Vienna, October 12 – Two moves on the Chechen political scene this week – Akhmed Zakayev’s decision to defer to the Chechen militants at home and Ramzan Kadyrov’s effort to reach out to Chechens living outside the republic – could re-order the political situation not only in Chechnya but elsewhere as well.
On the one hand, the decision of Zakayaev, who has led the Chechen Republic Ichkeria in emigration, to recognize the supremacy of those fighting for Chechen independence inside the republic will help unite the militants around a nationalist agenda and undermine the arguments of those who insist that Islamic radicalism has displaced ethno-nationalism among Chechens.
And on the other, Kadyrov’s convention of a World Congress of Chechens in Grozny reinforces his authority among Chechens at home but also and perhaps more importantly gives him an independent power base and thus reduces Moscow’s ability either to rein him in as many in the Russian capital have urged or to dismiss him as at least some political figures want.
Zakayev announced that he was disbanding the émigré government he has headed and subordinating himself and it to the State Committee of Defense, the Shura Mejlis, “for the period of war, thus effectively making Khuseyn Gakayev, the militant leader who broke with Doku Umarov, the new leader of the Chechen militants (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/175413/).
In comments to “Kommersant,” Zakayev said he and his colleagues had taken this step because “we consider that the Chechen militants have distanced themselves from this mythical formation with the name ‘emirate’ and intend to return to the legal field of Ichkeria,” a secular project rather than a religious one (kommersant.ru/doc.aspx?DocsID=1520658).
Zakayev’s decision ends the split between the émigré leadership and the Chechen militants, a split that had its origins in the 2007 decision of Umarov to declare the Caucasus Emirate in place of the Chechen republic and to promote Islamic goals rather than strictly national ones.
Gakayev recently explained his break with Umarov, the Moscow paper points out, by saying that “the problems of Chechens don’t interest Umarov” and that “other people direct his actions.” Thus, it turns out, “Kommersant” concludes, that “the conflict of Mssrs. Zakayev and Umarov has ended with the defeat of the latter.”
Zakayev has no plans to leave the political field, however. He said that he or his emissaries would meet with Gakayev’s militants “with the intention of forming new structures of power” and that “until that time, “he and the members of his government will continue to fulfill their responsibilities.”
But at the same time, Zakayev made clear that he expects that new government to consist primarily of those who are in Chechnya, although he said that he did not “exclude” the possibility that someone “from outside the borders of the republic might serve as prime minster,” a position he may hope to fill.
Meanwhile, today, Kadyrov opened a two-day World Congress of the Chechen People that his government said was attended by more than a thousand Chechens from outside the republic, including various parts of the Russian Federation, European countries and North America (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/175436/).
While many observers suggested that this was simply Kadyrov’s response to the September 16th meeting Zakayev organized in Poland, others noted that this session was originally discussed as a possible venue for the return of Zakayev to Grozny, something that clearly is not going to happen.
In an opening address to the meeting, Kadyrov set the tone, saying that he wanted those attending to be sincere and open in their remarks and not to distort the meaning of what is said in the hall.” But he made it very clear that he has carefully thought through what he wants this meeting to achieve (www.vestikavkaza.ru/news/politika/Chechnya/27020.html).
Specifically, he said he wanted the meeting to adopt a resolution calling on Chechens regardless of where they live to preserve “their language, customs and culture, to always remain real Muslims and not forget that they are Chechens,” thus pointing to a different balance between Islam and nationalism than Akayev offers.
“Today, we are masters in our own republic,” Kadyrov continued. “We have full freedom and all opportunities for observing the canons of Islam. We can freely shout to the entire world that we are Muslims and Chechens. What more do we want? We need first of all that the world understands that the Chechen people are not guilty of the tragedies” it has suffered.
And “we need to become on fraternal family and protect that which we have now.” All Chechens of good will, Kadyrov continued, need to cooperate, except for those which he said he considers “enemies of the people.” And to that end, he called for forming a general council of the Chechens of the world and the launch of a new journal, “Chechens in the 21st Century.”
What is most immediately striking is the difference between Akayev and Kadyrov concerning Chechen national identity and Islam. Akayev, who, Moscow views as an enemy, took the step he did because the militants have broken with the jihadist groups in Islam, while Kadyrov, who enjoys Moscow’s support, celebrated Islam over Chechen identity.