Interpreting the ideological evolution of an insurgency: Lessons from the North Caucasus, 2007-2015

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).

A Primer on the Evolution of Conflict in the North Caucasus

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.

Broader, Vaguer, Weaker: The Evolving Ideology of the Caucasus Emirate Leadership

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”

Between Caucasus and Caliphate: Understanding the Splintering of the North Caucasus Insurgency

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”