Not a bad summary from the Heritage Foundation. The history is deeper and more complex than depicted here, but at least this gets at some of it.

When I was in seminary, in our history of World Christianity Class, I focused on this area of the world. One of the things that was extremely interesting and pertinent to current issues, was Russia’s founding of the Caucasus or Caucasian Line, a string of fortresses that ran eastward along the Caucasus mountains. These fortresses were built beginning in the 18th century following Russia’s expansion in the region and ongoing conflict with the Ottomans. From these fortresses, which often contained Orthodox Monasteries, Orthodox Christian Monks would sally forth to convert the pagan tribes in the mountainous regions.

At the same time, Sufi brothers from Persia were making their way up into the Caucasus region and spreading their form of mystical Islam among the tribes. The Russians, believing pagans were more easily converted to Christianity (and therefore, more likely to be Russo-fied) actually encouraged peoples to maintain their pagan religion rather than convert to Islam, if they were not open to Christianity. But, as with many regions of the world, religious identification came to mirror ethnic and political loyalties. Because the Russians and Georgians were Orthodox Christians, many of the Caucasian tribes that were at political odds with them found in Islam a means of expressing their difference from their enemies while encouraging cohesiveness among their own people.

Through the years, there were various rebellions which were crushed by the Czars. Many of the refugees from these failed rebellions fled to regions where they were influenced by radically conservative brands of Islam which viewed the Sufi brotherhoods of their home region with contempt. Eventually these folks returned home to Chechnya, some went to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. When the war in Afghanistan was over, and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, many of these fighters became the core of Islamist movements for independence. But they were also movements for purity, creating a triparte (at least) conflict: The Chechens vs. the Russians vs. the Islamist Chechens who viewed the rest of them as practicing a form of Islam that was impure.

At any rate, this conflict goes back a long, long time, with lots of death and many atrocities fueling it.

“Boston Marathon bombers have brought greater attention to Russia’s volatile North Caucasus, their ancestral home. As painful their heinous acts are, however, the bombers’ actions are just a footnote to the history of insurgency and connections to global Islamist networks in the North Caucasus.The North Caucasus has a long history of violence and fighting against Russia stretching back over 200 years. Russia’s expansion into the North Caucasus in the 19th century met with decades-long resistance from the local mountainous Muslim nations. Despite Russian military victories and control, bought with rivers of blood and mass ethnic cleansings, the inhabitants of the North Caucasus maintained their distinct Islamic identity due to their tenacity and the rough terrain of the region.”

The Boston Marathon bombers actions are just a footnote to the history of insurgency and connections to global Islamist networks in the North Caucasus.

Read it all: North Caucasus: Islamist Threat Comes from a History of Violence – The Foundry: Conservative Policy

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