- Sep 23, 2005
- Reaction score
- Political Leaning
Rebellion Creeping Through Caucasus By Kim Murphy Times Staff Writer
Sun Oct 23, 7:55 AM ET
Sun Oct 23, 7:55 AM ET
Emerging in the bright daylight on the other side is like entering another world, a Russia that is not Russia. Road signs every few feet are bright green with Arabic script: "There is no god but God, and Muhammad is his prophet." Several dozen signs bear the words of a legendary Caucasian warrior: "He who thinks about consequences is not a hero."
Since the 19th century, Russia has tried to tame the 650 miles of snowy peaks and fertile lowland slopes between the Caspian and Black seas. Today, the Caucasus wars seeping out of Chechnya through the surrounding, predominantly Muslim republics are increasingly being waged under a banner of militant Islam.
This creeping Islamic revolution, analysts suggest, is the latest outcome of the Kremlin's failure to adopt a coherent policy for combating religious extremism in a nation with 23 million Muslims.
Moscow's disorganized and violent attempts to suppress Caucasian Muslim insurgents have swept up thousands of innocent believers in the process. The brutal arrests, police raids and mosque closures appear to be alienating a population that until now had largely sympathized with Russia's attempts to quash terrorist attacks and bring peace to the region.
Residents here have unabashed contempt for the regional government.
"People turn to Sharia law because the authorities who are supposed to represent the law breed lawlessness. People have very little hope of getting any justice from the secular authorities, so they turn to the muftis for support," said Kazimagomed, 38, an unemployed construction worker who declared "it will be the end of me" if his last name were published.
Already, Kazimagomed said, there are signs of a clash of civilizations at his own doorstep. "If we don't change everything from the roots to the very top in Dagestan, then war will be inevitable — and not war like Chechnya, or some of those other places, those small run-ins, but a war that will last for centuries."
In a report to the Kremlin leaked to the Russian media this year, President Vladimir V. Putin's envoy to the region, Dmitry Kozak, warned of a backlash over corruption and poverty that he said could lead to instability across the northern Caucasus.
"The unsolved social, economic and political problems are now reaching a critical level. Further, ignoring the problems and attempts to drive them down by force could lead to an uncontrolled chain of events whose logical result will be open social, inter-ethnic and religious conflicts in Dagestan," said excerpts of the report published in July by the newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets.
That's the openly declared goal of Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev, who unsuccessfully tried to invade Dagestan in 1999.
Basayev has made no secret of his hope of sparking a regional uprising that would lead to Russia's pullout from the Caucasus and the establishment of an Islamic caliphate across the mountainous republics. He miscalculated in 1999: Dagestanis fiercely fought the Chechen incursion, and Russia declared its second war on Chechnya.
Now, many observers here believe Basayev's strategy is to wait for Islamic revolution to seep in of its own accord.
Meanwhile, the average Dagestani earns $101 a month, less than half that in the rest of Russia. At least 30% of the people are unemployed.
Resentment has soared over the last two years with a series of crackdowns on non-government-sanctioned Islamic practice all over the North Caucasus — the response to a sharp increase in militant Islamic insurgent attacks. More than 970 Russians, soldiers and civilians alike, have been killed in the last two years. Dagestan has seen almost daily attacks against police and government targets.
In the republic's capital, Makhachkala, police have swept through mosques and arrested hundreds of worshipers during prayer. In southern Dagestan, police destroyed the minaret of a mosque, said the editor of an Islamic newspaper in the area.
A massive insurgent attack that authorities say left more than 125 people dead in the nearby republic of Kabardino-Balkaria this month was preceded by the closure of mosques, the harassment of men with beards and women with head scarves, and numerous brutal interrogations of suspected insurgents.
"People dream of revenge," the cleric said. "There is now an undeclared, invisible war that no one can stop."
Authorities say the vast majority of Muslims reject violence and do not wish to see their religion hijacked by extremists.
"The most dangerous thing about [the extremists] is that they consider anyone who does not agree with their ideology to be enemies of Islam, against whom any violent measures can be taken, including physical annihilation," said Akhmad Magomedov, head of Dagestan's official Committee on Religious Affairs, which acts as a government liaison to officially sanctioned clerics.
"Such an approach is unacceptable to the absolute majority of Muslims in the North Caucasus who want to live in the secular state of the Russian Federation, where they are guaranteed full freedom of worship and religion," he said.
Such sentiments notwithstanding, many clerics in the remote mountain regions have slipped outside the control of the official spiritual boards and are "competing for legitimacy and influence" with the local secular authorities, said Nabi Abdullaev of the Center for Eurasian Security Studies in Moscow.
"Imagine this local village mayor: He's got two policemen, while the imam has a congregation of 200 people who respect and trust him. The mayor has a choice: either enter into confrontation, call for backup from Makhachkala, which may or may not come … or go to the imam, show your respect and start coordinating your future activities with him," said Abdullaev, a native Dagestani.
"Gradually, what you get is a sort of creeping Islamic revolution."