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Has Daghestan Reached A Point Of No Return?

Daghestan’s President Magomedsalam Magomedov addresses parliament in June.
Daghestan’s President Magomedsalam Magomedov addresses parliament in June.
The Daghestani wing of the Riyadus Salikhiin suicide battalion, formed by renegade Chechen field commander Shamil Basayev in 1999, has claimed responsibility for the killing on August 28 by a female suicide bomber of Sufi Sheikh Said Efendi Chirkeisky, Daghestan’s most respected cleric.

That statement will undoubtedly negatively impact on the already volatile situation in several different ways.

First, it will almost certainly take to a new level the ongoing war of attrition waged by Daghestan’s police and security forces not only against the Islamic insurgency but against peaceful and law-abiding citizens who simply profess the same “pure” Salafi Islam as the insurgents.

The police and security forces have long been the primary target of the insurgency, with the official clergy in second place. The most prominent victims include Daghestan’s mufti Sayid-Mukhammad-hadji Abubakarov (see “RFE/RL Newsline,” 21 August 1998) and Interior Minister Lieutenant General Adilgirey Magomedtagirov in 2009.

The level of violence, and of abductions and extrajudicial killings of suspected militants, has risen exponentially over the last five years. But Daghestan’s law-enforcement agencies systematically deny responsibility for such killings. In November, for example, the Daghestan Prosecutor-General's Office released a statement saying its investigations have not brought to light any evidence that law-enforcement agencies were involved in any of the 29 abductions reported in Daghestan between January and October 2011. The statement stressed that the fact that the perpetrators in every case were armed, masked, and dressed in combat fatigues does not mean that they were police or security personnel.

The presence in Daghestan of thousands of police and security personnel deployed there from elsewhere in the Russian Federation makes it that much more difficult to apportion the blame.

In the wake of Chirkeisky's death, Daghestan’s President Magomedsalam Magomedov has advocated forming groups of young men to help the police maintain order and “punish these bandits.” The daily “Kommersant” noted that many of Chirkeisky's estimated 100,000 murids (disciples) are ready to take up arms to avenge his death and could be recruited to serve in such groups.

Said Efendi Chirkeisky
Said Efendi Chirkeisky
Second, the killing is likely to bring to a head the smoldering disagreement between Magomedov and hard-line members of the police and security forces over the most effective way to combat the insurgency. Since his inauguration as republic head in the spring of 2010, Magomedov has repeatedly called on young fighters to lay down their arms and return to civilian life. In November 2010, he set up a government commission headed by then-First Deputy Prime Minister Rizvan Kurbanov to assist and advise those who do so and seek to ensure they receive a fair trial.

Some senior law-enforcement officials, including Investigative Committee Chairman Aleksei Savrulin, consider such clemency unwarranted, however, especially with regard to men who surrender in the course of a counterterror operation. In an emotional shouting match with Magomedov several months ago, Savrulin argued that leniency in those circumstances “reduces to nothing everything undertaken by the law enforcement agencies to combat terrorism and extremism.”

The fact that thousands of members of the police and security forces (including the late Magomedtagirov) were Chirkeisky's murids will only compound the pressure on Magomedov to adopt a tougher line with regard to militants who surrender.

Third, Chirkeisky's death will leave a vacuum, and may precipitate a power struggle, within the official Spiritual Board of Muslims of Daghestan (DUMD). There are rivalries among the sheikhs who are members of the DUMD and between them and other sheikhs who do not acknowledge their authority. One or the other DUMD faction may also seek to replace Daghestan’s mufti, Akhmad-hadji Abdullayev, who does not command the respect and veneration that Chirkeisky did. Chirkeisky was possibly Abdullayev’s only supporter within the DUMD.

According to the weekly “Chernovik,” some members of the republic’s leadership are increasingly dissatisfied with the failure of the DUMD to conduct an effective ideological campaign against the insurgency despite the astronomical sums of money it receives for that purpose.

Finally, if the DUMD becomes embroiled in internal disagreements, the dialogue that got under way four months ago with Chirkeisky's blessing between representatives of the DUMD and the Salafi minority represented by the scholars’ association Akhl-us-Sunnah with the stated intent of bridging doctrinal differences and overcoming mutual suspicion may now be consigned to oblivion, or at best suspended indefinitely.

Despite its official title, Akhl-us-Sunnah is more than just a group of theologians. While Islamic scholars predominate among the senior wing of the organization, the younger wing includes preachers (some of whom propagate their sermons via the Internet), legal experts who resolve disputes according to Islamic law for the benefit of those who have no trust in the secular legal system, and a second group of lawyers specializing in human rights who represent the relatives of the arbitrarily killed and the “disappeared.”

It was the latter who were behind the major protest in Makhachkala in November against gratuitous violence and abductions by the security forces.

Akhl-us-Sunnah has released a statement deploring and condemning the killing of Said-Afandi. The statement expressed concern at the presence within the republican leadership of opponents of dialogue between Sufis and Salafis who are already trying to sabotage it and expressed their hope that the “peace process” will continue.

The DUMD website has not yet responded to that statement. But the Riyadus Salikhiin statement excoriated its authors as “ignoramuses”and rejected their condemnation of the killing as “an insult to the honor of our sister who sacrificed her soul.”

The statement argued that Said-Afandi deserved to die because he was “an apostate” who “corrupted tens of thousands of Daghestanis” and because of his support for the Russian authorities. (Said-Afandi is seen here praying for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has expressed personal condolences on his death.)

Whether the Riyadus Salikhiin claim of responsibility will lead Daghestan’s siloviki to differentiate more clearly between armed insurgents and law-abiding Salafis is an open question.

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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