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Kadyrov Statement About 19th-Century Resistance Leader Sparks Controversy

A portrait of Imam Shamil by Genrikh Denier

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has sparked controversy with remarks about a 19th-century leader of the North Caucasus resistance to Russian forces.

Kadyrov said that Imam Shamil, an ethnic Avar from Daghestan, had along with his supporters forced ethnic Chechens to fight against Russia for almost 20 years, before giving in and becoming a member of the Russian gentry.

As a result, Kadyrov claimed, Shamil had "provoked the annihilation of the Chechen people."

"What was it if not terrorism against the Chechen people?" Kadyrov said.

His comments in an interview with the Chechnya Today news agency published on August 7 sparked a flurry of negative reaction on social media and elsewhere.

The Spiritual Directorate of Daghestan, a North Caucasus region in Russia that borders Chechnya, questioned Kadyrov's statement praising Imam Shamil for his "wisdom" to surrender and contribute to bringing Daghestan and Chechnya under Russia's control in the 19th century.

"Offensive comments, insults of leaders and spiritual figures are a slap in the face to the whole people," the statement said.

Kadyrov's interview also sparked protests on social media with many users placing Imam Shamil's portrait as profile pictures to express protest.

Imam Shamil, who in 1840 was pronounced as the spiritual leader and ruler of Chechnya and Daghestan, led the North Caucasus forces against Russia until he was captured in 1859.

He died in Medina, now in Saudi Arabia, in 1871 after completing the hajj, and was buried in the Jannatul Baqi, a historic graveyard in Medina where many prominent figures of the Islamic world are buried.