06MOSCOW2327, NORTH CAUCASUS MUSLIMS: INDEPENDENT VOICE?

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06MOSCOW2327 2006-03-10 11:52 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow

VZCZCXRO4801
PP RUEHDBU
DE RUEHMO #2327/01 0691152
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 101152Z MAR 06
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1994
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHXD/MOSCOW POLITICAL COLLECTIVE PRIORITY

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MOSCOW 002327 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/10/2016 
TAGS: PGOV PINR RS
SUBJECT: NORTH CAUCASUS MUSLIMS:  INDEPENDENT VOICE? 
 
Classified By: Political Minister-Counselor Kirk Augustine.  Reason 1.4 
 (b, d) 
 
1. (C) Summary:  The election of Magomed-Khadzhi Albogachiyev 
as leader of the Coordinating Center of Muslims of the North 
Caucasus marks a clear step to distance the Moscow-based 
Center -- and by extension the Muslim clerics in the region, 
whom it purports to represent -- from the clan-based leaders 
of the North Caucasus autonomous republics.  Albogachiyev 
founded the organization, but resigned as Mufti of Ingushetia 
in 2004 after a public row with the Republic's President. 
One obstacle he faces in regaining influence is the split of 
North Caucasus Muslims into two religious wings based on 
geography.  If he negotiates that obstacle, he still has to 
steer carefully between the Kremlin and the clan-based 
leaders of the autonomous republics.  End Summary. 
 
Background 
---------- 
 
2. (U) The Coordinating Center of Muslims of the North 
Caucasus was founded in 1998 to enhance coordination among 
the official Muftis leading the Muslim Spiritual Directorates 
of each of the seven autonomous republics of the North 
Caucasus.  Its founder and first chair was Magomed-Khadzhi 
(Muhammad-Haji) Albogachiyev, then Mufti of Ingushetia. 
Albogachiyev led the Center until 2003; in 2004 he left his 
post as Mufti of Ingushetia after public disagreements with 
the Republic's new president, ex-KGB officer Murat Zyazikov. 
The chair of the Coordinating Center then rotated among the 
serving muftis of the North Caucasus, and Albogachiyev became 
Deputy Chair.  On February 14, 2006, however, the 
Coordinating Center amended the rule that demanded its Chair 
be a serving mufti, and chose Albogachiyev to lead the Center 
once again.  Albogachiyev has been visible since he took 
office, and attended a well-publicized meeting of Muslim 
leaders with FM Sergey Lavrov on February 26.   The new 
position makes Albogachiyev one of the three top Muslim 
leaders of Russia.  The other two are Ravil Gaynutdin, leader 
of the Russian Council of Muftis (for the European part of 
Russia), and Talgat Tadzhuddin of the Central Muslim 
Spiritual Directorate based in Ufa. 
 
Back in the Saddle Again 
------------------------ 
 
3. (C) In a March 7 conversation, Albogachiyev made clear to 
us his satisfaction with being head of one of the three 
"centers" of Muslim life in Russia.  He supported in 
principle the idea of uniting these three centers under a 
Mufti of Russia, but noted that such a hierarchical structure 
is rare in Islamic countries.  Personal rivalries may be 
another obstacle; Albogachiyev noted that "we have some 
disagreements with the Tatars" (i.e., with the Russian 
Council of Muftis and its well-known leader, Gaynutdin). 
 
4. (C) Albogachiyev stressed the need to improve Muslim 
education in the North Caucasus (the day after his selection, 
he announced a decision to ask for GOR assistance in setting 
up an advanced institute for Muslim clerical training in 
Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria).  He told us he wanted more 
facilities to train clerics in the region, rather than 
sending students abroad.  He noted that there are 17 
institutes of Islamic learning in Dagestan, but far fewer in 
the other autonomous republics.  Asked about the spread of 
radical Islam in the North Caucasus, Albogachiyev admitted 
that corruption and social neglect were contributing factors, 
but stressed education as the solution.  He noted that the 
individual jamaats espousing radical Islam were unlikely to 
unite or achieve the kind of electoral success that Hamas 
recently enjoyed in the Palestinian Authority. 
 
Divided by Mountains:  The Ecstatics, the Pious 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
 
5. (C) While Albogachiyev's strong and influential voice may 
give a single public face to the Coordinating Center, the 
religious map of the North Caucasus does not favor unity. 
The Muslims are split down the middle geographically.  From 
Ossetia west, areas that traditionally looked towards the 
Ottoman Empire, the predominant madhhab, or school of 
jurisprudence, is Hanafi, which prevails in Turkey today.  In 
contrast, the Muslims of Ingushetia, Chechnya and Dagestan 
follow the Shafi'i madhhab.  More importantly, 90 percent 
(according to Albogachiyev and others we have spoken to) are 
at least nominal members of a Sufi order -- either the 
Naqshibandis or the Qadiris, both widespread in Central Asia 
and Iraq (the Naqshibandis are important in Turkey as well). 
(Note:  In Chechnya during the wars since 1994, Naqshibandis 
tended to support the Federal side, while Qadiris tended to 
support the insurgents; Chechen separatist leader Shamil 
Basayev comes from a Qadiri family.)   Albogachiyev himself 
 
MOSCOW 00002327  002 OF 002 
 
 
is a member of the Kunta-Haji "vird" of the Qadiris, founded 
and led by the charismatic Chechen missionary Kunta-Haji 
Kishiyev until his arrest and exile by the Russians in 1864. 
Although the historical Kunta-Haji died two years later, his 
followers have told us (and Albogachiyev affirmed that he 
believes) that Kunta-Haji lives on in occultation, like the 
Sunn
i Mahdi or the Shi'a Twelfth Imam. 
 
6. (C) In contrast, Albogachiyev's deputy Shafig Auesovich 
Pshikhachev told us separately, the Muslims of Kabardia 
(where he served as mufti for 14 years) are "pragmatic." They 
are also quietist.  Pshikhachev said his clan has been a 
"bearer" of the Islamic religion since it came to Kabardia in 
the seventeenth century.  Of the nine recognized Islamic 
scholars and other religious officials such as Pshikhachev 
himself (and Pshikhachev's first cousin, current Mufti of 
Kabardino-Balkaria) that the clan has produced in those four 
centuries, all have been on good terms with the authorities 
of the day.  He seemed proud that when a whole generation of 
"muhajirs" fled the North Caucasus for the Ottoman Empire 
following the Russian conquest of 1859, only three families 
of the Pshikhachev clan left.  Albogachiyev will have some 
politicking to do to unite the two very different halves of 
his new domain -- which perhaps explains why he asked for his 
first project in the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria. 
 
Comment 
------- 
 
7. (C) Under Albogachiyev, the Coordinating Center is now in 
the peculiar position of being -- at least potentially -- at 
odds with the very muftis whose activities it purportedly 
exists to coordinate.  The Kremlin may, in fact, find this 
useful.  Moscow, despite avowed support for the "vertical of 
power," has been ceding more de facto autonomy to local clans 
to govern as they will -- as long as they keep their fiefdoms 
quiet and loyal.  A separate center of Islamic influence 
based in Moscow, independent of the North Caucasus clans, is 
in line with the tried and true traditions of Russian 
statecraft, but the minefield between the Kremlin and the 
clans will not be easy for Albogachiyev to navigate. 
BURNS

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