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Chechen Commanders Rebel Against Umarov

Doku Umarov (center) poses with two unidentified fightersin an undated photo. Has the self-proclaimed emir of the North Caucasus lost half his fighters?
Doku Umarov (center) poses with two unidentified fightersin an undated photo. Has the self-proclaimed emir of the North Caucasus lost half his fighters?
The contradictory statements posted to the Internet earlier this month in which Doku Umarov first announces and then retracts his decision to step down as commander of the North Caucasus insurgency have resulted in a split in its ranks.

While the leaders of the Ingushetia and Daghestan fronts have formally reaffirmed their loyalty to Umarov, his fellow Chechen field commanders have announced that they are rescinding their oath of loyalty in light of the lack of respect for them implied by his volte-face.

At the same time, the Chechen commanders stress that they remain committed to the North Caucasus emirate that Umarov proclaimed three years ago. They affirm that they consider the fighting units elsewhere in the North Caucasus as "brothers," and express the hope that at some future time they will again find "a common path" under a new emir.

The field commanders' collective decision was made on August 10 at a meeting of the "majlisi al-shura," their consultative body. It was announced in a five-minute video clip posted two days later on the website, which noted that several other unnamed websites had refused to post it.

Following The Emirate, Not The Emir

The first speaker is Khusein Gakayev, whom Umarov named on July 24 as commander of the Chechen forces. Gakayev explains that he and his fellow commanders have no alternative than to withdraw their support for Umarov. Gakayev says there were "numerous reasons" for that decision, but the event that precipitated it was Umarov's reversal over his stated resignation.

Gakayev says that as emir, Umarov had no right to act in such a way, and that he showed a lack of respect for his subordinates by doing so. He further suggests that Umarov's denunciation after just a few days of his stated decision to step down may have been made at someone else's behest.

At the same time, Gakayev stresses that the Chechen fighters are not abandoning the North Caucasus emirate in the name of which they continue to fight. Referring to fighters in Daghestan, Ingushetia, Ossetia, and Kabardino-Balkaria as "brothers," he assures them that the Chechen fighters remain ready to render them assistance. He expresses the hope that "perhaps tomorrow, or the day after, or in one month you will come to understand the mistake that [Umarov] has made."

Next to speak is Aslambek Vadalov, whom Umarov designated on July 24 as his "naib" (deputy), and whom he asked fighters to acknowledge as his successor. Vadalov states that he is relinquishing the responsibilities of naib.

The Arab commander Mukhannad likewise briefly states that he no longer considers Umarov his emir. That may mean that Umarov will no longer receive funding from his previous Arab backers.

Finally, veteran field commander Tarkhan (whom this blog erroneously identified earlier as an Ingush) appeals to fighters to give the correct interpretation to their decision.

Gakayev, Tarkhan, and Mukhannad had earlier expressed their unequivocal support for Vadalov in video footage posted on August 1, the same day as Umarov's announcement that he was stepping down as emir.

Dividing The Ranks

The Chechen commanders' decision effectively means that Umarov can now rely only on the Kabardino-Balkar-Karachai jamaat and its Ingush and Daghestan counterparts. Ingush Emir Adam reaffirmed his loyalty to Umarov and that of the fighters under his command in a statement on August 11. Adam characterized Umarov in that statement as "a sincere and worthy Muslim, a steadfast fighter, gentle with those who believe and stern with unbelievers."

Magomed Vagapov (nom de guerre Seyfullakh Gubdensky) affirmed in a similar statement on August 12 that "as of today, Emir Abu Usman is the sole legitimate leader of the Muslims of the North Caucasus. The fighters of the entire Caucasus have sworn bayat [loyalty] to him and no one has the right to violate the oath of loyalty he has given."

Referring to the two mutually contradictory statements by Umarov, Seyfullakh reasoned that "even if they are both genuine," the second (in which Umarov withdraws his resignation) supersedes the first. Seyfullakh said that "with all due to respect to our brother emirs, we do not know a single one who is more experienced and wields greater authority" than Umarov.

Whether all Chechen fighters will side with Gakayev and Vadalov is an open question. On August 6, the Ingush website posted an "open letter to Doku Umarov" signed by "a group of Muslims from the Chechen Vilayet" pledging their support for Umarov and affirming their conviction that "today no one is in a position to replace you as emir of the North Caucasus emirate."

Whether and how the split in the insurgency ranks will impact on the continuing low-level guerrilla war against the pro-Russian regimes in the North Caucasus is difficult to predict, given that the jamaats in the various republics already act with a large degree of autonomy and do not necessarily coordinate their attacks either with Umarov or among themselves.

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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