Aware that their survival depends on unity, the Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus have frequently attempted to achieve this goal in the face of persistent threats from Russia as well as other regimes in the region. Their latest attempt was on August 24 when more than 500 people, including representatives of Islamic parties in Dagestan, the North Caucasus and Transcaucasus, attended the founding congress of the Islamic Order Union.
Held in the Chechen capital, Dzhokhar-Gala (formerly Grozny), the Islamic parties of Dagestan and Ichkeria (Chechenya) agreed to unite. The united parties will be headed by Movladi Udugov, first deputy prime minister of Ichkeria. He is also leader of the Chechen Islamic Order coalition, which was established in late July and unites some 20 Chechen political groups.
The Islamic Order Union aims to prevent the expansion of anti-Islamic forces in the Caucasus, promote the consolidation of Islamic political parties and work for the unification of peoples of the Caucasus.
Its establishment came a week after Ichkeria’s president Aslan Maskhadov met his Russian counterpart Boris Yeltsin in Moscow on August 18 at which a number of contentious issues were discussed. These included Russian reparations for damage inflicted on Ichkeria in the 21-month brutal war, Moscow’s recognition of Ichkeria as an independent State, and transit fees for Azeri oil flowing through Ichkeria’s territory (On September 4 it was announced that the two sides were close to a deal on the fee structure for oil transit).
Yeltsin feigned disbelief when informed by Maskhadov that less than US$21 million of the estimated $138 million sent by Moscow had been delivered to Ichkeria’s central bank. Yeltsin wanted to know who in Russia was responsible for theft on such a large scale.
While the Russian-Chechen sparring on the question of recognition goes on, it is important to bear in mind that the idea of the Mountain Peoples forming their own federation is not new. As early as 1920, the Caucasus Mountain Republic was established in the region. It was recognised by Britain, France, Germany and Turkey before being crushed in the Leninist onslaught, in complete contravention of the pledges given by the new communist rulers in Moscow.
The idea of the Mountain Republic was again resurrected after the victory of general Dzhokhar Dudayev in the Chechen presidential elections of October 27, 1991. Dudayev was martyred in a missile attack on April 21, 1996 while resistance against the Russians was in full swing. His successors proved worthy of the test and went on to defeat the Russian army in early August of the same year.
Soon after Dudayev’s presidential victory, the National Chechen Congress announced the formation of the Caucasian Independence Party. This was intended to lead the way towards promoting pan-Caucasus unity. It was formally proclaimed at a congress of the Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus held in November 1991 in Sukhumi, the Abkhaz capital.
Even before the Chechens held their presidential elections, they had received a message of encouragement from Musa Shanibov, president of the assembly of the Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus. The message was published by the newspaper Svoboda in August 1991 shortly after the communist coup attempt against Yeltsin in Moscow. The message read in part:
‘We are thrilled with the political awareness and courage of the Chechen nation. You have given an example to all the free nations of the Caucasus. Demonstrations have already begun in Nalchik [capital of Kabardino-Balkaria] in support of our Chechen brothers. I know the that Abkhazia is ready to give you whatever help you need... The centre of political struggle in the region has moved to Chechenia-Ingushetia. All the republics and member nations of the Assembly of the Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus fully support the activity of the Executive Committee of the National Chechen Congress and its chairman Dzhokhar Dudayev.’
Within a year of this message, the Abkhaz had to ward off Georgian military assault on their territory following the local parliament voting for sovereignty. That struggle lasted for more than a year when on September 30, 1993, the last Georgian soldier was driven out of Abkhaz territory. Many Chechens volunteered to fight alongside their Abkhaz brothers.
There is much affinity among the Mountain Peoples of the Caucasus including religion, history and culture. What is needed is to translate this into reality by taking practical steps for the benefit of all peoples. So far, the Chechens alone seem to be carrying the burden. Others must come forward to share it otherwise unity will continue to elude them.
Muslimedia - September 16-30, 1997