By Paul Goble
The election of Chechen Mufti Salakh Mezhiyev as first deputy head of the Coordinating Center for Muslims of the North Caucasus, the super-Muslim spiritual directorate (MSD) for that region, in place of his Daghestani counterpart who has pulled out of that organization, may seem a small thing.
But because it means that the Chechens will again be the dominant player in the Coordinating Center which Ramzan Kadyrov’s father played a key role founding even though Dagehstan has more mosques and mullahs than Chechnya, the usual measure of influence in Russia’s four super-MSDs, this shift is likely to have profound consequences.
On the one hand, it means that Chechnya rather than Daghestan will be the dominant player among Muslims in the region, with the other republic MSDs playing a distinctly lesser role. Grozny will be making many of the appointments in the hierarchy and will be the primary negotiator with Moscow.
And on the other – and this is almost certainly the more important consequence — it means that the Chechen leader will be in a position to dominate the Islamic community in the North Caucasus and be in a position to mobilize that region’s Muslims against Moscow should anyone at the center try to move against him.
The complex chess game involved in the shift of the center of gravity from Daghestan to Chechnya in North Caucasus Islam, two places where Sufism is the dominant form of the faith, over the last 15 years are traced in detail by Artur Priymak in today’s issue of NG-Religii (ng.ru/ng_religii/2017-05-17/9_420_kavkaz.html).
Daghestan, it should be remembered, was the site of the North Caucasus MSD when it was established at the end of World War II, and Daghestanis by virtue of their numbers and authority have generally dominated all super-MSD efforts in the region, even when as was the case with the Coordinating Center, others took the lead in forming them.
Those moves will be of interest to a narrow group of specialists, but the political consequences of this shift should be noted even by those who have no interest in the political games within the MSDs because they significantly strengthen Kadyrov’s hand at a time when many had been projecting that Vladimir Putin might want to dispense with him.