Sunday, August 02, 2009

Portraits of Resistance & Jihad in Chechnya & the Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus

Three flags (from top): Chechen flag; flag of the Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus with the text "God is Greater [than all]"; flag of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria

صور من المقاومة و الجهاد في شيشان و القوقاز

Since being colonized in the eighteenth century by the Russians, Chechens have suffered under a systematic campaign of discrimination and were forced to deny their cultural identity. Resistance to Russian imperialism began early by the mid-18th century and continued throughout the 19th under heroic Chechen leaders such as Imam Shamil. Under the rule of the Russian-dominated Soviet Union Chechens who resisted were arrested, tortured, and either deported or murdered. During the rule of Joseph Stalin, the Chechens were forbidden from speaking their own language and a campaign of Russification began.

In 1994 Russia invaded Chechnya in order to crush a growing independence movement. During the two-year-long conflict, Russia destroyed vast swaths of the country, leveled the capital city of Grozny, and killed tens of thousands of Chechen civilians. Hundreds of thousands of others were forced to flee Russian forces. After suffering an embarassing stalemate despite their technological and military superiority the Russians were forced to withdraw.

Claiming that they were acting against Chechen terrorists, Russia invaded Chechnya again in 1999 on the orders of President Vladimir Putin. Russian forces remain there to this day and have managed to set up a puppet regime. Russian forces in Chechnya have committed horrible atrocities including murders of civilians, summary executions without any legal recourse for suspected dissidents, rapes, and torture. Russian forces have also kidnapped Chechens for interrogation, which often includes torture, and have robbed civilians of their property.

A Chechen man prays during the First Battle of Grozny, January 1995. The flame in the background is coming from a gas pipeline which was hit by shrapnel.

This battle was the Russian army's invasion and subsequent conquest of the Chechen capital, Grozny, during the early months of the First Chechen War. The attack lasted from December 1994 to March 1995, resulted in the military occupation of the city by the Russian Army and rallied most of the Chechen nation around the separatist government of Dzhokhar Dudayev.

The Chechen capital city of Grozny, after it was destroyed by the besieging Russian military.

Russian tank in a destroyed Grozny

Certain Chechen groups, particularly those influenced and supported by foreign elements who have attempted to erase Chechnya's history of Sufi Islamic mysticism, have committed atrocities as well, such as the hostage takings at Beslan, the Moscow Theater, and other similar attacks on civilians carried out by loyalists of individuals such as Shamil Basayev. There is no justification for such actions. Foreign and domestic Salafi jihadis have attempted to erase the historical and cultural connections of many Chechens to Sufi Islamic mysticism despite erroneous claims that it is "un-Islamic." Contrary to their views, the first great Chechen resistance leader, in the 19th century, was the brave Naqshbandi Sufi leader Imam Shamil.

Imam Shamil

Following the establishment of the Russian-backed and propped-up puppet regime in Chechnya following the de facto Russian victory, however incomplete, in the Second Russo-Chechen War (the war that began in 1999), an opposition government and "state", the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, was declared. Chechen resistance groups worked closely with other nationalist-separatist groups in the Russian-dominated Caucasus, particularly in Dagestan and Ingushetiya, which fell under the jack boot of the increasingly autocratic Vladimir Putin.

In late 2007, the Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus was declared, with Doku Umarov (also called 'Dokka") as its amir (leader). The Russians call him, as they do all those who resist their rule, "terrorists." Umarov has had relations in the past with Chechen resistance leaders, namely the late Shamil Basayev, who have been actively involved in terrorism (the intentional targeting of civilians or wanton disregard for their safety) as well as operations against the Russian military and its Chechen proxies. Umarov, however, has condemned terrorist attacks explicitly, including the Beslan school hostage taking in 2004.

He was asked in 2005 by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalist Andrei Babitskii, "Does that mean that such acts [such as Beslan] have been acknowledged, have been granted moral legitimacy by the Chechen resistance?"

Doku (Dokka) Umarov

Umraov responded, "No, in the eyes of the resistance such operations have no legitimacy. We ourselves were horrified by what they did in Beslan." He is also a practitioner of Sufism, a mystical form of Islam, belonging, reportedly, to the Qadiriyya Order. Basayev, originally a Chechen nationalist, later adopted Salafism, a puritanical form of Sunni Islam, and particularly the jihadi Salafi trend. Chechen nationalist resistance was steadily overtaken in many areas by Salafi jihadi actors primarily from abroad, specifically a cadre of Arab fighters including the famous Circassian-Saudi leader Khattab and his lieutants and successors. Together with Basayev, they marginalized Chechen nationalist leaders, such as former Chechen president Aslan Maskhdov (assassinated by Russia in early March 2005).

The IEC, however, has claimed other attacks on civilians or targets where many civilians were present.

Shamil Basayev (right), a Chechen nationalist-turned-Salafi jihadi, with Samir Salah 'Abdullah al-Suwaylem (left), the Saudi-Circassian jihadi amir (leader) of foreign fighters (primarily Arabs) in Chechnya who is better known by his nom de guerre, Khattab. Russia assassinated Basayev in July 2006 and Khattab in March 2002.

The president of Chechnya-turned-nationalist resistance leader Aslan Maskhadov (left) with 'Abd al-'Aziz bin 'Ali bin Sa'id al-Ghamdi (right), better known by his nom de guerre Abu al-Walid al-Ghamdi, successor to Khattab as amir of foreign fighters in Chechnya. Abu al-Walid, like Khattab, was a Saudi. Russia assassinated Maskhadov in March 2005 and Abu al-Walid in April 2004.

Shamil Basayev (third from left), Abu al-Walid al-Ghamdi (second from right), and Aslan Maskhadov (far right).

Following the disappointing results of their involvement in the Balkan wars of the 1990s, transnational jihadis connected or ideologically similar to Salafi jihadi groups such as al-Qa'ida "Central" (AQC) increasingly flocked to other "fields," including Chechnya. Chechnya became one of the fields of interest to AQC and its affiliates and allies, and has been mentioned in the past in messages from AQC chief ideologue Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, the late leader of al-Qa'ida in the Land of the Two Rivers (Iraq).

Shamil Basayev

Shamil Basayev (left) with Akhmed Yevloyev (right), better known as Amir Magas, the leader of Islamist guerillas in Ingushetia, a Caucasus republic neighboring Chechnya and also ruled, ultimately, by Russia.

The resistance-jihad to Russian rule in Chechnya and the Caucasus has attracted mujahideen [warriors of faith] of different varieties from around the Muslim world, though the majority have come from Turkey and the Arab world. Some of them are Salafi jihadis who see the conflict(s) as part(s) of a global conflict, while others seek to help their co-religionists fight back against Russian rule. In the photographs below, notice the diversity of the fighters and their appearances.

Even the U.S. Department of State recognizes, not all Chechen and Caucasian separatist groups are involved in terrorism and some are legitimately fighting for their rights against an increasingly (re)imperialist Russia and its Chechen and regional puppets.


Abu al-Walid al-Ghamdi

Abu al-Walid al-Ghamdi (center top)

Shamil Basayev (right) and Farid Yusuf Umayra, better known by his nom de guerre Abu Hafs al-Urduni ("the Jordanian"), who successed Abu al-Walid al-Ghamdi as amir of foreign fighters in Chechnya after the latter's assassination by Russia in April 2004. Abu Hafs was killed in battle against Russian forces in November 2006.

Abu Hafs al-Urduni; his hand signal is commonly used by Salafi jihadis, symbolizing their willingness to be killed, attaining, they believe, martyrdom and entrance into Paradise.

"The Martyrs" (as listed in the discussion forum thread where I found this photograph) Nurullah and Hamzat Hayrullah.

Caucasus mujahideen

An unnamed mujahid with Supyan Abdullayev (left), an ally of the late Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov. Abdullayev is now a member of the ruling council of the Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus under Doku Umarov and like him is a Sufi, not a Salafi.

Imam TV is the Russian language media outlet, along with KavKaz Center, of the Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus. Kav Kaz has sites in a variety of languages, including Russian, Arabic, Turkish, and English.

Unnamed mujahideen with Amir Aslanbek (far right), a member of the ruling council of the Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus.

Amir Tarhan Gaziev (bottom row, second from left) and Amir Sayf (or "Seif") al-Islam, "Sword of Islam," (bottom row, second from right), two members of the ruling council of the Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus.

Amir Doku Umarov (second from right), overall amir (leader) of the Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus, and two members of the Emirate's ruling council, Amir Supyan Abdullayev (second from left) and Amir Tarhan Gaziev (far right).

Ruling council (shura) of the Islamic Emirate of the Caucasus. Visible are Amir Huseyn (third from left), Amir Doku "Dokka" Umarov (fourth from left), Amir Akhmed "Magas" Yevloyev (fifth from left), and Amir Sayf al-Islam (fifth from right).

"Lions of Chechnya" (from left): Khattab, Abu al-Walid al-Ghamdi....Abu Hafs al-Urduni (second from right) and Shamil Basayev (far right), before he converted to Salafism and grew a long, unkept beard.


Christina said...

Applause for this coverage.
Very useful.

My great hero is Imam Shamyl!
It's nice to see him given the credit he so deserves - for he has been forgotten by all but his heirs in the Caucasus.
For a time during Afghanistan's resistance to the Soviet invasion, scholars made comparisons with his shrewd, uncompromising fight back against the overwhelmingly strong Tsarist forces.

One Pakistani Army Major, Muhammad Hamid, wrote a book "Imam Shamil, The First Muslim Guerrilla Leader" coincidentally & maybe providentially published right after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
The officer wrote in the preface, "I was sitting much depressed in the library of the Pakistan Military Academy after the tragic fall of Dacca in Dec 1991, when I suddenly came across the portrait of Imam Shamil in a book.
The gaze of his courageous face struck me." [Hence he wrote the biography]

Thanks for putting up a nice copy of his picture here - it's magnetic and electrifying to all who appreciate people who fearlessly fight back against real tyranny.

Otherwise few Muslims have written about Imam Shamyl, and we just have the British history, "The Russian Conquest of the Caucasus" and Lesley Blanch's picturesque, "The Sabres of Paradise".

But one can tell neither author is particularly sympathetic to the great Naqshbandi.
Lesley Blanch was a lifelong Russophile and libertine, and treats Imam Shamyl's marvelous ascetic discipline as rigid, strange. She clearly prefers the Russian generals and poets who went to fight Shamyl, giving the Avar barely enough color to give her novel-like narrative a dramatic tension.
But she never warmed to the heroic fighter, and this comes across.

Baddeley also badly (!) portrays the great Imam. As a British officer, one suspects he is more sympathetic to a great power expanding empire than to valiant resistance to that.

At least both give much historical data.

One American Sufi friend of mine did compose a long poem called "The Ballad of Imam Shamyl", inspired by the Soviet war in Afghanistan. But he hadn't read either of these two books, and so didn't know the full history. It's a pity so so few sources are available. But the sentiment was great to see.

As for myself, I have framed portraits of the Imam right where I write at my computer and other places too, as I find his visage so inspiring.
If threatened by any bad force, I see him as a Saint who will take quick action to rescue me or anyone - especially those threatened in any form by the Russian regime of this day!

Though of course, it was fitting for him to die in Mecca, the only irony is that the Saudis would not be likely to allow veneration at his grave - if it wasn't razed, like some others sadly were.
I'd like to find out whether the grave is known or visited covertly by Naqshbandi and Chechen/Daghestanis making pilgrimages.
Imagine if that were to open up, how much inspiration there would be generated for all Sufi tariqas everywhere, but especially spiritual fuel for the Caucasian resistance to the current heavy rule by the Putin-Medvedev regime.

Just knowing of the existence of a real shrine, even for those who cannot make the trip, would be a big card to sway undecided and not-fully Salafi Chechen fighters to drop the foreign ideology and look instead back toward their own real spiritual and nationalist roots.
That would be a benefit for everyone, stopping indiscriminate attacks which make no point for their cause but cause hostility from the world

إبن الصقلي said...

Thank you for your detailed discussion, it adds much to the blog.

Yes, sadly the Saudi Salafis have done much to erase the great architectural history and achievements of their co-religionists. I suppose such is the result of (so-called) puritanism.

mohamed said...

Splendid piece. I must say, however, that while you describe Amir Supyan, may Allah protect him, as a Sufi, I have read elsewhere that he is one of the chief Salafis in the entire North Caucasus and a great ally of the late Amir Shamil Basayev, may Allah have mercy on him. Also, you seem to suggest that the Sufi fighters in the North Caucasus and their Salafi counterparts are diametrically opposed, when nothing could be further from the truth. As one who considers himself more Salafi than anything else, I fully support the mujaahideen, whether they be Sufis or Salafis, as long as they fight to expel Russia from their land and establish the Shari'a. You know, of course, that the great mujaahid Imaam Shamil fought for just that; expulsion of the invaders and establishment of the Allah's law in the land. A very good book on the subject is Moshe Gammer's "The Lone Wolf and the Bear", and another, probably more in-depth one is also by Gammer; "Muslim Resistance to the Tzar". May the Mujaahideen prevail, Inshaallah.

إبن الصقلي said...

Thanks for your comments and book recommendations.

re: Sufis, Many Salafis, jihadi and non, would disagree with you about Sufis on theological grounds, as is amply clear from many of their writings.

Anonymous said...

Barak Allh Feek..

Every Time I see Those Men I Cry...

i'm proude that thosw are our men.

thanks brother

Orang Indonesia said...

moslem from indonesia support chechen guerilla strugle...

thanks for this information.
Allah with your strugle..

Cassiopeia somewhere in earth said...

Muslim from Malaysia support Chechnya Mujahidin Martyrs and Khurasan Mujahidin Martyrs. Allahhuakbar! Allahhulailahaila!

Anonymous said...

Muslim from Malaysia support Mujahidin of Chechnya and Mujahidin of Khurasan! Allahuakbar!

al-Mahdi said...

many bulgarians support our caucasian brothers. инша Аллах победу будет за нами.

Anonymous said...

Allah Bless you My Brothers
Please Dua For Me And All Muslims

btjunkie, btjunkie, games

Anonymous said...

SubhanAllah Allahu Ekber!

Allah protect our Mujahideen
Turkey supports our Mujahideen
Jihad mujahideen Jihad we want free chechnya