are the brotherhoods of Yusup-Hadji and Tashu-Hadji.
The most numerous quadiri brotherhood is the Kunta-Hadji Kishiev
order. The relations between these two Sufi brotherhoods have traditionally
been very positive. Their representatives never engaged in conflicts
with each other, and never criticized the shaykhs of the other communities.
While there was an element of competition inherent during election
of the imam of the village mosque or Quadiri of the community, that
competition never evolved into dogmatic disputes.
There is no exact information on the emergence of Vakhabism in Chechnya,
nor about their first preachers. Many scholars associate its appearance
with the establishment of the Islamic Party in 1991. Yet, Beslan
Ghentaimirov, the first head of that party had nothing to do with
Vakhabism. Furthermore, according to reliable accounts, leaders
of the Islamic Party, have been known to indulge in the excessive
use of alcohol. Given the hostility of the Vakhabites toward any
use of alcohol, such behavior would indicate that the Islamic Party
leadership would not meet the standards for a Vakhabite organization.
Others suggest that the appearance of Vakhabism is more correctly
associated with an individual known as Adam Deniev or, by many people,
simply as "One-legged Ahmed." Deniev has been a candidate
member of the shaykh of Quadiri since 1995.
The first group
in Chechnya to be openly associated with the Vakhabites and to actually
receive money from them consisted of Islam Khalimov, Isa Umarov,
and Movladi Udugov. Udugov, who was the Minister of Information
in the Dudayev government, arranged for the regular broadcasts the
sermons of Vakhabite preachers on Chechen television. This small
circle of Vakhabites build an organization based on kinship principles
while avoiding any direct challenges to the established Islamic
community in Chechnya. In this early period, its operational principals
were based on absolute secrecy and the avoidance of open conflicts
with the Islamic community.
The first Chechen
war radicalized much of the population and eventually resulted in
the legalization of fundamentalist youth groups represented by the
"Djamaat" battalion. This move was facilitated by foreign
involvement in the person of a Chechen-Jordanian Ipak Fath. He was
an elderly man who came from Jordan to assist in the development
of fundamentalist groups in Chechnya. Fath had been a participant
in the Afghan war during which he helped organize suicide detachments
of idealists motivated by the honor of dying in a holy war against
the infidels. Eventually, Ipak Fath succumbed to disease but not
before making a great contribution to the fundamentalist cause in
Chechnya. As a result of Fath's influence, Khattab and other veterans
of the Afghanistan war were enlisted for combat service in Chechnya.
connection was established approximately a century ago and continues
to have an impact on develops in the North Caucasus region. In the
latter part of the 19th century, thousands of Chechens as well as
some Ingush traveled through Turkey into the Middle East where they
made their homes in Iraq and Jordan. Two Chechen-Ingush villages
still exist in Iraq today. In Jordan, the Chechens founded four
towns, one of which evolved into what is now the kingdom's second
largest city, Zarqa. As a result of this migration, the Jordanian
diplomatic and military community today reflects strong Chechen
influences. In fact, during the 1948 war with the Palestine Liberation
Army, Jordan's foremost tank officer, Abdul-Latif Benno, was a Chechen
and, in 1978, became Jordan's first military attaché in Moscow.
increased significantly during the first Chechen war because Dudayev
refused to provide alternate financing. In the face of the severe
funding crisis, Ipak Fath and his colleagues played a major role
in purchasing armaments and providing food and clothing for the
Chechen forces. The foreign Vakhabite money was channeled through
Maskhadov's organization. Consequently, he was forced to make promises
to introduce Shariat governance following the war.
As a result
of the radicalization of society and the effective use of foreign
funds, by 1996 the Vakhabites not only had a military organization
in Chechnya, but also their own courts, mullas, and scholars. To
take advantage of this environment, Baghaudin Khebedov left Daghestan
to join his radical brethren in Chechnya. Other fundamentalists
such as Shamsudin from Prigorodnoye established reputations for
themselves as Shariat judges and numerous Chechen preachers who
had taken refuge in Jordan were able to return to their homeland.
of the main state institutions of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria
at the beginning of 1997, the Vakhabites were rewarded by being
able to legalize some of their military formations and to establish
a base for training their military personnel led by commander Khattab.
Their representatives were placed in numerous official government
positions, especially those relating to the courts and public security
bodies. The growing Vakhabite influence in the Maskhadov government
eventually resulted in a very serious political crisis brought about
by demand for curbing the Vakhabite influence. The Muftiat headed
by Khadyrov demanded that President Maskhadov take decisive steps
against those whom he denounced as "enemies of Islam and the
In June 1998,
the crisis led to armed clashes with the Vakhabite detachments near
Gudermes. In those battles, a group of government field commanders
defeated the Vakhab forces and it was only the intervention of President
Maskhadov and Vice President A. Arsanov that saved them from a devastating,
final defeat. After these battles, two Vakhabite generals who had
demonstrated crass incompetence were reduced to enlisted ranks.
Khattab was ordered to close his training camps and to leave Chechnya.
For the government the victory was not complete. While the order
to disband his camps was published, Khattab ignored it. The Vakhab
forces regrouped in the town of Urus-Martan and Khattab formed an
alliance with Shamil Bassayev. The financial support from abroad
enabled the Vakhabites to function without any financial support
from the state bodies of Ichkeria. A fortified outpost was set up
in Urus-Martan. At this stage of their evolution, the Vakhabites
utilized more mundane tactics, such as theft and kidnapping, various
actions against the young Chechen state, and personal attacks against
president Maskhadov. Several assassination attempts were made against
Maskhadov and Khadyrov. Thus, they concentrated on political and
criminal activities as a means of opposing the Islamic establishment
of Chechnya while avoiding open, large-scale military clashes.
In the fall
of 1999, Bassayev's detachments joined Daghestani Vakhabites and,
with the help of Arab mudjahadins, made military strikes against
Daghestan authorities. While the attacks were a military failure,
they did bring about concessions from Maskhadov. In an effort to
appease his opponents, Maskhadov included Bassayev in the State
Defense Committee and appointed him as a military commander.
are excluded from the religious life of Chechnya and Khadyrov now
prohibits all forms of Vakhabite propaganda. This is part of an
effort to restore the prestige of the traditional Muslim faith.
Unfortunately, during this period, the social role of religion in
general has declined; thus, even if the traditional Islamic community
regains its lost prestige, Islam will not enjoy the prominent position
its once held.
of over 100,000 Russian troops on the territory of the Republic
and the endless Russian military activities are a major source of
discontent among the population. Many Chechens, however, are stoic
in the face of such adversities and regard them as divine punishment
for their arrogance and their willingness to admit the Vakhabites,
whom they denounce as "servants of Devil" into their country.
Muslim clergy in Chechnya are mullas and imams. Muslim clergy in
Chechnya are highly educated people who were trained in Islamic
institutions of Chechnya, Daghestan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan and Egypt.
In addition, Chechnya has its own theological institutions and schools.
There are Sunday Arab Koran schools in every village. In other wordsm,
the prestige of Islamic clergy has increased in Chechnya as they
have withdrawn from politics. The important point is that Islam
is not being politicized as the Vakhabites wished. In this new environment,
the Islamic clergy can express themselves freely on major issues
without fearing for official persecution.