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Caliphate for an Hour

Published: April 7, 2014 (Issue # 1804)


Columnists should make predictions about the future. The fall of the Soviet Union and 9/11 caught us by surprise because of failures of imagination. But besides publicly exercising imagination, columnists should also examine their own failed predictions in hopes of salvaging something from the fiasco.

That's the case with me and the Sochi Winter Olympics. Doku Umarov, the Chechen leader of the Islamist insurgents, had called for attacks on the Games. As the focus of the world's attention, they seemed the perfect target. Moreover, the closing ceremonies would be held on Feb. 23, the 70th anniversary of Stalin's violent exile of the entire Chechen and Ingush nations.

As everyone knows, the Games and the closing ceremony passed without incident. I asked myself, "Why?" Have President Vladimir Putin and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov so smashed the Islamists that all they can do is issue grandiloquent videos proclaiming a caliphate across the Caucasus or blow up the occasional bus?

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The reason was far simpler: Umarov did not strike because he was dead. That death had been long rumored, and in Russia rumor remains a source of information worth taking into account. Thus far, there has been no information about the place, date or cause of death. More important now is the person replacing Umarov and the movement's probable direction under his tutelage.

The new leader is Aliasaskhab Kebekov, 42, who had been the spiritual leader and supreme Sharia judge of the Caucasus region. The first non-Chechen to lead the insurgency, he is an ethnic Avar from Dagestan, as was the iconic leader Shamil who combined strategic and spiritual gifts to lead a decades-long rebellion against the Russians in the mid-19th century.

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Dagestan itself is less ethnically homogeneous that Chechnya and thus more difficult for Moscow to impose a leader like Kadyrov. "Dagestanis are much more Islamist, they are better integrated into global jihad, and they are more super-national," says Yekaterina Sokirianskaya, North Caucasus director for the International Crisis Group.

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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Wednesday, Aug. 20


AmCham gets back to business after a summer hiatus with todays EHS Committee Working Group Meeting. Check their website for more details.



Thursday, Aug. 21


Time is running out to see the fantastic creations on display at the 2014 Sand Castle Festival on the beach at the Peter and Paul Fortress. Adhering to the theme of Treasure Island, visitors can wander amongst larger-than-life interpretations of pirate life or attend one of the workshops held to educate a future generation of sand artists. The castles will remain on the beach until Aug. 31.



Friday, Aug. 22


Get ready to pledge allegiance to the flag during National Flag Day, paying tribute to when, 23 years ago today, the iconic hammer-and-sickle was replaced with the tricolor that now flutters in the wind. Petersburgers will be treated to a free concert on Palace Square, a military parade and a culminating air show featuring Russias Russian Knights stunt pilots.



Saturday, Aug. 23


Uppsala Park plays host to Fairy Noon today, a performance of five separate fairy tales ranging from folk classics to more haunting selections. There will be three different renditions of the tales throughout the day and tickets start at 500 rubles ($13.80) for adults and 300 rubles ($8.30) for children.


Classic Finnish cartoon characters the Moomins expect to receive a warm welcome from Russian fans during todays Moomin Festival at the Pearl Plaza Shopping Center at 51 Petergofskoye Shosse. Become a kid again or introduce a new generation to the beloved creation of Finnish writer Tove Jansson.



Sunday, Aug. 24


The tortured genius of Dutch master Vincent van Gogh gets his day in the centers Konnushnaya Ploschad during Make Art Like Van Gogh, a daylong celebration of the artist that will allow amateur artists to try and replicate the work that made the famed painter world-renowned.


Experience a variety of dances highlighting the diversity of the world around as at the final day of the Ethno-Dance International Dance Festival that has been at the St. Petersburg Humanitarian University of Trade Unions this past week. Tonights performance will feature Egyptian dancers accompanied by local orchestras.



Monday, Aug. 25


Today kicks off the Elena Obraztsovoy International Competition for Young Vocalists in the large hall of the Shostakovich Philharmonic. Talented youngsters will showcase their range over the next six days before a winner is chosen on Aug. 30.



Tuesday, Aug. 26


Love movies but hate all those words? Then check out Rodina Cinema Centers Factor of Consensus film forum this evening. Silent movie classics from the beginning of the 20th century will be screened and accompanied by a pianist, who will provide the soundtrack for the ongoing action. The screenings begin at 7 p.m. Check Rodinas website for more details.



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