December 11 marked the anniversary of the beginning of the first Chechen War. It was then, in December 1994, that President Boris Yeltsin decided to militarily force the Chechen people to abandon the idea of independence. As is known, the Russian army lost that war to the Chechen resistance. However, Moscow decided to get its revenge in the second military campaign in 1999. But things went wrong again: Vladimir Putin’s blitzkrieg plan did not materialize and, moreover, the battleground with the insurgents spread to the whole North Caucasus region. Today, Moscow is forced to combat a growing insurgency stretching from the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea, which indicates a major problem for the Kremlin in the entire Caucasian region (www.rusrep.ru, September 30).
A lengthy lull in Karachaevo-Cherkessia has been occasionally interrupted by sporadic incidents, but it seems that these were not the actions by the jamaat in the republic. The fact is that after major blows dealt by the Russian special services on the Karachai jamaat, which is one of the oldest jamaats in the North Caucasus dating back to the early 1990’s, from 2005 to 2007, it ceased to exist completely. Evidence of this was the creation of the united armed jamaat of Kabarda, Balkaria, and Karachai under the supervision of the leadership of the North Caucasus armed resistance (www.generalvekalat.org, November 20), which was an indirect acknowledgement that the jamaat had sustained losses so significant that it could no longer exist as a separate military entity.
However, this did not necessarily mean that it would be unable to revive, given that there are a number of former jamaat members who might try to resurrect their fighting unit. That resurrection may be underway. For example, on September 4 there was an attempt to sabotage a gas pipeline in Karachaevo-Cherkessia’s Ust-Dzheguta region. Two weeks later, on September 13, a brigade of the detached battalion of GIBDD (State Inspection for Road Traffic Safety) of Karachaevo-Cherkessia was fired on. That same day, unidentified persons shot at the head of the Karachaevo-Cherkessia interior ministry’s department of counter-extremist activities, Colonel Alikbek Urakchiev, who later died of his wounds in the hospital. On September 18, two suspects in the attacks on Urakchiev and the GIBDD battalion were shot dead while resisting arrest and a third suspect was detained (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, November 9). On September 20, Ismail Bostanov, the deputy mufti of Karachaevo-Cherkessia and Stavropol region, was killed. Bostanov also happened to be the director of the Institute of Islam in Cherkessk (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, September 20).
On September 27, a liquor store was burned down in the Tereze settlement of the Malokarachaev district of Karachaevo-Cherkessia. Arson attacks on liquor stores by militants have become a widespread practice in the North Caucasus. All these incidents taken together made September the most difficult month for the authorities and siloviki in Karachaevo-Cherkessia in recent years. But given such a rise in violence, losses among the militants are also inevitable. On November 8, four jamaat members were shot dead during a special operation conducted not far from the abandoned settlement of Indysh in the Khudessky Gorge in the Karachaevsk district. Among the four slain militants was Ahmed Bayily, who fought with militants in Chechnya under the command of Shamil Basaev in 1999. It is interesting that Denis Bogdanov, a former Karachaevsk policeman and ethnic Russian, was also among the four militants who were killed. Meanwhile, three policemen on duty were shot at by unidentified people in the city of Karachaevsk on November 9 (www.vesti.ru, November 9). One may view this as retaliation by the militants for the death of their fellow fighters. On December 9, three alleged shooters in that attack were killed in another special operation by siloviki in the Ust-Dzheguta region of Karachaevo-Cherkessia (www.polit.ru, December 9).
According to a source in the armed resistance, there was a battle near the settlement of Dzheguta on December 11. The jamaat detachment that took part in that clash reportedly numbered around 30 persons. If it is true that there were 30 fighters involved in the battle, one might argue that the Karachai jamaat is gaining strength. Meanwhile, the rebel Kavkaz-Center website reported that the authorities in Karachaevo-Cherkessia are trying to implement preventive measures to avoid a deterioration of the situation in the region. Those measures have included the arrests of alleged militants and people suspected in aiding and abetting them (www.kavkaznews.com, December 12). People who do not follow the official religious agenda are commonly perceived as adherents of Wahhabism (Salafism).
The fact that the jamaat’s website has started operating under the old title “Karachai” indicates that the brotherhood is regaining its former strength (www.djamagat.wordpress.com, December 1). In the very advertisement about the revival of the website, which was posted on its main webpage, there is a picture of the old website, which had not been functioning for the past two years. This can be seen as a kind of succession. Also, it is interesting that in reporting on incidents in Karachaevo-Cherkessia, the website refers exclusively to the Karachai jamaat. The authors do not refer either to the united jamaat or to the vilayets of Kadarda, Balkaria and Karachai.
And all this is happening against the background of a worsening interethnic conflict in Karachaevo-Chekessia. Attention there has been focused not on actions by the militants but rather on the actions of one of the ethnic groups of Karachaevo-Cherkessia –the Circassians. Demonstrators recently held a meeting at which it was decided to separate from the republic and either join the Republic of Adygea and Kabarda or become an autonomous region (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru, November 25). According to the Circassians, who are a minority in comparison to Karachais, all the major positions in the Karachaevo-Cherkessia are occupied by the Karachai people, who do not let the Circassians rise to senior level positions in the Republic of Karachaevo-Cherkessia.
The issue of the relationship between the Karachai and Circassians and the Kabardins and Balkars arises almost every year. However, the question of ethnicity is not a problem inside the jamaat, which is international in its composition and consists of Kabardins, Balkars, Karachai and Circassians. In fact, this is one of the main principles of the jamaat’s ideologists. They believe that only Islam can unite the peoples of North Caucasus and help them avert interethnic conflicts. The only problem is that nationalists are not ready to abandon their interests in favor of pan-Islamic values.
Therefore, we should anticipate more serious moves on the part of the united armed underground of the North Caucasus regarding the announcement of a complete restoration of the Karachai jamaat. Judging by recent events it is unlikely that anybody will talk about the death of Karachai jamaat anytime soon.