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Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, 11:195–220, 2005

Copyright C Taylor & Francis Inc.

ISSN: 1353-7113 print DOI: 10.1080/13537110591005711

Inc. ISSN: 1353-7113 print DOI: 10.1080/13537110591005711 ISLAMIC IDENTITY AND POLITICAL MOBILIZATION IN RUSSIA:



University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida, USA

Muslims in Russia are often alleged (most recently by President Putin) to be potential Islamists, ready to support the radical Chechen separatist project of es- tablishing an Islamic state in the Caucasus. This article challenges this claim, which assumes that Muslims in Russia form a coherent group based on religious identity, and as such, share a set of common political preferences that oppose the central state. The article demonstrates instead that: (1) Russian Muslims practice various forms of Islam; (2) religious belief and practice is not always cor- related with anti-Moscow political mobilization; (3) ethnicity, rather than always reinforcing Muslim identity, interacts with Islam in complex ways throughout Russia’s ethnic republics, and (4) Muslims in Russia have largely opposed radi- cal Islamic movements during the past 15 years and most likely will continue to do so. These points are supported by an analysis of Islam, identity and politics in Dagestan and Chechnya, the two republics in Russia that have witnessed the largest amount of Islamic mobilization.

A stereotype idea of any Muslim being an Islamic extremist is taking root in

Russia against the background of the war in Dagestan and the worsening situation in the North Caucasus.

Ramazan Abdulatipov former Minister of Nationalities Policy of the Russian Federation and native of Dagestan, speaking at the Moscow Carnegie Center, 1999 1

If extremist forces manage to get a hold in the Caucasus, this infection

may spread up the Volga River, spread to other republics, and we either face the full Islamization of Russia, or we will have to agree to Russia’s division into several independent states.

President Vladimir Putin, 2000 2

In the wake of the break-up of the USSR, many conflicts of ethnic and confessional nature have broken out. We do have up to two thousand

Address correspondence to Elise Giuliano, Department of Political Science, 314 Jenkins Building, Coral Gables, FL, 33124. E-mail:



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conflicts of the type which are in the dormant stage, and if we don’t do anything about them, they could provide a flare up instantaneously.

President Vladimir Putin Comments made to a group of foreign academics and journalists at Novo-Ogarevo, 6 September 2004 3

In early September, militants fighting for Chechen independence seized a school in the city of Beslan in the Russian republic of North Ossetia, and held more than 1000 people hostage for sev- eral days, leading to the slaughter of scores of children and adults. While the final death toll is still unknown, more than 300 people were killed in the Chechen rebels’ most brutal terrorist act to date. Vladimir Putin, attempting to understand this tragedy and formu- late an appropriate policy response, has maintained that interna- tional terrorists associated with Islamist organizations including al Qaeda are behind the incident. This understanding places all of the blame for the recent spate of terrorist acts in Russia on a trans-national, millennialist movement, while removing it from the interminable battle between Moscow and the separatist republic of Chechnya. Putin’s interpretation serves his immediate political goal of gaining acceptance from the international community for prosecuting a war against Chechnya. But his interpretation also reveals how he understands the relationship between Islam and politics in Russia. For Putin, Russia’s Muslims are potential Islamic fundamentalists. The terrorist act in Beslan moves them one step closer to supporting Islamism. Since global jihadis’ ultimate goal is to replace secular states with a worldwide caliphate, and be- cause millions of Russian citizens are Muslim, Putin believes that Islamism represents an immanent threat to the integrity of the Russian Federation. Other, more circumspect observers also fear the spread of politicized Islam, emphasizing the fact that many of Russia’s ethnic minority groups are also adherents of Islam. For example, Aleksei Malashenko, a specialist on ethnicity at the Carnegie Moscow Cen- ter, stated in the New York Times, “I think these days and weeks we are perhaps on the eve of a great war in the North Caucasus. Not just Chechnya, but Ossetia and Ingushetia. And there are religious and ethnic tensions in Dagestan and in Kabardino-Balkaria. We may get a big explosion, not just in the North Caucasus, but throughout the

Islamic Identity and Political Mobilization in Russia


south of Russia.” 4 In this view, communal differences, both ethnic or confessional—are on the verge of producing violent conflict. 5 In Russia, the major confessional divide alleged to be at the root of all of this impending violence is that of Orthodoxy and Islam. The Russian Federation has historically been a Christian state, and with the exception of the Soviet period during which atheism replaced Christianity, Orthodoxy occupied a privileged and powerful status as the official state religion. Yet Muslim citi- zens are neither recent immigrants nor outsiders, having lived on the territory of present-day Russia for centuries. In Russia, Islamic and ethnic identities are bound up together. The commonly cited statistic that 15–20 million Muslims live in Russia underscores this point. The statistic refers to the number of people who belong to ethnic groups that historically have had a Muslim background. 6 In addition, most Muslims live in ethnic republics—administrative territories inherited from the Soviet-era that possess attributes of statehood, including a president, a parliament, an official language and a certain degree of sovereignty. 7 The country’s recent expe- rience of ethno-nationalist mobilization in which two historically Muslim republics—Chechnya and Tatarstan—mounted aggressive campaigns for sovereignty seems to provide evidence that Muslims oppose central state rule. How accurate is this view? Why are Russia’s Muslims often seen as potential supporters of radical Islamist movements? I ar- gue that this view is derived from two primary assumptions: first, that Russia’s Muslims form a coherent, solidary group based on religious identity, and second, that the group shares a set of com- mon political attitudes and preferences that stand in opposition to the Russian central state. In this understanding, the move from shared, anti-Moscow ideology to political action in support of rad- ical Islamist programs is a short step for individual Muslims. This article will challenge these assumptions in order to better specify the relationship between Muslim identity and political be- havior in Russia. It will argue that Muslims do not form a coherent bloc unified by common beliefs and political preferences. Instead, Russian Muslims are highly diverse, practicing various forms of Is- lam, including Sufism, wahhabism and the so-called Euro-Islam of Tatarstan derived from the early 20th century modernist ja- didist movement. 8 Next, the article will suggest that religious belief and practice in Russia is not always correlated with anti-Moscow


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political mobilization. Third, I will demonstrate that ethnicity, in- stead of reinforcing Muslim identity, interacts with Islamic beliefs and practices in complicated and differentiated ways throughout Russia’s various regions. Finally, I argue that because Muslims in Russia maintain a diverse set of political commitments, they have largely opposed radical Islamic movements during the past 15 years and can be expected to continue to do so. These points will be demonstrated through an analysis of Islam in Dagestan and Chech- nya, the two republics in Russia that have witnessed the largest amount of Islamic mobilization. These cases reveal the existence of intra-Muslim religious differences, the diversity of political atti- tudes that exist among Muslims, and the ways in which Islam in- teracts with ethnicity. The discussion presents a constructivist view of group identity that argues not only that people have multiple, competing and provisional identities, but that political preferences cannot necessarily be imputed to a group based on the fact that that group’s cultural or religious identity differs from the coun- try’s majority population. Before discussing Islam and politics in Dagestan and Chechnya, the next section reviews some of the rea- sons why Russian Muslims are believed to possess a common set of political preferences that oppose Moscow and the Russian central state.

Islam and Politics

Many observers believe that Russian Muslims oppose the Russian central state because of its history of Islamic repression. Armed with the knowledge that Imperial Russia conquered and Christianized many of the Muslim populations living in its borderlands, and that the Soviets pursued anti-Islamic campaigns, many westerners as well as Russians attribute a deep hatred of Moscow to Russian Mus- lims. Several decades ago, for example, the well-known western academics Helene Carrere-d’Encausse and Alexandre Bennigsen famously but erroneously predicted Islamic rebellion among the nationalities of Central Asia and the Caucasus. The authors main- tained that the ethnic groups living in these regions would even- tually act on their anger and resentment against the Soviet regime and challenge its right to rule. 9 The problem with emphasizing the Russian state’s oppression of Islam is that it is a highly selective interpretation of the historical

Islamic Identity and Political Mobilization in Russia


experience of Russia’s Muslims. Muslims were incorporated into the Russian Empire between the 15th and 19th centuries, via both military annexation and voluntary transfer. According to one spe- cialist on the subject, Galina Yemelianova, the history of Muslim– Russian relations was both conflictual and peaceful. Accordingly, many Russian Muslims view Russia not as a colonial oppressor but

as their historical homeland. 10 Also, there were periods of Soviet rule when the authorities reduced Islamic repression and turned

a blind eye toward Muslim observance. 11

In general, historical grievances do not automatically form in response to particular historical events or processes. Individuals ex- perience historical processes in different ways, engage in willful for- getting, and develop interests in response to present experiences. For example, a person whose grandfather was arrested for being a village mullah in the 1930s may discount that fact and develop loy- alty to the Soviet state in the 1980s for providing them with a pres- tigious job and membership in the Communist Party. Rather than flowing directly from individual experience, historical grievances are the product of intellectuals’ and political entrepreneurs’ ef- forts to define and attain particular political goals. For example, toward the end of the first Chechen war, Chechen leader Djokhar Dudaev (who in his prior incarnation served as a general in the Soviet army) often referred to the myth of the Caucasian religious freedom fighter Shamil who led a guerilla resistance to Moscow in the 19th century. Dudaev was attempting to link Chechnya’s late- 20th century nationalist rebellion to Shamil’s jihad in order to win popular support for his goal of republican secession. Another explanation often heard for Islamic political mobi- lization in Russia is the idea that strong religious commitment (as exemplified by strict observance) translates directly into polit- ical opposition. For example, Matt Evangelista has argued, “The higher the level of religious practice, the more Islam can serve as

a mobilizing force for resistance to Russian dominance, as it has

done throughout the history of both Dagestan and Chechnya.” 12 This is a variation on the theme outlined above that observant Muslims resent the Russian state for repressing Islam. This argu- ment may appear accurate at first glance insofar as the histori- cally Muslim (i.e. before 1917) republics of Tatarstan and Bashko- rtostan have lower numbers of practicing Muslims and a lower level of Islamic mobilization than the republic of Dagestan, where the


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population maintained a greater level of Islamic practice through- out the Soviet era. However, a comparison of the republics of Dagestan and Chechnya suggests just the opposite. Dagestan con- tains Russia’s most observant Muslim population, and Sufism there played a central role in more peoples’ lives during the Soviet and immediate post-Soviet period than it did in Chechnya. 13 Yet aside from a certain but low level of Islamic mobilization concentrated in three districts, Dagestan’s population failed to rise in support of the Chechen rebels’ expansionist Islamic project during the Chechen incursion of 1999, as will be shown below. To unpack the claim that a high level of religiosity leads to Islamic mobilization, it is necessary to conduct a more fine-grained analysis of local level Islamic practice and political mobilization. 14 Next, the assumption of a shared anti-Moscow stance among Russia’s Muslims is incorrect because it assumes that Russian cit- izens who are Muslim consider their Islamic identity to be their primary one, or at least the identity around which they condition their political behavior. In fact, Russian Muslims have a number of other socially salient identities that might also serve as the basis for their political beliefs. They may identify themselves as members of an ethnic group (or “nationality” in Russian parlance), members of a clan or teip, urban or rural dwellers, members of a region (Cau- casian or a local district), citizens of Russia (national identity), or members of a particular profession or class (intelligentsia, worker, businessman). Of these various salient identities, ethnicity has served most of- ten as a basis for political mobilization against the central state dur- ing the 1990s. As mentioned above, most Muslims are also mem- bers of ethnic minority groups. During the course of Soviet rule, ethnic identities were created and/or strengthened as a result of central affirmative action policies that gave privileges to ethnic mi- norities within the republic named after their group. 15 At the end of the Soviet era, it was ethnic rather than religious groups that mobilized politically against Moscow, especially in the republics of Tatarstan and Chechnya. In fact, in Tatarstan, one of Russia’s most nationalist republics in the early 1990s, Islam played a very small role in ethno-nationalist mobilization. Although several of the new Islamic organizations that appeared in the republic during glasnost backed the nationalists’ program, the nationalist organizations themselves (TOTs, Ittifak, Azatlyk, Suverenitet) disregarded Islam,

Islamic Identity and Political Mobilization in Russia


aside from some vague appeals to “Islamic values.” 16 And after the Tatar opposition nationalist movement weakened and President Mintimir Shaimiev consolidated power within the republic, his regime supported an “official” Islam and official Muslim leaders. 17 Shaimiev, like many other ethnic Tatars, consider Islam an element of Tatar identity and an “attribute of statehood.” 18 As an official religion of Tatarstan, Islam serves to shore up the republic’s claim to sovereign status. The situation in Tatarstan provides just one example of “historical” Muslims who mobilized not along Islamic lines but as members of an ethnic minority. 19 Since we know that identities are contingent and contextual, it is wrong to assume that being Muslim automatically trumps all other possible identi- ties and affiliations in forming political beliefs and undertaking political action. On a theoretical level, the assumption that Russian Muslims possess anti-Moscow political beliefs misunderstands the relation- ship between identity and political preferences in general. Individ- uals’ political preferences cannot necessarily be inferred from the fact that they identify themselves as Muslims. Political preferences and beliefs do not remain fixed in some kind of essential, latent form, prepared to mobilize in support of a political program that defines itself as Muslim. Rather, individuals’ political preferences are constructed through complex interactions among individuals’ own values and beliefs, their experiences, and politicians’ (or po- litical entrepreneurs’) framings of issues. It may be the case that a single political issue (or set of related issues) becomes associated with a particular religion or sect such that that issue comes to define what it means to be a member of that religion or sect. In such cases, political institutions, parties, and groups may organize around a key set of issues, and individuals’ political preferences may cohere in support of “their” party or group (for example, Protestants vs. Catholics in Belfast). In such cases, the political preferences of members of the religion or sect become provisionally fixed (or at least sticky), and it can be difficult for individuals to maintain opposing political preferences and still remain a member of the religious group. (For example, consider the difficulties facing a Palestinian who openly supports Israel’s incursions into the West Bank). Often, as in the two examples just cited, violent conflict tends to reduce the political alternatives to a single-issue dimension.


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In Russia, however, politics is not organized around a single is- sue that defines what it means to be a Muslim. Islamic movements, parties, or leaders are not the only available choice for Russian citizens who consider themselves Muslims. Islamic structures exist alongside (and usually subordinate to) state institutions, parties, and groups organized along non-religious bases, such as their atti- tude toward economic reform; business interests; clan and ethnic networks; entrenched nomenklatura interests, regional interests, and so on. Thus, we must critically consider arguments maintain- ing that Muslim identity and Islamic practice translate directly into Islamic political mobilization.

Islam and Politics in Dagestan

In August and September of 1999, approximately 500 armed men entered three districts 20 in Russia’s ethnic republic of Dagestan, established Shari’a guards and declared an independent Islamic state. The militants belonged to the so-called Wahhabi movement that had been developing in certain Muslim regions of Russia. It included observant Muslims from Dagestan, young Chechen na- tionalists with little knowledge of Islam, and foreign Islamic mer- cenaries. The fighters, led by the field commanders Shamil Basaev and Khattab, mounted the attack on Dagestan from the neigh- boring republic of Chechnya. The Russian federal government, echoing its response to the Chechen insurgency of the mid-1990s, began shelling its own territory (Dagestan), using a combination of air raids, federal ground troops, and local police forces. The fight- ing created an estimated 22,000 to 25,000 Dagestani refugees. 21 And although the Dagestani government cooperated with Moscow, tension developed between the two levels of government admin- istration as both sought to control the situation. The combina- tion of strain between Moscow and Dagestan and violent conflict with a religious movement from Chechnya seemed to move Russia to the verge of civil war along ethnic and religious lines. 22 Some western observers, taking the militants’ profession of Islamic jihad at face value, and noting the involvement of Islamic mercenar- ies from the Middle East, predicted that the attempt to establish Islamic self-rule in Orthodox Christian Russia would destroy the Russian Federation. 23 Other, more cautious analysts believed the incursion would precipitate sustained violence in the southern

Islamic Identity and Political Mobilization in Russia


Caucasus 24 —a region of astonishing cultural, linguistic and eth- nic diversity which had weathered the ten-year transition from Soviet rule with isolated and contained eruptions of violence. 25 In the event, the Wahhabi incursion into Dagestan together with the apartment bombings in Moscow (allegedly caused by the Chechens) precipitated Russia’s second invasion of Chechnya— a wasteful, tragic conflict that continues to defy resolution. Yet the predicted outbreak of violence in Dagestan and throughout the North Caucasus never materialized. The Wahhabi insurgents were driven out of Dagestan by mid-September and political stability was restored with surprisingly little conflict. The Wahhabi incursion did not lead to mass mobilization in support of radical Islam in the North Caucasus followed by Christian–Muslim conflict or intra-Muslim conflict, as many pre- dicted it would. Nor did it result in Dagestan’s alliance with Chechnya against Moscow despite the fact that the two republics are both part of the North Caucasus, are populated by Muslims, and have leaders interested in securing greater autonomy from Moscow. Why didn’t the Dagestan incursion spark the further spread of radical Islam in the North Caucasus? Dagestan is arguably Russia’s most Muslim region, in terms of the number of religious shrines and practicing Muslims. Islamic revival has been stronger there than in any other Russian region. At the end of the Soviet-era, Dagestan had only 27 mosques; a decade later it had more than 2000 mosques, as well as 3,500 pro- fessional Muslim clergy in a population of approximately two mil- lion. By the late 1990s, polls show that between 80 and 95 percent of the population considered themselves religious believers. Most Dagestani Muslims practice Sufi Islam, which became widespread in the 19th century with the establishment of Sufi brotherhoods (tariqats), despite the fact that Islam was introduced in the 8th and 9th centuries. 26 During the Soviet-era, Sufi Islam was the object of partic- ular repression by the communist authorities, a situation that forced Sufis to hide their beliefs and avoid participation in pub- lic life. Under glasnost, Sufi tariqatists emerged and joined forces with democratic and ethno-nationalist opposition groups to chal- lenge the Dagestani regime. The opposition alliance made stan- dard demands for economic and political liberalization, but also sought the creation of an Islamic state in the republic. 27 The


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Sufi brotherhoods vied for control of the officially recognized Muftiyat of the North Caucasus (DUMSK), competing with op- position movements in each of the other North Caucasian eth- nic republics: Adygei, Chechnya, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachai-Cherkessia and North Ossetia. The republics considered control of a national official muftiyat to be a key attribute of au- tonomous statehood. As a result of the pressure, the DUMSK split into separate, national muftiyats situated in each of the seven re- publics. After the Soviet collapse, a struggle continued within Dagestan to dominate the successor organization to the Muftiyat—the Spir- itual Board of Muslims of Dagestan (DUMD). This time, how- ever, Sufi brotherhoods composed of members of different ethnic groups battled each other for control. The alliance among Islamic groups (including the Wahhabis) and between the tariqats and the nationalists fell apart by the mid-1990s, as four separate Spiritual Boards, or DUMDs, were formed representing the largest ethnic communities in Dagestan: the Avars, the Kumyks, the Laks, and Dargins. 28 It was the Naqshbandi tariqat—composed primarily of ethnic Avars and led by Shaykh Sayid-efendi Chirkeevskii—that managed to win official sanction from the Dagestani government as the official DUMD. 29 The republic’s government named Sayid- efendi as the official shaykh of Dagestan and branded rival Kumyk, Dargin, and Lak Muftiyats as illegitimate. Sufi tariqats in Dagestan are tightly linked with traditional family and clan networks, and therefore are composed of members of different ethnic groups. However, according to Yemelianova, many Dagestani Muslims, re- gardless of ethnic affiliation, support the leadership of Shaykh Sayid-efendi. The influence of the Naqshbandi tariqatists and the DUMD in Dagestani politics and economics has increased since the mid-1990s, and many Dagestani politicians and businessmen seek the approval of Sayid-efendi and the DUMD. 30 When the Sufi tariqatists won control of the DUMD in the mid- 1990s, they abandoned their call for an Islamic state and instead promoted a gradual re-Islamization of Dagestani society within a secular political order. Some of their revised goals included estab- lishing an official Islamic university, incorporating some aspects of Sharia law into Dagestan’s legal system, restricting the sale of alcohol, and introducing religious subjects into state education. A symbiotic relationship has developed between the DUMD and the

Islamic Identity and Political Mobilization in Russia


Dagestani state, in which the Muftiyat supports political leaders and, in return, makes use of state resources such as the media, the police, and the intelligence services to exclude potential Sufi rivals and combat the spread of Wahhabism. As a result, many ordinary Muslims have lost respect for the DUMD leaders. They are blamed for continuing Soviet-era corruption by manipulating access to the hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca required of all Muslims) for financial gain, and conducting business with local mafia groups. 31

Wahhabism in Dagestan

The so-called Wahhabis in the Caucasus are an extremist religious and

political organization with a wide network of branches

fundamentalists in the true sense of the word: their fundamentalism is a

myth; their attitude to people is inhuman and discredits Islam

threaten traditional society, violate human and constitutional rights, challenge civilization and social progress. Islam for them is a tag—and nothing more.

They are not


Vakhid Akaev Member of the Academy of Sciences of the Chechen Republic, 2000 32

Wahhabism is the accepted, yet technically inaccurate term for a kind of Islam that emerged in the North Caucasus during the late 1980s and spread after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Wahhabis in Russia are not followers of Abd-el-Wahhab; 33 rather, they refer to themselves as “Muslims of the djamaat” (traditional community) and Alafiyyun, or those that return to Islam. 34 Secular authorities have labeled the Alafiyyun “Wahhabis,” and the term has entered into standard usage. Wahhabis in Russia claim to represent a return to pure Is- lam. They espouse a strict monotheism and thus object to Sufi Islam’s rituals, veneration of saints and shaykhs, and claim to hid- den knowledge. Followers (men) must wear shortened pants and beards and (women) the hijab and niqab (face veil), creating an appearance that is alien to the traditions of Russian Muslims. The concept of jihad is central to Wahhabi belief and differs sharply from the Sufi understanding of jihad as an inner struggle for spir- itual perfection. Wahhabis interpret jihad to mean the battle to spread Islam, and also, in the words of Yemelianova, a “preventative armed advance in order to overcome those obstacles which the enemies of Islam place in the path of its peaceful proliferation.” 35


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Although specialists on the subject differ on the degree to which Wahhabism is “indigenous” to the North Caucasus, they agree that its diffusion was sparked by Russia’s increased contact with the Islamic world after the collapse of the Soviet Union. 36 In the late Soviet era of glasnost, Russian Muslims traveling be- yond the borders of the Soviet Union encountered Wahhabism while making the hajj or studying at foreign Islamic universities. At the same time, Muslims from foreign countries entered Russia to teach in medresses (Islamic schools) and Islamic colleges. The proliferation of Islamic literature (some of which was produced by Wahhabis) in Russia’s Muslim regions also influenced local popula- tions eager to learn more than the local Islamic leaders, devastated by years of Soviet persecution, could teach. The issue of whether Wahhabism is funded from abroad re- mains highly controversial, with some scholars downplaying the role of foreign sponsors, and others reporting significant financial assistance from both official organizations (such as the Islamic De- velopment Bank and the World Islamic League), as well as from un- official groups (Islamic charities such as Taiba, Ibraghim al-Ibraghim, ZamZam, Committee of Muslims of Asia of Kuwait) in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran, UAE, Turkey and elsewhere. 37 Some specialists claim that Dagestanis considered Wahhabism an attractive alternative to Sufism, due to its emphasis on social equality and justice and its condemnation of the corruption and immorality of current government and religious authorities (in- cluding the DUMD). Further, given the widespread poverty in Dagestan, 38 Wahhabism appealed to the rural poor and others with little resources. Wahhabi doctrine derides the widespread North Caucasian custom of holding lavish weddings, funerals, and family feasts—a custom that has sent families reduced to poverty by the dislocation of the post-Soviet era into even more desperate finan- cial straits. Also, like religious groups seeking converts throughout history, Wahhibis offered material support to individuals, direct fi- nancial aid to families, and even protection from criminal bands. 39 The degree to which Dagestanis came to support Wahhabism is a contested issue, with some analysts maintaining that it was unpopular and never spread beyond two or three percent of the population. Others claim that by the end of the 1990s, between seven and nine percent of Dagestani Muslims were Wahhabi. 40 Regardless of the exact degree of support, Wahhabis operated

Islamic Identity and Political Mobilization in Russia


in several cities, controlling their own mosques and operating 14 medresses—each with its own publishing house. 41 The Wahhabi movement in Dagestan seeks to unite all of the North Caucasus in an Islamic state. The movement is di- vided into various groups with differing religious and political programs. Unlike the Russian government’s tendency to lump all Wahhabis together, researchers recognize urban/intellectual and rural/popular divisions within the group. 42 Moderate groups are centered in the capital of Makhachkala and are often referred to as intellectual Wahhabis. They include young intellectuals and the older-generation Muslim intelligentsia. Moderate Wahhabism began with the founding of the Islamic Revival Party (IRP) in 1990 by Akhmadkadi Akhtaev. 43 Initially, Akhtaev and the mod- erate Wahhabis cooperated with the Sufi brotherhoods against the Soviet regime and the religious establishment. For example, the two factions held a demonstration in 1991 demanding greater freedom to make the hajj. 44 However, after the Sufi brotherhoods won control of the DUMD in the mid-1990s, relations with the moderates turned hostile. The position of moderate Wahhabism in Dagestan was further weakened in 1998 when Akhtaev died, allowing the radical Wahhabi faction to take control of the movement. 45 Radical Wahhabism in Dagestan is headed by Bagautdin Magomedov, whose goal is to create an independent Islamic state of Dagestan. He believes that jihad must be waged not only against non-Muslims but also against Muslims who refuse to participate in furthering the goal of implementing “pure Islam.” Bagautdin, therefore, actively opposes both the Dagestani government and Sufi brotherhoods. 46 Bagautdin increased his activity after the first Chechen war ended in 1996, setting up a publishing center in the Dagestan city of Kyzyl-Iurt with funding from religious leaders in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries. He then cre- ated “Islamic jamaats” (Islamic societies) and the pseudo-political party Islamic Jamaat of Dagestan (Jamaat ul-Islamiyun or IDD) which expressed support for the Taliban before September 11. Soon af- ter, Bagautdin sponsored the creation of paramilitary groups (the Central Front for Liberation of Dagestan) and established military training sites in both Dagestan and Chechnya. 47 After Islamic radicals attacked a Russian military unit in Dagestan in 1997, the Dagestani government, pressured by the


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DUMD, began to crack down on Wahhabism. It labeled Wahhabis religious extremists and banned all Wahhabi activity. This official repression had the unintended effect of radicalizing moderate Wahhabis and strengthening the movement. 48 By the late 1990s, Bagautdin had attracted the support of several thousand radical Wahhabis in Dagestan. The most significant backing for radical Wahhabism came from the southern Buinaksk region of Dages- tan where, in 1998, three villages (Karamakhi, Chabanmakhi, and Kadar) declared themselves to be independent Islamic territories and expelled Dagestani authorities and police. The villagers built fortifications and successfully held off Dagestani forces. Attempts to end the region’s self-declared autonomy produced a series of armed confrontations. The Buinaksk region at the time was re- ferred to as a small Chechnya within Dagestan. 49 Meanwhile, secular political leaders in Dagestan faced in- creasing instability during the summer of 1998 as elections were held for the republic’s top executive institution—the State Council. Although Dagestan’s constitution stipulates that the top executive post must rotate among representatives of the re- public’s main ethnic groups, incumbent State Council Chair- man Magomedali Magomedov stood for reelection against a background of bombings and other terrorist attacks taking place in the capital, and won. Magomedov, a former member of the communist nomenklatura and an opponent of reform, was backed by President Yeltsin who believed that Magomedov would continue to support Moscow’s policy toward Chechnya. Moscow considered Magomedov the most active supporter of Russia’s territorial integrity among all of the North Caucasian leaders. 50 As a result of the crackdown on Wahhabism, Bagautdin moved to Chechnya where he recruited and trained young Dagestanis to fight on behalf of “the insurgent army of Imam.” Bagautdin’s orga- nization joined these military units to Islamic enclaves that were be- ing established in all republics of the North Caucasus. The enclaves were designed to eventually merge into a politically unified Islamic state. Bagautdin’s exile spurred the integration of Dagestani Wahhabis with Chechen radical nationalists and militarized Wah- habis. Together, they formed various organizations such as the Congress of the Peoples of Ichkeria and Dagestan (KNID) which was headed by the warlord Khattab and other foreign fighters. It

Islamic Identity and Political Mobilization in Russia


was these Dagestani Muslims and armed groups that mounted the “invasion” of Dagestan in 1999. 51 The Chechen-Wahhabi attack brought about the destruction of three Dagestani villages as the insurgents were pushed back into Chechen territory. It also led to the beginning of the second Chechen war in late September 1999. 52 Unfortunately for Bagaut- din and the Wahhabi cause, the Dagestani population failed to rise in support of their goals. In fact, 25,000 volunteers responded to the Dagestani government’s call to create an armed militia and fought alongside federal troops and local police against the Wahhabis. 53 Also, contrary to many expectations, the involvement of Russian forces actually increased Dagestan’s support for federal military action on its territory to expel the fighters. After the vio- lence ended in mid-September, Dagestan’s government passed a law (“On Banning Wahhabi and Other Forms of Extremist Activity in the Republic of Dagestan”) that stated: “Today all authorities in all republics support traditional Islamic institutions, spiritual administrations and loyal leaders.” 54 Overall, the incursion damaged the popularity of Wahhabism in Dagestan, reducing its influence among Dagestani political par- ties, nationalist groups, and the public in general. 55 Also, as a re- sult of the incursion, Dagestan’s official Muslim clergy and the DUMD increased their authority in republican politics by blaming the Dagestani regime for doing too little to prevent the attack. They say that the authorities failed to act against the local villages which had declared themselves independent Islamic regions and which the invading forces used as their base. Since 1999, Wahhabi radicals have engaged in occasional bombing and terrorist acts in Dagestan; for example, they are alleged to have planted a bomb that killed 40 people during a parade in Spring 2002. In general, the Wahhabi movement has been unable to regain the modest influence it enjoyed before the 1999 incursion and has seen its reputation among the general population continue to decline. Perhaps the majority of Dagestanis agree with Georgi Derlugian’s characterization of their behavior during the incursion: “Islamic doctrinal intricacies aside, the Dagestani “Wahhabites” behaved more like classical Third World revolutionaries with a distinctly anarchist streak.” 56 This brief analysis of Islam and politics in Dagestan indicates that rather than forming a united political bloc, Muslims there


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support various Islamic groups and movements, as well as secu- lar political leaders such as State Council Chairman Magomedov. Some of these Islamic groups are connected to one or another of Dagestan’s many ethnic nationalities. Moreover, the Islamic organi- zations are themselves divided into different camps, including the Sufi brotherhoods and the Wahhabi movement. Although specific data on the degree of popular support for the radical, anti-Moscow goals of the Wahhabi movement are unavailable, it is clear that it was unable to attract mass support beyond several of Dagestan’s southern districts. If the assumption that Russian Muslims oppose the central state and are prepared to mobilize in support of polit- ical movements that challenge the state were accurate, we would have seen support for radical Wahhabism in Dagestan. Yet the case of Dagestan demonstrates that Dagestani Muslims, despite ample opportunity, have not backed radical political Islamic movements and have not chosen to support neighboring Chechnya’s campaign against Moscow.

Islam and Politics in Chechnya

Radical Islam in Chechnya, most specialists in the West and Russia agree, is a product of the war rather than a cause of it. 57 Wahhabism has been used by opposition field commanders, or warlords, to en- hance their own political power and serve their own political goals. Wahhabism in Chechnya has been less connected to religious prac- tice than in Dagestan and is deeply entangled with the radical na- tionalism of field commanders who opposed the Chechen govern- ment of President Aslan Maskhadov. Although the Russian military refers to all Chechen field commanders as Wahhabis, commanders loyal to Maskhadov have opposed Wahhabism, while radicals such as Shamil Basaev, Movladi Udugov, and Salman Raduev have sup- ported it. 58 Wahhabist doctrine differs significantly from the Sufi Islam traditionally practiced in Chechnya and appeared there only during the first war (1994–96). Wahhabism primarily has attracted non-religious young men, many of whom were unemployed after the end of the first war. They embraced its ideology of armed ji- had rather than its Islamic doctrines. Also, Wahhabism spread in Chechnya due to funding from international Islamist groups and the involvement of foreign mercenaries who used the ideology of jihad to rally opposition to the Russians.

Islamic Identity and Political Mobilization in Russia


Certain Chechen field commanders turned to Wahhabism in the mid-1990s when they realized that support for their secessionist goals was not forthcoming from western states and international institutions such as the U.N. 59 In contrast, various Muslim par- ties, organizations, and individuals in Islamic states were willing to offer financial and military assistance to promote their ideology of “pure” Islam. 60 In terms of domestic politics, some Chechen leaders believed Wahhabism would unite the Chechen popula- tion by undermining clan-based loyalties and washing away reli- gious differences. 61 For example, the president of Chechnya in 1996, Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev, wanted to set up an Islamic state and invited the Dagestani radical Bagautdin to Chechnya to assist in replacing secular courts with Shari’a courts. The leaders intro- duced an Islamic Criminal Code based on that of Sudan and ap- pointed local Wahhabis as well as foreign missionaries as judges. Wahhabi sympathizers gained positions in Chechnya’s state ad- ministration, military, and media, and initiated campaigns to end alcohol consumption and to force Chechen women to wear the veil. Shari’a guards were organized, staffed both by Wahhabis and members of paramilitary groups. The guards interfered with tradi- tional Chechen weddings and other family celebrations by banning singing, dancing, and alcohol. Many ordinary Chechens resisted the imposition of Shari’a rule since it clashed with well-entrenched adat customary laws. On the other hand, like in Dagestan, some Chechens welcomed Wahhabism in order to escape the Chechen custom of holding family feasts, for fear of bankrupting their families. 62 Wahhabis also tried to win young converts by paying people $100 a month. The Wahhabis, however, undercut their own efforts to win adherents by allowing their Shari’a guards to arrest and beat people caught breaking Shari’a law. 63 In general, the Wahhabis faced enormous difficulty in imposing Shari’a rule in a society where women were often the primary breadwinners, and spent their days trading in the market, refusing to stop work- ing. One local expert claims that Shari’a rule never really existed in Chechnya. 64 Wahhabi militarism in Chechnya expanded after Khattab, a mercenary fighter from Jordan, married a woman from the Dagestani village of Karamakhi and established an instructional center there linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. The center offered ideological indoctrination as well as training in combat


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and guerilla warfare. According to a local Wahhabi amir, “The Khattab group was formed well before the war in Afghanistan;

it operated in Tajikistan; his mujahadeen fought, in the name of

Allah, in Bosnia, Abkhazia, Karabakh, Ingushetia, and Ichkeria. His center is extremely significant for the Muslims.” 65 Khattab went on to become an influential and controversial figure in Chechen pol- itics and one of the lead organizers of the Dagestani incursion in 1999. (Khattab was killed in the spring of 2002, possibly by the Rus- sian military.) Wahhabism in Chechnya grew in strength after 1998 when Dagestani leader Bagautdin moved to the republic, bringing many of his followers with him. Chechnya’s only legitimately elected president, Aslan Maskhadov, opposed Wahhabism, which he considered alien to traditional Chechen Sufi Islam. Maskhadov, however, was forced to tread a fine line between qualified acceptance and condem- nation of the movement in order to placate the opposition field commanders who were using their private armies and influence to challenge his power. In his ultimately futile attempt to re- tain control of the presidency, Maskhadov was forced to sup- port the transformation of Chechnya into an Islamic state based on Shari’a law. But unlike the Wahhabis, Maskhadov’s territo- rial ambitions stopped at the borders of the republic. He op- posed the creation of an Islamic republic uniting Dagestan and Chechnya, much less the rest of the North Caucasian republics—a goal the warlord and former vice-president Shamil Basaev openly advocates. In 1999, Maskhadov made common cause with the Mufti Akhmad-Khaji Kadyrov (who in 2000 would become the Moscow-

backed president of Chechnya) 66 and the traditional Sufi broth- erhoods (tariqats) that had taken up arms twice to fight the Wahhabis—after they destroyed a Sufi shrine in 1995, and then on a larger scale in Gudermes in 1998. 67 Maskhadov banned Wahhabism in Chechnya and disbanded most of the Shari’a courts. However, he allowed several Wahhabis (including Basaev) to con- tinue in their government positions. Maskhadov’s actions led to

a serious conflict with radical opposition field commanders and

other Wahhabi sympathizers. They accused him of straying too far from the original vision of Djokar Dudaev, making too many con- cessions to Russia, violating Chechnya’s Constitution, failing to observe Shari’a law, and of a lack of interest in establishing an

Islamic Identity and Political Mobilization in Russia


Islamic state. 68 The juxtaposition of religious and nationalist crit- icisms reveals an alliance of political interest among extremist Wahhabism and radical ethnic nationalism. Eventually, the oppo- sition took advantage of Maskhadov’s weak position and forced him to adopt a decree introducing full Shari’a rule in Chechnya. Maskhadov disbanded the Chechen parliament and replaced it with an Islamic Shura, or Presidential Council. These moves, how- ever, failed to satisfy the opposition who responded by setting up their own Shura, led by Basaev. 67 In April 1998, with support from Bagautdin and the Dagestani Wahhabis, Basaev organized a Congress of the Peoples of Ichkeria (Chechnya) and Dagestan, which resolved to liberate the entire Muslim Caucasus from the yoke of imperial Russia. The Congress focused its grievances on the government of Dagestan which it labeled “pro-Russian,” and issued threats against it for violating the will of local Muslims. The Congress formed armed units led by Khattab, incongruously naming them the “Islamic Peacemaking Brigade.” The outcome of the Congress was the 1999 incursion into Dagestan and proclamation of an Islamic state there. The alliance between radical Chechen nationalists and Wahhabis from Dagestan is indicated by the composition of the invading forces, which included Khattab’s Peacekeeping Brigade, the Dagestani Insurgent Army of the Imam led by Tagaev, and Bagautdin’s Islamic Army of the Caucasus. 70 It was as a result of the Dagestan incursion and the 1999 apartment bombings in Moscow that Wahhabism acquired its reputation among Russian citizens as militant Islamic radicalism. 71 Initially, President Maskhadov opposed the incursion but the Russian central government nonetheless held him responsible and initiated a second war with Chechnya. Maskhadov was forced to join the anti-Russian Wahhabi faction or appear to be allied with Moscow. A kind of “Islamic outbidding” was taking place among Chechnya’s politicians and warlords. By introducing fundamental- ist Islam in Chechnya, politicians striving to acquire or retain power had to present themselves as embodying authentic Chechen ide- als, which now meant not only opposing Russian rule, but also personally practicing Islam and seeking to establish Chechnya as an Islamic state. Events subsequent to the 1999 incursion into Dagestan have made Chechnya’s separatist conflict appear to Moscow and most


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of the world as motivated by a desire to establish Islamic rule in Chechnya. With the removal of Maskhadov and the assassination of President Kadyrov in 2004, warlords such as Basaev have increased the number and ruthlessness of terrorist attacks against civilians throughout Russia. The warlords’ cynical use of Islamic symbols and rhetoric, as well as their use of funding from international Islamist groups, have convinced many Russians that the war in Chechnya is a religious rebellion rather than a nationalist one. As a result, President Putin and other Russian leaders view all forms of Islam in Russia and the Caucasus as insurrectionary and are generally unwilling to engage in negotiations with any Chechen leaders. Informed Russian specialists such as Dmitry Makarov of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sci- ences, cautions against this view stating, “The approach to politi- cal Islam should be differentiated, that is, one should not see all Islamic groups as a direct enemy with which one should strug- gle only by power methods.” 72 And Maskhadov, who lost power in part because he was unable to counter the growing influence and violence of Chechnya’s radical warlords, continued to define Chechen separatism as a nationalist rather than religious mission. As his statement below reveals, Maskhadov explained Beslan and other terrorist attacks as motivated not by Islamist ideals but by a misguided and desperate attempt to counter Russia’s barbarity:

They are all—fundamentalism, Islamic extremism, and whatever fabrica-

tions and a fanciful image of an enemy, and this is undoubtedly what suits

the Kremlin

lamists would like to unite Dagestan, Chechnya, North Ossetia and In- gushetia and build a caliphate. This is not true; it is a fabrication and a


once said that the Chechen Is-

An international expert

Within the Chechen resistance there is a radically-minded section of

people who believe that to fight Russia using normal, i.e. civilized meth-

ods, is pointless

[they] believe that it is only blowing up the metro, tube

trains, aircraft and seizing schools which can force Putin to stop this car-

nage, this war, this bloodshed and this


But they are deluding

because they do not know the true face of their enemy and

the state they are fighting. 73

Thus, the case of Chechnya suggests that the fact that the Chechen population is traditionally Muslim and practice Sufi Is- lam is only distantly related to the mobilization there in support of radical Wahhabism and against the Russian central government.

Islamic Identity and Political Mobilization in Russia


On the one hand, it is difficult to perceive the original motiva- tions of the Chechens in their opposition to the Russian central government because Russia’s decision to bomb the republic at a very early point in the first conflict led to a consolidation of anti- Russian attitudes among the Chechen population. The precipitous actions of both Djokhar Dudaev and Russian central leaders seem to have generated Russian–Chechen violence before peaceful so- lutions could be sought. On the other hand, there is little evidence that any significant popular mobilization along Islamic lines had occurred before the violence broke out in 1994. The first Chechen war concerned the right of the Chechen people to establish an in- dependent nation-state, though not an Islamic or religious one. Dudaev and other leaders turned to Islamic rhetoric at a later point, only after realizing they could secure support from Muslim actors abroad by doing so. This suggests that anti-Russian attitudes among the Chechen population are very likely unrelated to Islamic belief, and are a product, rather than a cause of the conflict. 74 Furthermore, more so than in Dagestan, the leaders of the Wahhabi movement in Chechnya appeared to be using Islam for political purposes. Shamil Basaev’s response to a reporter who asked whether Khatab was a Wahhabist is very revealing in this regard. Basaev told the reporter, “No, he is a Khatabist.” 75 The limited support for the Wahhabi movement among the Chechen population, and the divisions among the republic’s leaders regard- ing the proper form of Islam demonstrate that the war remains primarily motivated by ethno-nationalist concerns.


This discussion of Dagestan and Chechnya reveals that there is no single bloc of Muslim political actors in Russia. Although some Russian Muslims (including the radical Wahhabis) seem to define their identity in terms of opposition to the Russian central state, most Muslims in Russia do not share political goals or attitudes with Muslims living beyond the borders of their own republics. Nor have Russia’s Muslims mobilized as coherent political blocs within their own republics. The fact that there seems to be little common political interest among Russia’s Muslims and little politi- cal mobilization along Islamic lines suggests that the “infection” of Islam that President Putin spoke of, spreading from the Caucasus


E. Giuliano

up the Volga River to destroy the integrity of the Russian Feder- ation, is as implausible an outcome as Russia’s leaders suddenly shedding their fear of Islam.


Financial support for this article was provided by the Kroc Insti- tute for International Peace at the University of Notre Dame and the University of Miami James W. McLamore Summer Award in Business and the Social Sciences.



Quoted in Vladimir Bobrovnikov, “Islamophobia and Religious Legislation in Daghestan,” Central Asia and the Caucasus No. 2 (2000), pp. 138–50.


Quoted in Amy Waldman, “Russia’s Muslims Unchained, but still Chafing,” New York Times, 9 November 2001, p. A10.


Transcript of first part of President Putin’s meeting at Novo-Ogarevo. Notes from Jonathan Steele. See Johnson’s Russia’s List #14, 8368.


“Piecing Together the Caucasus,” New York Times, 19 September 2004, p. 12.


It is relevant to note that many Russians are utterly convinced by Samuel Huntington’s claims about civilizational divides. Samuel Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (NY: Simon & Schuster,



Hilary Pilkington and Galina Yemelianova (eds.), Islam in Post-Soviet Russia (London and New York: Routledge Curzon, 2003), p. 10.


Muslims are concentrated in the republics of Adygeya, Ingushetia, Dagestan, Karbardino-Balkaria, Karachai-Cherkassia, North Ossetia, Chechnya, Bashko- rtostan, and Tatarstan, as well as in parts of central Russia.


A discussion of Euro-Islam—a moderate set of beliefs that accepts rule by a secular state—is outside the scope of this article. For an interesting analysis of Euro-Islam, see Kate Graney, Ch.4 in Blair Ruble and Dominique Arel (eds.), Re-Bounding Identities in Russia and Ukraine (Johns Hopkins University Press, forthcoming).


Georgi Derlugian, “Che Guevaras in Turbans: The Twisted Lineage of Islamic Fundamentalism in Chechnya and Dagestan,” New Left Review, Vol. A, No. 237 (1999), pp. 3–27.


Galina Yemelianova, “Ethnic Nationalism, Islam and Russian Politics in the North Caucasus,” in C. Williams and T. Sfikas (eds.), Ethnicity and Nationalism in Russia, the CIS and the Baltic States (London: Ashgate, 1999), pp. 120–48.


Pilkington and Yemelianova, p. 93 and Chapter 1.

Islamic Identity and Political Mobilization in Russia


13. Pilkington and Yemelianova, pp. 91–6.

14. Derlugian argues that Wahhabism in Dagestan developed in order to chal- lenge traditional Islamic institutions (specifically the Naqshabandia Sufi brotherhood) and to challenge powerful local ethnic clientelist networks. Derlugian, 1999.

15. Ronald Suny, The Revenge of the Past: Nationalism, Revolution and the Collapse of the Soviet Union (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993). Rogers Brubaker, Nationalism Reframed (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.); Philip Roeder, “Soviet Federalism and Ethnic Mobilization,” World Politics, Vol. 43, No. 2 (January, 1991), pp. 196–233.

16. Why Secession Fails: The Rise and Fall of Ethnic Minority Nationalism in Russia, manuscript in progress.

17. Shaimiev was less tolerant of “unofficial” Islam in Tatarstan, in the late 1990s closing down several medresses that were putatively funded by fundamentalist schools of Islam in Middle Eastern states.

18. Pilkington and Yemelianova, pp. 73, 78.

19. Bashkirs in Bashkortostan is another.

20. The Tsumadinskii, Botlikhskii and Novolakskii raions (districts) of Dagestan.

21. “Russia Retaliates against Armed Insurgents in Dagestan: More Than 10,000 Newly Uprooted in August,” Worldwide Refugee Information, Septem- ber 1999, rr99 8.htm [accessed 13 August 2002].

22. “Dagestani Leadership Protests Incursion” 9 July 1999 (based on RFE/RL Newsline) NUPI Center for Russian Studies Chronology of Events, [accessed 15 August 2002].

23. Franz Schurmann, “If Dagestan Islam Spreads it Could Bring Down Russia” (19 August 1999), dagestan.html [accessed August 15, 2002].

24. NewsHour with Jim Lehrer Transcript. Interview with Fiona Hill and Philip Kohl. (August 12, 1999), dec99/dagestan 8-12.html [accessed 13 August 2002]. Also see: Thomas Goltz, “Moscow’s Dagestan Dilemma-Prelude to the Breakup of An Em- pire” (14 September 1999), russia.html [accessed 12 August 2002].

25. In Dagestan alone there are 11 official ethnic groups and more than 30 local languages.

26. Enver Kisriev, “Islam’s Political Role in Dagestan,” Central Asia and the Cauca- sus, No. 5 (2000), pp. 65–70.

27. Galina M. Yemelianova, “Sufism and Politics in the North Caucasus,” Nation- alities Papers, Vol. 29, No. 4 (2001), p. 666.

28. There are a total of 32 officially recognized ethnic groups in Dagestan and 15 recognized Sufi brotherhoods. The two main ones are the Nakshbandia tariqat and the Kadyria tariqat.

29. However, there is another group of Dagestani Naqshbandiis led by shaykhs with deeper knowledge of Islam who oppose Sayid-efendi and the official Muftiyat. Yemelianova, “Sufism and Politics” p. 674.


E. Giuliano


Despite the DUMD’s power, it does not monopolize Islam in Dagestan and controls only four or five mosques out of 57 in the capital Makhachkala. Kisriev, 2000.


Yemelianova, “Sufism and Politics,” pp. 668–71.


Vakhid Akaev “Islamic Fundamentalism in the Northern Caucasus: Myth or Reality?,” Central Asia and the Caucasus, No. 3 (2000), p. 141.


Aleksei Kudriavtsev, “Wahhabism: Religious Extremism in the Northern Cau- casus,” Central Asia and the Caucasus, No. 3 (2000), p. 1.


Robert Bruce Ware, “Why Wahhabism Went Wrong in Dagestan,” Central

Asia Caucasus Monitor, 2000. Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, Johns Hopkins University. [accessed 11 August, 2002].


Yemelianova, “Sufism and Politics,” p. 677. Italics in original.


One scholar maintains that Wahhabism developed in Dagestan in the 1970s without any support from Arab missionaries. Bobrovnikov, “Islamophobia,”



See Yemelianova, footnote 81.


Dagestan is ranked 87th out of Russia’s 89 territories in terms of economic development. Its subsistence level is one of the lowest in the country and its mortality rate and infant mortality rate increased during the 1990s.


Yemelianova, “Sufism and Islam,” pp. 675, 678.


Ibid., p. 676.


Kisriev, 2000. p. 68.


Igor Dobaev, “Islamic Radicalism in the Northern Caucasus,” Central Asia and the Caucasus, No. 6 (2000). Kudriavtsev mentions a third, smaller kind of genuine Wahhabism centered in Astrakhan, which follows the teachings of Ibn Abd-el-Wahhab and views Saudi Arabia as the ideal model. Kudriavtsev, p. 133.


The IRP later developed into the All-Russia Islamic Party of Revival.


The demonstration ended with armed clashes against Dagestani police forces.


Yemelianova, “Sufism and Islam,” p. 677.


Dobaev, 2000, p. 77.


Ibid., p. 78.


Yemelianova, “Sufism and Politics, p. 679.


Also at this time mufti Saidmukhamed Abubakarov was murdered, causing further instability. Kisriev, p. 69; Robert Bruce Ware, 2002 Central Asia Cauca- sus Analyst.


‘No Surprises in Dagestani Election,” Chronology of Events, NPI Center for Russian Studies. (26 June 1998), krono.exe?2379. [accessed 10 August, 2002].


Dobaev, 2000, p. 78.


Kudriavtsev. 2000, p. 136.


According to The Moscow Times, Dagestan’s Interior Minister Adilgirei Magomedtagirov, told the civilian volunteers at the time: “You may have whatever you wish—pistols, assault rifles, grenade launchers, even a tank. But come to us and register it.” Nabi Abdullaev, “Dagestanis Try to Stick to Their Guns,” The August 2002, p. 1.

Islamic Identity and Political Mobilization in Russia


54. Dobaev, 2000, p. 82.

55. Ibid., p. 85.

56. Derlugian, p. 9.

57. See Julie Wilhelmsen, “Between a Rock and a Hard Place,” Paper presented at the Association for the Study of Nationalities Annual Convention, New York, 2004 and forthcoming in Europe-Asia Studies. Also see, Edward W. Walker, “Islam in Chechnya,” BPS Caucasus Newsletter, p. 10. Paper based on summary of talk given at Berkeley-Stanford Conference “Religion and Spirituality in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union,” 13 March 1998.

58. Francesca Mereu, “Russia: Islam Plays Fundamental Role in North Caucasus Life (Part 2)” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 4 January 2002, [accessed 17 August 2002].

59. Walker, 1998.

60. Specialists disagree, however, on whether foreign states themselves provided support to the Chechens. Groups and individuals within the states of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Syria, Pakistan, Turkey, and Afghanistan are said to have supported the Chechen cause. See Dobaev, 2000, p. 79.

61. Ibid.

62. The Chechen custom of holding expensive feasts when a family member died or got married was always difficult for poor families who therefore wel- comed the end of this practice, according to Sergei Arutyunov, the head of the Caucasus section of the Institute of Ethnology in Moscow. Quoted in Mereu.

63. People apparently also saw Shari’a rule as hypocritical as they learned that they could bribe their way out of Shari’a punishment. Kudriavtsev, p. 134.

64. Akaev, “Religious-Political Conflict,” p. 8.

65. Quoted in Dobaev, p. 79. Khattab’s full name is Habib Abd el-Rahman Khattab.

66. Liz Fuller, “Putin Names Interim Chechen Leader,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Caucasus Report, Vol. 3, No. 24 (16 June 2000), pp. 1–2.

67. Vakhit Akaev, “Religious-Political Conflict in the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria,” in Political Islam and Conflicts in Russia and Central Asia, [accessed 18 August 2002].

68. Ibid., p. 7.

69. Ibid., p. 8, and Kudriavtsev, p. 135.

70. Dobaev, p. 82.

71. The role of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda in funding the incursion (and in Chechnya in general) is highly controversial. Some believe bin Laden saw military incursion into Dagestan as an opportunity to spread his influence beyond Chechnya into the North Caucasus. According to Gennadi Troshev, the Russian Commander of the North Caucasian Military District (admittedly

a biased observer), “Bin Laden transferred over $30 million to Basaev and

Khattab. He organized deliveries of weapons and military training. What

is more he personally visited the training camps at the Chechen village of

Serzhen-Iurt on the eve of the invasion of Dagestan.” President Maskhadov


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vehemently denies that bin-Laden has ever been on the territory of Chechnya. G.N. Troshev, quoted in Igor Dobaev, “Radical Political Institutions of the Islamic World: Escalation of Violence” Central Asia and the Caucasus, No. 6 (12) 2001.


Dmitry Makarov, “Who is Behind the Terrorist Act in Beslan?” RIA Novosti, 21 September 2004, in Johnson’s Russia List, #16 (22 September 2004), No. 8378.


“Chechen rebel president says talks could end war in 30 minutes,” BBC Monitoring. Source: Daymokh news agency web site, 16 September 2004, in Johnson’s Russia List, #7 (17 September 2004), No. 8372.


Ned Walker argues that the war in Chechnya created and strengthened Is- lamic identities among the Chechen population, rather than Islamic identity giving rise to armed conflict with the Russians. Walker, “Islam in Chechnya,”



Mathew Evangelista, “Dagestan and Chechnya: Russia’s Self-Defeating Wars,” October 1999, PONARS Policy Member 95, Cornell University, p. 3.

Elise Giuliano is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Miami, specializing in ethnic politics and post-Soviet politics. She is com- pleting a manuscript on why popular support for nationalist movements emerged and then declined in Russia, entitled “Why Secession Fails: The Rise and Fall of Ethnic Minority Nationalism in Russia.”