Medium-Orient conducted public opinion surveys in the capitals of five North Caucasian republics, including Cherkessk (Karachaevo-Cherkessia), Nalchik (Kabardino-Balkaria), Grozny (Chechnya), Nazran (Ingushetia) and Makhachkala (Dagestan). In the course of our research, which was conducted throughout 2010, a total of 2000 people were surveyed (400 in each city).
The combination of survey data and analytical pieces by leading experts on the North Caucasus creates a multi-dimensional picture of what is happening in the region and allows us to better understand the tendencies of the North Caucasus’ future development.
In the course of our research, we asked questions regarding the level of religiousness among the Muslim population of various North Caucasian republics, their attitudes towards other religions and Wahhabism, as well as their attitude towards US military action in Iraq and Afghanistan. The obtained data paints an interesting and somewhat contradictory picture of the role of Islam in the North Caucasus, showing both the religion’s considerable influence on the population (see Table 1) and significant differences between the different republics’ attitude towards Islamic values.
62% of the respondents said religion plays a “big role” in their lives. In this regard, Chechnya and Ingushetia had the highest percentages – 81% and 68% respectively – while Kabardino-Balkaria had the lowest (42%).
The Violation of Muslims’ Rights
Jihadist groups are working to build a parallel system of government in North Caucasian republics, and are doing so with growing confidence. By promising “pure Islam” and the liberation of the entire North Caucasus from “infidels,” they exert an ever more noticeable influence on the mindset of the North Caucasian republics. Public opinion surveys show that a significant part of the population is dissatisfied with the respect shown for the rights of Muslims in their republics. While overall in the North Caucasus the percentage of those who think Muslims’ rights are not being respected is 24%, it is higher among respondents in Nalchik (36%) and Cherkessk (32%). It should be noted that in the Western Caucasian republics, the number of dissatisfied citizens is significantly higher than in the Eastern Caucasus. Thus, in Dagestan, the percentage of respondents who stated that the rights of Muslims are “not respected” or “rather not respected” was 17%, and in neighboring Chechnya 19%.
Interestingly, the attitude towards Wahhabism in the western part of the North Caucasus was much more positive than in the eastern part. Perhaps, this has to do with the more significant perceived violations of Muslims’ religious freedom in Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachaevo-Cherkessia, which was mentioned earlier.
The percentage of those who stated they had a “positive” or “rather positive” attitude towards Wahhabism was 39% in Nalchik and 42% in Cherkessk. Meanwhile, in Grozny the number was only 9% and in Makhachkala no respondents said they viewed Wahhabism positively. (See Table 3)
Such a low percentage of individuals who admit to having a positive attitude towards Wahhabism in the eastern part of the North Caucasus can be explained by personal negative experiences in dealing with the Wahhabis and a certain measure of self-censorship and fear of saying the truth during an interview. In any case, it is evident that the ideas of Wahhabism have a strong base of followers in the region. Moreover, our surveys show that the social base for the spread of Wahhabi ideas in recent hears has significantly broadened in the western Caucasian republics, where the level of Islamic influence is traditionally much lower than in the historically more Muslim republics of Dagestan or Chechnya.
The Attitude of Muslims Towards Christianity
Our respondents’ answers to the question regarding their attitude towards other religions in the North Caucasus are also very interesting. It is here that we observe the most pronounced differences between the levels of tolerance towards representatives of other confessions. For example, 82% of respondents in Dagestan said they viewed Christianity positively. In Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachaevo-Cherkessia the numbers were significantly lower (48% and 46% respectively), and even lower in Chechnya (7%). The number of respondents who said their attitude towards Christianity was negative was significantly higher in Chechnya (44%) than it was in other republics. Overall, 39% of respondents said they viewed Christianity positively, considerably higher than the number of those who view it negatively (14%). (See Table 4)