animosities have a long history in the North Caucasus, the religious
flavor of those conflicts appeared more recently. With time, Islam
became a uniting force that helped many people of the North Caucasus
assert their struggle against the oppression of those whom they
viewed as "men without faith." However, while Islam served
as a rallying point for disparate groups within the region, Islam
itself did not assume a unified organizational model. Local customs
and paganism had a profound impact on Islam as it developed throughout
the North Caucasus. Almost no expression of faith could be characterized
as "pure Islam."
When the religious
element emerged as a significant one in this part of the former
Soviet Union, it varied greatly whether one encountered it in Daghestan,
Inghusetia, Chechnya, North Ossetia, Kabardin-Balkaria, Karachayevo-Cherkessia,
or Adygeiya. With the appearance of perestroika, religious diversity
has a dramatic impact on the traditional Islamic community. It may
be that the only common element in the Islamic community was the
religious fervor that gripped so many people. New mosques appeared
by the score and Daghestan combined with Chechnya produced more
pilgrims for the annual hadj than the rest of the USSR combined.
was driven by a variety of factors. One of those was the influx
of foreign money from Middle Eastern Islamic states. The persistence
of local traditions was another but the most important was the increased
prominence of the Vakhabite movement within the Islamic community.
The central theme of this movement was that Islam in the North Caucasus
had been distorted by misunderstandings as well as by the "impure"
Along with some
other North Caucasian peoples, the Chechens converted to Islam on
the eve of Russian expansion into their ancestral lands. For a variety
of reasons they largely adopted the Sufi forms of worship and followed
Shamil, the third Imam of Daghestan, in his efforts to impose the
Sharia (Islamic Law) on the faithful while defending their homeland
from the encroachments of the Russian Empire in early 19th century
by waging a holy war (Ghazivat). Our first Chechen paper (Religious
Brotherhoods in Chechnya: Their Relevance for the Chechen Conflict)
explained how the Chechens were bled during these wars and then
left the Naqshbandiya tradition in droves to follow a later Sufi
tradition, the Qadiri, under the leadership of the nonviolent "Chechen
Gandhi," Kunta Hadji of Kishiev.
When Kunta Hadji
was captured by the Russians and died in captivity, his followers
eschewed non-violence and joined with the Naqshbandis in periodic
uprisings against the Tsarist regime and its Soviet successor. Each
effort to regain some vestige of independence was cruelly suppressed.
Between 1944 and 1957, the Chechen people were removed from their
indigenous lands and deported to central Asia in order to be punished
for alleged collaboration with the German Nazi regime. Only the
death of Stalin allowed people to return to Chechnya and attempt
to rebuild the nation.
The breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 allowed independence-minded
Chechens to seize the opportunity and declare Chechnya an independent
nation for the Russian Federation. Fearing that other North Caucasian
peoples might want to follow the Chechen example, the Russian Federation
under President Boris Yeltsin decided to make an example of the
Chechens and defeat them utterly as a warning to other indigenous
peoples from the Black Sea to the Caspian. After two desultory wars
the Russians seem in control but the Chechens continue to resist
aided by volunteers from other Islamic lands who want to impose
a more militant, fundamentalist Islam on the Muslims of the Caucasus.
This paper examines the North Caucasus religious situation and contrasts
two points of view. First, historian Ya. Z. Akhmadov examines the
religious situation as the North Caucasus prepares to enter the
21st century. As one of Chechnya's officials, Akhmadov runs the
information department of the Russian-supported Chechen government.
He is a Chechen patriot who sees the nation being further punished
and perhaps destroyed by a stubborn persistence in a debilitating
conflict for foreign Islamic interests.
paper we present the view of another Chechen patriot, Albert Avduev,
who is a more doctrinaire advocate of continued warfare and the
purification of the faith. The two points of view are representative
of the dilemma facing the Chechen nation, a nation that seems unable
to find a niche anywhere except the two extremes.
Both Akhmadov and Avduev attended the William R. Nelson Institute's
Conference on North Caucaus Issues held in Chisinau in the Moldovan
Republic on October 7 and 8, 2000. Each is an ardent proponent of
a very distinctive view (the two extremes) of the future of Chechnya
and the role of religion in the southern Caucasus. Their encounters
during the conference were direct, confrontational and sometimes
emotional. In fact, more than anything else, Akhmadov, Avduev and
the other participants from the region demonstrated the diversity
of opinion on contemporary issues, the future, and the past.
The views of these polar opposites are set forth below along with
commentary and analysis provided by the WRNI staff.