The proclamation of the Caucasus Emirate (Imarat Kavkaz, or IK) in October 2007 marked a watershed moment in the evolution of conflict in the North Caucasus, one that changed the ideological rationale for armed resistance. Remarkably little attention, however, has been paid to the substance of that rationale. This article redresses this gap by examining how local leaders sought to shape the meanings of the conflicts that they were engaged in and mobilise people to action. It demonstrates that the IK’s leadership articulated a weakly developed political program that often failed to explain what the insurgency was fighting against or seeking to achieve, instead focusing their attention on moulding local identities. In doing so, however, the leadership frequently failed to address practical concerns or overcome existing political boundaries to establish a regional insurgent identity. The article demonstrates the benefits of moving beyond instrumental and doctrinal considerations of ideology and reveals the insights that can be gained by considering important questions of identity.
Click here to read the full (open access) article in Perspectives on Terrorism.
Ideology has fallen badly out of fashion. In the study of political violence in particular, it is often pushed to the margins, and there is considerable scepticism over its importance. Yet violent political actors often devote substantial effort to shaping interpretations of their activities, and explanatory models that neglect ideology typically rely on a narrow understanding of the concept and leave important questions about its role unanswered. This thesis interrogates ideology’s role in political violence through a rich empirical study of the insurgency that operated in Russia’s North Caucasus between 2007 and 2015. It applies Social Movement Theory to unique datasets to understand how movement actors defined the conflicts they were engaged in and sought to persuade others to participate, and how internal and external contexts influenced these ideas. In doing so, it establishes the insurgency as ideologically shallow and weakly integrated, and argues that identity and pragmatism were more central to its ideological vision than specific grievances or goals. This thesis significantly advances our understanding of the insurgency and generates important insights into the role of ideology in political violence more broadly. At the same time, it contributes important methodological innovations to the study of clandestine social movements.
Click here to read this PhD thesis (open access).
Despite its early and spectacular successes in Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State (IS) has, over the last year, suffered repeated setbacks that have weakened its ability to control captured territory and implement its state-building agenda. A key aspect of IS’s strategy has been the mobilisation of supporters across Russia and the former Soviet Union. Other rebel groups in Syria have also attracted support from these areas, illustrating the need for a proper understanding of the Russian-speaking militant milieu, beyond IS’s territorial claims. Continue reading “New Report On Russian-Speaking Foreign Fighters”
The Caucasus Emirate (Imarat Kavkaz) was the main insurgent group operating in the North Caucasus between 2007 and 2015. However, the deaths of key ideologues, intense pressure from the security services, and mass defections to the Islamic State (IS) resulted in the group’s decline. In this guide, Mark Youngman and Dr Cerwyn Moore explain the background and transformation of the Imarat Kavkaz.
Click here to read the rest of the article for Radicalisation Research.
Although violence has declined significantly in recent years, foreign fighters and ideologues continue to reference “jihad” in Chechnya and many Russian-speaking fighters in Syria have previous experience of the North Caucasus conflict. In this article, Dr Cerwyn Moore and Mark Youngman outline the evolution of those conflicts.
Click here to read the rest of the article for Radicalisation Research.
The decision by the Islamic State group to proclaim a ‘caliphate’ in June 2014 was a watershed moment in the history of jihadism, but it was far from the first attempt at jihadist state-building. Examining the reasons for the failure of one such project, the Caucasus Emirate (IK) in Russia’s North Caucasus, and the demise of the regional insurgency under the banners of both IK and IS can help us better understand the relationship between a group’s ideology and its composition and operating environment.
Click here to view the rest of the article for CREST Security Review.
Earlier today, I posted a series of tweets reflecting on a claim by the allegedly Al-Qaeda-linked “Katibat Imam Shamil,” posted to Ani.mr, claiming responsibility for the 3 April terrorist attack on the St Petersburg metro. I’ve compiled the text of tweets below for convenience, although obviously the issue requires more detailed reflection.
Continue reading “Reflections on AQ’s Claims of Responsibility for the April 2017 St Petersburg Attack”
In October 2007, veteran Chechen field commander Dokka Umarov proclaimed the formation of the Caucasus Emirate (IK), formalizing the victory of the North Caucasus insurgency’s Islamist wing over its nationalist separatists. Despite the importance of this decision, however, the IK’s ideology and Umarov’s role in shaping it remain understudied. By analyzing Umarov’s statements throughout his lengthy tenure as leader, it is possible to identify three distinct phases to Umarov’s ideological positioning of the insurgency: nationalist-jihadist (June 2006-October 2007); Khattabist (October 2007-late 2010); and partially hybridized (late 2010-September 2013). Understanding these phases helps us gain a clear picture of the IK’s ideological transformation and the limits of its engagement with external actors, and suggests that weakness was a key factor driving that transformation. Continue reading “Broader, Vaguer, Weaker: The Evolving Ideology of the Caucasus Emirate Leadership”
In December 2014, several high-ranking field commanders from the Caucasus Emirate (Imarat Kavkaz, IK) pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS). Following the defection of many of the IK’s remaining commanders, IS in July 2015 established a formal branch, the Caucasus Wilayah (IS/CW), and is now the main insurgent grouping in the North Caucasus. This article argues that there are clear ideological differences in the positions adopted by the competing IK and IS/CW factions, but ideology is potentially more important in explaining the decisions of those leaders who remained loyal to the IK than those who defected – and the ideological divide was exacerbated by the communication difficulties facing groups.
Continue reading “Between Caucasus and Caliphate: Understanding the Splintering of the North Caucasus Insurgency”
Since the involvement of fighters of North Caucasian origin in the Syrian conflict was first confirmed in August 2012, the official websites of the Caucasus Emirate (IK) have struggled to balance competing interests in their reporting on Syria. In line with the movement’s alignment of insurgents in Russia’s troubled southern region with the global jihadist movement, IK websites have reported extensively on events in Syria and on the activities of groups that ethnic North Caucasians are fighting with. However, statements by the IK’s leader, Dokka Umarov, and material published to IK websites suggest concerns that the Syrian conflict could have a detrimental effect on the North Caucasus insurgency. Multiple articles have insisted that North Caucasians are obliged to fight at home and may only travel to other jihadist “fronts” if unable to do so. Judging by regional variations in IK coverage, these concerns are most acute within the Ingushetian and, possibly, Chechen sectors of the insurgency. Continue reading “The North Caucasus Insurgency’s Syrian Balancing Act”