In Dagestan, Russia’s Long Running Islamist War

Rome–For your summer reading pleasure, I’m linking to a report I worked on as my last act with Human Rights Watch more than a year ago. It came out in June and chronicles the decade long battle between Russian security forces and Salafi Muslim rebels in Dagestan.

Dagestan: the Long War

In many ways, it’s a familiar tale. A litany of serious abuses, disappearances and illegality on the part of Russian security forces. On the Salafi side, attacks on civilians and police.

Dagestan is a largely Muslim republic in the west of the Russian Federation. The conflict has been far overshadowed by wars that pit jihadist Sunni Muslims against governments and other Islamic sects in Syria and Iraq. But there is a common thread: In Dagestan as well as the Middle East, Salafis, members of an Islamic grouping that claim to adhere to the practices of earliest Islam, regard themselves the vanguard in a campaign to fix run down societies.

The Dagestani revolt’s main thrust is against the Russians, but also against the Sufi Muslim majority that Salafis feel practice a corrupt form of Islam and is in league with Moscow. Sufism is the dominant and most widely practiced version of Islam in Dagestan and also the Middle East.

Middle East jihadist movements are also informed by Salafism. They assault not only governments and”apostate” minorities like Christians and Westerners,  but, like their Dagestani counterparts, also those Muslims who practice a supposedly impure Islam. Sufis are paramount among the errant.

Salafism’s attraction in Dagestan is due to disgust with Russian rule, a contagion of unrest from Chechnya and the desire to radically change society. That the war should have lasted this long attests to the resentful staying power of Salafi followers–not to mention the security force abuses that feed the narrative of chronic cruelty and malfeasance in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Here’s the report.

A shorter version, in press release form.

A source for news from Dagestan (and the rest of the Caucasus).

An HRW video.


Daniel Williams

Published by Daniel Williams

I am a former correspondent who, for more than 30 years, did time in China, Southeast Asia, Central America, Mexico, the Middle East, Europe and Africa and covered wars that went from episodic to non-stop. My book, "Forsaken," about Christian persecution in the Middle East came out January, 2016. NextWarNotes is a news and analysis blog designed to fill gaps, provide background and think about what’s next. The name of the site comes from a 1935 article by Ernest Hemingway in Esquire Magazine called “Notes on the Next War,” in which he predicted the coming conflagration in Europe, told why it would happen and warned Americans to stay out.

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