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Chechen Insurgency Commanders Appeal To Compatriots

Doku Umarov (left) is accused by Aslambek Vadalov and two other commanders of being an inconsistent and autocratic leader.
Doku Umarov (left) is accused by Aslambek Vadalov and two other commanders of being an inconsistent and autocratic leader.
The three senior Chechen insurgency commanders who rescinded their oath of loyalty to insurgency commander Doku Umarov two months ago have issued statements explaining their motives for doing so.

In what appears to be a bid to tap into the huge groundswell of euphoria and hope engendered by Chechen fighters' audacious attack on August 29 on Tsentoroi, the home village of Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov, they also appeal for the consolidation of all Chechens, both in Chechnya and abroad, who unequivocally espouse their vision of a free Chechnya under Islamic law.

Three separate video clips with statements in Chechen by Aslambek Vadalov, Khusein Gakayev, and Tarkhan Gaziyev, with a concluding second statement by Gakayev, were posted on October 6 on the independent website A Russian translation of all four statements was added on October 7. The statements were filmed at some point last month.

There was no comparable statement by Abu Anas Mukhannad, the Arab commander who together with the three Chechens publicly broke with Umarov in August. Umarov has since branded Mukhannad the moving spirit behind the split in the insurgency ranks.

Umarov had named Mukhannad, Vadalov, and Gaziyev deputies to Chechen Republic Ichkeria armed forces commander Ali Yevloyev (aka Emir Magas) in July 2007. Yevloyev was betrayed and apprehended by Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) in June.

The website, which functions as Umarov's press service, reposted on October 7 only the first video clip with Vadalov's statement, plus a summary-cum-commentary that tried to present the three commanders' arguments as illogical and inconsistent and prove that they were wrong to withdraw their pledge of loyalty to Umarov as commander.

The summary also flatly contradicts the commanders' assertion that all Chechen fighters have abandoned Umarov: it claims that the emirs of the Sunzha and Achkhoi-Martan sectors west of Grozny remain loyal to him.

The three commanders give very similar accounts of how they became alienated and disillusioned by Umarov's autocratic and inconsistent leadership style; how and why they sought to persuade him to step down as commander and name Vadalov as his successor; and how he first agreed to do so, and then went back on that decision just days later, thereby laying the entire insurgency open to ridicule and charges of "playing childish games."

The three men disclaim any responsibility for the resulting split in the insurgency ranks. Vadalov and Gakayev accuse Umarov of making key decisions (including that in October 2007 to proclaim the Caucasus Emirate) without first consulting with other fighters, and of first sidelining, then effectively abolishing the majlis (war council) that served under Chechen Republic Ichkeria Presidents Aslan Maskhadov and Abdul-Khalim Saidullayev as a forum in which field commanders could discuss as equals key tactical and strategic decisions.

Gakayev explains that the three are convinced that Umarov's abolition of the majlis was not pleasing to Allah and led to the withdrawal of God's grace (barakat). (In his recent denunciation of Mukhannad, Umarov attributed to him the argument that the loss of God's grace stemmed from Umarov's declaration of the Caucasus Emirate, which Umarov quoted Mukhannad as deploring as a strategic and ideological error.)

The three men stress that their decision to break with Umarov was made only after much soul-searching. Gaziyev notes that "there is no one who has been at his side longer than we have, or who knows him better than we do.... We thought about this for a long time, we prayed to Allah so as not to destroy the accord among fighters." But they finally concluded, in Vadalov's words, that "we do not have the right to follow evil."

Vadalov stresses that they remain committed to "establishing the law of Allah, Shari'a law, to liberate our people, the Caucasus, all Muslims. All our former great leaders shared that goal." Gaziyev defines their goals as "cleansing our country of the enemies of Allah, establishing Shari'a law to defend the poor and disadvantaged, and bringing up our future generation in the Muslim faith." Their rhetoric, however, is less aggressively jihadist that that of Umarov's faction.

Vadalov and Gakayev both stress that the Chechen fighters do not wish to distance themselves from their brother fighters elsewhere in the North Caucasus.

Vadalov announces the election of Gakayev as emir of Chechnya and of Tarkhan as his deputy. Gakayev for his part announces the creation of two war councils, a smaller one encompassing himself, Gaziyev, Vadalov, Mukhannad, the commanders of the eastern and western fronts and three sector commanders from each front, including, from the eastern front, Makhran and Zaurbek, both of whom led detachments in the August 29 raid on Tsentoroi. The enlarged majlis includes all sector commanders and veteran fighters.

All three men appeal to fellow Chechens both inside Chechnya and abroad to support them, whether financially or by their prayers. Gakayev, the most eloquent of the three, says the majlis empowered him to reach out even to those "who by force of circumstances have been declared 'murtads' [apostates] and 'munafiks' [hypocrites]," presumably meaning those Chechens currently holding official positions within the current pro-Moscow administration.

Gakayev also solicits advice from all who truly care about the fate of the Chechen nation and the Ummah. "We are neither so arrogant nor so intransigent" that they would not consider sound advice offered in good faith, he added. He further announces their shared intention to establish a network of representatives abroad.

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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