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Umarov Seeks Yet Again To Justify His Proclamation of 'Caucasus Emirate'

Chechen insurgent Doku Umarov in his latest YouTube post.

Chechen insurgent Doku Umarov in his latest YouTube post.

In an address posted last week on YouTube, Doku Umarov reiterates his justification for proclaiming in October 2007 a Caucasus Emirate independent of the Russian Federation with himself as its head. He also denied again that in doing so, he precipitated a split within the ranks of the Chechen resistance.

The clip is dated the month of Ramadan, 1434, which began on July 9, 2013. As in two video clips posted several weeks ago, Umarov is filmed outdoors in the forest, with his naib (second-in-command), Aslan Byutukayev (aka Amir Khamzat), seated on his right and a younger fighter on his left. His 17-minute address is billed as a response to numerous questions received from sympathizers abroad. It is a format he has used before, such as in April 2012, for example. The address contains several internal contradictions, and at least one statement is at odds with Umarov's earlier pronouncements.

For example, Umarov affirms first, that the umma (the worldwide community of Muslims) is weak, and that the insurgency is no match for Russia. Then, he says that things are changing and Islam is becoming stronger. He also says that it is not expedient to keep large numbers of fighters armed in the Chechen mountains due to the logistical problems involved in securing supplies and because the greater the number of fighters concentrated there, the easier it is for Russian and pro-Moscow Chechen forces to locate them. For that reason, Umarov explained, many Chechens instead opt to join the ongoing jihad in Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere.

Umarov had made the same point seven years ago in an interview with RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service. He said on that occasion that, because of financial problems, he could not accept all the volunteers who wanted to join the resistance ranks. By contrast, last year Umarov affirmed that "we are always ready to welcome mujahedin who are ready to embark on jihad."

Few Fighters

At the same time, Umarov claimed that there are also fighters in the lowland areas of Chechnya, "those who are ready to join us" when called on to do so, and others "who help us and who are sympathetic to our cause."

Why Umarov should have publicly admitted just months before the Sochi Winter Olympics in February 2014 that the Chechen wing of the insurgency has comparatively few fighters under arms is not clear -- unless he has already deployed most of his men to bases in Kabardino-Balkaria and Stavropol Krai, closer to Sochi.

Umarov argues at length in defense of his proclamation in the fall of 2007 of a Caucasus Emirate encompassing most of the North Caucasus. He denies that by doing so he destroyed the fragile legal foundations of the quasi-independent Chechen Republic Ichkeria (ChRI). The Russian Federation concluded a formal treaty with the ChRI in May 1997 in which both parties undertook to structure relations on the basis of international law.

Umarov implies that those who continue to support the cause of an independent Chechen state are not true Muslims and will be held accountable for that commitment on "judgement day." He contrasts the ChRI, which was not formally recognized by any UN member state (only by the Taliban), with the Mountain Republic proclaimed on Chechen territory in May 1918, which was recognized by Ottoman Turkey and by Germany. But in a seeming contradiction, Umarov predicts that "those who come after us" will proclaim an independent Chechen state that will be called an emirate if Islam is then the dominant ideology.

Alternatively, Umarov continued, if democracy (which he earlier dismissed as "a spent force") still prevails, that independent state will bear another name, possibly Ichkeria or Borz.

Umarov affirms that "we declared the Emirate, as Shari'a law demands, in line with the opinion of the majority of the mujahedin of the Caucasus," and with a decision taken at a session of the ChRI War Council in 2002. He claims that the Emirate is the logical successor state to the ChRI, and the rationale for both was to strengthen Islam, Shari'a law, and freedom among Muslims.

Umarov again denied that his proclamation of the Emirate occasioned a split among Chechens, but in the same breath appeals to supporters of the concept of an independent Chechen state to "repent" and transfer their allegiance to the emirate cause.

Second Video

A second video clip posted three days later is clearly intended to underpin Umarov's arguments. The speaker, a 24-year-old fighter identified as Said-Selim, praises Umarov in very general terms and dismisses as unfounded unspecified criticisms of him by Chechens abroad who continue to uphold the cause of an independent Chechen state.

He accuses that faction, without naming individuals, of being behind the split within the ranks of the Chechen insurgency three summers ago, when four veteran commanders (including Tarkhan Gaziyev, under whom Said-Selim said he fought for almost four years) withdrew their oath of allegiance to Umarov, accusing him, among other things, of taking decisions without consulting them. At the time Umarov identified the Arab commander Mokhannad as having precipitated the split.

Said-Selim wrongly alleges that the dissident commanders rejected the concept of the Caucasus Emirate. In fact, they explicitly affirmed their continued support for it. He criticizes the older generation of former fighters now in Europe for their continued support of Chechen independence and claims that not a single fighter in Chechnya shares their views.

Said-Selim concludes by appealing to Chechens abroad "not to give our enemies cause to rejoice, not to hinder [us] from trying to uphold Islam," but to recognize the Emirate faction as brothers and pray for them.

The reasons for Umarov’s obsessive need to secure popular acceptance of his selective -- and at times demonstrably untrue account of the consequences of his rejection of the cause of Chechen independence -- are not immediately clear.

One possible explanation for his most recent airing of the issue is that he is aware that he does not have the resources to make good on his threat to sabotage the Sochi Winter Olympics and is preparing to off-load the blame for that failure on fellow countrymen abroad who denied him their support.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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