Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Islamic Identity Now Stronger than Ethnic One among Chechens, Arlyapova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 7 – Elena Arlyapova, an expert on the North Caucasus, says that Chechens today feel themselves first to be “citizens of Russia,” then Muslims and only in third place Chechens by nationality, a major re-arranging in the ranking of identities for a people who came to Islam relatively late whose drive for independence in the 1990s was initially secular.

            Speaking to an MGIMO seminar on “Islam in the Process of Consolidating Power in Chechnya in the 1990s and the Early Years of the 2000s,” Arlyapova traces the rise of Islam both during the period of deportation and the end of Soviet times when even Chechen Communists chose to become Muslims (

            She points out that Dzhokhar Dudayev, the first president of the Republic of Ichkeria, was initially committed to secularism but gradually moved toward involvement with Islam to gain support within the republic as well as support from abroad, given that his secular project did not attract the backing he expected.

            The three components of Chechen identity in some ways reinforce one another and in others undermine one another, the expert says, something that helps to define “the vectors of the social and political development of the Chechen community.”  But she does not specify just how this will work.

              But she says Ramzan Kadyrov, the current Chechen leader uses Islam to generate support for himself for three reasons: “the growth in the popularity of Islam among Chechens, the authority of Muslims in the Middle East,” and  Kadyrov’s desire to “complete what his father had done – known the banner of Islamization out of the hands of the radical opposition.”

            How long he will be able to maintain the current balance remains very much an open question, Arlyapova says. 

            Most of her remarks concern the complicated background of Islam in Chechnya, especially during the last century, and the struggles between traditional sufism and its various tariqats and teips and what many in the North Caucasus now call “pure” Islam or Wahhabism, which is an import from the Arab world.

            Consequently, Arlyapova’s argument that Islam is an ever more important factor in Chechen life and politics begs the question as to which kind of Islam because as she wisely notes each of the various kinds in Chechnya has a political face as well as a religious one and its rise or fall will thus determine far more than the kind of Islam practiced there.

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