The Nohchicho website has undertaken and published an interview with Ajnad al-Kavkaz Amir Abdul Hakim Shishani; Abdul Hakim also wrote a letter published on the same website in support of a rally in Strasbourg by Chechens on the anniversary of the 23 February 1944 mass deportations by Stalin.
I’m writing an analysis of these and as I was reading them and thinking about them I just typed them out in translation on the fly as I find that’s a good way to get space to think.
So I’m posting them here, in unpolished form. For background, Nohchicho is an independent Chechen website that is not aligned to any group (they say this on their website, but they made sure to emphasize it when I asked them). Basically speaking, that means they are not aligned with the Imaratovtsy or the Ichkerians. You will notice that they refer to this in the interview with Abdul Hakim. The interview & letter are really very significant; Abdul Hakim is considered by Russian-speaking fighters in Syria–and I can’t stress this enough, even by those outside Ajnad*– to be a very good leader and to have developed a very good system for running his jamaat**; here we see him speaking as a voice of the Chechen struggle against Russian rule in the North Caucasus. I’ve recently written in some detail about Ajnad, and its strategies for successfully navigating the difficult landscape of the Syrian conflict (unlike, for example, Imarat Kavkaz vShame, which is in dire straits right now***).
*Including but not limited to former IKvS fighters, inter alia.
**I’ve also heard praise for LMA, who’ve got crack Dargin & Ingush fighters
***So one of the major issues with OSINT is the fact that social media does not always present us with a very accurate picture of reality.
Abdul Hakim, your jamaat is seen more and more often in reports from the Syrian front, but ordinary people outside of Syria don’t know anything about your political views. Could you tell us a little bit about the history of your jamaat?
If you’re going to start from the word “jamaat” then that’s where I’ve belonged since 1998, I started waging jihad [lit: вышел в джихад, “I went out to jihad,” it’s the standard phrase to describe when an individual began to fight] in 2000 in UmatGiri’s jamaat [Ed: so the original says умткира which is a weird spelling; it’s also the name of an Amir, not the name of a jamaat. But what’s interesting here is how this shows the importance of the concept of the jamaat, which is more than just a fighting unit.] If you’re talking about our jamaat in Syria, then that started in 2013. After unsuccessful attempts to return home, we decided to participate in the Syrian jihad, in order to help local Muslim brothers and sisters.
At first we were a small group of brothers who knew each other. We joined with the local group Ansar al-Sham and over time brothers from Europe, Turkey and from the motherland started joining us [Ed: there is a fascinating story behind this which I don’t have room for here]. In spring 2014 we left Ansar al-Sham and founded an independent group. The current name, banner and structure was formed later, in spring 2015.
Are there only Chechens in the jamaat or representatives of other North Caucasian nations?
The jamaat has representatives of other North Caucasian nations, local Syrians and other Arabs.
Is it true that Ajnad al-Kavkaz is not linked to either the [Chechen Republic of] Ichkeria or the Imarat [i.e. Imarat Kavkaz] nizam?
Yes, that’s true. [Ed: I’ve recently discussed how Abdul Hakim has insisted on independence as part of a wider strategy to deal with the politics of the Syrian conflict & of what happens when as a group you have to fight alongside bigger, more powerful & more “extreme” Syrian groups; there is another level to this which is of maintaining independence from the Imarat Kavkaz mess.]
What do you think about the political factions of the Ichkerians and the Imaratovtsy? Does your ideology have shared elements with theirs and how does it differ from theirs?
We are open to everything that our religion permits and in particular for the war against the Russian occupiers.
Before talking about our ideological differences it would be good to start by quitting following people who are parasitizing themselves on these names, for whom Ichkeria or the Imarat became a gravy train and a means to achieve a particular position among various groups of our people, although in reality they never and in no way helped those who stayed at home during those years. Regarding the remainder of our society, even if we disagree on some ideologiacl issues, we have aims and objectives, and we have to be unanimous to achieve them. First and foremost, we have to rid ourselves of the Russian occupation of our lands. In Russian prisons, there are thousands of Vaynakhs and other coreligionists. For example, we all know how much the families of mujahideen who are being persecuted and kicked out of their homes by the murtads need our support. In order to help these people you don’t have to be an Ichkerian, an Imaratchik or anyone else, it’s enough to be a person and a Muslim. Praise Allah, that there are people who are not indifferent to the misfortunes of others, their reward is with Allah. Real assistance for those who are in need is more valuable than any of our slogans and loud statements. Of course, all this depends on financial and human resources, but working together on these matters would bring the desired result. And Allah says in the Quran, “help each other in righteousness and piety but don’t help each other in sin and enmity.”
What do you think about the concept of Chechen and (or) pan-Caucasian statehood? Do you consider calls for the revival of such a state to be of current interest?
The battle for liberating Muslim lands and establishing on them of the Law of Allah– this is the duty of every Muslim. Independent territory and Sharia–these are the main attributes of a Muslim state. Of course we all dream and work for the creation of such a state, even if it is created by one or a few Muslim peoples. But we also have to understand that to create one such state within the boundaries of one small nation is practically impossible under current conditions. Even only because our neighbors are a bloodthirsty empire. Even Dzhokhar talked about this, and before him Sheikh Mansur, Imam Shamil and other of our leaders, who tried to rally the Caucasus and other Muslims for the fight against Russia.
Anyone who thinks that someone will come and give us independence or let us just decide for ourselves how to live on our land, let him take a look at our history, starting with the present and back to former ages. Even Ukraine and Georgia, who are not Muslim countries, were not saved from Russian aggression, and today whole regions of these states are under Russian occupation, disguised in various ways. Therefore, we can only gain actual independence when we are in a position to rise against the aggression of the Russians, or against any other aggression. The Chechen Republic of Ichkeria will always be a glorious chapter in the history of our nation. We had outstanding leaders all of whom left unbroken. BUt we have to understand that another age has begun and that presents us with new challenges.
Not long ago, representatives of Ramzan Kadyrov accused you of incitement against Chechen youth to carry out attacks against local police. To what extent is this true?
Probably you’re asking about that guy who was arrested, who said his nickname on the internet was Abdul Hakim Shishani. There was confusion because the name was the same. Regarding attacks on law enforcement, everyone knows they are permissible. The other question is whether they are feasible or effective. We are upset when we find out at the number of brothers who are killed is more than the number of murtads who were annihilated. So you have to look at that question through the prism of benefits and costs. As for the rest, I think that we don’t have the right to call on brothers to carry out such attacks or restrain them, from afar.
Previously, an American information resource accused your jamaat of participating in terrorist attacks. How do you respond to this accusation?
First, these accusations arose after the liberation of Idlib. What’s interesting is that around 6,000 mujahideen took part in this operation. There was Jabhat al Nusra, Ahrar, and also FSA groups, the so called moderates. But for some reason we were named as the terrorists. In one interview, Shamil said, “All right then, so I’m a terrorist, and who are they, then?” So we ask, if we are called terrorists for helping downtrodden Muslims, then who are Bashar, Putin, who have killed and continue to kill tens and hundreds of thousands of people in various countries of the world? Several Kurdish parties were previously accused of being terrorists, but now they’ve become their partners, despite the fact that they continue to carry out terririst attacks in Turkey, which is a member of NATO. The same story with Hezbollah, which also used to be on the list of terror groups and now is also their partner. So we can see their word games and name calling as based on their political interests.
Russian propaganda often links you with IS. What can you say on that topic?
Russian propaganda tries to present anyone who is opposing Assad as IS. It’s clear that practically all of their bombing of civilian populations, especially the bombing of lands controlled by the Mujahideen who don’t have any connection to IS, the Russians are trying to present as a war with IS. We do not have and have never had any relationship with them.
What ways do you see to overcome the divisions between Chechens?
The split among the Chechens has many reasons and has managed to put down deep roots. Different understandings of religion, various political views, and many other things. Allah said in the Quran, “If you disagree, refer it to Allah and the Messenger, if you believe in Allah and the Last Day.”
In reality, the recipe for healing this split is simple, but ego and ambitions of individual people complicate it enormously.
From our perspective, we’ve repeatedly advocated initiatives for unity. THe first time we turned to Tarkhan, but nothing came of it. The second attempt was addressed to Aslanbek, and other amirs also attended that meeting. The third attempt happened when we proposed gathering a shura of scholars and students who would have gathered the Vaynakhs under one person. We did not make any claims to leadership and would agree to subordinate ourselves to a single amir, if everyone else agreed, and we have witnesses to these meetings. When we saw the lack of results of these attempts, we decided to act under our own steam, not expecting that we would be successful in uniting all the brothers.
Are the activities of your jamaat limited solely to military actions or do you have your own political program?
In Syria our activities are in the main limited to military operations. Other matters should be dealt with by local Muslims. [ED: this is a very important part of Ajnad’s strategy, as I recently discussed!]
Regarding activities directed at the Caucasus, then of course there must be a political program, and a detailed project in order to change the situation in the Caucasus to our benefit. I can’t talk about everything now, but I can say that we are not fighting only for the sake of fighting.
Recently, civil resistance among Chechens intensified–in Europe and Turkey rallies started to happen, as memorials to mark the significant dates of recent Chechen history, and as protests when people gathered to express dissatisfaction with the policies pursued in Chechnya by the local regime. How do you see those methods of fighting? Do you consider that only military methods are correct, or do you also recognize the validity of alternative ways of political struggle?
We need to look at everything through the prism of Islam. Regarding whether it’s permissible to hold rallies or meetings, several scholars have already said they are permitted. The other issue is about their practical use in specific situations. Of course, they have their pluses. People see that there is a sizable part of Chechen society that is not happy with the Russian occupation and the policies of their puppets. There were cases where, because of societal pressure, our brothers and sisters were able to be saved from the hangmen. But we must know that the main struggle will occur on the battlefield and that no other forms of struggle will bring us results, if we don’t wage a real war and take arms against those who fight against us. We know this from the reality of our world. Some people are so busy playing politics that they seem to have lost all touch with reality, for others the whole war has moved onto the internet.
In conclusion, we wanted to address all our compatriots who care about the fate of our people and other Muslims. We came to Syria because here also are our brothers and sisters who need our help. It is possible, that from here there will also be an opportunity to assist our brothers and sisters in the Caucasus. We see everything that is happening at home and the depressing position our nation is in. Even after the occupation, Chechens could somehow live and practice their religion, and that was due to the fact that there were people who fought and gave their lives and not just the slogans of “Ichkeria” or “Imarat.” Now the situation is getting worse with every day. Once the opportunity of practicing Islam in its entirety was taken away from people, they started to erode at all remaining spheres of life. All this is due to the fact that no there is no real power there that could oppose that. As we already said above, we all need to work in the direction in which we are of one mind. It makes no difference what political project or idea we follow. We must help each other in the fight against Russia and their puppets, whether this is financially or with information, moral or any other sort of support. We know how morbidly the puppets react even to videos on the internet. If we cannot free our brothers and sisters from prison, then we can help their families, we can try to influence their terms or conditions of detention or even get an opportunity for their families to visit them. Many have gotten disheartened because they don’t see any progress in our struggle. But we must not give up. In fact, we can and must act in the various areas of our righteous struggle, complementing it with other pious deeds. And all this should be carried out with constant prayer and work on oneself.
May Allah make our intentions sincere, strengthen us in His ways, and grant us victory!
On 22 February, a day before the anniversary of the 23 February 1944 mass deportation by Stalin of the entire Chechen people and their Ingush neighbors to Central Asia, Nohchicho published a letter from Abdul Hakim on the subject:
Tomorrow is 23 February, the date of the deportation of our Vaynakh people. The occupying powers and their dogs are using all their strength to try to erase that crime, that date, from our memory. Today, what Stalin did to an entire people, they continue to do to the families of the mujahideen. They will not cease in this, because this is a war against all Muslims and Allah has warned us in the Quran that they will not rest until they have turned us from our religion if they can. May Allah save us from this and strengthen us in Islam.
In the light of events that are happening on the one hand at home and on the other among Vaynakhs in Europe, I have decided to address our compatriots who are not indifferent to the fate of our people.
First, I wanted to thank those brothers and sisters from Ingushetia, Europe and all those how have responded to the sorrow that befell us at home. If they had had a choice, then they, like the vast majority of parents in our families, would have kept their sons at home, but that which was ordained by Allah occurred, and what happened in their homes, from the murder of their children to the expulsion from the MOtherland of they themselves–all this is part of a war that has been declared on us out of hostility toward our religion, toward our desire to live with honor. Whichever group of rebels you identify with is a secondary issue, the point is that they were motivated by a love for Islam and a desire to punish those who are responsible for the oppression of their people. May Allah endow with patience all those who are in difficulties and may Allah reward all those who strive to aid those who are disadvantaged.
Second, we learned that the Vaynakhs living in Europe have decided to hold a large rally dedicated to 23 February. We are glad that among our people there remains a large group of those who hold true to their principles and who will not sell the nation’s memory to please our enemies or for something worldly. We are also glad that this meeting has a general character and is not carried out in the names of any party. From our part, we express our support to you in all your good deeds, even if we cannot be by your side. May each go there for the sake of Allah and show the Russians and their dogs that there are still many who oppose them. But even if we were few, we would still not leave them in peace.
Brothers and sisters, apart from Allah we have no helpers apart from ourselves! If we are not united, if we do not help one another, then the enemy will continue to overpower us and Allah will not remove this weakness from ourselves, if we do not ourselves change, just like it was written in the Quran. Remember how the whole world abandoned us, apart from some of our coreligionists, and that’s how it will be forever, as Allah as warned us, And those who disbelieved are allies of one another. If you do not do so, there will be fitnah on earth and great corruption.
We hope that this will not be the only rally and that work in this direction will continue, and that Allah will give us barakat in this, and that in the future it will grow into something great and significant. We call on all our brothers not to stand aside and to strive as far as possible in our struggle! And the main thing is that we are guided in everything by our religion, so that we will see good results in this world and the next.