Saturday, August 01, 2015

Longtime Chechen Parliament Speaker Dies

Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov makes a statement at a parliamentary session in Grozny in September 2010.

Liz Fuller

Chechen parliament speaker Dukvakha Abdurakhmanov, the eminence grise behind Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov, has died at the age of 59 after a long illness.

Among the Russian politicians who have paid tribute to him are Federation Council speaker Valentina Matviyenko, who characterized him as a man of talent and a true patriot, and Russian presidential aide Vladislav Surkov, who described him as "wise and courageous" and "a true Chechen."

Kadyrov, who attended Abdurakhmanov's funeral in his home village of Djalka in Gudermes Raion, has decreed three days of mourning.

Abdurakhmanov was born in Kazakhstan in March 1956, just a couple of weeks after Nikita Khrushchev's "secret speech" to a congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union condemning the excesses of Soviet leader Josef Stalin, including the 1944 deportation of the entire Chechen and Ingush nations to Central Asia. Exonerated of the charge of collaboration with Nazi forces, the Chechens were allowed to return home. Abdurakhmanov graduated from the Djalka high school in 1974, performed his military service, worked for several years as a teacher, and in 1985 graduated from the history faculty of Grozny State University.

Abdurakhmanov claimed to have been involved in the unofficial groups that mushroomed in the late 1980s under then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of "glasnost" and engaged in publicizing ecological problems and researching hitherto-closed chapters of recent history. According to his official biography, from 1992-94 he was also among the opposition to then-Chechen Republic Ichkeria President Djokhar Dudayev, and in 1994 he received a second degree, in economics, from the Checheno-Ingush State Pedagogical University.

Abdurakhmanov must also at that time have engaged in business, to judge from his statement to the daily Kommersant that at the outbreak of the 1994-96 war, he owned a bank, 14 houses, 11 apartments, and his own farm.

In 1995-96, Abdurakhmanov served as first deputy minister of agriculture in the pro-Moscow Government of National Revival headed by Salambek Khadjiyev. His whereabouts during the brief and turbulent presidency of Aslan Maskhadov are not known; but following the retreat of Maskhadov's forces from Grozny in February 2000, five months after the second Russian incursion, he resurfaced as minister of agriculture and deputy premier in the new pro-Moscow leadership.

Abdurakhmanov claimed to have been a close associate of Ramzan Kadyrov's father, Akhmad-hadji Kadyrov, whom then-Russian President Vladimir Putin installed as Chechen leader in the summer of 2000. Newspapers from that period, however, suggest that Akhmad-hadji's most trusted advisers and supporters were two of the Yamadayev brothers, Ruslan and Sulim, in whose company he was frequently photographed. Both were sidelined and murdered after Akhmad-hadji's death in May 2004.

Abdurakhmanov was one of the architects of the cult of personality surrounding the elder Kadyrov, and even wrote a book about him.

Whatever the nature of Abdurakhmanov's working relationship with Akhmed-hadji, he became an indispensable adviser to Ramzan. He was named speaker of the parliament elected in 2005, and served in that capacity until his death. The North Caucasus Parliamentary Assembly launched in 2011, one of the instruments for extending Kadyrov's influence across the region, was his brainchild.

In 2009, Kadyrov chose Abdurakhmanov as his representative to successive rounds of talks with Akhmad Zakayev, the London-based head of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria government-in-exile, but Abdurakhmanov failed to persuade Zakayev to return to Grozny.

Abdurakhmanov also regularly floated controversial initiatives that were clearly in line with Kadyrov's ambitions but which the latter did not wish to be identified with unless/until they proved amenable to Moscow. In 2006, for example, Abdurakhmanov publicly advocated merging Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Daghestan into a single federation subject, a proposal that the Ingush and Daghestani leaders immediately protested.

More recently, as Russia's relations with the West became increasingly acrimonious, Abdurakhmanov went even further than Kadyrov in his denunciation of the United States. Three months ago, he announced that Russia should provide arms to Mexico if the U.S. Congress went ahead with its plans to supply arms to Ukraine. Clearly not amused, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov nixed the idea immediately.

Embattled Makhachkala Mayor Wins Reprieve

Dagestani leader Ramazan Abdulatipov (right) and the acting mayor of Makhachkala, Magomed Suleymanov, in April 2014

Liz Fuller

An emergency session of the Makhachkala city parliament scheduled for June 29 has been postponed sine die, with no explanation. The session was to have voted no confidence in acting Mayor Magomed Suleymanov, of whom Republic of Daghestan head Ramazan Abdulatipov said last week that "he has completely forfeited the trust" of not only the republic head but of the government and the city's population, and can thus no longer serve in that post.

Abdulatipov had appointed Suleymanov, a former Daghestan parliament chairman, as acting Makhachkala mayor in April 2014. Abdulatipov stressed at that time that despite resistance from other, unnamed members of the republican leadership, he considered Suleymanov the most qualified candidate. And until comparatively recently, Abdulatipov affirmed publicly that he backed Suleymanov's candidacy in the mayoral election due in September.

It appears, however, that Suleymanov was unable to replicate on a larger scale the success he had registered in 1997-2007 as mayor of the smaller Caspian town of Izberbash. Under Suleymanov's watch, Izberbash had the reputation of being the neatest, cleanest, best-run town in Daghestan.

Abdulatipov listed numerous failings on Suleymanov's part, many of them related to his inability to cope with the problems that had accumulated during the 15-year tenure as mayor of Said Amirov, who is currently on trial on charges of commissioning a contract killing.

During that time frame, the city's population more than doubled and countless new buildings, including high-rise apartment blocks, were built illegally without the necessary planning permission, while infrastructure such as highways and water mains deteriorated into a shocking state of dilapidation.

Abdulatipov specifically singled out Suleymanov's alleged failure to meet deadlines for rehousing families currently living in ramshackle or derelict accommodation -- even though the time frame for doing so does not expire until 2017. He claimed that in a poll conducted among city residents, 90 percent of respondents said they do not trust Suleymanov personally or his approach to his work.

Abdulatipov further made vague but derogatory comments implying that Suleymanov had acted dishonorably by complaining about his colleagues (to whom was not spelled out). Abdulatipov also divulged that it was he who had spread rumors of Suleymanov's impending dismissal, with the aim of assessing how he responded.

Curiously, Abdulatipov did not include among his criticisms of Suleymanov two separate instances, in September and November, in which prosecutors secured the annulment of illegal directives issued by the Makhachkala municipal council. 

According to the independent weekly Chernovik, the pressure on Suleymanov has been building over several months. He was summoned in the spring by presidential administration head Ramazan Aliyev and reportedly given a bucket list of tasks to accomplish. Then, in early June, Aliyev reportedly ordered him to resign, which Suleymanov categorically refused to do.

Meanwhile, Suleymanov apparently managed to alienate both parliament speaker Khizri Shikhsaidov and Prime Minister Abdusamad Gamidov (who like Suleymanov is a Dargin). Shikhsaidov reportedly objected to Suleymanov including his son on the list of candidates from the ruling Unified Russia party for election to the Makhachkala City Council. When Shikhsaidov called on Gamidov to mediate in the ensuing heated quarrel, the latter reportedly made clear his hopes that Construction and Communal Services Minister Musa Musayev would be appointed acting Makhachkala mayor in Suleymanov's place.

Abdulatipov, incidentally, categorically denied on June 26 that disagreements with Shikhsaidov and Gamidov were a factor in his decision to replace Suleymanov.

Suleymanov has not taken Abdulatipov's public criticism lying down. The most recent edition of the weekly Makhachkala city newspaper printed an open letter to the city's population in which Suleymanov detailed what he has accomplished (including cracking down on illegal labor). At the same time, he admitted that he is still struggling to come to grips with the problems of illegal construction and tax evasion. In 2014, the city's tax revenues were just 70 percent of the target figure.

As noted above, no reason was cited for the postponement of the municipal-council session that was to have decided Suleymanov's fate. It is not impossible, however, that he appealed to his most influential Dargin co-ethnic, Magomedsalam Magomedov, whom Abdulatipov replaced as republic head in early 2013. Magomedov is currently a senior Russian presidential administration official, and thus in a position to overrule Abdulatipov.

If Suleymanov is nonetheless coerced to step down, analysts have identified several possible successors. Prominent among them is Sagid Murtazaliyev, a former Olympic wrestling gold medalist who heads the Daghestan chapter of the Russian Pension Fund.

Murtazaliyev fits Abdulatipov's criterion of "a more powerful figure" capable of cleaning up the city, both figuratively and metaphorically. But he is an Avar, not a Dargin, and Abdulatipov implied on June 25 that he will abide by the unwritten constraints governing the division of top posts among Daghestan's three largest ethnic groups (Avars, Dargins and Kumyks) in which case it is incumbent on him to select a Dargin as Makhachkala mayor.

In addition, Murtazaliyev is known to be a close associate of Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov, and either Abdulatipov or the Russian presidential administration, or both, may be reluctant to condone an appointment that could enable Kadyrov to influence key decisions relating to the capital of a neighboring republic.

The most likely Dargin candidate is said to be Industry, Trade, and Investment Minister Yusup Umavov. He is said to be a capable manager but lacking in political ambition, meaning that unlike Murtazaliyev, he would be unlikely to yield to the temptation to use the post of Makhachkala mayor as a springboard from which to aspire to the post of republic head. He would presumably also be willing to take orders from Abdulatipov.

Musa Musayev, whose candidacy Gamidov reportedly favors, is a Kumyk, and thus presumably likewise not in the running. The same holds true for Deputy Prime Minister and Economy and Regional Development Minister for Rayudin Yusufov, 48, who is a Lak. Yusufov is described as ambitious, professional, charismatic, and familiar with all aspects of Makhachkala's economy. Yusufov reportedly has Shikhsaidov's backing.

Embattled Daghestani Politician Sidelined

Gadzhimurad Omarov recently said he could not see anything good in what Ramazan Abdulatipov had done since being named republic head in January 2013; on the contrary, the republic is virtually bankrupt and corruption has increased.

Liz Fuller

Four months after being assaulted and injured during a party conference in Makhachkala, Avar politician Gadzhimurad Omarov has been replaced as head of the Daghestan chapter of the A Just Russia party. That party's Moscow-based ruling body has proposed Omarov's erstwhile rival, Kamil Davdiyev, to succeed him.

The A Just Russia faction is the second-largest in Daghestan's parliament after United Russia, numbering 13 of the total 90 lawmakers. Davdiyev, who is a Lak, currently heads the parliament's Committee for Interethnic Relations and Ties with Political Parties and Public Organizations. When Omarov was elected three years ago to head A Just Russia's Daghestan chapter, Davdiyev reportedly threatened to resign in protest.

The tension between the two men apparently derives from their diverging assessments of the track record of Republic of Daghestan head Ramazan Abdulatipov. Davdiyev unfailingly expresses support for Abdulatipov's various initiatives. By contrast, Omarov, who counts himself a longtime friend of Abdulatipov, told the independent weekly Chernovik in December that he could not see anything good in what Abdulatipov had done since being named republic head in January 2013; on the contrary, the republic is virtually bankrupt and corruption has increased. Omarov said his party was trying to collect 50,000 signatures to a petition demanding Abdulatipov's resignation.

At the same time, Omarov voiced clear regret that a man who had been his close friend and whom he had personally assured the Russian presidential administration was the most suitable candidate for the post of republic head, had changed so much. "For 20 years I knew him as one person, and now he is a completely different person," Omarov said.

Speaking shortly after the assault in February in which he sustained a broken collarbone, Omarov implied that Abdulatipov may have been behind it. He said the group of men who attacked him was headed by Magomed Alkhazov, a former Abdulatipov aide who is now a deputy minister of ecology and natural resources. Omarov said Alkhazov conveyed to him an oral message from Abdulatipov not to hold any further party gatherings in Daghestan. Alkhazov was detained in late April for questioning in connection with the standoff in Makhachkala during which Omarov was injured, but denied any role in it. 

Omarov was said to have stepped down of his own volition as head of A Just Russia's Daghestan chapter. But Derbent blogger Shamil Agayev draws attention to a recent meeting in Makhachkala between Abdulatipov and Fedot Tumusov, a member of the party's governing council. That meeting gave rise to speculation that Abdulatipov had demanded Omarov's removal in return for a pledge to ensure that A Just Russia remains the second-largest faction in Daghestan's National Assembly, and Tumusov agreed.

Alternatively, it is possible that Abdulatipov, who is engaged in a "battle of the titans" with Derbent Mayor Imam Yaraliyev, is simply seeking to neutralize all local politicians courageous enough to criticize him.

Yaraliyev, who in January neatly engineered his reelection for a further term, has been expelled from the leadership of the Daghestan branch of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party and is under increasing pressure to resign.

Commentators suspect Abdulatipov wants to install in his place a compliant figure who would turn a blind eye to the diversion for other purposes of the huge sums of money allocated from the federal budget for preparations to celebrate the 2,000th anniversary of Derbent's founding.

Georgian Opposition Launches New Push For Election Law Reform

Parliament speaker David Usupashvili says a recent constitutional ruling calls for changing the way majoritarian constituencies are formed, rather than abolishing them.

Liz Fuller

Georgia's Constitutional Court recently corroborated what lawyers and experts have been saying for years -- some aspects of the country's election law are patently unfair and need to be changed.

In a ruling handed down in late May , the court found that the law violates the principle of equality in the election of lawmakers in single-mandate constituencies.

Yet even though virtually all of Georgia's political parties accede to the argument that reform is needed, there is no consensus among them as to how extensively the current system should be amended, or on the timeframe for doing so. Both parliamentary and extraparliamentary opposition parties want a new system in place before the parliamentary ballot due in October 2016.

At present, in line with legal amendments enacted in July 2011, 73 of the total 150 lawmakers are elected in single-mandate constituencies and the remaining 77 according to the proportional system among those parties that garner a minimum 5 percent of the vote. The objections of the opposition and of international organizations focus primarily on the enormous discrepancies in the size of the single-mandate constituencies. The largest has over 150,000 voters; the smallest, fewer than 6,000.

On May 30, just two days after the Constitutional Court ruling, 14 extraparliamentary political parties and eight NGOs signed a joint petition, based on a Memorandum of Civic Accord drafted during six months of discussions, calling on the government to replace the single-mandate constituencies with multi-mandate ones without delay.

They argued that "in order to guarantee a democratic and equal election environment that encourages competition, it is imperative to change the existing system" in which, they said, "voters' ballots are not proportionally translated into mandates [won by parties in parliamentary elections], the number of wasted votes is high, and equality of suffrage is not observed."

The proposed switch from single-mandate constituencies to a regional-proportional system would, however, necessitate amending the constitution, and it is considered unlikely that the minimum 113 parliamentarians would vote in favor of doing so during each of the required three readings.

The ruling Georgian Dream (GD) coalition responded to the May 30 petition by proposing a two-stage reform that entails preserving the current system with minor changes until after 2016, and only then abolishing single-mandate constituencies in favor of a regional-proportional system. That approach does not, strictly speaking, contravene the Constitutional Court ruling, which as parliament speaker Davit Usupashvili has pointed out, called for changing the rules under which majoritarian constituencies are formed, rather than abolishing them.

The former ruling United National Movement (ENM), which five years ago fought tooth and nail to preserve the majoritarian system, boycotted a parliament session scheduled for June 10 to protest what it termed GD's "unilateral decision" on the legal framework for the October 2016 ballot. The ENM was not among the signatories of the May 30 petition.

The current debate over electoral reform is the third since 2008. On both previous occasions, the then-opposition camp, which included the Republican and Conservative parties and the National Forum, all now members of GD, sought unsuccessfully to replace the single-mandate constituencies with a regional-proportional system.

In the spring of 2008, the ENM initially agreed to a proposal by the opposition National Council to divide the country into 19 election districts that would elect a total of 50 MPs. The mandates were to be divided as following: Tbilisi --10; Samegrelo and Imereti -- five each; Shida Kartli, Kvemo Kartli, Kakheti, and Adjara -- four each; and South Ossetia, Samtskhe-Djavakheti, Mtskheta-Mtianeti, Guria, Svaneti, Racha-Lechkhumi, and Abkhazia -- two each.
But at the last minute, the ENM reneged on that provisional agreement and pushed through constitutional amendments altering the ratio of majoritarian:proportional seats from 50:100 to 75:75 and reducing from 50 percent to 30 percent the minimum number of votes needed to win election in a single-mandate constituency.

Two years later, in October 2010, eight opposition parties unveiled a new blueprint for electoral reform that similarly entailed dividing the country into multi-mandate constituencies, with the number of lawmakers to be elected in each contingent on the size of the constituency, and a 5 percent threshold for representation.

They also proposed changing the composition of the Central Electoral Commission to ensure the representation of all parties represented in the existing parliament; the introduction of biometric passports to minimize multiple voting and other kinds of fraud; and new streamlined procedures for addressing election-related complaints.

The UNM waited five months before unveiling its counterproposals. Rather than abolish the single-mandate constituencies outright, it advocated increasing to two the number of lawmakers elected from the 10 constituencies (five in Tbilisi plus Kutaisi, Batumi, Rustavi, Gori, and Zugdidi) with over 100,000 voters, and suggesting three possible models for the majoritarian:proportional ratio.

The UNM flatly rejected the introduction of biometric passports nationwide on grounds of the estimated cost, but agreed to their distribution in Tbilisi. The opposition rejected those proposals, insisting on a revision of the system to ensure what it termed the fair distribution of parliament mandates in strict proportion to the share of the vote a given party receives.

In late June, the ENM secured the support of four of the eight opposition parties that had hitherto rejected its follow-up proposals for a new model that entailed increasing the number of lawmakers to 190, of whom 83 would be elected in single-mandate constituencies and 107 on the basis of party lists.
But Avtandil Demetrashvili, the constitutional lawyer who oversaw the drafting in 2009-10 of amendments to the Georgian Constitution, queried the legality of increasing the number of parliamentarians, as did three watchdog groups.

The proposed increase was duly shelved in December 2011. Instead, the parliament adopted constitutional amendments, setting the majoritarian:proportional ratio set at 73:77, and guaranteeing any party that garners 5 percent of the vote six parliament mandates. The revised election law was passed in the third reading on December 27.

The current dispute could exacerbate existing tensions within the GD leadership. President Giorgi Margvelashvili, who was the moving spirit behind the May 30 conference, advocates scrapping the majoritarian component in order to create "a pluralistic political environment." Parliament speaker Usupashvili signed the opposition's March Memorandum of Civic Accord demanding change, but made clear that he did so in his capacity as a rank-and-file parliamentarian.

Margvelashvili's parliamentary secretary Giorgi Kverenchkhiladze told journalists on June 8 that "it is not clear why the introduction of a fair electoral system should be delayed for 5 1/2 years." He expressed confidence that it could be done by spring of 2016, "given the political will." It seems unlikely, however, that the parliament will address the issue before its spring session ends on June 26.

The End Of An Era In North Ossetia

Taymuraz Mamsurov succeeded in restoring and maintaining stability in North Ossetia, where some feared the North Caucasus insurgency might seek to establish a presence, but he has proven unable to kick-start the region's moribund economy.

Liz Fuller

Following months of speculation, Russian President Vladimir Putin has made a leadership change in the Republic of North Ossetia that could prove counterproductive.

Putin dismissed Taymuraz Mamsurov as head of North Ossetia when his second five-year term ended last week and named as acting republic head Russian State Duma deputy Tamerlan Aguzarov.

Putin first named Mamsurov, then North Ossetian parliament speaker, to head the republic in 2005, nine months after the Beslan school hostage taking in which some 334 people died and over 700 more, including two of Mamsurov's four children, were injured.

Over the next decade, Mamsurov succeeded in restoring and maintaining stability in the mainly Christian republic, where some feared the North Caucasus insurgency might seek to establish a presence. But he has proven unable to kick-start the region's moribund economy, and state debt has skyrocketed from 2 billion rubles ($37 million) in 2007 to almost 9 billion in late 2014, while unemployment has remained stable at around 6 percent, according to official statistics.

Possibly for that reason, Mamsurov has been consistently rated among the less effective federation subject heads, and over the past couple of years his imminent replacement has been predicted more than once. Yet he became one of very few North Caucasus republic heads to serve two complete terms. Murat Zyazikov in Ingushetia, Boris Ebzeyev in Karachayevo-Cherkessia, and Arsen Kanokov in Kabardino-Balkaria were all removed from office prematurely during their second terms (in 2008, 2011, and 2013, respectively).

Aguzarov, who turns 52 on June 14, was only recently identified as a possible successor to Mamsurov. According to the Russian daily Kommersant, Russian Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika lobbied for Aguzarov's appointment.

A lawyer by profession, Aguzarov began his career in the republican prosecutor's office and served from 1999-2011 as Supreme Court chairman. His appointment is likely to reopen many wounds, insofar as in that latter capacity he was presiding judge at the trial in 2005-06 of Nurpasha Kulayev, the only one of the Beslan hostage takers to be captured alive. (According to British journalist Oliver Bullough, who was present at the trial, Kulayev's involvement was purely fortuitous.)

Kulayev was nonetheless sentenced to life imprisonment. But the public organization Voice of Beslan that represented the relatives of the children and teaching personnel who died when Russian security forces stormed the school building appealed that sentence, protesting that senior officials whose alleged negligence facilitated the hostage taking escaped blame.

Commenting on Aguzarov's new appointment, Susanna Dudiyeva, who heads Mothers of Beslan, a similar group, argued that "North Ossetia should be headed not by someone who is familiar with the Criminal Code, but by someone who is familiar with the economy and cares about people."

The extent of Aguzarov's concern for his fellow men is reflected in comments he made as a member of the Russian State Duma delegation that took part in a Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) discussion in January 2014 of the circumstances surrounding the death in pretrial detention in 2009 of Russian tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky. Aguzarov was quoted as saying that "we are all mortal. Sometimes people die -- that's life. ... We are not able at present to provide different conditions for prisoners. Yes, people die, and not only in prisons, but while on vacation. We can't blame Russia for this. I agree it's sad, but what does it have to do with us?"

If past practice is any guide, Aguzarov will nonetheless duly be confirmed in his new post by the North Ossetian parliament, as were Yury Kokov in neighboring Kabardino-Balkaria and Ramazan Abdulatipov in Daghestan. Mamsurov, 61, is likely to be named to represent his home republic in the Federation Council.

Aguzarov faces a daunting task, especially in light of his lack of economic expertise. The North Ossetian economy continues to stagnate, with many industrial enterprises standing idle and others incapable of functioning at optimum capacity due to obsolete equipment. The agricultural sector, although heavily subsidized, barely makes a profit.

During his first meeting with the republic's lawmakers, Aguzarov listed among his immediate priorities attracting investment as the precondition for resolving social problems. His chances of doing so in the present economic climate are minimal, however, in light of the budget cuts necessitated by the international sanctions imposed on Russia for its support of separatist forces in Ukraine.

Ingushetia Religious Rivalry: Guns, Clans, And Death Threats

Khamzat Chumakov, arguably the Ingush republic's most charismatic Muslim preacher

Friday worship at a mosque in Ingushetia nearly descended into violence on June 5, when supporters and allied clans of the republican mufti and a charismatic rival cleric squared off before the latter was hustled off the premises.

The broader dispute involves dueling styles of religious leadership, clashing liturgical views, entrenched clan frictions, and competing schools of Islamic thought, and has drawn both Ingushetia head Yunus-Bek Yevkurov and Russian President Vladimir Putin into the religious fray.

Ingushetia's top official religious authority, mufti Issa-hadji Khamkhoyev, is demanding that Khamzat Chumakov, arguably the republic's most charismatic Muslim preacher, vacate the mosque in their home village of Nasyr-Kort, near Nazran, on the grounds that Chumakov was never formally appointed as its imam. 

Chumakov, 49, studied theology for 12 years in Cairo and has served as imam of the Nasyr-Kort mosque since 2007. A cult figure especially among young believers, he preaches not only in Ingushetia but elsewhere in Russia, and to Ingush emigres in Europe.

Chumakov has been subjected to threats and pressure on several occasions in recent years, apparently in retaliation for his unstinting criticism of the republic's leadership. (Two months ago, he demanded during a Friday sermon that the authorities explain how 1.8 billion rubles ($31.97 million) in budget funds had been embezzled.)

The catalyst for the current standoff between Chumakov and Khamkhoyev is primarily theological. But the conflict also has a secular dimension insofar as it pits two of Ingushetia's most prominent teyps (clans) against each other. The Yevloyevs support Chumakov; and the Ozdoyevs, Khamkhoyev.

On May 29, Chumakov announced at the Friday service of worship that beginning on June 5, collective midday prayers (namaz) would no longer take place after that service. That ruling is in line with the recommendation of scholars who attended an international conference on Islam in Ingushetia last month, according to theologian Abo Ganizhev. It is also standard practice in the Shafii school of canonical Sunni Islam, according to Ali-hadji Yevteyev, the former mufti of North Ossetia.

Chumakov's announcement triggered an impassioned debate, with some believers circulating a demand for his removal as imam, and unidentified activists circulating via WhatsApp an appeal to gather on June 3 in Abi-Guv in Chumakov's defense.

Ingushetia's leader Yunus-Bek Yevkurov
Ingushetia's leader Yunus-Bek Yevkurov

Chumakov, however, posted a video appeal to his supporters not to attend that meeting, which he denied having organized. Instead, he convened a meeting of clerics at Nasyr-Kort on June 3 to discuss the tensions resulting from his decision. Khamkhoyev was present at that meeting, as were acting republic of Ingushetia Security Council Secretary Albert Barakhoyev and presidential administration official Magomed Shaukhalov.

The meeting was described as "productive." Participants drafted an appeal to Ingushetia head Yevkurov noting the positive repercussions of the May conference, On Moderation In Religion, and condemning "provocative actions by isolated individuals" against Chumakov. They appealed to Yevkurov to reject what they termed "an attempt to establish the hegemony of one [religious] denomination," meaning the Sufism espoused by Mufti Khamkhoyev and the Spiritual Board of Muslims of Ingushetia. The following day, however, on June 4, tensions escalated after Nasyr-Kort village head Mokhmad-Bashir Ozdoyev reportedly appealed to mourners at a funeral to gather on June 5 and "stop at nothing, even bloodshed" to remove Chumakov as imam. Members of the Yevloyev teyp, reportedly unarmed, immediately went to Ozdoyev's home to demand an explanation, whereupon, they said later, Ozdoyev's sons, armed with Kalashnikov rifles and a grenade launcher, fired into the air. Reports differ as to whether there were casualties.

Yevkurov issued an appeal the same day to all worshipers planning to attend Friday worship at Nasyr-Kort on June 5 not to engage in "unlawful actions that could lead to unforeseeable consequences."

The Nasyr-Kort mosque was cordoned off by police on the morning of June 5, and worshipers were required to pass through metal detectors. Chumakov had reportedly already begun his sermon when Khamkhoyev arrived with other members of the Muslim Spiritual Board and some 10 to 15 imams and did not stop preaching to welcome him.

When at the end of the sermon Khamkhoyev tried to take the microphone from Chumakov, there was a heated exchange between the two rival factions that almost turned violent, according to Magomed Mutsolgov, head of the human rights NGO Mashr. Chumakov's supporters then escorted him out of the building.

Chumakov has written to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the heads of Russia's "power" ministries accusing Khamkhoyev of seeking to provoke bloodshed. He expanded on his criticisms of Khamkhoyev in a lengthy (55-minute) video address in Ingush. Khamkhoyev responded by formally complaining to the police that Chumakov has telephoned him and threatened to kill him. Khamkhoyev requested, and has been provided with, police protection.

The republican authorities appear to have taken the side of Khamkhoyev and the official clergy, to judge from the account of the situation that Yevkurov adviser Kharon Torshkhoyev gave to Caucasus Knot. Torshkhoyev argued that Chumakov is not in fact the Nasyr-Kort imam as Khamkhoyev did not formally appoint him to that post. (Chumakov was the deputy of, and succeeded, a cleric named Sulumbek-hadji, who was the father-in-law of prominent Ingush businessman Mikhail Gutseriyev.)

Torshkhoyev further claimed that believers in Nasyr-Kort had complained to Khamkhoyev that due to the huge numbers of Chumakov's young followers who travel regularly to Nasyr-Kort to hear him preach, they have no choice but to go elsewhere to worship.

Yevkurov has not commented on the June 5 altercation. Ozdoyev is said to have publicly cursed both Chumakov and Kadyrov on June 5 and expressed the hope that Chumakov will leave Ingushetia for Chechnya. In January, Chumakov accompanied a second prominent critic of Yevkurov, Magomed Khazbiyev, when the latter took refuge in Grozny at the invitation of Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov.

Whether Kadyrov, who is at daggers drawn with Yevkurov, might similarly offer sanctuary to Chumakov is debatable, however. Kadyrov has long positioned himself as the defender of Sufism in Chechnya, and categorically rejects Salafism, while Chumakov's Sufi detractors have openly branded him a Salafi.

-- Liz Fuller

Chechnya's Best-Kept Secret: The Workings of the Akhmad Kadyrov Fund

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov in front of a portrait of his father Akhmad Kadyrov, who was assassinated in 2004.

Among the damaging allegations against Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov and his entourage contained in The Family, a documentary recently released by former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky's NGO Open Russia, is the claim that all Chechens are required to contribute a percentage of their salary to the Akhmad Kadyrov Regional Public Fund, named after Kadyrov's late father.

Chechen officials have rejected that claim as untrue. But the news portal Caucasian Knot has spoken to Chechen teachers, medical personnel, and police officers who confirm that a percentage of their monthly salary is routinely deducted.

The Russian Kommersant daily has also researched links between the Akhmad Kadyrov fund and various commercial entities owned by Ramzan Kadyrov's mother, Aymani, or his trusted associates.

According to The Family, budget-sector employees in Chechnya are required to forfeit at least 10 percent of their monthly salary, employees of private companies up to one-third, and business owners up to 50 percent of their profits to the fund.

The total sum contributed in this way, which is not taxed or audited, is estimated at between 3 billion and 4 billion rubles ($55 million-$73 million) per month. By contrast, Chechnya's official budget revenues for 2015 are declared to be more than 57 billion rubles, including over 20 billion rubles in subsidies from the federal government.

In addition to the routine deductions, employees are reportedly required to make additional "donations" occasionally.

One schoolteacher said that last year all teaching personnel were required to contribute 500 rubles toward the cost of buying a new player for the Terek soccer team.

Another teacher said she and her colleagues are regularly pressured to buy tickets for various high-profile events and, as of 2014, to pay 250 rubles per quarter to subscribe to various official newspapers, which they do not always receive. Complaints or any refusal to pay the amount required may be penalized by dismissal.

Caucasian Knot quotes unnamed Chechen government and prosecutor's office employees as denying that any such system of deductions exist. They claim that any donations employees make are purely voluntary.

A third drain on the salaries of budget sector employees, including hospital workers and police, are kickbacks reportedly demanded by their superiors, who are themselves required to pay a specific monthly sum to the ministry that employs them. A portion of those funds is then said to be paid to Kadyrov personally.

Vast Range Of Activities

The eponymous fund was established in June 2004, some seven weeks after Akhmad Kadyrov's death.

Kommersant describes it as "one of the least transparent NGOs" in the Russian Federation. The fund has never been audited and does not comply with the legal requirement that all NGOs receiving over 3 million rubles per year must submit accounts to the federal Justice Ministry. (A Justice Ministry official told Kommersant that the Akhmad Kadyrov fund is exempt from doing so because its accounts are published in the Chechen media -- but they are not.)

The balance of the fund was reportedly 916 million rubles in 2012 and 1.45 billion in 2013.

The stated purpose of the fund, as outlined on its website, is "to provide charitable assistance to citizens in need and to create jobs for the republic's population."

It has, for example, financed the construction of hundreds of homes for families left destitute after the war of 1999-2000, as well as provided medical assistance and the purchase of equipment for the republic's hospitals.

In practice, however, the fund's activities are infinitely more diverse and are not geographically confined to Chechnya, or even the North Caucasus. 

Religion is a primary focus: It was the Akhmad Kadyrov fund that financed the construction of the grandiose Heart of Chechnya mosque in central Grozny as well as four schools for hafizes (scholars who can recite the entire Koran from memory) and a center for Islamic medicine. It also funded the restoration, at a cost of 65 million rubles, of a mosque in Tomsk.

The fund has even subsidized the cost of the hajj for thousands of pilgrims from the North Caucasus.

It has also sent humanitarian aid to Somalia and, over the past year, to the war-torn Donbas region in eastern Ukraine. 

But some expenditure cannot by any stretch of the imagination be described as charity.

The Family claims that the fund paid millions of dollars to Western celebrities to attend Ramzan Kadyrov's birthday party in 2011.

Its most recent act of generosity was to present 16 Harley Davidson motorcycles to the Chechen branch of the Night Wolves, a Russian nationalist bikers club, in acknowledgement of their "services to Russia." Ramzan Kadyrov took personal credit for, and basked in the publicity generated by, that gift.

Although it amounts to a substantial sum, the money reportedly withheld from Chechens' salaries is clearly inadequate to finance the vast range of activities in which the fund engages. The balance apparently comes from a mind-bogglingly intricate network of companies owned either by the fund or individuals closely affiliated with it, and which control virtually the entire Chechen real-estate sector.

Kommersant has established, for example, that the Akhmed Kadyrov fund owns a major construction company, Megastroyinvest. This firm, in turn, owns a 50 percent stake in the company Kolizey, through which, according to Kommersant, much of the cash "donations" to the fund are channeled. Kolizey owns a major Grozny sports complex and is one of very few organizations in Chechnya licensed to sell alcohol.

The Russian daily quotes Ivan Pavlov, head of the public organization Komanda-29, which campaigns for freedom of information, as saying that, although it is legal for charitable organizations to establish commercial structures, he has never before seen it done on such a scale.

-- Liz Fuller

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.