Loading ...
Sorry, an error occurred while loading the content.

North Caucasus Rebels Seek to Expand into Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Azerbaijan

Expand Messages
  • Robert
    North Caucasus Weekly Volume 9, Issue 36 (September 26, 2008) By Andrei Smirnov Last fall, the top leader of the rebels in the North Caucasus Dokka Umarov
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 1, 2008
      North Caucasus Weekly
      Volume 9, Issue 36 (September 26, 2008)

      By Andrei Smirnov

      Last fall, the top leader of the rebels in the North Caucasus Dokka
      Umarov declared the establishment of the Caucasus Emirate, an
      underground state that unites all rebel groups in the Caucasus in one
      political structure. In the statement declaring the Emirate, Umarov
      stressed that the Caucasus Emirate “will have no fixed borders.” One
      could assume that Dokka Umarov meant that the rebels would try to
      expand their activity from the Caucasian republics northward to ethnic
      Russian-dominated Stavropol Krai and Krasnodar Krai. However, it now
      seems that the insurgents are also trying to expand their activity to
      the south — to the Georgian breakaway regions of South Ossetia and
      Abkhazia, and Azerbaijan.

      Umarov said in the same statement that “we have bases along the whole
      Caucasus, from Azerbaijan to Abkhazia.” At the time Umarov made his
      declaration — the end of 2007 — it sounded more like bravado. Yet now
      given the recent events in northern Azerbaijan, one should take this
      declaration more seriously. Clashes between rebel groups from Dagestan
      and Azeri forces that took place in August and September in parts of
      Azerbaijan adjacent to Russia (North Caucasus Weekly, September 11)
      demonstrated that the North Caucasian insurgency indeed has the
      capability to set up its guerrilla network in the regions of
      Azerbaijan populated by minorities from Dagestan — the Lezgins, Avars
      and Kumyks.

      The recent events in Azerbaijan also make the rebels’ declaration a
      more vital issue given that they claim that they also have supporters
      in Abkhazia. A majority of Abkhaz regards Georgia as their main enemy
      and look at the Russian authorities as their main defender from
      Georgian domination. However, some Abkhaz Muslims may have another

      There are three main religions in Abkhazia: Orthodox Christianity,
      paganism and Islam. Paganism in Abkhazia has deep historical roots,
      while Christianity and Islam do not have a significant weight in
      Abkhaz society. Many Abkhaz can be called Muslims or Christians only
      nominally. The primitive state of Abkhaz society gives an opportunity
      for Muslim and Christian preachers to spread their religions to more
      and more pagans in Abkhazia. As has happened elsewhere, propaganda on
      behalf of Islam has been more effective in Abkhazia than propaganda on
      behalf of Christianity. A group of devout Abkhaz Muslims positioned
      itself as an active and independent force in the republic. Imam
      Khamzat Gitsba became the main unofficial leader of the Muslim
      community in Abkhazia. He had become the imam of the first mosque in
      the republic, in the town of Gudaouta.

      Abkhaz Muslims receive financial support from Turkey, where there is a
      large Abkhaz community, but it is the North Caucasian insurgency that
      is really interested in spreading Islam in Abkhazia. Only Muslims of
      the republic can support the rebels’ anti-Russian propaganda. Khamzat
      Gitsba, who was also nicknamed Rocky because of his big interest in
      boxing, had close ties with the Chechen rebels and their supporters in
      Turkey. Some sources even say that he was a brother-in-law of the
      famous Chechen warlord Shamil Basaev, who helped the Abkhaz in their
      war against the Georgians in 1992-1993 (Kommersant, August 18, 2007).
      Gitsba was a member of Shamil Basaev’s squad during the war in
      Abkhazia and was one of those terrorists who took Russian tourists
      hostage on the Avrasia ferry in Turkish waters in 1996. The terrorists
      demanded the end of war in Chechnya (Kavkazky Uzel, August 18, 2007).

      Gitsba returned to Abkhazia after 2000 and became a member of the
      Spiritual Directorate of the Abkhaz Muslims and he opened the first
      real mosque in the republic. Gitsba had many contacts with informal
      Muslim leaders in Russia. Whether he was linked with the Caucasian
      rebels or not, it is now clear that the Russian security services
      regarded him as a rebel envoy in Abkhazia. On August 17, 2007, Khamzat
      Gitsba and a guest, a Muslim from Bashkortostan (a Muslims-dominated
      region in Russia), were killed by unidentified gunmen. At a press
      conference organized by Abkhazian Muslim leaders after Gitsba’s
      murder, they made it clear that the imam was most likely killed by
      Russian or Abkhaz security forces. “We appealed to the leadership of
      law-enforcement bodies of Abkhazia, informing them about our worries
      about our security,” they said. “We knew that we were under
      surveillance and informed the security service about it, but without
      any results. Finally, the leader of the Abkhaz Muslims was killed.”

      The Muslim leaders said that over several years they tried to prove
      that they had no links with extremists, but the authorities still
      regarded them as a potential threat to peace and security in Abkhazia
      (the website of the president of Abkhazia, August 20).

      Gitsba’s murder demonstrates that Russia’s security services indeed
      fear rebel penetration into Abkhazia and have taken measures to
      prevent it. Even if the rebels cannot initiate military actions
      against Russian forces on Abkhaz territory, they can use their
      supporters in the region to buy weapons and ammunition in the republic
      to use them in the North Caucasus. Both Abkhazia and South Ossetia are
      regions where there is a huge black market for weapons that is not
      easy to control.

      Given the porous nature of the South Ossetian and Abkhaz borders with
      Russia, it does not look like there are any serious obstacles to
      smuggling weapons and ammunition into Russia. In 2006, Russia’s
      Federal Security Service (FSB) arrested five Russians for attempting
      to sell several shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles that they had
      bought in Abkhazia in the North Caucasus. In 2008, they were sentenced
      to long prison terms (RIA Novosti, September 3).

      Abkhazia is now full of trophy weapons from Georgia, which are
      difficult to control given the level of corruption in the Russian
      army, so that the problem of illegal arms trading is becoming more
      acute there.

      The situation in South Ossetia is similar. On March 8, a group of
      Ossetian Muslim rebels issued a statement saying that they are
      “analyzing the situation and plan tactical operations in South Iriston
      (South Ossetia-AS), in the zone of conflict between the Ossetian and
      Georgian crusaders” (Kavkaz-Center, March 8).

      Thus the anti-Russian war in the North Caucasus could easily move to
      the south.
    Your message has been successfully submitted and would be delivered to recipients shortly.