Monthly Archives: March 2011

North Caucasus: one war lost, another one begins

North Caucasus: one war lost, another one begins
Andrei Piontkovsky
oD Russia | 16 March 2011

The region of the North Caucasus is on fire. Its young people — poorly educated and unemployed — believe radical Islam could be solution to their problems. In Mother Russia, meanwhile, a new generation of disenfranchised youngsters are smarting from their lot. The two groups may be soon on collision course, warns Andrei Piontkovsky


Events in the North Caucasus have been increasingly moving beyond a mere regional conflict, and are turning into the central existential problem of the Russian Federation. All the mistakes, failures and crimes of Russia’s post-communist governments in the sphere of security, economics, nationalities policy and federal system have become entwined in the Caucasian knot.

The security situation in the North Caucasus is deteriorating. According to Russian authorities, the number of terrorist acts in the area has doubled in a year

What was the reason we fought two Chechen wars? Russia’s territorial integrity, supposedly. However, territorial integrity is not the same as scorched earth without people. We went to war to prove to the Chechens that they are Russian citizens. But we did it by destroying their cities by using airborne power and Grad missiles and by abducting peaceful civilians whose bodies were later found showing signs of torture.

We have consistently proved to the Chechens the exact opposite of what we have proclaimed, demonstrating with our entire behaviour that they are not Russian citizens, that we have long ceased to regard them as Russian citizens and their cities and villages as Russian cities and villages. And we have conclusively proved this not just to the Chechens, but to all the natives of the Caucasus.

This is what makes this war essentially and fundamentally absurd.

We have lost the war against the Chechen separatists. One of the most brutal field commanders, Ramzan Kadyrov, has emerged as the winner. He enjoys a degree of independence from the Kremlin that the Soviet officers Dudayev and Maskhadov could not have dreamt of.

Faced with a choice between the very bad and the appalling, which itself was a result of his policies in Chechnya, Putin – to give him credit – has opted for the very bad. Having admitted defeat, he has handed all power in Chechnya to Kadyrov and his army, and since has been paying him war indemnity. In response, Kadyrov has formally declared not so much his loyalty to the Kremlin as his personal union with Putin. The appalling option would have been a continuation of the war to the point of destruction, à la Shamanov or Budanov.

However, the war against Chechen separatism in the North Caucasus has been replaced by another war, one against Islamist fundamentalism.

Islamist terrorism has since spread throughout the North Caucasus and it no longer needs to rely on mentors from the Middle East. There is now a new generation of home-grown followers in the Caucasus with its indigenous structure of Jamaats. Just as during the Chechen war, our official state policy has resulted in an increase in the numbers of Islamists. This is exemplified by the conduct of the Commander-in-Chief [Dmitry Medvedev] following the recent terrorist attacks, which boils down to his increasingly brutal calls for “total destruction” and the punishment of everyone, including those “who wash the terrorists’ laundry and cook their soup.”

The ferocious second Chechen war (beginning in 1999) is considered by many in Russia to be directly linked to the presidential election of 2000

Dmitry Medvedev and his pals are well aware of the morals of the Russian federal forces who dispatch themselves to the Caucasus for double salaries. As such, he must have realised that the only thing these kind of calls can achieve is an increase in the number of extrajudicial killings of civilians with no links to the insurgents, or in in retribution against families of suspects. A situation which will, in turn, swell the ranks of potential suicide bombers and result in fresh terrorist attacks on Russian soil.

The only explanation for the use of such highly irresponsible rhetoric from a lawyer and state official is a desire to demonstrate a “cool” image. And one must assume it is being done in the hope of safeguarding the support of the siloviki, who have been given carte blanche, for a future settling of accounts.

Just as in Chechnya, we continue to delude ourselves by making payouts to corrupt “elites” in the republics, who simply steal the cash and thus force the unfortunate population onto a path of Islamist revolution.

Editor-in-chief of Moscow Echo Radio Alexei Venediktov, an exceedingly well-informed man with contacts at the top, provided the following invaluable insight:

“Sometimes when I talk to people who are in really high positions, decision-makers, and I tell them: listen, those Caucasian presidents have started behaving like khans, they tell me: that is the price we pay for the absence of war. What absence of war? Of course, tanks are no longer roaming the country, Grad missiles are not being fired. But absence of war? What, if not war, is going on there? I totally disagree on this point. And that’s what I say to you and to the people I meet. This is a fundamental mistake. We are a country at war.”

The psychology of the “people in really high positions, decision-makers” that Venediktov sometimes talks to is very interesting. Yes, there is peace at their securely guarded mansions around Moscow and on the Black Sea coast in Gelendzhik. And the price of this peace is a war against ordinary people’s shacks and the transport system they use.

Paradoxically, while recent events have shown that Islamists have been losing ground in the Middle East, their influence in the North Caucasus has only grown.

Mr. Putin, apart from his macho braggadocio – rather incongruous, given the current situation – that he will not negotiate with anyone (the Islamists are not intending to negotiate with anyone anyway), has also made a point of emphasising that there was no connection between Chechnya and the Domodedovo Airport explosion. He is probably absolutely right. The most active centres of Islamic radicalism are now concentrated in other republics. And they include people of various nationalities, including Slavs.

But then again, even by official accounts, there was no connection between Chechnya and the bomb attacks on apartment houses in 1999 either, let alone the Ryazan “training exercise”. Yet it was in revenge for these attacks that tanks and aircraft as well as Grad missiles were unleashed on Chechnya. Mr. Putin’s delicate approach to Chechnya would have been invaluable back then.

Chechnya’s strongman Ramzan Kadyrov. Not so much loyal to, as united with Vladimir Putin.

Putin’s current, more considerate attitude to the matter of Chechen reputation tells us an awful lot. He is rightly wary of arousing Kadyrov’s wrath, since these days Putin depends on Kadyrov much more than Kadyrov does on Putin. Without Kadyrov’s demonstrative personal loyalty the entire Putin myth would implode in an instant.

The Kremlin has been waging a war in the Caucasus for twelve years without realising the scale of the tragedy it has unleashed – the fact that the country is sliding into an intra-national civil war and that the full responsibility rests on the government policy that has fuelled both sides for a long time now.

By launching and then losing the war in the Caucasus, the Kremlin now pays an indemnity for a show of subservience, not only to Kadyrov but also to the criminal elites in all the other republics. This pays for the purchases of mansions and for the gilded guns slung across their buttocks, while the destitute, déclassé, unemployed young mountain-dwellers are joining the soldiers of Allah or are being displaced onto the streets of Russian cities.

Over the past two decades an entire generation of children has grown up on Russian streets, forever robbed of everything by the privatisation reforms. Those in charge of TV and politics have made it clear to them who is to blame for their misery and who is intent on dismembering them: it is the “gentlemen in pith helmets” and the “criminal factions of the non-indigenous nationalities”.

Since gangs of adolescents from working-class suburbs deprived of their future don’t have ready access to “gentlemen in pith helmets” or to the celestial inhabitants of [Moscow’s luxury suburb of] Rublyovka, they vent their pent-up fury by beating to death “persons of non-indigenous skin colour”.

Now two armies of desperadoes, equally guilty and equally innocent, both victims and executioners, who have been cheated and robbed by basically the same people, have turned on each other.

There is a growing mental abyss between the Russian youth and their Caucasian counterparts who have grown up in conditions of a brutal war, initially in Chechnya but later engulfing the entire region.

On 9 December, young Muscovites marched through the city shouting nationalistic slogans (Photo: Ilya Varlamov)

Young Muscovites march through the city shouting, in English “Fuck Caucasus! Fuck!” [sic], while the young mountain-dwellers’ behaviour in the streets of Russian cities is demonstratively provocative and aggressive. Their psychology is that of the victors. In their view, Moscow has lost the war in the Caucasus.

Mentally and emotionally Caucasus and Russia have already separated from each other. Yet neither the Kremlin nor the elites in the North Caucasus are ready for a formal separation. The Kremlin continues to nurse phantom illusions of its empire, with its far-reaching zones of privileged interests beyond Russia’s frontiers, while the local little tsars, starting with Kadyrov, do not want to give up the budget transfers from Russia. The Islamists are not keen on separation either. Their dream is of a Khalifate that would include much more of the Russian Federation than just the North Caucasus.

President Medvedev recently called a large meeting in Vladikavkaz.

There he repeated his charge that anonymous enemies (i.e. the West) are trying to destroy Russia and he cheered on his siloviki, essentially goading them to carry out extrajudicial killings and calling for the North Caucasus to be turned into… a zone of international Alpine tourism.

The next day after his departure the insurgents blew up ski-lifts in the famous ski resort of Nalchik.

About the author

Andrei Piontkovsky is an eminent Russian academic and political analyst, specialising in Russia’s domestic, foreign and security politics.


You Dress According to Their Rule

“You Dress According to Their Rules”

Enforcement of an Islamic Dress Code for Women in Chechnya

March 10, 2011


This report documents acts of violence, harassment, and threats against women in Chechnya to intimidate them into wearing a headscarf or dressing more “modestly,” in long skirts and sleeves to cover their limbs. The documented attacks by unidentified men believed to be law enforcement officials took place from June through September 2010 in the center of Grozny, the Chechen capital.

Read the Report


Table of Contents

  • Map of Chechnya
  • Summary
  • Methodology
  • I. Background
  • II. Enforcing Islamic Dress Code in Chechnya through Attacks and Harassment of Women
  • III. Recommendations
  • Acknowledgments
  • Appendix: Questions and Answers on Restrictions on Religious Dress and Symbols in Europe

Russia: Chechnya Enforcing Islamic Dress Code

Russia: Chechnya Enforcing Islamic Dress Code

Women Attacked, Intimidated as Moscow Officials Look the Other Way

Human Rights Watch | March 10, 2011


A female student covers herself with a headscarf in a high school in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya. Headscarves are mandatory for female students in Chechnya today.



These attacks against women are outrageous, and the alleged involvement of law enforcement officials is of special concern. The Kremlin should publicly and unambiguously make clear, in particular to the Chechen authorities, that Chechen women, like all Russians, are free to dress as they choose. Tanya Lokshina, Russia researcher


(Moscow) – Chechen authorities are enforcing a compulsory Islamic dress code for women and condoning violent attacks on women deemed to dress immodestly, Human Rights Watch said in a report issued today. Russia’s federal government has done almost nothing to respond to these violations of women’s rights in Chechnya.

The 40-page report, “You Dress According to Their Rules: Enforcement of an Islamic Dress Code for Women in Chechnya,” documents acts of violence, harassment, and threats against women in Chechnya to intimidate them into wearing a headscarf or dressing more “modestly,” in long skirts and sleeves to cover their limbs. The documented attacks by unidentified men believed to be law enforcement officials took place from June through September 2010 in the center of Grozny, the Chechen capital.

“These attacks against women are outrageous, and the alleged involvement of law enforcement officials is of special concern,” said Tanya Lokshina, Russia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Kremlin should publicly and unambiguously make clear, in particular to the Chechen authorities, that Chechen women, like all Russians, are free to dress as they choose.”

The Russian government also should ensure that the attackers are prosecuted, Human Rights Watch said.

The attacks and the dress code policy are parts of a quasi-official “virtue campaign,” which Chechen officials began several years ago in the republic. The campaign breaches freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, and the right to personal autonomy and expression, guaranteed by Russia’s constitution and international human rights obligations, Human Rights Watch said.

As part of this campaign, despite the absence of any legal basis for doing so, local authorities prohibit women from working in the public sector if they do not wear headscarves. Education authorities require female students to wear headscarves in schools and universities.

Gradually, throughout 2009 and 2010, the authorities broadened their enforcement of this de facto “headscarf rule” to other public places, including entertainment sites, movie theaters, and even outdoor areas. These measures are strictly enforced and publicly supported by the Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, who was appointed directly by the Kremlin. In numerous media interviews, Kadyrov has said openly that he considers women inferior to men and that it is women’s duty to obey men and keep themselves covered up so as not to tempt men into violating Islamic morality.

Last summer’s attacks signaled a dramatic intensification in the headscarf campaign. Unknown men, mostly dressed like local law enforcement officials, shot dozens of women in Grozny with paintball guns for wearing clothes deemed to be revealing and for failing to cover their hair. The men also distributed leaflets stating that the paintball shootings were a preventive measure aimed at making women wear headscarves and threatening that women who refused would face more “persuasive” measures. All of the 31 women interviewed by Human Rights Watch for this report unanimously interpreted this as a threat to use real weapons instead of paintball guns.

In a televised interview in July 2010, Kadyrov expressed unambiguous approval of the paintball attacks by professing his readiness to “give an award to” the men engaged in them and arguing that the targeted women deserved this treatment.

At the start of Ramadan in mid-August 2010, groups of men in traditional Islamic dress claiming to represent the republic’s Islamic High Council started publicly shaming women in the center of Grozny for violating their interpretation of Islamic modesty laws. They handed out brochures with detailed descriptions of appropriate Islamic dress for women and instructed them to wear headscarves, skirts that fell well below the knees, and sleeves well below the elbow.

Aggressive young men joined the purported council envoys, pulling on women’s sleeves, skirts, and hair, touching the bare skin on their arms, accusing them of dressing like “harlots” and making other humiliating remarks and gestures. In interviews with Human Rights Watch, over 30 victims and witnesses described a pattern of harassment that continued throughout Ramadan and that in some cases involved law enforcement authorities as enforcers of the women’s dress code.

“When a public official like Ramzan Kadyrov praises violence and speaks of women in inferior terms, he is openly encouraging attacks and humiliation of women,” Lokshina said. “This is absolutely unacceptable, yet Russian authorities seem to make no efforts to rein him in.”

Russia’s Prosecutor General’s Office has directed Chechen authorities to look into the paintball attacks. But the federal authorities have taken no further steps to put an end to the enforcement of a compulsory Islamic dress code and have failed to indicate in any public way that Kadyrov’s justification of violence against women is unacceptable.

Human Rights Watch has criticized the governments of Germany, France, and Turkey for violating religious freedoms by banning religious symbols in schools and denying Muslim women the right to choose to wear headscarves in schools and universities. By the same token, women and girls should be free not to wear religious or traditional dress.

Human Rights Watch called on the Russian government to condemn publicly the enforcement of a compulsory Islamic dress code on Chechen women. The Russian government should also ensure access to the region for international monitors, including the UN Special Rapporteurs on violence against women and on freedom of religion, and empower Chechen women to enjoy their right to personal autonomy, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Russian government needs to stop tolerating Chechnya’s unlawful gender policies,” Lokshina said.

HRW: Chechen Women Abused If Refuse To Cover Head

HRW: Chechen Women Abused If Refuse To Cover Head

by The Associated Press
GROZNY, Russia March 10, 2011, 12:38 pm ET



Associated Press

A woman examines headscarves on a stall at Grozny’s central market, Chechnya, Thursday, March 10, 2011. Chechnya’s strongman Ramzan Kadyrov has imposed an Islamic dress code on women, and his feared security forces have used paintball guns, threats and insults against those refusing to obey. In a 40-page report released Thursday, Human Rights Watch condemned the campaign as a flagrant violation of women’s rights and urged other nations to raise the issue with Moscow.


Associated Press

A salesclerk adjusts a headscarf on a mannequin in a shop at Grozny’s central market, Chechnya, Thursday, March 10, 2011. Chechnya’s strongman Ramzan Kadyrov has imposed an Islamic dress code on women, and his feared security forces have used paintball guns, threats and insults against those refusing to obey. In a 40-page report released Thursday, Human Rights Watch condemned the campaign as a flagrant violation of women’s rights and urged other nations to raise the issue with Moscow.


Associated Press

FILE – In this Sunday, April 25, 2010 file photo, wearing traditional costume of the Caucasus’ people, Chechny’s regional leader Ramzan Kadyrov, center foreground, walks with local top officials during the Chehchen Language Day celebration in the Chechnya’s regional capital Grozny. Chechnya’s strongman Ramzan Kadyrov has imposed an Islamic dress code on women, and his feared security forces have used paintball guns, threats and insults against those refusing to obey. In a 40-page report released Thursday, Human Rights Watch condemned the campaign as a flagrant violation of women’s rights and urged other nations to raise the issue with Moscow.

Associated Press

FILE – In this Sept. 16, 2010 file photo, Chechen students from an Islamic university wearing Islamic veils, with the city’s main Mosque in the background, during events marking a newly established holiday called ‘The Day of Chechen Women’ in Chechnya’s regional capital, Grozny. Chechnya’s strongman Ramzan Kadyrov has imposed an Islamic dress code on women, and his feared security forces have used paintball guns, threats and insults against those refusing to obey. In a 40-page report released Thursday, Human Rights Watch condemned the campaign as a flagrant violation of women’s rights and urged other nations to raise the issue with Moscow.


Associated Press

FILE – In this Sept. 16, 2010 file photo Chechen students from an Islamic university wearing Islamic veils, during events marking a newly established holiday called ‘The Day of Chechen Women’ in Chechnya’s regional capital, Grozny. Chechnya’s strongman Ramzan Kadyrov has imposed an Islamic dress code on women, and his feared security forces have used paintball guns, threats and insults against those refusing to obey. In a 40-page report released Thursday, Human Rights Watch condemned the campaign as a flagrant violation of women’s rights and urged other nations to raise the issue with Moscow.



The cars pull up in broad daylight. Security forces point guns at terrified women and shoot. It turns out they’re paintball pellets, but still harsh punishment in Chechnya for leaving home without a headscarf.

Chechnya’s strongman Ramzan Kadyrov has imposed an Islamic dress code on women, and his feared security forces have used paintball guns, threats and insults against those refusing to obey. In a 40-page report released Thursday, Human Rights Watch condemned the campaign as a flagrant violation of women’s rights and urged other nations to raise the issue with Moscow.

“The enforcement of a compulsory Islamic dress code on women in Chechnya violates their rights to private life, personal autonomy, freedom of expression, and freedom of religion, thought, and conscience,” the report said.

“It is also a form of gender-based discrimination prohibited under international treaties to which Russia is a party.”

Kadyrov rules with the support of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who has counted on him to stabilize the mostly Muslim region in southern Russia after two separatist wars in the last 16 years. Russian authorities have turned a blind eye to the treatment of women and other rights abuses in Chechnya.

Human Rights Watch interviewed dozens of women who have experienced or witnessed attacks or harassment for their refusal to adhere to the Islamic dress code.

One of the victims, identified as Louiza, told the rights group that she and a friend were attacked while walking down Putin Avenue in Grozny on a hot day last June, wearing skirts a little below the knee, blouses with sleeves a bit above the elbow and no headscarves. Suddenly a car without a license plate pulled up, its side window rolled down and a gun barrel pointed at them.

“I thought the gun was real and when I heard the shots I thought: ‘This is death,'” she recalled in the report. “I felt something hitting me in the chest and was sort of thrown against the wall of a building.

“The sting was awful, as if my breasts were being pierced with a red-hot needle, but I wasn’t fainting or anything and suddenly noticed some strange green splattering on the wall and this huge green stain was also expanding on my blouse.”

The 25-year-old woman said her friend was hit on her legs and stumbled to the ground. Men dressed in the black uniform of Kadyrov’s security forces looked out of the car’s windows, laughing and sneering.

“It’s only at home that I could examine the bruise and it was so huge and ugly,” Louiza recalled. “Since then, I don’t dare leave home without a headscarf.”

Another target, a 29-year-old woman whose name was not given, said she was walking down the same central avenue in June with two other women, all without headscarves, when two cars stopped nearby and bearded men in black uniforms fired paintball guns at them, screaming: “Cover your hair, harlots!”

The woman told Human Rights Watch that she knows 12 women who were shot at with paintball guns in June. Overall, at least 50 or 60 women were targeted, the rights group said.

Threatening leaflets also appeared on the streets of Grozny, warning women that those who fail to wear headscarves could face “more persuasive measures.” The women interviewed by Human Rights Watch interpreted that as a threat to use real weapons.

Kadyrov’s security force has been blamed by rights activists for abductions, torture and extrajudicial killings in Chechnya.

In July 2009, the director of the Chechen office of Russia’s Memorial rights group, was abducted near her home in Grozny and found shot to death along a roadside a few hours later. Natalya Estemirova had publicly criticized the Islamic dress campaign as a violation of Russian law, angering Kadyrov who had threatened her with repercussions.

A few weeks after the paintball shootings, Kadyrov told local television that he was ready to give awards to the men who carried out the attacks and that the targeted women deserved the treatment. There was no response from the federal authorities.

The paintball attacks ended in mid-June, having achieving Kadyrov’s objective. The majority of women are now too scared to enter the center of Grozny without headscarves or dare to complain against the “virtue campaign.”

At Chechen State University in Grozny this week, all females students wore headscarves and, toeing the official line, defended the practice as part of local tradition and a sign of respect for Islam.

“The headscarf is part of our religion, part of our faith,” said Seda Sabarova, 18.

Kadyrov also scoffed at criticism of his effort to enforce an Islamic dress code, telling foreign reporters that headscarves make women beautiful.

Doku Umarov: Dead or Alive

Doku Umarov: Dead or Alive?
Both Authorities and Insurgents are Becoming More Active in the North Caucasus
By Andrew Roth
Russia Profile | 03/30/2011

Doku Umarov, Russia’s answer to “Osama Bin Laden”, is dead, government sources told Interfax on Tuesday. In a special military operation which included a massive airstrike from an unmanned drone, a helicopter attack, and a ground operation, Russian special forces say they killed 16 guerillas in a terrorist camp in Ingushetia. Some of Umarov’s top lieutenants have been identified among the dead, but the body of Russia’s most-wanted terrorist has yet to be found. While investigators continue the grisly work of examining the “biological remains” at the site, authorities have backpedaled on their early predictions of Umarov’s demise.

Umarov’s death was first reported by Interfax citing unnamed sources in Russian security forces agencies in the North Caucasus. Yet while heady statements were made on Tuesday about Umarov’s body being likely to be found among the dead, a preliminary investigation was unsuccessful in identifying the body. The follow-up investigation may take some time. Descriptions of the scene say that investigators have found “parts of bodies together with scraps of sleeping bags on nearby tree branches,” reported Kommersant.

Russian local and national leaders have taken the lead in underlining the importance of the recent raid. “That they were able to catch these creeps in their den is good,” said President Dmitry Medvedev, reported RIA Novosti. “They managed to inflict considerable losses.” The head of Ingushetia, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, took a cautious line on the pressing question of the death of the terrorist leader. “It has been confirmed that there were a series of [terrorist] leaders. Right now they are not being named.” Bodies of terrorist leaders that have been identified included Sulyan Abdullayev and Aslan Butyukaev, who were expected to have been close to Umarov by Russian special forces.

This is not the first time that Umarov’s death has been prematurely announced. He was suspected dead multiple times after gun battles with security forces in 2005, for instance, and was said to have been seriously injured after stepping on an anti-personnel mine in the same year. Yet each time Umarov has reemerged, much to the frustration of Russia’s anti-terrorist operatives. The insurgency web portal, which has hosted videos made by Umarov and other rebels in the past, wrote that “the Kavkaz Center does not have any confirmed information about a possible martyrdom of the Mujahedeen leaders,” in an article on the website which attacked “occupying forces for providing contradictory information” about Tuesday’s battle.

The raid and subsequent leaks on Umarov’s death took place one year to the day after a series of bombings in the Moscow metro killed 40 and sent a shockwave of panic through the capital. Questions have emerged about the timing of the attacks, which could be seen as a public relations ploy to exhibit progress in dealing with the rising trend of terrorist attacks in the past year.

Yet such a connection seems tenuous, said Andrei Soldatov, the head of, a website that provides analysis on Russia’s special forces, because the impetus for an operation like that would require serious public pressure. “I think that’s an exaggeration of the role of Russian public opinion and the demand to stave off any future terrorist attacks. Who in the special forces, on the eve of the first anniversary, would even try to do such a thing? They would only do that when they felt like they were under extreme public pressure concerning the attacks, and right now we don’t really see that.”

Shortly after news of the operation broke on Tuesday, Umarov was charged by Russia’s Investigative Committee with masterminding the terrorist attacks at Domededovo airport earlier this year, a bombing that he publicly took credit for not long after the attack. Yet why wait until the death of the leading suspect in the bombings to make the accusations against him public?

This, said Soldatov, is probably a response by the Investigative Committee to the announcement by Russia’s National Anti-terrorist Committee that among the dead were some who had planned the attack against Domededovo. “We should take into consideration that there are some conflicts between the law enforcement agencies, and the Investigative Committee has always demonstrated its wish to show itself as very active in the war on terrorism. They made loud announcements after terrorist attacks, such as the bombing of the Nevsky Express [in 2009]. I think that in this case they also wanted to make an announcement of some kind.” The Investigative Committee itself has been embroiled in a long turf war with the General-Prosecutor’s office, concerning an underground gambling ring tied to local police officials in the Moscow region.

As the investigation into Umarov’s possible death drags out over the next week, the lack of information will likely lead to greater doubt about whether Umarov was actually among those killed in the attack. However, considering Moscow’s grisly experiences with terrorism, the death of terrorist leaders does not necessarily mean a reduction in attacks against Russia in the future, said Soldatov. “2010 was paradoxically the most successful year for Russia’s special forces, in terms of the number of successful operations to liquidate the leaders of the guerillas, and at the same time it was the worst year in terms of the rise in terrorist attacks. As you can see, the two have not really influenced one another; both sides have just been increasing their activities.”

Qaddafi Tries to Secure Loyalty of Circassians of Misrata

Qaddafi Tries to Secure Loyalty of Circassians of Misrata

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 12

March 24, 2011

Category: Terrorism Monitor, Global Terrorism Analysis, Home Page, Foreign Policy, Military/Security, Africa, The Caucasus

By: Murad Batal al-Shishani

Forces loyal to embattled Libyan leader Mu’ammar al-Qaddafi have battled for days to take the coastal city of Misrata. Qaddafi’s efforts to take Misrata shed light on the little known role of Circassians in Libya, descendants of the Muslim tribes of the northwest Caucasus region who gathered themselves around this settlement in the 19th century.

On March 8, Qaddafi delegated a diplomat to meet Circassian community leaders in the Jordanian capital of Amman. The leaders were asked to mediate in order to convince the Circassians in Libya to take Qaddafi’s side in the ongoing struggle for Libya. Jordan is home to a significant Circassian diaspora community with close ties to the Jordanian royal family.

An informed source told Jamestown that after the Libyan ambassador to Amman resigned in protest of Qaddafi’s actions, the deputy ambassador contacted members of the Circassian Tribal Council of Jordan (CTCJ), stating that a private jet was ready to fly them to Libya to mediate between the regime and the Circassian community in Misrata, which lies 210 km east of Tripoli. The source told Jamestown that an airplane belonging to Qaddafi spent two nights in Amman’s Queen Alia International Airport. Most Circassians in Libya dwell in the area around Misrata, where their numbers are estimated at roughly 15,000. There are also substantial communities in Tripoli and Benghazi [1]

Although there are several theories on the first Circassian settlement in Libya, the roots of the Circassian presence in Libya most likely go back to Muhammad Ali Pasha’s treacherous 1811 massacre of most of Egypt’s Mamluks at the Citadel in Cairo. Most Circassians in the Middle East are descendants of the vast migration of Circassians at the point of Russian bayonets from their traditional Caucasus homeland in the 19th century. However, there was also a substantial Circassian community in Egypt, where Circassian Mamluks ruled from 1382 to 1517. The Circassians remained part of the Egyptian military and political elite until the Arab nationalist revolution of 1952.

Most of Egypt’s Mamluk warrior class were purchased as slaves in Circassia and brought to Egypt to undergo intensive martial training before being given their freedom as part of Egypt’s foreign-born ruling class. Of those Mamluks not present at the treacherous massacre at the Citadel, some headed west to found the settlement of Misrata (lit. “those who migrated from Egypt”) while others escaped Muhammad Ali’s troops and unsympathetic Arab tribesmen to head south to the Dongola region of the Sudan. Muhammad Ali, however, was determined to destroy the Mamluks to the last man, and nine years later sent an army under his son Isma’il to flush out the 300 or so surviving Mamluks at Dongola, who were by that point at war with the powerful Sha’iqiya tribe. On hearing of the approach of Isma’il’s army, the remaining Mamluks dispersed in several directions. The largest group headed west, where the Sudanic sultanates took their turns depriving the warriors of their goods and armor before expelling them. In desperation, the survivors struck out into the desert, headed for Ottoman Libya. Some apparently succeeded in reaching their comrades in Misrata, where they are remembered by the prominent family name Dankali [i.e. Dongolawi]. [2]

The Circassians in Libya are organized into several families and they are well integrated into the Libyan social and tribal system. A Libyan woman originally from Misrata, who spoke on the condition anonymity, told the author that Circassians are well-respected people in Misrata, where they are prominent as merchants. Their features are different than other Libyans, particularly their hair and eye color. [3] However, it appears that the Circassian language and most of the customs and traditions have been lost. [4]

Qaddafi received a delegation from Jordan’s Circassian Tribal Council in 2009, headed by Circassian community leader Adnan Mawloud. Qaddafi showed a deep respect for the Circassians and their historical suffering, as he called it, praising their role in host countries such as Jordan and describing them as brave and faithful people while noting their preference to be called by their traditional name, Adigya.

Qaddafi mentioned the Circassians’ contribution in all countries in which they settled, but failed to note the Libyan Circassian ethnic minority. [5] A source aware of that meeting told Jamestown that Qaddafi refused the Jordanian Circassian delegates an opportunity to visit their brothers in the Libyan cities. The Qaddafi-worshipping Libyan state press recorded that the Circassians regarded Qaddafi “as a national leader with deep vision and philosophy that is worth appreciating and listening to” (, June 2, 2009).

Unlike Circassian communities in other parts of the Middle East, Libyan Circassians do not hold high ranking positions in Qaddafi’s military and security structure. Drawing on their martial traditions, Circassians became and remain an important part of the security and military structures in many of the countries to which they immigrated in the 19th century, such as Jordan, Turkey and Syria. This, however, has not been the case in Qaddafi’s Libya.

Anis al-Sharif, a London-based member of the political committee of the Libyan Islamic Movement for Change, explained this situation as arising from Qaddafi’s fear of creating “centers of power” inside his military and security intuitions. He has, therefore, relied on special units of the military led by his sons, such as the 32nd Mechanized Brigade, popularly known as the “Khamis Brigade.” Al-Sharif also described militias based on individuals loyal to Qaddafi personally that allow the Libyan leader to avoid relying on particular tribal or ethnic groups. The rest of the military has been kept weak in order to avoid a repeat of the coup attempts that have attempted to overthrow his rule.

As an example, al-Sharif cited the 1975 military coup attempt by some 20 officers, most of whom were from Misrata and led by ethnic-Circassian Major Umar al-Meheshi. An original member of the 12-man Revolutionary Command Council that took power in 1969, he formed the conspirators’ first cell in Misrata. [6] Meheshi fled to Tunisia and eventually to Morocco, where he was unsuccessful in rallying resistance to Qaddafi. Al-Meheshi was handed back to Qaddafi in 1984 as a good-will gesture preceding the signing of an accord between Morocco and Libya. He has not been heard from since, though he is alleged to have been kicked to death by Qaddafi’s aides while Qaddafi waited in the next room. [7]

It seems that Qaddafi sent his delegate to Jordan in order to gain the support of Circassians in Misrata, which would have helped him consolidate his position in Tripolitania (northwest Libya) by eliminating a stronghold of resistance. The move confirmed the social-political importance of the Circassian community even though they are not influential within the military and security structures of Libya. In the meantime, the struggle for Misrata continues; a battle that Qaddafi himself has described as “decisive” for the future of Libya.


1. Nart Magazine 63(27), Circassian Charity Society, Amman, September 1998.
2. See Andrew McGregor, A Military History of Modern Egypt: From the Ottoman Conquest to the Ramadan War, Praeger Security International, Westport Conn., 2006, pp.59-70.
3. Author’s phone interview, March 18, 2011.
4. Amjad Jaimoukha, The Circassians: A Handbook, Curzon, Surrey England, 2001, p.119.
5. See the transcript: June 4, 2009.
6. Author’s phone interview with Anis al-Sharif, March 19, 2011.
7. Lillian Harris, Libya: Qadhafi’s Revolution and the Modern State, Westview Press, Boulder, 1986; New York Times, November 13, 1985.

Mt. Elbrus’ Slippery Slopes

Mt. Elbrus’ Slippery Slopes
Kabardino-Balkaria’s Insurgents Have Changed Their Tactics – Do the Authorities Think It Is Time to Change Theirs?
By Tom Balmforth
Russia Profile02/21/2011

The Russian security services on Sunday beefed up security in two parts of the southern region of Kabardino-Balkaria with a new “counterterrorist operation” regime, in response to a rash of insurgent attacks directed at tourists over the weekend. Analysts say that the insurgents were not just trying to blight the region’s fledgling tourist industry, but were also trying to deal a blow to the preparation for the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi.

On February 18 insurgents opened fire on a minivan carrying tourists from Moscow on a highway in the Elbrus region, killing three Russians and hospitalizing two. The following day, a car laden with explosives equivalent to 70 kilograms of TNT was discovered next to a hotel in the nearby town of Terskol. The three homemade bombs in it were defused before they detonated, but a police spokesperson later said it would have been “impossible to avoid a considerable number of victims and considerable destruction” had they gone off. Hours later, a cable car at the foot of the highest peak in Europe was blown up, although no one was injured.

The most recent spike in terrorist attacks in the troubled republic is the latest incidence of a growing trend in Kabardino-Balkaria in recent years. Last November the Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev said that terrorist crimes rose five times in the predominantly Muslim republic of 900,000 in 2010 alone. Kabardino-Balkaria was also rocked last year by an explosion at the Baksanskaya hydroelectric power station in July, at the time seen as a bold attack on the region’s ailing infrastructure.

The latest shift in the terrorist strategy, which appears to be targeting the tourism industry, will undermine the local government’s program to stimulate the region’s struggling economy, said Irina Borogan, a security expert and deputy editor of the Agentura.Ru Web site. “Everyone knows that huge amounts have been invested. Attacking tourists is the best way to halt the tourism industry’s development in the North Caucasus.”

The assailants may also have been trying to draw attention to the problems of security in the tourism industry as the authorities start to worry about the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games, said Nikolai Petrov, an expert in regional politics with Carnegie Moscow Center.

Petrov pointed to last week’s government meeting dedicated to the Sochi games, which came a day before the spate of attacks. President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin personally visited the ski resort at Krasnaya Polyana, where a test run was later supposed to take place. In the end, it was abandoned due to heavy snowfall, although the visiting chair of the International Olympic Committee still gave the games’ preparation his full backing.

Medvedev in January ordered five resorts to be built in the region at a projected cost of $15 billion, and the North Caucasus’ mountains already boast a famous ski resort at Elbrus. However, continuing violence and instability have prevented a steady stream of tourists from visiting the region, and even the recent appointment of Alexander Khloponin as the Presidential Envoy to the North Caucasus, which had produced some optimism among analysts, has had little to no positive effect.

By Monday the insurgents had already appeared to have got their way when Khloponin told tourists to stay away from the republic while the counterterrorist operation is ongoing. The Agentura Web site writes that the weekend attacks show that the republic’s President, Arsen Kanokov, has had little success fulfilling his campaign pledges from 2005 to expand the local tourism industry.

The terrorists may lose what little credibility they once had among the local population, however. “The insurgents in Kabardino-Balkaria have always said they do not harm peaceful people. The only exceptions to this were people going into the woods who they said they would assume were FSB agents. Now they’ve changed tactics to firing at tourists and locals,” said Borogan.

In the Kabardino-Balkaria insurgency there is thought to be more of an ethnic component than in the pan-Caucasus Islamized jihad avowed by Doku Umarov, the terrorist who claimed responsibility for the January bombings at the Domodedovo Airport in the Moscow Region. Historic animosity between the two dominant ethnic groups in the region, the Balkars and the Kabardins, has been aggravated by the region’s leaders both being Kabardins, most colorfully illustrated when a small band of Balkars came to Moscow to petition the federal authorities to intervene in a local dispute over land rights. Petrov played down the relevance of the ethnic question to the weekend’s attacks.