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Caucasus Report: February 10, 2006

10 February 2006, Volume 9, Number 5

DOES CHECHEN RESISTANCE LEADER ASPIRE TO BECOME IMAM OF THE CAUCASUS? Chechen resistance leader Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev issued a decree on 5 February stripping Deputy Prime Minister Akhmed Zakayev and Health Minister Umar Khanbiyev, both of whom currently represent the resistance in Europe, of those government posts, and ordering most Chechen ministers currently abroad (except Zakayev) to return to Chechnya.

Zakayev has recently engaged in a polemic with radical Chechen ideologues, including Press and Information Minister Movladi Udugov, who reject an independent Chechen state in favor of an Islamic state encompassing the entire North Caucasus and who argue that resistance fighters should not be constrained by the norms of international law. Over the past two months, Zakayev has published two lengthy articles taking issue with what he terms the "musings" of Chechen "ideologues," including Udugov, and accusing them of being in cahoots with Moscow. The first such article, posted on 19 December on the resistance website, opens with the stated intention of setting out the official viewpoint of the resistance leadership with regard to the proposals of analysts who "are putting forward ideas that entail a radical revision of the ultimate goals and strategic tasks of the Chechen national liberation struggle."

Specifically, Zakayev continued, those writers argue that the resistance should not be constrained by international law or human rights norms, an argument that Zakayev claims is inconsistent with the Islamic concept of justice. Zakayev admits nonetheless that the conduct of many so-called democratic Western states in this respect is less than exemplary.

Zakayev reasons that Chechens cannot achieve the independent statehood they aspire to exclusively by military means, but need a "political voice" that can convince the international community that their desire for independence is valid. From that angle, eschewing human rights norms would therefore be counterproductive, Zakayev argues, as the international community would then write the Chechens off as "bandits, marauders, and murderers," which, he continues, is exactly what the Kremlin is hoping for.

Zakayev goes on to reject the argument that Chechnya does not need a constitution. He points out that not only does every independent sovereign state have a constitution, but that to denounce the 1992 constitution of Djokhar Dudayev's Chechen Republic Ichkeria would be to undercut the legal foundations of the sovereignty of that republic, and of all its institutions, including its government, parliament, and armed forces.

Zakayev then targets his opponents' demands to bury the idea of Chechen independent statehood in the name of a Caucasus caliphate with Sadulayev as imam of the Caucasus. Zakayev admits that the resistance forces battling Russian colonialism in the North Caucasus are no longer exclusively Chechen. But, he says, there is a "huge gap" between military cooperation against a common enemy and establishing a single unified North Caucasus state. He insists "there is not, and cannot be, any national freedom without national sovereignty, without a national state," and that "national sovereignty is not an obstacle to various kinds of integration with other peoples and states but on contrary serves as the basis for such integration.... It will only be possible to speak of real forms of unification of Chechens with other peoples of Caucasus only after the North Caucasus is liberated from the military-political presence of Russia."

It would, Zakayev continues, be "irresponsible, harmful, and a crime" to begin dismantling Chechen statehood at this juncture. After all, he reasons, "in 1990 the Chechens restored not an imamate but their national sovereignty, and in 1994 they went to war against the Russian aggressors not under the slogan of creating a Caucasus caliphate, but to free our country from Russian occupation."

Two weeks later, on 30 December, posted what was billed as a statement from Sadulayev's administration expressing support for Zakayev. That statement said that the "Chechen leadership, among whom there are learned alims (scholars), does not see any contradiction between Islam and the doctrine of an independent Chechen state with all the appropriate official institutions." It followed with a thinly veiled warning to "ideologues occupying official positions in the Chechen government" not to mislead the Chechen people and international community on fundamental questions of domestic and foreign policy." The statement reaffirmed the imperative for Chechen resistance forces to abide by international law, even if Russia declines to do the same.

In his follow-up article on 14 January, Zakayev rejects the accusation leveled against him by his opponents that he, together with other unnamed ministers and deputies to the Chechen parliament elected under Maskhadov in 1997, fears Shari'a law, and that he gives precedence to democracy over Islam. (The article is entitled "I Am A Democrat Only To The Extent That Islam And The Traditions Of My People Permit.") Zakayev accuses his ideological opponents of being in cahoots with Kremlin, specifically of having plotted the ill-fated invasion of Daghestan in the summer of 1999 that furnished Russia with the pretext for a new incursion into Chechnya."

Zakayev repeats that Chechens are being killed not because they are Muslims, but because they want an independent state, and he warns that at crucial junctures in Chechnya's history Russia has invariably sought to defuse Chechen demands for an independent state by offering them the alternative of living under Shari'a law, but within Russia.

Zakayev goes on to claim that the opinions Udugov espouses are his personal opinions, and that "in all questions concerning the basic foundations of the Chechen state the leadership of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria adheres to a single, agreed position based on the Chechen constitution and taking into account the norms and principles of international law." But his demotion and the summons to return to Chechnya casts serious doubt on that affirmation.

Questioned on 6 February by RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service, both Zakayev and Udugov declined to comment on their ideological disagreement or on any possible link between that dispute and Sadulayev's decree reorganizing his government. Zakayev told RFE/RL's Russian Service later the same day that his polemic with Udugov has no relevance whatsoever to Sadulayev's government restructuring.

Zakayev did, however, admit that "the internal situation in the republic -- political and military -- has changed." Whether Sadulayev has agreed to what he envisages as a purely tactical concession, as his predecessor Aslan Maskhadov was constrained to do in early 1999 under pressure from Islamic radicals, or whether he does see himself as the imam of the Caucasus, remains as yet unclear. His decree of 22 January creating a Council of Alims of Peoples of the Caucasus to advise him would seem, however, to corroborate the latter hypothesis. (Liz Fuller)

ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER FEARS VOTE BUYING MAY BECOME MASS PHENOMENON. Artur Baghdasarian expressed concern on 3 February about the growing involvement of wealthy government-linked businessmen in politics, saying that it threatens to raise Armenia's "vicious" culture of vote buying to new heights.

Baghdasarian echoed warnings made by other leaders of the governing coalition in connection with the ongoing creation of political parties by "oligarchs" close to President Robert Kocharian. The richest and most influential of them, Gagik Tsarukian, has reportedly set himself the task of winning the next parliamentary election due in 2007. Several other tycoons also reportedly plan to join him or form their own parties soon.

"We know that there are many shadowy manifestations in our political field," Baghdasarian told RFE/RL in an interview. "That includes rumors about various oligarchs financing various political groups. People have now decided to set up parties. I find that positive in the sense that they are moving from the shadow field to public politics," he said.

"The bad thing about it is that the role of money is increasing in the political field," he continued. "The vicious tradition of buying votes, which is widespread in Armenia, could have even worse manifestations in the future.... When everything depends on who pays how much money, the public lacks faith in the electoral process and the state."

Tsarukian is expected to attract prominent public figures and even some opposition politicians to his party, Prosperous Armenia (BH). People familiar with his thinking say he hopes to make a strong showing in the 2007 election by capitalizing on those figures' populist appeal coupled with his vast financial resources. Many fear that much of that money will be spent on vote buying, a practice to which wealthy candidates have routinely resorted to in both national and local elections in recent years.

BH is thus seen as a serious threat to both the opposition and the three parties represented in Armenia's government. The largest of them, Prime Minister Andranik Markarian's Republican Party (HHK), is particularly worried about Tsarukian's and other oligarchs' entry into high-level politics. Prominent HHK member and deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian said on 1 February that the country's mainstream political forces, including those opposed to Kocharian, should join forces in the face of what he described as a serious threat to Armenia's democratization. "It is evident that money will soon be playing a very important role in the activities of those newly-created parties," Torosian told RFE/RL. "Hardly anyone can hope to win seats in the parliament after a few months [of preparation]. In this situation, parties must understand that they must join ensure that the 2007 elections fully meet international standards."

But such cooperation appears highly problematic, not least because of a deep divide separating the supporters and opponents of Kocharian. Some observers also say that the emergence of "oligarchic" parties is part of Kocharian's imputed strategy of handing over power to Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian in 2008 and securing his own political future.

Another serious obstacle is persisting squabbles between the HHK, Baghdasarian's Orinats Yerkir Party, and the third governing party, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutiun) (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 20 January 2006). Baghdasarian did not deny that he feels his coalition partners are trying to undercut Orinats Yerkir ahead of the next election. But he insisted that the coalition is not falling apart, saying that the three parties would soon sign an agreement that will commit them to continuing to work together until 2007. That statement was duly released on 6 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 February 2006).

The 36-year-old Baghdasarian, seen as a potentially strong candidate in the 2008 presidential election, went on to reiterate his support for a compromise solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, saying that it would speed up Armenia's economic development. "We must be interested in a speedy and mutually beneficial resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh which could open totally different prospects for Armenia," he said. Orinats Yerkir's coalition partners and Dashnaktsutiun in particular favor a harder line on Azerbaijan.

Baghdasarian noted in this regard that he continues to think highly of former President Levon Ter-Petrossian, who was forced to resign exactly eight years ago after advocating major concessions to Azerbaijan. "I believe that Levon Ter-Petrossian made a great contribution to the establishment of our statehood and I treat him with deep respect," he said. (Astghik Bedevian)

NEW POTENTIAL ETHNO-TERRITORIAL FLASHPOINTS EMERGE IN DAGHESTAN. Most Russian media coverage of Daghestan over the past year has focused on the activities of groups of militants who have systematically gunned down dozens of police officers and other officials. That upsurge in violence, whether it is motivated by religious considerations or simply reflects an ongoing battle for resources and influence among powerful political interest groups, has overshadowed the possibility that new conflicts could erupt at any time over rival claims to parts of Daghestan's territory.

One of those disputed regions is the former Aukh district, until 1944 a part of the Checheno-Ingush ASSR. The Chechen and Ingush population of that republic was deported en masse to Central Asia in February 1944 on orders from then Soviet leader Joseph Stalin on suspicion of collaborating with the advancing Nazi German forces, and the internal border was redrawn to make the Aukh district part of Daghestan. The district was subsequently named Novolak and forcibly resettled with Laks from two mountainous central districts of Daghestan, up to 30 percent of whom died during that forced resettlement. The Laks constitute the sixth largest of Daghestan's 14 titular ethnic groups. The Akkin Chechens returned to their homes after their rehabilitation in 1957, but two years ago issued an ultimatum to the Laks to leave the district, according to "Vremya novostei" on 23 August 2004.

In accordance with a 1992 Russian government directive on reversing the injustices to which some ethnic groups in Daghestan were subjected under Stalin, a program was drafted that envisaged resettling some 13,000 Laks from nine villages in the Novolak district where they constitute a majority. On 20 December 2005, the Russian State Duma's Commission for North Caucasus Problems convened to assess the implementation of that program, reported. The commission found that to date only some 2,100 Laks have left Novolak, partly because of delays in the construction of new homes for them (the plan envisages building nine separate villages to replace the villages they are to leave, together with highways, water, gas and electricity supplies and related infrastructure), and partly because the area to which the Laks are to be resettled is not suitable for agricultural purposes and there is no alternative employment, according to Mamma Mammaev (Unified Russia), who is one of Daghestan's deputies to the Russian State Duma. Moreover, according to Mammaev, up to 80 percent of the Lak population were not informed about the impending resettlement.

In addition, some representatives of Daghestan's authorities may have misgivings about, and possibly even seek to sabotage, the exodus of Laks from Novolak. Their departure would leave the Avars, who are the largest single ethnic group in Daghestan, outnumbered by the Chechens in Novolak by a factor of 3:1, a ratio that Mammaev fears might impel the Chechen leadership to ask for Novolak to be returned to the Chechen Republic. (The Akkin Chechens, who have little liking for the current pro-Moscow Chechen leadership, would in all likelihood oppose any such initiative.) Daghestan Supreme Council speaker Mukhu Aliyev sought to downplay the possibility of Chechen territorial claims on Daghestan, telling the commission that "not all the Laks will leave," and that he "will not cede a centimeter of Daghestan's territory to anyone." At the same time, Aliyev predicted violence if the resettlement of those Laks who do wish to leave Novolak is not completed within two years, claiming that "populists" (he did not specify of which nationality) would undoubtedly seek to take advantage of the ensuing tensions.

Meanwhile, some representatives of another of Daghestan's ethnic groups, the Lezgins, plan to campaign for the incorporation of those regions of southern Daghestan that constitute part of their ancestral homeland to be transferred to the Azerbaijan Republic, reported on 26 January.

The Lezgins are the sixth largest ethnic group in Daghestan. There are an estimated 204,000 of them in southern Daghestan and a further 180,000-260,000 in Azerbaijan, where they constitute the second largest ethnic group after the Azeris, according to the Institute for War and Peace Reporting on 6 October 2005.

The Lezgin national movement Sadval, which emerged in 1990 in Daghestan, initially lobbied for the creation of an independent Lezgin state comprising those regions of southern Daghestan and northern Azerbaijan that constitute the Lezgins' historic homeland (see "RFE/RL Research Report," Vol. 1, No. 41, October 16, 1992). That demand was reportedly fuelled by the fact that Daghestan's Lezgins felt -- and still feel, according to on 26 January -- that they are routinely treated as "second class citizens." Unemployment in the Lezgin-populated districts of Daghestan is reportedly almost double the republican average of 32 percent.

Sadval split in late 1998 into a radical wing and a more moderate wing (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 1 December 1998). The former continued to espouse the idea of an independent Lezgin state, while the latter advocated the creation of an autonomous territory for the Lezgins in Daghestan that would have the status of a separate federation subject and of a free economic zone, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 27 January 1999. Infighting between the two factions continued for several years, during which the movement apparently forfeited much of what popular support it once enjoyed.

In an interview with "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 25 August 2004, one of Sadval's co-chairmen, Nasyr Primov, admitted that Sadval was experiencing "a period of stagnation," and that "we do not have an electoral base as such." (Politically active Lezgins may have chosen to pin their hopes instead on the extra-territorial Federal Lezgin National Cultural Autonomy established in March 1999. The leader of that body, a Lezgin from Azerbaijan, was quoted by "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 27 October 2004 as affirming that "the broad mass of the Lezgin people will never support the separatists." )

Primov nonetheless insisted that Sadval's goals remain unchanged, namely, "to unite the Lezgin nation, make the frontiers transparent, and give people the opportunity to meet and move freely." Asked whether Sadval still harbors territorial claims on Azerbaijan, Primov denied that it pursues any aims in Azerbaijan, but in a seeming contradiction he added that "our only desire, our dream if you like, is to unite the entire Lezgin people in one state."

The moderate wing of Sadval now intends to resurrect that goal, but by redrawing the borders of Azerbaijan to incorporate the Lezgin-populated regions of southern Daghestan and creating a Lezgin autonomous region, according to an article published on 26 January in the Azerbaijani online daily The paper quoted an unidentified source within Sadval as arguing that "the Daghestan Lezgins cannot remain within a republic that is being turned into a breeding ground for international terrorism and which is choking in the grip of an inter-ethnic confrontation in which several foreign countries have a hand."

But Sadval's proposed solution is, as observed, unrealistic insofar as neither the Russian Federation nor Azerbaijan is likely to agree to a redrawing of the border between the two countries. At the same time, the online daily also notes that all Moscow's efforts to impose stability on Daghestan have proven fruitless, and the republic's future remains unclear. Sadval may at present number nothing more than a few dozen embittered feuding nationalists, but it remains a potent myth, and one that foreign powers with an interest in destabilizing the Caucasus might seek to co-opt for their own ends, concluded. (Liz Fuller)

QUOTATION OF THE WEEK. "I think that in the future Chechnya will be a tourist paradise." -- Pro-Moscow Chechen Prime Minister Sergei Abramov, in an interview published in "Rodnaya gazeta," No. 4, 3 February.

"Azerbaijan excludes the possibility of using its territory for military purposes against Iran." -- Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry Press Service head Tahir Tagizade, in an interview with on 10 February.