Vienna, May 4 – In the last ten days, Russian commentators have suggested that Ankara’s recent agreement with Yerevan represents part of a larger Turkish effort to expand Ankara’s influence throughout the Caucasus and thus constitutes a threat to Russia’s position not only in the three South Caucasus countries but in the North Caucasus republics as well.
Now a Moscow specialist on security affairs has suggested that Turkey is making use of the Nurjilar movement, an Islamic group that the Russian Supreme Court declared to be extremist in April 2008, to project power through Azerbaijan into the North Caucasus and especially into Daghestan (www.fondsk.ru/article.php?id=2115).
This timing of this article suggests that it is related primarily to Moscow’s nervousness about the Armenian-Turkish rapprochement and Russia’s interest in torpedoing any progress toward a resolution of the Karabakh dispute, but its specific content points to some more immediate Moscow concerns about developments inside Russia’s borders.
Three weeks ago, Guriya Murklinskaya writes, the FSB arrested the members of an underground Nurjilar cell in the Daghestani city of Izberbash. Of those seized, nine were Russian citizens, seven citizens of Azerbaijan and one Turkish national, Erdemir Ali Ihsan, the coordinator of Nurjilar activities in Russia.
In the course of the ensuring investigation, the FSB reportedly learned that Ihsan had visited Nurjilar groups in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Kostroma, Yaroslavl, Kazan and Krasnoyarsk, a finding that if true suggests the movement continues to have a brought reach in Russia despite the ban.
And Murklinskaya suggests that Ankara, despite its official opposition to the Nurjilar, is making use of this movement as part of its effort “via the territory of Azerbaijan” to “attempt to take under its control the development of the situation in the North Caucasus” in general and “in the Republic of Daghestan” in particular.
The Nurjilar, a religious group named for its founder Said Nursi, who attracted more than five million followers during his lifetime and whose ideas which focus on the use of education to promote Islamic ideals have been continued by 40 of his students, some of whom have become involved with business and radical politics and, according to some reports, with drug trafficking.
At present, Murklinskaya continues, there are Nurjilar groups in some 87 countries, including clearly the Russian Federation. Their overall spiritual leader today, she writes is Fathullah Gulen, who was forced to flee from Turkey where he has been sentenced in absentia to ten years in prison to the United States where he now lives.
But many commentators, especially in Russia, argue that the Nurjilar are less a spiritual movement than a revolutionary one and that despite the ban on their activity in Turkey, they are in fact agents of influence or even more for the Turkish government as it seeks to expand its influence in the Caucasus and elsewhere.
Zagir Arukhov, the nationalities policy minister of Daghestan who was killed in May 2005, once said, Murklinskaya continues, that “the final goal of the ideologists and followers of the Nurjilar is the establishment in Eurasia of ‘a Turkic empire’ in Eurasia on the basis of ‘an enlightened version of the shariat.”
To that end, Arukhov argued, according to Murklinskaya, the Nurjilar have focused on penetrating existing educational institutions in the Russian Federation or even in setting up schools of their own. In Daghestan and other non-Russian republics, they were successful in doing both.
During the 1990s, she writes, the Nurjilar set up 24 schools, one university, one university branch, and three language institutes inside the Russian Federation. They financed research inside Russia and paid travel costs and stipends to students from the Russian Federation to study in Turkey.
These arrangements, Murklinskaya points out, “created the necessary legal foundation for lengthy stays by an unlimited number of citizens of Turkey on the territory of the North Caucasus as well as favorable conditions for intelligence and diversionary actions” by them and any local people they might recruit.
As their extra-religious activities became more obvious, Russian officials began to move against them, first in Daghestan in August 2002 when the Nurjilar lycees were closed and then in other cities of the Russian Federation. And more recently, the FSB and the MVD have moved to close nominally commercial businesses having Nurjilar links in the Southern Federal District.
These businesses, the Russian intelligence services have established, were being used by Turkish citizens to finance “anti-Russian Turkish general educational centers where the ideas of ‘an Islamic revolution’ and the creation of a ‘Great Turan’ state were propagated,” ostensibly separately from the Nurjilar.
But even though the Nurjilar schools and businesses have been closed, the group identified and arrested in Daghestan last month shows, Murklinskaya argues, that “the graduates and trainees [of these institutions] remain as do the children and relatives of these graduates and certain teachers and graduate students.”
“The majority of them,” the Moscow security affairs analyst concludes, constitute “a ready-made agency of influence for pan-Turkism,” however much they and the Turkish government claim otherwise. And as a result, “the poisonous seeds sown by the Nurjilar activists are continuing to bear fruit.”