Staunton, August 15 – In yet another indication that Islamism has not entirely replaced nationalism as a motive force in the North Caucasus, a group of Chechen militants has refused to subordinate themselves to Doku Umarov as head of the Caucasus Emirate after he first resigned and then reneged on that resignation earlier this month.
On Friday, “Kommersant” reported yesterday, a group of Chechen militants “together with Arabs” fighting alongside them declared in a video played on one Chechen site that they will no longer subordinate themselves to Umarov, who offended them by his on-again, off-again resignation as emir (www.kommersant.ru/doc.aspx?DocsID=1488135&NodesID=6).
The video, shown not on the Kavkazcenter.com site where most emirate declarations are posted but rather on the Chechen site Lamanserlo.com, featured 50 militants, the two most well-known of which were Aslambek Vadalov, whom Umarov had named his successor, and Khuseyn Gakayev.
Speaking for the mostly Chechen group, Gakayev said that the militants could no longer agree to having Umarov as commander because his decision to renege on his resignation showed that he lacked “respect for the mejlis” where the decision about his departure had been taken. Vadalov then said he was resigning from his positions in the Emirate.
The same day, the Moscow newspaper reported, Kavkazcenter.ru posted a call by Seyfullah, the leader of the Daghestani wing of the Caucasus Emirate, calling on “all militants to recognize” Umarov as emir, and another by Ingush militants who “also spoke about their loyalty to Doku Umarov.”
Akhmed Zakayev, the London-based representative of pro-independence Chechens, told “Kommersant” that what had taken place reflected the underlying reality that Chechen nationalism is stronger than Islamism, despite suggestions by Moscow officials and commentators to the contrary.
“Doku Umarov for a long time already has controlled nothing,” Zakayev said. “His actions are manipulated by others.” And that, the Chechen émigré leader continued “became the cause of the refusal of Chechen militants to subordinate themselves to him.” Without Chechen involvement, Zakayev said, “the Caucasus emirate project” is “condemned to fail.”
Zakayev, of course, is hardly a disinterested observer. But Ruslan Martagov, a specialist on the North Caucasus who heads the “Anti-Terror” public organization, agreed: “Without the Chechen wing, the emirate will not hold out” because “Chechens, even the militants, are not prepared to accept seriously the ideology of Wahhabism.”
Umarov’s calls for jihad are thus “senseless,” he continued, and the withdrawal of the Chechen militants, he suggested, calls into question “the fate not only of the Caucasus Emirate but of Doku Umarov himself.” According to Martagov, the self-proclaimed emir may now have no option but “to run abroad” now that his supposed subordinates have turned on him.
Given the shadowy nature of the emirate, it would almost certainly be a mistake to draw any final conclusions about the motivation of the militants in the North Caucasus. But at the very least, the latest moves within it suggest that ethno-nationalism is stronger and Islamism weaker than most commentators now insist.
That will have at least two important consequences. On the one hand, it will reduce coordination among militants of different nationalities in the North Caucasus. But on the other, it may mean that Moscow will have less success than it has had in recent years in suggesting that in that region, it faces exactly the same threat Western countries do from Islamist terrorism.