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Caucasus Report: August 26, 2005

26 August 2005, Volume 8, Number 29

CHECHEN PRESIDENT DISMISSES ENVOYS ABROAD, GOVERNMENT. Following his reorganization in May of the Chechen military command in early August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 May 2005), Abdul-Khalim Sadullaev issued decrees disbanding the Chechen government and dismissing the network of envoys abroad that he inherited from his predecessor, President Aslan Maskhadov. Sadullaev explained his reasons for doing so in a statement to the Chechen people posted on 19 August on

In that address, Sadullaev described the reorganization of the military leadership to create six fronts, sub-divided into 35 sectors, as the first stage in a broader restructuring necessitated by the ongoing war with Russia. The second phase of that restructuring, he said, entails the dismissal of the government-in-exile and diplomatic representatives abroad. He accused the latter of unspecified financial violations and of working at cross purposes and squabbling among themselves, and said their activities have been for the most part confined to meeting with Chechen refugees in Europe or with representatives of international aid and human rights organizations. He specifically criticized the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for its "total inactivity," and he accused its head, Ilyas Akhmadov (without mentioning him by name), of devoting greater attention to an unnamed "scientific project" he is reportedly working on at a U.S. research institute than to "the interests of his own people which is on the verge of extinction."

Neither the envoys nor the parliament-in-exile, Sadullaev continued, have managed to organize a single event that could be compared in terms of its impact with the recent attack carried out by resistance fighters on the village of Roshni-Chu. Five Russian servicemen died in that attack (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 August 2005). He expressed particular regret that collectively the parliament and the presidential envoys abroad were unable to persuade the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to adopt a resolution condemning the killing of Maskhadov and demanding that the Russian authorities hand over his body to his family for burial. He claimed that the majority of the 60-odd deputies to the parliament elected under Maskhadov in 1997 have transferred the allegiance to Moscow, while just a handful live as political refugees in Europe, still "trying to help their people in some way or other." Sadullaev acknowledged that some lawmakers have sacrificed their lives for the Chechen cause, including former parliamentary Chairman Ruslan Alikhadzhiev.

Speaking in Grozny on 24 August, one day after Russian President Vladimir Putin scheduled elections to a new Chechen legislature for 27 November, Taus Djabrailov, chairman of the State Council (the interim pro-Moscow parliament), said any deputies to the parliaments elected under either Maskhadov or his predecessor Djokhar Dudaev are eligible to participate in the upcoming ballot, ITAR-TASS reported. Djabrailov characterized those parliaments as being "far from the separatism and excesses" that were the catalyst for two successive Russian military interventions.

Sadullaev argued that the continued presence of the government, parliament, and envoys abroad poses "a very dangerous precedent for Chechen statehood" in that the government and parliament should function on Chechen territory, even if "underground." He warned that unless the parliament demonstrates greater effectiveness, he will suggest to the State Defense Committee-Military Council that it be dissolved and that those deputies who remain loyal should continue their activities by providing ideological support for that body. He also identified a further potential threat, namely the possibility that one or another faction among the Chechen refugees in Europe might seek to train a new leader at a European university and send him home to Chechnya once the war is won to play a role analogous to that played in post-Taliban Afghanistan by Hamid Karzai.

Sadullaev said that, on the contrary, he will give preference in forming the new Chechen government to domestic candidates. He said new ministers will be carefully selected on the basis of their competence, experience, and devotion to "the cause of Islam and the independence of the Chechen Republic." He predicted that formation of the new government would not prove difficult, as there remained "an adequate reserve of competent specialists" despite the extermination by Russia of "almost the entire intellectual potential of the Chechen people."

Umar Khanbiev, who served as health minister under Maskhadov in 1997-99 and later as an envoy abroad, told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service that he welcomes Sadullaev's decision to dismiss the envoys and parliament as "long overdue." (Liz Fuller)

MOSCOW-BACKED MUSLIM CLERGY IN CHECHNYA FORFEITS POPULAR SUPPORT. The increasingly close ties between Russian officials and the official Islamic establishment in Chechnya are further undermining the authority of both parties and thus opening the way for the continuing spread of precisely the kind of Islamic fundamentalism against which they both say they are fighting.

The standing of the government-backed Chechen Muslim Spiritual Directorate (DUM) has never been high, Andrei Vladimirov wrote in Moscow's "Itogi" on 15 August. "Because of their complete dependence on the civil authorities, the population there views the mufti and the local imams not so much as spiritual leaders but rather as government bureaucrats -- a ministry for the affairs of Islam (or [even] a ministry of propaganda)."

And the members of this official establishment have suffered from this as a result: Chechen militants, Vladimirov noted, have killed 16 imams and attempted to assassinate both the current mufti and his immediate predecessor. Moreover, ordinary Chechens increasingly are responding to the message of radical and antigovernment Muslim leaders.

But now the situation appears likely to deteriorate further in the wake of the 4 August announcement by the Chechen DUM of a fatwa against Wahhabism (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 August 2005). Not only was that declaration questioned by Muslim leaders elsewhere in the Russian Federation, but it was made at a joint meeting of the DUM and Chechen law-enforcement agencies.

In short, Vladimirov continued, it appears that "the jihad in Chechnya is to be carried out by the forces of the local militia" rather than by the Muslims themselves. On the one hand, this makes a mockery of what a fatwa in fact is. And on the other, it reflects just how hollow an institution the Chechen DUM has become.

As Aleksandr Ignatenko, one of Russia's leading authorities on Islam in the northern Caucasus, pointed out to "Itogi," "a fatwa is not an order but the response of an Islamic scholar or mufti to a question raised by Muslims." As such, he added, "a fatwa does not have and cannot have violators" as the Chechen announcement appeared to suggest.

Meanwhile, Ismagil Shangareev, the mufti of Orenburg and the head of the Islamic Human Rights Center, added, "It is impermissible to make such loud declarations in a situation like the one the Chechen Republic finds itself in." How will people there prove that they are not Wahhabis? By bringing in a government certificate perhaps?

And Geidar Dzhemal, the head of the Islamic Committee of Russia, suggested that the very idea of a fatwa against Wahhabism is a kind of "witch-hunt" that reflects "the intellectual and organizational hopelessness of the Muslim institutions in the republics of the North Caucasus."

Muslim spiritual boards like the one in Chechnya, he continued, designate as Wahhabis any believer who refuses to subordinate himself to them, thus rendering Wahhabism itself "a demagogic term equivalent to the word 'fascist,'" a way of ostracizing the opponents of these government supported hierarchies rather than winning people over to their side.

But the problem of links between the Russian government and its local agents on the one side and Muslim believers in Chechnya on the other is not limited to this latest fatwa. Not only does the state pay the salaries of pro-government mullahs and imams, but it appears ready to pay for the construction of the largest mosque in Russia there.

According to the Chechen DUM, that mosque will bear the name of Akhmed-haji Kadyrov, the late pro-Moscow Chechen leader, a decision that is likely to alienate further many Muslims both in Chechnya and elsewhere because Islam opposes the erection of any monument to honor a human being.

In short, what is happening is the intermixing of state and religion in ways that threaten not only both but also the broader population. "In the consciousness of the Chechen authorities," Vladimirov concluded, "the servants of the [Islamic] faith already are not treated as separate and distinct from government bureaucrats and those in the force structures."

That should alarm everyone, Vladimirov concluded, because while "it is easy to put into motion a 'state jihad,' it is very difficult to control it and practically impossible to stop it" once it is launched, as those who are its victims in various parts of Chechnya now could certainly testify.

Unfortunately, Vladimirov said, this development is unlikely to end at the borders of Chechnya and soon "all of Russia may experience it as well," with possibly fateful consequences for both the emergent civil society and the religious beliefs of its members. (Paul Goble)

BATTLE LINES DRAWN FOR GEORGIAN BY-ELECTIONS. On 1 October, by-elections are to take place in five of Georgia's 85 single-mandate constituencies. The opposition began preparing for the elections in early July, and on 5 August, after several weeks of consultations, four opposition parties -- the Conservatives, the Right-Wing opposition, the Tavisupleba (Liberty) movement and the Labor party -- concluded a formal agreement on holding primaries to select a single candidate to represent them in each of the five constituencies. Those four parties further agreed to set up on a parity basis election bodies that will work parallel to the national Central Election Commission (TsSK) and its district level equivalents, which are dominated, if not completely monopolized, by members or supporters of the ruling United National Movement, or GEM (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 3 June 2005).

Those alternative bodies will monitor preparations for the primaries, which are to be held on 17 September. The opposition Central Election body decided at its first session on 11 August that it will meet weekly on Thursdays. Four NGOs, including the U.S. National Democratic Institute, have signaled their interest in monitoring its activities.

The official TsSK and its subsidiaries have already rejected a proposal from the parallel opposition bodies to cooperate and turned down their request to provide office space, RFE/RL's Georgian Service reported on 23 August quoting Mamuka Katsitadze, a member of the opposition parallel Central Election Commission. The parallel bodies will be constrained to rent office space, and they hope to receive financial assistance from international organizations to cover the cost of doing so.

Nine parties that failed to register for the ill-fated November 2003 parliamentary elections submitted formal applications to register for the 1 October vote: the Conservative Party (whose leader Koba Davitashvili is regarded as Georgia's most constructive opposition politician, according to a poll conducted by the weekly "Kviris palitra" in May); the National Ideology Party; the Rightist Opposition bloc; Samartlianoba (Justice); the ruling GEM; the Social-Democratic Party of Georgia; Tavisupleba (Liberty); the National Democratic Party of Georgia; and the United Communist Party of Georgia. The opposition Republican Party, which declined to join the Bloc of Four, chose not to reapply after its official registration was revoked, even though the TsSK assured its leaders that the party could be reregistered "in 15 minutes." Registration of candidates began on 4 August.

The GEM has proposed candidates in all five constituencies, including Deputy Interior Minister Bidzina Bregadze in Tbilisi's Isani Raion. The four aligned opposition parties have selected two candidates to participate in primaries in four of the five constituencies. Tavisupleba (headed by Konstantine Gamsakhurdia, the son of the late president) has registered two candidates, in Batumi and Shuakhevi, Caucasus Press reported on 20 August. As of 22 August, a total of 11 candidates were registered for the Isani ballot, seven in Batumi, five in Shuakhevi, and three each in Tkibuli and Kobuleti. Three candidates have been refused registration: barrister and former presidential candidate Kartlos Gharibashvili was denied on the grounds that the documents he submitted contained errors, as was Shalva Tsertsvadze. Former National Security Minister Igor Giorgadze was refused because he has not lived in Georgia, as required, for the past two years (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 August 2005).

Giorgi Arveladze, a leading GEM member, vowed at a news conference on 10 August that his party would not use state resources during the election campaign, and he wished the opposition candidates success. But within a week, opposition politicians were complaining that the authorities are violating the law by aggressively backing GEM candidates: They noted with particular concern that President Mikheil Saakashvili canvassed in Tbilisi on 11 August on Deputy Interior Minister Bregadze's behalf, Caucasus Press reported on 17 August. On that occasion, Saakashvili reportedly told voters that the 1 October elections will show the world the extent of support for his policies. Five days later, on 22 August, prominent Labor Party member Jondi Baghaturia alleged that criminal groups in Isani are seeking to blackmail, bribe, or intimidate voters. (Liz Fuller)

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION SETS FURTHER CONDITIONS FOR SUPPORTING CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM... Armenia's largest opposition group, the Artarutiun alliance, reaffirmed on 24 August that it will not endorse President Robert Kocharian's proposed constitutional amendments unless they encompass a more serious restriction of sweeping powers enjoyed by the head of state. A senior member of the bloc, Shavarsh Kocharian (no relation to the president), said it has set more conditions for urging opposition supporters to vote for a package of draft amendments at a referendum this November.

Artarutiun had earlier demanded three additional amendments that would give more powers to parliament, make Armenian courts less dependent on the president of the republic, and provide for direct elections of Yerevan's future mayors. According to Shavarsh Kocharian, it is now also demanding that provincial governors be elected as well, and that the structure of the central government be set by law rather than by the president, as is the case now.

Kocharian said that even the acceptance of all these conditions would not mean an automatic endorsement of the reform by Artarutiun. "Even if they came up with the most brilliant draft, even if they put our draft to the referendum, we wouldn't believe that there is an atmosphere of trust in Armenia which is conducive to a 'yes vote,'" he told a news conference. He added that the creation of such an atmosphere requires, among other things, the punishment of individuals that committed vote irregularities in the 2003 presidential and parliamentary elections. He singled out Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian as "the number one organizer of vote falsifications and repressions."

Shavarsh Kocharian said the latest opposition demands were conveyed to President Kocharian and the three parties represented in his government through Rene van der Linden, the president of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), who visited Yerevan last week. Van der Linden urged the two rival camps to reach a compromise agreement on the issue. He warned that failure to amend the Armenian constitution at the November referendum would stall the country's European integration.

The Armenian parliament is scheduled to meet on 29 August to discuss and approve the final version of constitutional changes that will be put to the national vote. (Armen Zakarian)

...AS PRESIDENT IS DETERMINED TO SECURE APPROVAL OF CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS. President Kocharian indicated late on 24 August that he will mobilize all political, administrative, and economic resources at his disposal to ensure a positive outcome of the November referendum on his Western-backed draft amendments to the Armenian constitution.

Kocharian described his package of constitutional changes as a "quality document" that meets "the highest European standards." He said the Armenian opposition is therefore wrong to believe their approval by a majority of voters would benefit only the ruling regime. "It cannot mean a victory for the government and a defeat for the opposition," Kocharian said in remarks broadcast by state television. "It can only be regarded as a victory of our people and our country."

Kocharian suggested that in refusing to endorse the reform, his political opponents had wrongly calculated that he would not embrace important constitutional amendments demanded by the Council of Europe and notably its top advisory body, the Venice Commission. "It was expected that we will clash with the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe, and that the opposition will brilliantly use that situation for achieving internal political goals. In my opinion, this was their calculation. But the opposite happened."

Kocharian and the governing three-party coalition made major changes in their constitutional draft last month after it was strongly criticized by the Venice Commission and the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE). The changes envisage additional curbs on sweeping powers enjoyed by the Armenian president. Both the commission and the PACE have endorsed them and urged the opposition to help the authorities ensure their passage at the referendum.

However, one of Armenia's two main opposition forces, the Artartutiun bloc, maintains that the proposed changes are cosmetic and wants the authorities to give more powers to parliament, courts, and local governments. Artarutiun's governing board reaffirmed its position on the issue after a meeting on 25 August. "The bloc's position is that there are today not sufficient grounds for saying 'yes' to the existing draft," one of its members, Shavarsh Kocharian, told reporters.

There are growing indications that opposition leader Artashes Geghamian's National Unity Party (AMK) will also reject the amendments. Geghamian is expected to clarify his position at the final parliamentary debates on the issue that are scheduled to begin start on 29 August.

Opposition support is essential for the success of the reform. To pass, the amendments need to be backed by a majority of referendum participants who must number at least one-third of Armenia's 2.4 million eligible voters.

While expressing hope that the opposition will eventually fall in line, Kocharian made it clear that he is planning a massive "propaganda" campaign to convince Armenians to vote for his amendments in large numbers. He likened it to the high-level organization of a mass folk dance around Armenia's highest mountain that took place on 28 May after months of preparations overseen by Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian.

"If we manage to launch a propaganda campaign over the constitutional reforms which is seen as a manifestation of the unity of our people, as was the case during the circle dance, and if we achieve a positive result with a festive atmosphere, then, I repeat, that will be a victory both for the people and the country," Kocharian explained.

The dance, which involved more than 160,000 people, was officially organized by Hovsepian's Nig-Aparan, a nongovernmental organization that unites prominent natives of the Aparan district adjacent to Mount Aragats. However, the logistical, administrative, and financial involvement of various law-enforcement structures, local government bodies and some of Armenia's wealthiest individuals close to Kocharian was evident throughout the process.

Thousands of buses and minibuses were diverted from their service routes in Yerevan and other parts of the country to ferry people to the foot of Mount Aragats, leaving public transportation in the capital effectively paralyzed throughout the day. The Armenian opposition denounced the event as a public-relations stunt aimed at deflecting public attention from the country's woes. (Emil Danielyan)