Assassinations and violence in the Russian republics of Ingushetia and Dagestan are on the rise. Victims also include two journalists who opposed corrupt politicians and militant Islamic radicals. These are their stories.
There has been a significant rise in assassinations and violence in Ingushetia and Dagestan over the last few months. The government in Moscow has intervened and replaced the President of the Republic in Ingushetia, trying to find a new way of coping with local realities. As for Dagestan, there has been no reaction by the Kremlin yet.
Although there is no open conflict between the different ethnic groups in Dagestan, the situation in the Caucasus republic is all but calm. There are almost daily attacks on Russian security forces and widespread anti-terrorist operations often result in gunfire and casualties. But this is not only a clash between the pro-independence Islamists and the security forces. Activists who oppose corrupt local government or journalists who are trying to promote moderate Islam have also been victims of violence.
Farid Babaev, politician from the opposition and human rights activist
On the evening of 21 November 2007, Farid Babaev was shot with three bullets at the entrance of his house in Makhachkala, capital of Dagestan. He died three days later in hospital.
Farid Babaev was the leader of the opposition party Jabloko in Dagestan and an activist in the human rights movement. In his public speeches, he did not hesitate to denounce acts of violence committed by local authorities, disappearances of persons, corruption or electoral fraud.
Two persons accused of having perpetrated the murder were arrested on 4 March 2008. According to their original testimonies, the murder was ordered by Abas Abasov, son of the administrative chief of the district of Dokuzparinsk.
A demonstration was organized to protest the district chief on 25 April 2006. Protesters accused the chief of having favoured friends and misappropriated public funds. Authorities opened fire on the protesters, killing one person and injuring many.
On many occasions, Farid Babaev described the Dokuzparinsk events as a clear example of the poor control exercised by the Dagestan president over the local government and of the readiness of the security forces to defend corrupt officials, even with arms.
The trial was postponed many times because of the difficulty in finding willing jury members; none of the 350 persons called for jury duty showed up for the first round of selections. After five more calls, the trial finally began on 16 October in a tense atmosphere and the first sessions were held behind closed doors for the sake of witness protection. The trial, which is of particular importance to human rights activists, has been open to the public since 26 November.
Abdullah Alishaev, religious affairs reporter
On the evening of 2 September 2008, Abdullah Alishaev was shot while driving home in his car. He died the next morning in hospital.
Abdullah Alishaev was the editor of the Islamic TV channel Čirkej (now called Makhachkala TV). He primarily produced religious educational programmes about the practices and traditions of Islam. These programmes were meant to clarify facts about a faith which had often been superficially presented to the public, in part due to limits on religious freedom during the time of the Soviet Union. Abdullah Alishaev also used his programmes to focus on social issues such as alcoholism or drug abuse, often drawing on Islam to present solutions to such problems.
Alishaev was known primarily for his strong opposition to religious fundamentalism and the radical streams of Islam which have grown in the North Caucasus since the end of the 80s. Islamic fundamentalism in the region, improperly referred to by the media and Russian politicians as "wahhabism," has been inseparably linked to separatist movements which openly work to create an independent state based on Sharia law. The armed insurgency which started in Chechnya in the summer of 1999 is an example of this. It aimed to create an independent republic of Dagestan, self-proclaimed in August of that year, which triggered intervention by the federal army and effectively began the second Chechen war.
In 2006, Abdullah Alishaev produced a documentary titled "Obyknovennyj Wahhabism" (Ordinary Wahhabism) inspired by these events. In his documentary, Alishaev told the story of the "wahhabi" movement in Dagestan, underscoring the disconnectedness of this Islamic stream from local religious traditions. He particularly demonstrated how wahhabism has established itself thanks to envoys from Saudi Arabia and other countries which took advantage of the difficult economic situation and the poor knowledge of Islam in the region. Alishaev collected interviews from different parts of Dagestan and demonstrated clear images of violence perpetrated by wahhabi terrorists, even against women and children. In his documentary, he underscored that such violence is strictly forbidden by the Koran and refuted the ideas promoted by the wahhabi on particular religious issues.
Salman Sultanmagomedov is Alishaev's successor as Editor in Chief of Makhachkala TV. On 18 November 2008, he was a victim of a bomb attack while driving his car through Dagestan's capital. He suffered only mild injuries.
It appears that trying to promote moderate Islam in Dagestan is a task which requires much courage.