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History of Chechnyan Jihad Against Russia, and the Slavic Conquest (1800-2007)

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From the European Heritage Library

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This essay offers the history of the Jihad against the Russians in southern Russia (North Caucasus mountains) by the Chechnyan, Dagestani, Adygean, and Ingush Muslims, and the conquest and slaughter of the Caucasian Mujahidin by the Russians in the 19th century. It allows understanding into historical background into the current ethnoreligious and ethnocultural conflict between the Russians and the revolting Turkic and Circassian Muslims of the southern provinces. Also included are some of my personal observations of the region from my vacation to the former Mujahid capital of Sochi. Click the link at the top and bottom for the images that go with this article.

The region of the Caucasus mountains — today including southern Russia, Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan — has a complicated ethnic, religious, and political history that has caused it to be one of the most war-torn regions in Eurasia today. The role of religion epitomizes this timeless conflict: Georgia and Armenia are the world’s two oldest Christian (Orthodox) countries, having defended and retained their faith as the bulwark of their culture since the early 4th century. Azerbaijan is Shi’ia Muslim due to the influence of Safavid Shi’ia Iran. The inhabitants in the North Caucasus (today the southernmost tip of Russia) are almost universally Sunni Muslim due to the long history of Islamic presence in the region by Turkic Tatar armies whose Jihad forced the Christian Europeans to the west to tremble with fear for nearly 800 years. Some of these Muslim “tribes” in the Caucasus (often grouped as “Circassians”) speak so-called Caucasian languages. Most of the North Caucasian Muslim tribes speak Turkic languages and are ethnically, culturally, and religiously Sunni Turkic peoples, often called “Tatars”. Some of the Muslim tribes in the Caucasus include the Ingush, the Adygeans, Karachai, Bashkirs, Dagestanis, Chechnyans, and the Kalbards.

The North Caucasian Muslim Tatars enjoyed the rule of their Muslim brothers of the empires of Turkic Ak Quyunlu, Qara Quyunlu, the Golden Horde, the original Arab Jihad after Muhammad’s death (the Umuyyad kalifates), the Baghdad-centered Abbasid empire, and finally the Ottoman Turkish Muslim warriors to the south. But the gradual decline of the Ottoman empire that became apparent by 1800 caused the Turkic Tatar Muslims in the Caucasus to gradually become marginalized and vulnerable. The tribal confederation-style governments that appeared amongst these Caucasian Muslim communities as well as rocky mountains prevented the formation of any unified nation or political force to defend the Mujahidin here from foreign conquest and intrusion. Most tribes here were crop farmers and animal herders as is seen today in the region. By 1800, the Ottoman Turks’ decline was complimented by the ascension of the new world superpower: the Russian Empire of the Orthodox faith. The Swedish czarina of Russia Katherina the Great had already conquered the Tatar Muslims of the Crimean peninsula of modern Ukraine (see the other EHL essay), slaughtering tens of thousands, incinerated nearly all its mosques, banned Islam under penalty often of death, and expelled thousands. Many who remained fled to Islamist empires like that of the Ottomans or Iran (Persia). These displaced Muslims, often today called “Mujahiruna” (expatriats), caused a great deal of the Ottoman empire’s population to descend from the Caucasus and its Circassian-speaking peoples. Many who fled to Iran again faced execution and persecution by the fundamental Shi’ia theocracy of the Safavid state. So too, by 1900, Russians had also conquered and annexed the Sunni emirates of Central Asia — including the ethnic Mongol Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and Turkic Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. Tens of millions of Muslims lived under Russian authority before 1991 (when the Muslim republics gained independence). Russia’s expansive efforts in all directions, their endless wars with the Ottomans (who ruled Crimea and de facto the Caucasus), and the rich trading [and later oil] opportunities Russia could inherit from the Black Sea spelled a coming doom for the Caucasian Muslims soon to be conquered by the infidel. Russia also was interested in protecting the Christian Georgians and Armenians (who they annexed from Iran in the 19th century) under Islamic rule. The Russian invasion of the Islamic Caucasus thus began.

The threat of annihilation encouraged warring Muslim Turkic tribes here to coalesce for the first time into native nation-states under the banner of Jihad, Islamic theocracy, and the command of al-Qur’an (the Koran) for all Muslims to embrace the duty of the Mujahid and Jihad to defend Islam from the enemies of the faith. The first of these unifying leaders was Imam Shamil, a Sufi cleric and imam who organized the Turkic and Circassian tribes, created the new government in 1834 along the Caucasus, required the hajj pilgrimage to Makkah, required fivefold prayer per day (Salah), and trained new military legions of Islamic fighters. All Christians were ordered killed or expelled. The chant of Allahu Akhbar (God is most great) drove the tribes into battle against a common Russian Christian enemy, the largest empire on earth, and its colonial conquests against the Muslims of what is now southern Russia.

“A Muslim may obey the Shari’ah, but all his giving of Zakat, all his Salat and ablutions, all his pilgrimages to Makka, are as nothing if a Russian eye looks upon them. Your marriages are unlawful, your children bastards, while there is 1 Russian in your lands!”

Source: Amina

The capital of this Jihad state was at Sochi on the Black Sea coast, today a thriving Russian-owned coastal resort city and the site of the 2014 Olympics (see the end for my observations from my vacation there). Grozniy became an important center of the new Dagestani-Chechnyan Jihad state, now the capital of the breakaway Chechnyan terrorist nation (often called the Islamic Republic of Içhkeria by the locals). The Russians’ superior tactics, commanders, firearms, and cavalry quickly overrun the Mujahidin Turks. Troop transport into the region was eased by the construction of naval harbors in Russia’s new Black Sea coastal territory. Nonetheless, the sheer will of the the Caucasian Muslims to fight the Christians to the death in the name of Allah and Islam offered a brutal resistance, aided by the Caucasus’ difficult mountainous terrain. The Caucasian War over such a tiny territory took an incredible amount of time for its size due to the will of the Islamic fighters, with some historical citations dating from 1815-1870 when their capital of Sochi finally fell. The inability for the Jihadists to be tamed forced Russia to adopt a brutal scorched earth policy akin to that of the Timurid Uzbek Jihad or the Golden Horde. Conquered villages were often burnt to the ground, their food reserved destroyed or seized, their mosques were demolished, thousands slaughtered, and thousands more expelled. Equally so, victorious Muslims burnt Russian settlers’ villages and camps, publicly desecrated their churches and Bibles, executed priests and settlers en masse by the thousands, and by killing or raping (or so it is said) their women and female nurses. Slavery — legal in Islam — was also used as a tactic by the Muslims after battle victories to discourage the infidels’ colonial conquest. Hundreds of thousands died in the long war between Slavic Christendom and Turkic Sunni Islam. Russian legions simultaneously annexed Armenia and Georgia from Iran and the Turks in order to gain effective Christian allies in the long war, as well as to prevent Mujahidin from Anatolia (modern Turkey), Azerbaijan, or Iran from coming to the aid of their brothers in the Caucasus. The supplanting of the Ottomans and Iranians, the growth of Russian navy and military settlements on the Black Sea coast, and the acquisition of Georgian and Armenian Christian allies eventual
ly made the Islamic vic
tory impossible. Russia eventually annexed the region all the way to the borders of modern Turkey and Iraq. Now after having lost Armenia, Georgia, and Shi’ia Azerbaijan, Russia retains the northern border north of the breakaway states of Abkhazia and Ossetia. Imam Shamil, the Jihadists’ commander, was captured, imprisoned, and eventually expelled from Europe to Arabia to end his life in Islam’s holiest land. Some estimate as many as millions died in the war, most being Russians due to the fact that there are so few settlers in the North Caucasus. Though the Islamic Jihad had failed, the Muslims of the region would remain rebellious and ultraconservative to their Islamic heritage until today, causing the North Caucasus to be in many parts in a state of constant revolt and often Jihad for the last 150 years. The Russian Empire — the largest nation on earth then and now — by 1900 stretched from Lutheran Finland to Inuit Alaska, and from the Arctic to northern Afghanistan (Durranistan). Like the Crimean Tatars and the culturally-Turkic Uzbeks and Kazakhs now under Russian rule as well, the Muslim Turks of the Caucasus did not integrate nor assimilate. They remained staunchly Islamic and culturally Turkish, often in private to ease ethnic persecution or to circumvent the illegality of Islam. Their culture declined but remained in isolation due to the difficulty of the mountainous terrain and the inability for the Tatars of the Caucasus to rally any effective revolution or full-scale Jihad against the Slavs. Tens of thousands of those who survived additionally fled to the Ottoman Empire or Iran to be protected by fellow Muslims; in the latter, like the Tatars in the Crimea, many were killed by the Shi’ia Persian government for their heretical Sunni faith. During World War II, the invading Axis Romanians, Hungarians, Germans, Italians, and Bulgarians found a loyal ally in the Mujahidin Muslims under Soviet authority; the Muslims quickly bound to the Fascists out of mutual hatred of Jews, Communists, Stalin, and the secular and atheist governments of the Allies. For their support of the enemy, Stalin expelled nearly every single Muslim in Russia to Kazakhstan (the Kazakh SSR). After Stalin’s death and the liberalization of Gorbachev’s regime, Muslims and Tatars were allowed finally to return home. The Crimean Tatars of modern Slavic Ukraine gradually abandoned their staunch Islamic roots, but the Muslims of the new Central Asian republics like Uzbekistan and the Muslims of Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetiya, and the North Caucasus retain conservative Islam often in the form of Jihad and terrorism.

A vacation like mine to even the former capital of Imam Shamil’s Jihad state (Sochi) would encourage one to think that no Muslim political power ever set foot here. Unlike in the formerly-Tatar Crimea of modern Ukraine, where the Turkic race has been replaced by the Ukrainians and Russians, the Caucasus and southern Russia are populated largely by ethnic Turks and Caucasians. A large portion of the inhabitants of Sochi are non-Slavic (and non-white) even in this very Russified economic coastal resort city. A great percentage thereof are Georgian or Armenian (culturally and religiously Christian) due to the proximity to war-torn Georgia. Most of the city’s monuments praise Russian or Georgian figures. Stalin and Lenin statues can be seen next to original Georgian cannons in town square to commemorate the Christian resistance against the Islamic Jihad of the Caucasians. But almost no evidence of Islam exists due to this history of Russian Orthodox conquest: no mosques, no Arabic script, no burqas or veils, and no headscarves. The economic and political exploitation of Sochi and the Black Sea coastline of the ethnic Turk/Caucasian peoples by the Russians has caused only their ethnicity to be blatantly distinct. The ethnic Tatars/Caucasians here also have embraced the Slavic tradition of overindulgence in alcohol, and ethnic Turks as young as 13 can be seen with beer in hand on the way to work at the crack of dawn. Like the Russians, the ethnic Turkic Tatars here do not dress conservatively unlike the Turks of Turkey or other European cultures. The ethnic distinction is blatant to both a foreign eye as well as the native citizens themselves, but the cultural distinction is virtually unnoticeable — a legacy of the Russian conquest and exploitation of their Mujahidin ancestors. Nonetheless a great deal of Turkish- and Arabic-sounding music can be heard in urban areas, a clear relic of the Circassian and Islamic heritage of the region as well as the locals. The architecture and politics are that of any Russian town. Nonetheless, the two ethnic groups do not entirely cooperate as is to be expected: the Slavic youth are resisting the presence of non-Slavs in “their” territory as can be seen in the many graffiti Swastikas, SS lightning bolt runes, and Celtic Cross symbols with “W” and “P” at its sides (White Power). So too, the Turks’ rejection of the Slavs can be seen in a variety of graffiti written in Arabic, Turkish, or otherwise often saying “f*ck Olympia” (to reject the “Western” Olympics that Sochi has been awarded in 2014), “f*ck Russia”, “f*ck Putin”, and “f*ck Israel” (though the latter would easily be written by both ethnic groups). It appears that the historical incompatibility of the Turkic Muslims and the Christian Europeans is emerging once again.

By no means does this cultural, traditional, religious, and political shift of the ethnic Turks and Caucasians around Sochi to liberal Russian values extend to the fundamentalist Turkic and Circassian Muslim peoples directly east of Sochi, having been pushed out of the coastal city of Sochi by the Russians to make way for a thriving new port center. Russia’s long history of expansionism has caused Russia to have a unique ethnographic climate of a Slavic hegemonic authority subjugating dissident and disparate Mongol and Turkic populations. “Russia”, the land of the Russ[ians], is instead a massive state with Slavs in the western corner and Mongols and Turks populating the remainder. This has made Russian statecraft very difficult. Largely ceremonially, the Russian government has created a series of “ethnic republics” with the illusion of autonomy to prevent them from violent separatism. See our exclusive map below for the religious and ethnic dimensions of Russia today as a result of Russia’s expansionism, and a result of the presence of Mongol and Islamic conquest in Russia prior to the founding of the modern Slavic state.

As is apparent, the modern Jihad by the Chechnyans against the Russians is not a new phenomenon in the post-colonial and post-9/11 world as most are taught, but rather an attribute of Islamic heritage and history in their struggles against Christian and non-Muslim expansion. It was natural for Muslims to apply religious zeal and justification (Jihad) to their military conquests, just as it was natural for Europeans in history to inject Christian rhetoric in their colonial expansion. The Jihad of these Turkic peoples (outside of nearby Sochi) in the Caucasus rages on today arguably more intensely than it did during the above Caucasian War, with the targets now being innocent Russian Christian civilians anywhere from movie theatres in Moscow to elderly hospitals instead of invading soldiers. The fact that the Islamic Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Turkmen, Azeris (Azerbaijanis), Kyrgyz, and Tajiks all acquired independence from the brutal atheistic rule that was Stalin’s Soviet Union by 1991 but the Tatar and Circassian Turkic Muslims of the Caucasus did not achieve nationhood has fueled an intense independence-seeking war for the last decade. Due to the ultraconservative and fundamentalist Islamic culture of the Turks and Circassians in the region (outside of Russified Sochi as shown above), this struggle has assumed the form of violent Jihad and terrorism. The racial and religious conflict has caused Russia, responsible even for the defeat of the Axis in entirety, to feel great fear of the Muslim non-Russian minority.

Nearly all breakaway ethnic groups
seeking
independence via violence in Europe are in the former USSR states, most of whom Muslim non-Slavic Turks. The southern tip of Russia (North Caucasus) is a patchwork of Turkic Muslim fundamentalist “republics” (legally part of Russia). Among them are Islamic Adygea, Dagestan, Chechnya, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachai-Cherkessia, Ingushya, etc. Each of their languages is either related to Turkish or Georgian, but their race and culture are Turkish, their religion a fundamental brand of Islam. Anger over continued perceived Russian “hegemony” against these Turkic righteous Muslims, over the lack of independent statehood after the 1991 Soviet collapse, hatred for the leadership of the Jewish oligarchy in Russia and its Christian Slavic culture, and the lack of a theocratic Islamic Jihadist state in the Caucasus all have pitted the Slavs against the Caucasian Muslims in this age of terrorism. The central organ of this pan-Islamic Jihad against the Christian Russians is Chechnya, as was such during the reign of the nearly-mythical culture hero Imam Shamil for his violent Jihad in the 19th century as shown above. The Chechnyan Jihad — along with that of the Kurds against the Turks — has claimed the lives of more than the terrorism of al-Qa’ida several times over. The Chechnyan perspective blames the Russians’ history of colonial oppression and military intervention as much worse by comparison. The Chechnyan Jihad and struggle for independence has gained mass appeal to their Turkic brothers to the south in Azerbaijan, Turkey, the Arab world, Iran, and Central Asia. The main leader of this pan-Turkic Jihad was terrorist commander and Chechnyan Vice President Shamil Basayav (4EPJD (3’JH) or Amir Abdullah. The political leaders were Islamists Dzhokhar Dudaev and Aslan Mashkadov. The duty of Jihad attracted thousands of Mujahidin Islamic fighters from other Muslim nations with great haste. The so-called Islamic Republic of Içhkeria was declared as a Taliban-esque state in the Caucasus. The neighboring Dagestanis and other Turkic peoples did the same. Little Russian intervention was ordered until 1994, but when violence and terrorism first ensued, Russia sent a massive army in the First Chechnyan War. Russia — whose authority extends over so many non-Russian ethnic groups (typically Turkic Muslims) — feared that allowing Chechnya and neighboring breakaway states to exist would encourage more breakaway republics like Tatarstan around Kazan in central Russia. The brutal three-year war was a disaster for the Russians, as the incredible will of the Mujahidin, the difficult terrain, poor infrastructure, the ease for the Islamic fighters to retreat to the deep mountains, and the guerilla tactics of the Muslims made the war nearly unwinnable in this tiny region. The Muslims mass slaughtered Christian Slavs, including women and children, and used mass hostage-taking tactics to discourage Russian bombardment. The tactic worked in their favor, and the hostages were killed by the hundreds. The war culminated in the brutal Battle of Grozniy, where more than 25,000 died on both sides. Though Russia eventually conquered the capital, the fact that nearly every Muslim in the Muslim-majority region of southern Russia ended up in aid to the Islamic fidayin (fighters) against Russian hegemony made the battle a disaster yet again. The war quickly spread to Dagestan to the east, which Russia invaded additionally. The Muslims under Shamil Basayev cooked up the broilers by bombing civilian hospitals, retirement homes, schools, churches, police departments, pand movie theatres as far away as Moscow, leaving hundreds of Russians dead. Mass hostage-taking occurred all throughout Russia and Dagestan, where hundreds were shot or stabbed to death. Other pro-Chechnyan Muslims from as far away as Jordan and Turkey even held hostage small ferry boats in the Black Sea carrying civilians on tour, threatening to kill hundreds of people therein if Russia did not cease the attack. Many Turks in Turkey and otherwise supported the Jihad in this fashion, as well as against Greek Cypriot passenger ships and planes, believing that the Greeks and Russians are in the same league of anti-Muslim oppression. The war was a brutal disaster, causing Russians (non-Turks) to fear for their lives all across the world’s largest continent due to the work of the Muslims in the tiny southern regions alone. Both sides claim that the other performed horrific war crimes, with the Muslims killing hundreds of civilians at a time, and Russians performing anything from mass-bombings of mosques to “drunken rampages” in which hundreds of Muslim civilians were killed in a single night.

The First Chechnyan War ended with a virtual stalemate. Russia believed it had proven its political rights to the territory by practically demolishing the capital (Grozniy) to the ground, but the Muslims took pride in the fact that their holy armies of Islam had repelled one of the largest armies on earth. De facto independence was thus achieved to the Muslims (and the Islamic Republic of Içhkeria/Chechnya), and the Islamic Jihadists operated virtually independently. As was obvious, no Russian could force them to do otherwise thus far. But by 1999, the Second Chechnyan War began when the Muslims of Chechnya pressed into neighboring states legally under Russian control, including Ingushetya and Dagestan (though both had already aided the Jihad in full). Russia returned with a large army, and the Jihad continued against civilians in Russian trains and even in hotels, killing hundreds. Children’s hospitals and day-care centers were even bombed. More military leaders and Islamic fighters from all across the Muslim world — whose eyes were looking upon Chechnya generally with vivid approval for their resistance to Russian secular hegemony of the native Islamic peoples — including from Saudi Arabia (like general Amir Khattab), Iran, Iraq, Syria, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Lebanon, Palestine outside of Israel, and as far away as Islamic Indonesia. The president of Chechnya, previously a regional governor, called for another Jihad against Russia and its infidel Slavs. This war was arguably more brutal, and in many ways continues to this day whenever the Jihad fails to end. Muslims from the region blew up a series of hospitals and homes in central Russia, killing more than 300 civilians during the war. Russia returned to the region this time with full ballistic missiles, cavalry, and artillery. The Russians were not going to be humiliated again, they said, and they were hardened by anger against the Muslims for their slaughter of Russian civilians, as well as the widespread hatred of Muslims and Turks by Russians. Aleksandr Litvinenko, the famous poisoned spy, was a close associate of the Chechnyans and himself a Muslim convert near his death. His poisoning for his support to the Muslims encouraged many Muslims to think that Russia and Vladimir Putin had ordered the assassination of their own spy, or even blown up the hospitals in an attempt to rally public support for the Muslims. The Russians bombed the capital of Grozniy once again for nearly a year, virtually leveling the city to ash, until the territory was fully and legally reincorporated into the Russian Federation by Vladimir Putin’s government in 2000. Unionist politicians of Chechnya who sought peace to spare the Muslim righteous ones from more calamity were generally killed as traitors, including president Kadyrov. Shamil Basayev, the terrorist leader and hero to fundamentalist militant Muslims the world over, was killed in a vehicle in Ingushetya in 2006. It is not known which party was responsible for the death, but it was most obviously the Russians or the local Russian minority.

Nonetheless, the Jihad continued, and thus the Second Chechnyan War arguably lives on. However, the formerly-rogue state of Chechnya is once again under Russian authority to the extent possible. Terrorist attacks have even increased in a sense by the Muslim hand. The 2002 Moscow theatre attack, nearly 600 miles north of the Islamic south, forced some 800 Russ
ians int
o hostage bondage, threatening to blow themselves up with all the civilians if Russia does not withdraw. Chants of “Allahu Akhbar!” (God is most great) accompanied the filming of terrorist videos from the projection booth allegedly. A disasterous Russian military intervention pumped gas into the theatre, killing 129 hostages and 41 Muslim terrorists (Source: CCC.nps.navy.mil). Hundreds were killed in several different terrorist attacks in Slavic Russia and the Muslim south alike, including a car bomb against the unionist Chechnyan government headquarters, killing hundreds alone. The Jihad gained the financial and military backing of al-Qa’ida as well. Female suicide bombers (“shahidka”) wore full burqas and covered themselves in bombs. Two planes were hijacked in Russia during this time, slaying everyone on board on both. In 2004, Shamil Basayev commanded the Mujahidin in the Beslan school hostage crisis, holding nearly 1,000 young Russian children hostage for several days, threatening to kill them all along with themselves if Russia did not withdraw. Another poor-planned Russian intervention in a major battle with the Muslims left some 330 people dead, including 186 children (Source: The Scotsman). The Russian carelessness throughout both wars towards civilians and Muslims is a source that fuels the Jihad even further.

Today, the Russians’ legacy of conquest of Islamic peoples has caused it to have one of the largest Muslim populations in Europe at some 3.8% ethnic Tatar, 1.2% Turkic Bashkir, 1.1% Chuvash Turks (thousands being excluded), and 10-15% Muslim (Source: CIA World Factbook). Most of central Russia is ethnic Mongol (Asian) or Turkic, and most of the far northeast is of Inuit “Eskimo” tribes. Western central Russia has a large Muslim population around Tatarstan, Kazan, Chuvashia, etc., regions that were during the Mongol period Jihad states that Ivan the Terrible obliterated in the 16th century. Nonetheless, the far south of Russia remains of the Turkish/Circassian Caucasian race with the Sunni faith. This ethnic, religious, and social conflict out of demands for independence just as much as an innate religious conflict rages on today, causing the Slavs to live constantly with apprehension for the inevitable next slash of the blade of Islam.

From the European Heritage Library

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