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North Caucasus Insurgency Admits Killing Circassian Ethnographer

Kabardino-Balkaria President Arsen Kanokov (left) attends the funeral of the head of Kabardino-Balkaria's Muslim Spiritual Directorate, mufti Anas Pshikhachev, in Nalchik last month.
Kabardino-Balkaria President Arsen Kanokov (left) attends the funeral of the head of Kabardino-Balkaria's Muslim Spiritual Directorate, mufti Anas Pshikhachev, in Nalchik last month.
In a five-minute video clip posted late on January 8 on Islamdin, the website of the Kabardino-Balkaria-Karachai (KBK) wing of the North Caucasus insurgency, Emir Zakaria affirms that it was his fighters who killed respected Kabardian ethnographer Aslan Tsipinov late last month.

Zakaria branded Tsipinov an "idolator" (mushrik) who sought to corrupt young Muslims by reviving "pagan" rituals. He stressed that the insurgency targets not only members of the police and security forces, but also "hypocrites, idolators, and necromancers," and warned that all such persons risk death at the hands of insurgents unless they repent.

Tsipinov, 51, was a respected ethnographer and folklorist who sought to revive and popularize Circassian national customs, but incurred the wrath of the insurgency by arguing that Islam plays only a minor role in Circassian national identity. He was shot dead by two assailants late in the afternoon of December 29 outside his home in Shalushka on the northern outskirts of Nalchik.

It is not clear why the insurgency did not immediately claim responsibility for Tsipinov's killing, which is not listed in the chronicle of December attacks posted on Islamdin on January 1. KBK jamaat supreme commander Abdullakh (Asker Jappuyev) did not refer to it in a statement posted on January 2 in which he claimed responsibility for the shooting on December 15 of Kabardino-Balkaria mufti Anas Pshikhachev.

Zakaria said that Abdullakh had asked him to explain the rationale for Tsipinov's slaying. Zakaria said that "many Muslims cannot comprehend why the mujahedin should have killed Tsipinov and how his death will benefit Islam."

He explained that Tsipinov was shot because he headed a group of "pagans and idolators" who worked to revive "ancient pagan festivals," and because he "openly and overtly opposed Islam and Muslims." The term "mushrik" derives from the Arabic "shirk," the sin of idolatry or polytheism: the one sin that in Islam is considered unforgivable.

Zakaria's reasoning is in line with the role the insurgents have taken upon themselves not just in Kabardino-Balkaria, but also in Ingushetia and Daghestan, as Taliban-style morality police, targeting bordellos, night clubs, and stores and kiosks that sell alcohol.

In an address last August on the eve of Ramadan, Zakaria claimed responsibility on the part of his fighters for the destruction of a strip club in Chegem. More recently, the insurgency has also claimed responsibility for an explosion on January 4 that damaged a night club in Nalchik, and for the killing the previous day of a "sorcerer" in the village of Kenzhe. The "sorcerer" was not identified by name, nor is it clear what kind of spells he cast and with what success.

Still in his early 20s, Zakaria lost an eye when the car in which he and his brother were travelling was blown up a couple of years ago. Last summer he was identified as emir of the Chegem sector west of Nalchik; he is now emir of the entire southwestern sector.

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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