Why the Chechen liberation movement failed

Developing Just Leadership

Our Own Correspondent

Rabi' al-Awwal 20, 1437 2016-01-01

Special Reports

by Our Own Correspondent (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 44, No. 11, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1437)

The Chechen liberation war has started with great hopes in 1994 but the intrusion of Wahhabism into this predominantly spiritually inclined society destroyed all hopes. Today, Chechen independence is a pipedream.

In January 1995 the hottest topic in the Muslim world was the Chechen war. Toward the end of the first Chechen war (1994–1996) many in the Muslim world staunchly believed that a credible Islamic system will emerge in Chechnya and the failure to establish an Islamic state in Afghanistan after the Russian withdrawal in 1989 will not be repeated. This assumption proved to be wrong and the Islamic awakening process in Chechnya made mistakes that were even worse than those made by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Fast-forward to today and we can clearly see that the pro-independence Islamic oriented movement that started in 1994 no longer enjoys broad support among Chechens and the entire idea of Chechen independence is now seen as adventurism. How did it come to this point? To answer this question one has to take into consideration the methodological and intellectual failures of the Islamic awakening process in Chechnya between 1994 and 2001.

On the methodological level, the Chechen pro-independence movement, started by General Dzhokhar Dudayev in the early-1990s, lost its moral compass when the movement began deliberately targeting Russian civilians and attempted to justify it in Islamic terms. This methodology turned many Russian citizens and Muslims of the former Soviet Union that sympathised with the Chechen cause against the movement.

Towards the end of 2001, when the Saudi-takfiri mindset began to dominate the Chechen struggle, attacks against civilians became a feature of the pro-independence movement. This is not to suggest that the Russian government was not targeting Chechen civilians; it was, but the focus here is on examining the failures of the Islamic movement in Chechnya, and not the war itself.

The second biggest methodological failure was that after the assassination of Dzhokhar Dudayev on April 18, 1996, the Chechen political-military leadership began to factionalize and became decentralized not only militarily, but also politically. This took place primarily due to the penetration of the Saudi-takfiri mindset that consciously and subconsciously began alienating some of the key figures in the pro-independence movement.

Thirdly, the Chechen movement failed to balance military and socio-political resistance. Barring a few exceptions, this point has served as a failure for most contemporary Islamic movements. This derives from the fact that the Sirah of the Prophet (pbuh) is studied in a literalist and non-comprehensive manner, where especially his exercise of power is not at all dealt with. This particular point got even more problematic for the Chechen movement once the literalist Saudi-takfiri understanding of Islam began dominating it intellectually.

The movement’s biggest mistake was that it failed to realize that simply because the Saudi regime and the Wahhabis are in control of Makkah and Madinah, does not grant them any spiritual or temporal leadership position in the Muslim world. The pro-independence movement in Chechnya failed to clearly understand the place of the Saudi regime and itself within the global order and inadvertently allowed itself to be used for advancing the US agenda in the region of the former Soviet Union.

Nothing makes this more evident than its current position in Syria and Ukraine, and how it facilitated the establishment of the British built Baku-Ceyhan oil pipeline transporting Caspian oil bypassing Russia in the 1990s. The miscalculated military expedition of the Chechen armed groups into Dagestan without President Aslan Maskhadov’s consent and under the leadership of the Saudi citizen, Thamir Saleh ‘Abdullah, known as Amir Khattab, created a pretext for Moscow to annul the Khasavyurt treaty (signed between Chechen leader Aslan Maskhadov and Russian General Alexander Lebed in Dagestan on August 30, 1996 to end the first Chechen war). The establishment of Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, partly due to the events in Dagestan, robbed Chechnya of an economic leverage and potential income that was badly needed after the first Chechen war.

Bleak forecast

What is the future of the Chechen pro-independence movement, or more recently characterized as the Caucasian Islamic Emirate? It will not be an exaggeration to state that the movement is dead and it cannot be revived in its old form without a complete intellectual revolution within Chechen society. This cannot take place under the present circumstances. The reason is the pro-independence movement is too closely associated with the Saudi-takfiri contagion that has been exposed as incoherent and its methodology no longer appeals to the wider Chechen population.

Currently the Russian government through its local proxy, Ramzan Kadyrov, has managed to convince, often with stick and carrot that no matter how restrictive the current situation is, it is by far better than what those calling for independence can provide. Judging from past experience, this claim is partly true and not too far off the mark.

No matter what developments take place in terms of Islamic revival in Russia and the territories of the former Soviet Union, the Chechen role will always be viewed with suspicion and treated cautiously as the pro-independence segment of the Chechen population has made a subconscious strategic alliance with NATO interests by embedding itself into the Saudi-takfiri sphere of influence. Today pro-independence minded Chechens are closely associated with NATO interests in Ukraine and Syria. Therefore, any authentic process of Islamic revival in Central Asia and the Caucasus will be reluctant to be closely associated with the current pro-independence minded Chechens.

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