Vatchagaev: Umarov first wanted to test the waters

Paris/Agency Caucasus – Mairbek Vatchagaev, a PhD candidate in Social Sciences at the University of Paris, views the declaration of North Caucasus Emirate, which was published with reference to Dokku Umarov, the resistance leader, as an attempt to test the waters. Vatchagayev has conducted several studies on North Caucasian religious communities. He was interviewed by Medvudi Baychora as someone who is reporting for Agency Caucasus.  

According to Vatchagaev, Umarov regards himself as someone who is following the path of Kunta Hadji while he is surrounded by radical Islamists who are trying hard to transform the Chechen resistance from a ‘national’ movement into a ‘religious’ one.  

What would your comments be on Umarov’s statement? Is this solely a change in the tactics? Or is it a sign of complete transformation on the part of Chechen Resistance?

I don’t believe that Umarov will entirely hold on to his statement forever. Umarov surprised everybody with his way of releasing the statement. I think his speech on the Radio of Freedom was just meant to taste the waters–that is, it was meant to find out how the general public reaction would probably be. His radio address proved effective because the entire Chechen society is already negotiating his public address on the radio. There were three different types of reaction to his public radio address–the first group of people chose to support his move as a new phase in the resistance movement, whereas it met with tough resistance from the second group of people because it was considered to be an attempt on the part of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria to commit suicide. The third group of people chose to take an indifferent attitude towards the matter at hand because they thought that it would neither be good nor bad.     

What do you think might possibly have driven Umarov to do so?  

It is not a mystery any more that the resistance movement has always had two groups of forces within itself. The first group of forces set itself it as its prior goal to set the Chechens as a group of people independent from . This group of forces is considered to make up a larger portion of the resistance movement. The second group of forces set itself as its prior goal the establishment of an Islamic state in North Caucasus , which even attracted further support from proponents of the Salafi system of administration.  

Aslan Mashadov was in the first group. Even Shamil Basayev can be included in this group. Abdulhalim Sadullayev supported the establishment of an Islamic state in full conformity with any national tendencies as long as these tendencies did not contradict the Islamic laws. Umarov has always underlined his allegiance to the movement of Kunta Hadji Kishiyev. After he was elected the president of in the wake of the Russian assassination of Abdulhalim Sadullayev, however, the group of people who are called ‘Salafis’ in formed his closest circle of friends. The obvious evidence for this comes from his appointment of Supyan Abdulayev as vice president of the country, because he was the starkest representative of the Salafi movement in . It is especially these people who drove Umarov to today’s critical point in the course of the resistance movement.      

What kind of implications do you think will Umarov’s last statements have for the question of ? Do you think it likely that the Chechen resistance will suffer from a rupture?  

I think that neither Umarov’s move will ever help resolve the question of nor there are any signs of future improvement. After all, the organizers did not have it in their mind to act in the best interests of the Chechens when they did so. This is just one instance of the ongoing tricks since 1988 when the Islamic Resurrection Party was created as a body of proponents of the Salafism. Every Chechen was then an enemy during the period of time that lasted until the war began, because the they [the organizers] were not following the Sufism, a movement of Islam which was present in at that time either in the form of Qadiri or Naqshbandi movements.      

Statements from Umarov and Ahmet Zakayev, who is the Foreign Minister of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, signal suffering on the part of Chechens from a rupture. Could , which is believed to have involved in this situation, have wanted this kind of rupture to occur?  


If there is a winner, it is definitely the Kremlin. It will be easier from now on for the Moscow administration to blame the war in not on the separatists over there but on the radical Islamists who are highly motivated to wipe off the Christian countries, including . In other words, it will be much easier for from now on to promote its propaganda. On the other hand, the Chechens will not only have to deal with questions about its relations with Russia, but it will also have to have a set of plausible standards by which to distinguish the separatist Chechens from the radical ones.    

Do you think that Umarov’s statement is meant to be a conscious provocation? If not, what could it be?


I don’t actually want to think of it as an act of provocation; however, man is fallible. Once joint work is neglected before a decision is reached–which was a point that former Chechen leaders always remained faithful to–the chances for a good consequence become extinct. I think that whoever made the decision knew well in advance what would happen in the end. Umarov, however, drew criticism as someone who agreed to the mission both from politicians and combatant commanders who did not expect to hear that they were subjects to the Emirate.      

Do you support Zakayev in his statements? He said that the declaration of Emirate would be detrimental to the resistance movement.

I don’t appreciate the way all this happened, because we don’t have any official documents so far except for Umarov’s interview with the Radio of Freedom; we have neither an official announcement nor a manifesto about the Umarov’s announcement of Emirate. For that reason, I believe that the Chechen officials still have the time to avoid taking a step in the direction towards the official establishment of Emirate. The announcement of Emirate will gain neither the Chechens nor other nations anything but further hostility towards the Christians. The establishment of Emirate would not solve anything. It would only make it far more difficult for the Chechens to fight the Russian policies in North Caucasus, and it would add further confusion to the situation over there, because the Chechens and anybody else who are part of the fighting will have to take sides with a local group amid so many minor conflicts even in the absence of legal grounds to do so. We only have to expect to have an official document that will either defend the establishment of Emirate or will disavow it, anyway.          

ÖZ/MB/FT (Agency Caucasus )


By Medvudi Baychora