On May 19, Iran’s going to host presidential election. The Islamic Republic will choose the development trend for the years to come. Largely it will be due to the influence of external factors. And the figure of Donald trump will play not the least role in the Iranian elections.

Changes to the extent possible

The political system of Iran is unique, it has no analogues in the world. Despite the fact that in the Iranian system, the President is the head of the Executive branch, his powers are limited by the will of the Supreme leader (Rahbar) Ali Khamenei, who has been ruling for almost thirty years. Iran is a personified country, Khamenei`s will means almost everything. With all this, modern Iran is a complicated system with its own checks and balances. Iran is endless, complex and incomprehensible. At the same time the magic of Iran is able to fascinate and to make a person bewildered.

After the Islamic revolution, the country introduced the principle of «Velayat-e Faqih«, that is the rule of the clergy. Iran is ruled by Shiite priests — ayatollahs. The development strategy of the country is set by Khamenei. Meanwhile, the President is the second person in the country and is the head of government, he appoints Ministers, represents the country in the political arena. There is some room for maneuver of the limited democracy as there are different political directions. The political system of Iran is rather decentralized, there are many centers of power in the country. But all this is possible only in narrowly permitted part of the Islamic Republic ideology. All that takes place under the Supreme leader`s control, who gives «advice» and «leads» the whole country into the necessary, according to his understanding, direction.

One could say, why are the presidential elections at all important, if practically, all the power belongs to Khamenei and the ayatollahs? The matter is that the Supreme leader is on the top of the Iranian political system, he does not rule the country on a daily basis, he does not meet representatives of foreign States, he does not conduct negotiations, he is not engaged in the daily issues of economic and social development. There is a state apparatus and bureaucracy for all that. Everything is in charge of the President, he sets the tone to the foreign policy as well. He’s sort of a Chancellor and Prime Minister, executing the will of the leader, but at the same time having some private space for maneuver.

Let me set an example. We all remember Iran during the presidency of the archconservatives and odious Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It was full of tough rhetoric, threats of war (mostly against, but sometimes by Tehran itself), accusations of nuclear weapons development, half-isolation. All that led, according to the Iranians, to the entry of crippling sanctions and unprecedented protests. In short, Iran was surrounded by the oppressive atmosphere that gave no chance to sustainable development. To replace Ahmadinejad came «reformist-liberal» Hassan Rouhani with his policy of open doors, dialogue with the world (read – with the West) and reforms. The rhetoric changed, foreign contacts intensified, much-needed investment were coming. All this ended up with the signing of the «deal of the century» — a Joint comprehensive plan of action (JCPA). Iran agreed to cover up its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. The most severe sanctions were lifted, the rhetoric of the West became more tolerant. The most impressionable ones were even talking about the imminent Union of Iran and the United States (which was, to put it mildly, a simplification).


Now the Islamic Republic will once again choose its development vector and in this case the choice not a wide one: hard «conservative» line, or following the «reformist» agenda. This leads to such issues as cultural openness or «life in itself», increasing contacts with the West or their limitation. The format of the economic relations and the place of non-Iranian culture – one way or another, everything will be determined by the upcoming elections. The «USA factor» is hovering in all possible variations. But not everything depends on Iran, it often acts as number two. The pressure on Iran tightens it, the dialogue softens it. After all, the Islamic Republic is an oriental country and the Iranians are sensitive people.

All these issues undoubtedly have a strategic character and are the responsibility of the Supreme leader. However, Iran’s presidential elections can’t take place without his will, and the winner will be the one who is deemed more worthy by Khamenei. First, the leader and the people of Iran (Rahbar and the people, as everyone knows, are the single entity) will choose a strategic course for the years to come. With all this, Iran is not prone to abrupt moves. All of the above mentioned is a variation of the same regime with immutable principles. We are only talking about small accents. In this respect, Iran is as the scalepan and the President is like the symbol of change to the extent possible. It’s the peculiar magic of the Iranian domestic politics.

Conservatives or reformers?

On May 20, the Guardian Council admitted 6 of 1636 candidates to the election. Any candidate not matching the system was withdrawn from the presidential race without explanation. This body, consisting of clergy, is a kind of «filter». Thus, the following people  will participate in the elections: the «reformist» President Hassan Rouhani and his first Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri, the «conservative» mayor of «liberal» Tehran, Mohammad Qalibaf, the conservative cleric, Ibrahim Raisi, the former Minister Mostafa Mir-Salim, the former Vice-President Mustafa Taba. The main candidates are Rouhani and Raisi. Jahangiri and Qalibaf are their proxi (another invention of the Iranian democracy), who will agitate not so much to their own favor, but to the «course». The other two candidates are just to make a picture.

The terminology familiar to us is not able to fully describe the political realities of Iran. However, the political factions of the Islamic Republic can be divided into two very conventional faction «conservative fundamentalists and reformers-liberals». It is therefore customary to write them in quotes. Moreover, in recent years, a thin border between the two factions has become more conventional. There are a few hundred political parties and associations, but the polictics here is strictly personal. Conditional «reformers» are represented by the current President Rouhani. His support base includes major cities. Everything here is like in the West.


The «conservatives» are all arranged a little differently: they have no unity among them and there`s no clearly defined leader. The strongest candidate is cleric Raisi. The «conservatives” support base includes rural areas of Iran, where the population will vote as the Imam will say on Friday prayers. Raisi is the custodian of the Imam Reza Mausoleum in his native Mashhad and the Chairman of the largest Islamic Fund. He can hardly be called a religious fanatic or a blinded mullah. Raisi is a politician weighted enough by Iranian standards. In addition, Raisi has the support of the powerful security body, which, thanks to journalists, has become the legend and horror story at the same time – the Islamic revolution Guards Corps (IRGC).

The Iranian President has no power over the IRGC. It is controlled by only one person – the Supreme leader. According to the Constitution, the IRGC, like other law enforcement agencies, do not have the right to influence the electoral process. Despite this, their position is tacitly taken into consideration. The IRGC is really powerful. After the outbreak of war in Syria, the position of security forces became only stronger. Moreover, the Agency has expanded its presence in the economy. Any reforms, «opening» of the country or foreign investments are considered by security forces as a threat to their position. Business is business. In this sense, the IRGC is against Rouhani and his reformist course. The most fundamentalist forces consider the open door policy to be a threat to the regime, an attempt to disrupt the existing status quo and, thus, to undermine the power of the clerics and their security apparatus.

Is Trump a friend of «Islamic Revolution»?

Paradoxically, Iran has been captured by political events in the West. In many ways, the choice of the Iranian people (read – of Rahbar) will be dictated by the US attitude toward Teheran. Trump`s anti-Iranian rhetoric, that has similarities with the neocons politics of President Bush, increases the chances of the Iranian «fundamentalists». Similarly, a few years ago, the course of Barack Obama’s normalization of relations gave trumps to the «reformers». Much will depend on Trump`s rhetoric and actions of his administration. The Iranians are very receptive and any actions will give cause a reaction.

The head of the White house, to put it mildly, has never shown sympathy with Iran. His campaign rhetoric was filled with anti-Iranian talking points. Teheran was blamed for all the problems of the Middle East. Moreover, Trump has gathered exclusively ant-Iranian people around him. The head of the Pentagon James Mattis, named «mad dog», the head of the CIA Mike Pompeo or the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

In recent weeks it came to specific allegations. The owner of the Oval office called Iran «terrorist state number one» and «nuclear deal» – the worst deal imaginable. Trump criticized Teheran’s unwillingness to perform JCPA and didn`t rule out the option of revising it. The head of the Pentagon, being in Saudi Arabia, said that Iran plays a destabilizing role in the region. A new package of sanctions was introduced against Iran. Tehran paid back in their own coin (the Iranians always pay back with their own coin) and also made several anti-American statements. Apparently, both sides return to the well forgotten old – propaganda and psychological war. It was this war that the essence of American-Iranian relations in the 2006-2014, but both sides only suffered from it.

However, the question arises whether the USA needs that? Why would Washington play along with the Iranian «fundamentalists» and sink Rouhani, who really is up to a dialogue. Can it be that Trump`s administration has no specialists who could explain the simple truth – don’t give the «fundamentalists» trump card before the election? Sometimes there is a feeling that the new administration deliberately wants to remember the well forgotten old and start a new cold war with Iran.

US relations to Iran have their own history. We can say that anti-Iranism is part of political reality, or at least the paradigm of some part of the American elite. Washington’s attitude is based on a set of historical facts, including the attack on the American Embassy in Teheran in 1979, the civil war in Lebanon, crises in Afghanistan and Iraq. A special role in the formation of anti-Iranian position is played by the US allies – the Arab monarchies of the Gulf and Israel. Saudi, Qatari and Israeli lobbies have unprecedentedly strong (hard to imagine, how really strong) influence on American think-tanks, which play not the last role in political decision-making.


However, the question arises whether the USA needs it? Why would Washington play along with the Iranian «fundamentalists» and sink Rouhani, who really is a dialogue. Surely in the administration of the tramp there are no specialists who could explain the simple truth – don’t let the «fundamentalists» trump card before the election? Sometimes there is a feeling that the new administration especially wants to remember well forgotten old and start a new cold war with Iran.

Anti-Iranian Trump`s rhetoric is advantageous for Iranian «conservatives». They traditionally rely on anti-Western and anti-American forces. Revelations made by Trump and his administration increase the chances of Raisi that, in turn, will impact the processes started by Rouhani. The main «reformer» of Iran will be told: «Your strategy didn’t work». Perhaps, over time, the collective Ahmadinejad will win. And the middle East, as well as the whole world, will get a new round of confrontation. This will affect Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Bahrain and Lebanon. The USA can but immediately forget about the liberation of Mosul from ISIS terrorists. Even the least possibilities of influence on  Bashar al-Assad`s regime in Syria will disappear. Moreover, Iran has a serious influence in the West of Afghanistan, with all the ensuing consequences. Is it what Trump needs?

The relations between the United States and the Islamic Republic can be called the best in the history of the two countries during Obama`s rule. But there was a period comparable to it – the first months after the attacks of 11 September 2001. Thanks to the efforts, including those of Iran, the United States was able to use the Afghan «Northern Alliance», consisting of anti Taliban forces in order to defeat the Taliban. But President Bush made a mistake, which, after years, is repeated by Trump. Iran was even included in the «axis of evil» — the neocons` know-how. Few remember, but the Iranians responded immediately — the Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who was in Iran under house arrest was sent to Afghanistan. In the end, the USA had to face not only the Taliban, but also thousands of Hekmatyar`s radical «Hezbi Islami» supporters in Afghanistan.

«Reformers» are afraid that Trump`s efforts will bury the successes of previous years. One can`t  say that Rouhani`s politics has led to a breakthrough. The population expects and demands something  more, especially in the economy. Today, about 40-50% of Iranians live below the poverty line. People want everything and at once. But does it ever happen? The country was in a dire economic situation. Crippling sanctions were lifted recently and limitations in the financial sphere are actual today. The Iranian young people are open to the dialogue with the West, they want  change and development. Iran needs high technology and investment. All that can be given, in the first place, by the West.

Presidential elections in Iran is an unpredictable event. Much depends on the feelings of one man – Khamenei. It`s hard to say who will win. It seems that Rouhani`s chances are more preferable. Moreover, it is in the Iranian tradition to re-elect the President for a second term – as if to give him a second chance. Iran`s deep involvement in the events in Syria and Yemen strengthened the position of the security forces, particularly of the IRGC. The conservative wing is going to take revenge, «to stop» Rouhani and to batter the final nail in the coffin of «corrupting» influence of the West. And paradoxically, the Iranian «conservatives» have received a powerful and yet not very thoughtful ally – the US President Donald Trump.

Georgi Asatryan, Ph.D., orientalist. 

This article was published in Forbes

ISIS will return to ”its” borders


We need to talk about the restriction of militants in certain areas of Iraq and Syria

The terrorist organization ISIS is one of the main problems of the modern Middle East. The group terrorizes civilians, organizes attacks of suicide bombers in Arab countries and Europe.

According to the research of RAND, radical groups stop their existence in two ways: 1. the grouping is including in the political process (43%), 2. intelligence agencies destroy the «root element» of the organization (40%). It is difficult to achieve victory over fanatics only by «purely» military actions, complex measures are needed here.

The first point can be immediately forgotten in the case of ISIS. The second point that is the gradual destruction of the «root element» of the organizations is the most likely scenario in the case of ISIS. This will undermine military, ideological and economic opportunities, narrow the perimeter of militant activity. Only time and a long siege will strangle ISIS. However, even in this case we can’t speak about complete destruction; the organization will exist and continue its activity, albeit on a reduced scale.

2014-2015 years have created the myth of the invincibility of ISIS. I remember how a lot of people talked about the imminent expansion of it beyond Syria and Iraq, to Central Asia, North Africa, Afghanistan. Of course, these conclusions were hasty ones. «Basic conditions» that are absent beyond the borders of some areas of Iraq and Syria for now, are needed for the ISIS expansion. The root element of ISIS laid in Iraq and Syria, who were infringed in their rights by the policy of part of the Shiite leadership. Similar conditions exist in Iraq and Syria these days. That is why ISIS has bases in separate regions of the two countries. ISIS radicals will find support among civilians until deep socio-political, economic problems is solved. And the death, injury or flight of the leader will not be of fundamental importance.

However, the grouping has already passed the peak of its power. Thanks to the joint efforts of the International Coalition against ISIS, the organization’s capabilities were significantly undermined.

The coalition includes countries such as the USA, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Australia, Japan, Canada, etc. The activities of such regional countries as the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Egypt are of particular importance. Russia’s activities in Syria, in particular the attacks on the oil infrastructure of terrorists, also played a role in undermining the capabilities of the ISIS.

The second largest city in Iraq is under siege now; ISIS is losing its positions in its own territory, where the local population, if not support, is neutral towards it. Somewhere in early 2016, and maybe earlier, the recession began; the grouping began to suffer one defeat after another. The loss of Mosul is a catastrophe for radicals. The idea of controlling cities is a competitive advantage, the idea fix of the organization. Losing one settlement after another lead to ISIS budget reducing.

Now we need to talk about the restriction of militants in certain areas of Iraq and Syria. ISIS originated in separate regions of Iraq and Syria because of a whole range of factors. First, the Sunni Arab population was marginalized by the policies of the Shiite leadership. For example, in Iraq, the policy of former Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki pushed many civilians into armed struggle. The same can be said about Syria. Another factor in the intensification of extremism was the foreign invasion of Iraq in the beginning and a forceful regime change. Based on this, ISIS has influence in certain areas of Iraq and Syria. It will be extremely difficult to get rid of terrorists from there; it will take time and efforts, both from the local militaries and from the international community.

There is another factor related to the fight against ISIS and it is extremely important in the fight against extremism. This is the social support of the fight against terrorism. There is another detail that has special significance. Initially, the name of the grouping was «The Islamic state in Iraq and the Levant». The key point here is the preposition «in». There is a big difference between the concepts of «Islamic state in Iraq and the Levant» and «Islamic state of Iraq and the Levant». That is, the ideologists of the organization initially claimed to control certain areas of the Arab region of the Levant. Along with this, we should not call radical fanatics as «Islamic state», because they are not. It’s just fanatics, militias and terrorists.

Ph.D., Scholar, Senior Lecturer, Georgi Asatryan

Hamid Karzai: Money from Drug sales in Afghanistan go to Western Banks


Ex-President of Afghanistan – about fighting terrorism and the Russian role in straitening peace in the region

Afghanistan topic is on the front pages of the world media for a long time. However, normally, just news of incidents comes from this country: explosions, terrorist attacks, murders. And last week the USA used the largest non-nuclear bomb weighing about 10 tons against terrorists in the Afghan province Nangarhar. The war in Afghanistan lasts almost 40 years. In this interview with Special Correspondent of daily “Izvestia”, Ph.D., Georgi Asatryan the former Afghan President Hamid Karzai told about ways of peaceful settlement the Taliban movement (the organization’s activity is banned) in the country, about the work of the current Afghan government and the USA foreign policy mistakes in the region.

— What do you think concerning efforts of Russia to organize international consultations on Afghanistan, which will be held on April 14 in Moscow? It will be attended by representatives of more than ten countries, including the Afghan authorities. However, despite the invitation, the USA refused to participate.

— I fully support the conference and consultations organized by Russia. They are important for the consolidation of peace and stability, both in Afghanistan and in the region as a whole. I’m so sorry that the USA has refused to participate in this conference. The USA, as a country which is present in Afghanistan, should make efforts to bring stability and peace. This requires strengthening of contacts with all regional countries: Russia, China, India and Iran. A successful fight with terrorism is impossible without cooperation with the countries of the region. In short, if someone wishes peace in Afghanistan, then he must take part in a conference in Moscow.

The USA must to recreate the positive political environment surrounding Afghanistan. The word «cooperation» should dominate there. I will give a specific example. This situation was one of cooperation between the US and world regional powers and until recently. The situation changed at some point, and the spirit of cooperation around Afghanistan disappeared … The main thing that I want to emphasize is that regional cooperation is necessary for peace and stability in Afghanistan. It should be returned. This requires the cooperation of the USA, as a country which is present in Afghanistan, with the countries of the region, including Russia. I hope for the strong position of Moscow in the region, this will help Afghanistan.

— Representatives of the Afghan government have recently appealed to Russia with a request to invest in 124 facilities. These are The Salang tunnel, Kabul Bakery, the Polytechnic University, the Jangalak automobile repair plant, and power station in Pul-i-Khumri. The Russian side said that this was a complicated issue because of the low level of security, which, unfortunately, is fixed in Afghanistan. Whether these investments have any future? Will there be any obstacles from other partners of Afghanistan?

— Russia is Afghanistan’s neighbor. Russia is a very old friend and partner of Afghanistan. Our countries have a long tradition of close cooperation. And most importantly, Russia is in close proximity to Afghanistan. Hence the common interests of the Afghan and Russian peoples. Russian and Soviet investments in the economy of Afghanistan had the most positive effect in the development of my country. Any patriots of Afghanistan will welcome Russian investments. As for some obstacles (pause), I hope that the Western countries will see the positive aspects of the Russian economic presence and will support it. Peace and stability should be the main task of the developments in Afghanistan and around it.

— The situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating every day. According to the statistics of international institutions, including the UN, the level of violence is breaking all records.


   Unfortunately. I’ll ask a little naive, but interesting for many readers question. Is it possible to stop the war in Afghanistan?

—  Yes! Yes, of course such an opportunity exists. The stabilization of the situation in Afghanistan can be achieved through regional cooperation. By the way of consultations and with the participation, first of all, of the countries of the region in Moscow are a good example. Of course, we are not talking about the exclusion of the USA of negotiation format. I would like them to accept the invitation and also participate. I’m talking about regional cooperation. Sending new military contingents does not solve the problem. The war can be resolved by the spirit of cooperation around the problems of Afghanistan of all, without exception: regional countries and great powers.


— Does the current situation have “authors”? Who do you personally blame for the fact that your country is experiencing such a deep crisis?

— I will be very honest with you. Two countries: Pakistan and the USA to blame for the main fault in strengthening radicalism and extremism in Afghanistan and its spread throughout the region and also the Middle and Near East. These two countries had all the chances to bring peace to the region, but they did nothing.

— However, the USA did a lot at the beginning of the Afghan campaign in 2001, so that your country would get out of the control of extremist forces.   Russia, in its turn, at least initially, supported these efforts.

— Yes. And we really appreciate it. The USA came to Afghanistan in 2001, and liberated us from extremists. Afghans appreciate that. Russia and China also played their role in supporting of Afghanistan. We need this spirit and politics again. I have already said that at some point something went wrong at the western coalition.

—  Commander of the US Forces in Afghanistan General John W. Nicholson  said that the fifteen-year war had reached a dead end. But most importantly he asked for reinforcements, noting that the current contingent is not enough to fight the radicals.

— No (raised his voice), it will not help. They have been in Afghanistan for more than fifteen years. We see more radicalism and terrorism. ISIS militants have appeared in Afghanistan. You should understand that this is not a solution of the problem. Believe me, I’m an Afghan (laughs) and I know my country, it will not help. Afghanistan does not need foreign troops. Afghanistan does not need anyone’s troops on its territory. We need good relations with our neighbors and our own armed forces that can provide security. Afghanistan needs neighboring Pakistan to realize that the use of extremists for its own purposes will not bring benefits to it.

— And then what is needed?

— A new contract with the people of Afghanistan. Understanding, confidence and cooperation with the countries of the region. Only this will help.

— You have mentioned ISIS. How high the risk of ISIS in Afghanistan?

— It’s great. They already have a serious presence, especially in the east of Afghanistan, in the Nangarhar, Kunar provinces and the surrounding area. ISIS in Afghanistan is an element of external presence, this is not Afghans.

— You left the post of President of Afghanistan in 2014. The government of National Unity has appeared in the country. How do you estimate its activity?

(pause) I wish them success and all the best. I hope that they will manage to do everything so that other countries will treat Afghanistan as a sovereign and independent country.

— It’s great, but are they successful or not?

 — I wish them success (raise voice). They will always have our support.

— You still have a lot of supporters in Afghanistan. Do you have political ambitions?

— I will never again participate in the presidential elections, but I will do my best to be useful to Afghanistan and fight against terrorism. All my efforts are aimed at strengthening Afghanistan’s position in the region and strengthening relations with countries such as Russia, China, India, Iran and Pakistan.

— What do you think of the Russian policy concerning Afghanistan?

— I have been following the actions of Moscow in the region and in particular in Afghanistan for a very long time. Russia is a wise and ancient country, it has a long history of presence in Afghanistan, and it is aware of its specifics. The greater the presence of Russia in the region and Afghanistan, the better situation in the region and Afghanistan. Moscow needs stable Afghanistan. And, based on historical experience, the stronger the government in Russia, the better the situation in Afghanistan. I respect President Putin. He brought Russia to the international arena in a new capacity. He is fighting international terrorism and extremism really honestly. Afghans respect the Russian president and support him. And I would like Russia to take a greater part in working for stability in Afghanistan.


— NATO senior officials accused Russia of supporting the Taliban movement. It was stated that Moscow could even supply weapons to the Taliban. So, according to your information, does Russia support the Taliban?

— When they claim that Moscow supports the Taliban, they mean that there is a channel for information exchange and meetings between them. The USA meets with representatives of the movement in Qatar, Pakistan, and Europe. The Germans, Norwegians and British meet with the Taliban. Representatives of the Arab countries meet with the leaders of this movement. Nobody hides that. When they meet with the Taliban, they consider it as normal thing, but when the Russian representatives meet with them, the West is sounding an alarm (laughs). The Taliban are Afghans, and contacts with the Taliban are necessary in order to start the peace process in Afghanistan. Everyone who knows just anything about Afghanistan understands that. Here we are talking about double standards, nothing more. As for the accusations of Russia’s support of the Taliban, I do not see any reason or evidence for this. But I see another: for example, the organization of very important consultations in Moscow on the Afghan issue.

— Does Afghanistan need the involvement of the Taliban in the peace process?

 — Of course (agitated)! The Taliban are Afghans, they are our brothers. There will be no peace in Afghanistan without the participation and involvement of the Taliban. They must participate in the peace process.

— The production of drugs in the period of your presidential terms has increased at times, according to some sources, at 40 times. Russia repeatedly demanded from the international forces to strengthen the fight against the drug threat. Have there been sufficient efforts to fight the drug mafia?

 — Unfortunately, the production of drugs had increased at times, and the people of Afghanistan suffered and continue to suffer from it. There is an influential international mafia that earns millions thereby. This money goes to Western banks, it does not remain in Afghanistan. I have repeatedly called on the international forces to intensify the fight against the international drug mafia.

— Afghanistan has been a field of «great game» and confrontation of great powers for centuries. Is this trend still the same?

— At least it looks like that. It seems that Afghanistan is being used for their strategic goals (pause). And therefore, it is very important that the regional powers get involved in the struggle against threats that prevent my country from living peacefully.

— Is cooperation between Russia and the USA in Afghanistan possible? 

— Of course, this cooperation is possible. It took place at the initial stage, in the early 2000s. Russia supported the USA efforts in Afghanistan. For this purpose it is necessary that the USA explain its policies and objectives in Afghanistan and seek cooperation with regional countries, including Russia. There will be no stability in Afghanistan without cooperation between Russia and the USA.

— New US President Donald Trump has not showed much interest in relation to Afghanistan. He almost never mentioned Afghanistan during his election campaign. What do the Afghans expect from the new head of the White House?

— We hope that the policy of the new US president concerning Afghanistan will be changed for the better. It is very important that he begin to really cooperate with Russia concerning Afghanistan and fight against extremism and terrorism. We need the cooperation of the parties, not confrontation.

— I can’t help asking you about the situation in Syria. The USA made a rocket attack on Military base of the Syrian army recently in response to the use of chemical weapons against civilians. Washington accused the government of Bashar Assad of this. What do you think about it?

— We still do not know for sure who has made the chemical attack. The US attacks on the military base in Syria, in my opinion, is a clear violation of international law. Confrontation and new attacks will not help to resolve the situation.  It is obvious that is impossible to get out of the crisis situation by destroying state structures.

The Interview was taken by Georgi Asatryan, Ph.D., scholar, Senior Lecturer, Special Correspondent for daily «Izvestia», 04.17.2017.


What will happen to the «Islamic state» after the loss of territories?

original-1.jpg     Start of operation to liberate Mosul is the last test of survival for radical Islamists. From the beginning of 2016 it is actually looks like the IS is going to cease existence as a pseudo-state and switch to illegal position.

            This year has become unsuccessful for IS. After the rises and victories the radicals began to precipitously lose territories. On October 17, the Iraqi leadership announced the start of an operation to liberate the country’s second largest city, Mosul. Heretofore the radicals were losing one locality after another. In January 2016 the IS failed in Ramadi. The same thing happened in Fallujah in June. The liberation of the Sindzhar by the Kurds with USA support at the end of 2015 had a strategic importance. It complicated the contacts of the Syrian part of the IS with the Iraqi one. And in March 2016 the Syrian Palmyra was liberated with the support of Moscow.

            Let’s skip the dozens of small towns that were fought off from terrorists, and more often just left by them. Militants lost control of dozens of oil facilities, plants and factories over the past year. Dozens of small towns, which were «life channel» for the radicals, were lost on the Syrian-Turkish border. Tax and oil revenue have decreased with the loss of territories. In short, just about the beginning of 2016, and perhaps even earlier, the recession began, «dowla» (State) is suffering one defeat after another.

Idea fix

            The idea of territory control and the formation of state institutions became the idea fix for the IS. This was its distinctive feature and competitive advantage in relation to other groupings. IS ideologists in their journal Dabiq talked a lot about the need of controlling the territories. In their opinion, «salafia», that is, imitation of «righteous ancestors», and the «caliphate» are impossible without this. After all, the caliphs of the past controlled the territory, which allowed them to establish rules by which the Islamic world should live. Radicals, of course, altering the life of the medieval «Arab Caliphate» in their own interests, came to the conclusion: in order to return the former greatness, it is necessary to control the lands. And today the loss of them is a fundamental blow to the essence of the organization.

            The existence of a supposedly «state» made it possible for the IS to claim the main role in the hierarchy of terrorists. «Al-Qaeda had victories (9/11), but it is unable to establish the «Islamic righteous practice”, because it doesn’t have land». This is almost a direct quote from the Dabiq journal. According to Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, it is necessary to attack the «distant enemy», which the West countries are (by the way, he also meant Russia). But the Iraqi «Al-Qaeda» went the different way and began to attack the «neighbor» one. Their main target was local Muslims who do not support radical ideology, especially the Shiites.

            The loss of Mosul is a disaster for ISIS. Radicals will not leave the city without a fight. Despite all the efforts of Baghdad, the Kurds and Washington, its liberation will not be easy thing. Mosul will be taken over in any case, but this will take months of fierce city battles. This is impossible to do until the presidential elections in the USA. But so that the victory doesn’t become a Pyrrhic victory, it is necessary, on the one hand, to fill the vacuum that has been created, and on the other, to integrate Sunni society into the institutions of power.

In addition, the point of view that militants leave Mosul massively looks not quite correctly. Some Russian politicians and media argue that «a mass transfer of militants from Mosul to Syria has been organized». This supposedly was done in order to complicate life in Moscow. And, as always, the USA is behind it. Of course, this is not true. The transition of small groups shouldn’t been completely denied. This is a common phenomenon in the East. Countries-regions send their radicals to the neighbors. This is one of the Middle East mechanisms of fighting terrorism. The Jordanians send “their” «Al-Qaeda» to Syria, which in turn goes to Iraq and further in a circle.

But today the transition of militants from Mosul to Syria is not massive. And even more so, none state in the world, especially non-regional, fully controls terrorists, as conspiracy experts say. And finally, militants go from Syria to Iraq to protect Mosul, but not vice versa.

The desert will become the base

Anyway, the loss of territory is familiar to militants. During the war in Iraq, the world witnessed a phenomenon such as «Awakening». As a result of that, the population opposed Al-Qaeda and the radicals had to leave the city. The desert became the base and fortress of terrorists. There in the desert it is harder to get mobile group than in a particular city. No army wants to run after terrorists in semi-desert regions, especially when they have the support of a part of the local population.

The IS loses its competitive advantage with the loss of territories. This leads to a decrease in economic opportunities. The support base is also respectively narrowing. Defeats lead to disappointment with the idea fix. Radical Islamists are strong in asymmetrical battles, clashes in cities, the preparation of terrorist attacks, propaganda, but not in state building. Moreover, global powers will not allow them to do this for a long time.

But the question of the future of the IS isn’t idle at all. The grouping still has thousands of followers. So what will happen to the organization after the loss of territories? Whether it will survive? And what should be meant by the word «survive»? Making ISIS lose territory and leave cities means to undermine essence of the organization. But the grouping is capable of transforming, changing the mechanisms of work. After all, «dowla» is not only territory, but also ideology. Moreover, the brand has been developed and it has enough of supporters to continue the activity for a long time. In this sense, the liberation operation of Mosul is a test for radicals.

The leader of Al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was not far from the truth. He opposed the tactics of seizing and retaining large areas, and considered the announcement of the «caliphate» as premature. The right hand of bin Laden warned ISIS about imminent defeat because of Western interference. The grouping becomes a classic terrorist structure that will exist illegally and control only certain areas of Iraq and Syria, as radicals do in Pakistan, for example, but will not cease to be a pseudo-state.

Georgi Asatryan, Ph.D., orientalist. 

This article was published in Forbes.

Why geography will win in the Syrian conflict?


Syria is located between the main centers of power in the Middle East, this fact makes it the ground showdown. This means that the conflict is endless, and only the «tandem» of Russia and the USA can stop the war.

It is obvious, that the settlement of the situation in Syria has reached a deadlock. The other day the Russian resolution wasn’t accepted by the UN Security Council. The USA did not even have to apply the veto rule. It was supported only by 4 out of 15 members. Russia, in its turn, put a veto on the French project, which enjoyed more support.

            There is no way out from the vicious circle of contradictions. But the main thing is that voting in the UN, even if it is unanimous, will not change the situation in the world. The war in Syria has a completely different logic, which is beyond the control of diplomats. Even if an agreement is reached, neither the USA nor Russia is able to fully control their allies.

            The main players in Syria are not the great powers that propose resolutions or deliberately unfeasible delimitation of terrorists and moderate people. This is not the case, and has little to do with the real processes in this country. A lot of things, if not everything, depend on the leading players of Middle Eastern Geography. And they are not going to stop.

            Geography is to blame for the fact that the territory of Syria is the epicenter of a monstrous war. It is located between the main centers of power, figuring out who is in charge in the region. Looking at the map of the Middle East, we see three zones: the Arabian Peninsula, the Iranian Plateau and Anatolia. These are the three leading countries of the region: Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey. They are Sunni Arabs, Persian Shiites and Turks. They influence events in Syria, but not the UN resolutions. These are Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar on the one hand, and Iran, Hezbollah and Shiite groupings on the other. There is no diplomacy for them, and victory in Syria is a complete defeat of the enemy. The capital of the Caliphate Damascus means too much in historical and religious terms.

The victory of geography 

            The book of the American political scientist Robert Kaplan «The Revenge of Geography» was recently published in Russian. The main idea of the book is the thesis about the special position of the environment in world politics. According to Kaplan’s point of view, great powers neglect this factor very often and do not delve into the peculiarities of peoples. Kaplan followed an example of the distinguished historian Fernand Braudel, who was the first one who focused on the environment when analyzing the world’s processes.

            The Syrian conflict showed how important geography is. The Middle East is the most central and unstable part of the world. And Syria is the center of the region. Although the Arabic language united a large part of the population, the Persian retained its place in the east, and the Turkish in the north. Islam is probably the only thing that unites the region. Although in this case, confessional differences are the main factor of enmity. The territory of the region is divided so much that it is difficult to call the Middle East as something holistic.

            Syria with its weak identity and intricate geography was doomed to internal conflict. Personally I wasn’t surprised by that. The conflict between the center and the periphery has reached its apogee, and, most importantly, the system of Arab nationalism and socialism has outlived itself. Baathism was organically receding far into the past. A major role was played by the invasion of USA into Iraq in 2003 and the overthrow of a similar Baath regime. Then it became clear that the collision in Syria is a matter of time. «The Arab Spring» only forced this process, and the support of opposition and radical forces by regional countries and the West has «broken» Syria.

A weak identity of Syria played its role. The tribal population of the eastern regions consists of people from the Arabian Peninsula. Today, these people identify themselves more with Wahhabi Saudi Arabia than with Damascus. Northern areas tend to Turkey. The Syrian Desert is more close to the northern regions of Iraq. The Kurds stay apart. The stronghold of the Bashar Assad regime, Latakia, is completely is not like the Syrian Desert. Residents of the Mediterranean absorbed the «Europe» and scornfully call the inhabitants of ar-Raqqah as savages. Here is an example of geography victory. Latakia is protected by natural borders: it is separated from the rest of Syria by Jebel el Ansari. Mountains saved Bashar al-Assad from imminent death in the beginning of the conflict. In short, Syria has always been geographically divided, which entailed a cultural division.

            There is nothing surprising. The Middle East is shrouded in conflicts between peoples, languages and religions. For centuries of living together the peoples of this region have developed a paradoxical relationship to each other: interdependence and dislike. Unlike other parts of the world, the region is not controlled by any major state, which at least created the illusion of stability.

            Neighboring Iraq, for example. This country has never known peace. Iraq is the frontier of the Arab and Persian world, on the one hand, and Sunni and Shiite, on the other. Mesopotamia has been at the center of migration flows since ancient times. Hence the heterogeneity of the Iraqi population: the Shiite Arabs, the Sunni Arabs, the Kurds, the Yezidis, the Assyrians. Geography affects the population, which is formed under the sway of the environment. Few ruler of this country have died a natural death. Looking at the map of Iraq, it becomes clear why the «Islamic state» (it is banned in the Russian Federation) has arisen here. Iraq has an incomparable cruelty compared with other Arab countries, because of its geography.

Here another example of the victory of geography. Despite all the efforts in Mesopotamia in 2003-2011, the USA lost the land to the Persians. The Zagros Mountains separate Iraq and Iran. This natural boundary allows Tehran, being on a hill, to dominate over Iraq. Geography has added Iraq to the history of Iran: these two countries are inseparable from each other.

            Or another example: in the north-east of Iraq, where the Kurds live, The Qandil Mountains is. These mountains allowed the Kurds to survive, and eventually to build their state apparatus. Saddam Hussein could not defeat them, and ISIS did not attack the Iraqi Kurdistan, understanding the hopelessness of this action.

Between the centers of power

            Syria has turned into ruins because of the intervention of regional countries that support their radical clientele. Again, Syria is geographically located between the three centers of power in the Middle East, this fact makes it the ground showdown. This means that the conflict is endless. The leaders of the region will fight for the sake of Syria for a very long time, feeding their proxies. This is a classic example of a zero-sum game: what’s good for one is bad for another. There can be no winners in Syria: the strengths of the sides are approximately equal, neither side is able to overcome the other.

            Saudi Arabia is aimed at overthrowing power in Damascus. The goal of the monarchy is to establish a pro-Saud government in Syria. Riyadh is convinced: the «heretical» Syrian regime oppresses the Sunnis, whose defenders Saudis consider themselves to be. Damascus is in alliance with Iran which is the worst enemy of Saudi Arabia. And since the location of Syria is of strategic importance, the Saudis will not depart from their goals. Iran, as the main Shia country, dominates over Arab Iraq and Syria. The strategic goal of Tehran is to build a concrete influence through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon. And Syria for the Persians is an access to the Mediterranean Sea and further to Europe. It turns out a hopeless situation. Regional countries do not want to resolve the Syrian conflict. Groups within the country don’t go for it yet. And the great powers Russia and the USA are not in a position to agree. Where is the way out?

            Despite the external background, the involvement of Moscow and Washington in the Syrian conflict is not of an existential nature. The influence of the two countries on the processes taking place in the Levant should not to be overestimated. Anyway, in both countries there is an understanding that the Syrian «chronic war» is a plot by Orwell. And because of it, there certainly will not be war between the USA and Russia. Show is run by emotions and past grievances.

Anyway, the growing threat of international terrorism and the awareness that the conflict of geography is eternal will force Moscow and Washington to act as arbiters of this conflict. Only the «tandem» of Russia and the USA on terms acceptable to both countries will stop regional countries, sponsoring and arming Syrian groups. This is the only way out, and they will come to it through mutual compromises and concessions sooner or later. Although, frankly speaking, this is not visible for now. But there is simply no other way out.

Georgi Asatryan, Ph.D., orientalist. 

This article was published in Forbes.

ISIS: Words matter. Concerning the appropriateness of using acronym DAESH

49609535.cached                Slowly some media and politicians begin to use the Arabic acronym DAESH instead of collocations «Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant»[1] or simply Islamic state. First of all, the latter term is incorrect for a number of reasons. Initially, based on the Arabic name, it was about “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant” in the understanding of terrorists. Secondly, using of an acronym for the purpose of social support of ideological fight against terrorism is the most optimal. Extremists have repeatedly stated in their advocacy, that, among other things, the name «Islamic state» is necessary for attracting «new brothers» and it has a certain effect on young people in a number of East countries.

An infinite number of terms and definitions regarding radical religious tendencies can confuse even a well-educated reader. This problem is supplemented by a high level of engagement and politicization of everything related to Islam. High-ranking politicians, leading world media quite often use different kinds of terms based on their «brightness» and «sharpness». Adequacy, applicability, and, perhaps, the most important thing, which is goal-setting, sometimes don’t matter in the choice of determining. Here is one well-known example. Thanks to the activity of the media, the term «Wahhabism» has become firmly entrenched in recent years, but the use of it often raises great questions. After all, Wahhabism is a political and religious ideology and form within the Mazhab Hanbali of a single country, which is Saudi Arabia, and it is not a world phenomenon.

 In fairness, we should note that the term terrorism has no common definition. This phenomenon is so fuzzy that, according to various estimates, there are up to two hundred [2] definitions of terrorism.

Requests to rename

On 2 December 2015y. the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Cameron called on the parliament to use the acronym DAESH (terrorist group which is banned all over the world) instead of the already established name «Islamic State». “This diabolical cult has nothing to do with Islam. It should be used the definition of DAESH, and only DAESH, but not IS”- D. Cameron said, speaking in the parliament.

            The first one who proposed to use the term DAESH with respect to the terrorists of Syria and Iraq was French government on September 2014y. “This terrorist grouping is not a state. They want to be like that, but they are not, — French Minister of Foreign affairs Laurent Fabius claimed. — I ask you not to use the term Islamic state, because it causes confusion in the concept of Islam, Islamists and Muslims. The Arabs name it DAESH, and I call to name these thugs DAESH [3]. The Prime Minister of Australia asked the media not to use the term «Islamic state» later. Appeals not to use the above mentioned term with respect to terrorists were heard from Russian religious figures. At the meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club President of Russian Federation Vladimir Putin claimed about the need for a clear division of religion and political activity of terrorists, who hide behind the concepts of The Quran. 

Origin of the name

There is another detail that has special significance. Correct translation of an acronym DAESH into Russian is “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant” [4]. The key point here is the preposition «in». There is a big difference between the terms «Islamic state in Iraq and the Levant» and «Islamic state of Iraq and the Levant». Initially, the name of the terrorist organization has been translated into Russian language incorrectly.

            DAESH is an acronym composed of the first letters of the name of this terrorist organization, called in Arabic “al-Dawla al-Islamiya al-Iraq al-Sham”. The purpose of the leaders of this group is to be known as the «Islamic State» rather than «DAESH militants «. Anyway, the name «Islamic state” is inherited from the Prophet Mohammad, it attracts attention, and it is the convenient propaganda mechanism for recruiting new staff. Moreover, this term does not recognize any borders. This technique is able to influence the potential «customers» of DAESH throughout the world: both in the West and in the East. The propagandists of the DAESH noted in their journal DABIQ that the name «al-Dawla al-Islamiya» (Islamic state) will be important and will «attract brothers».

            The Arabic word al-Sham is often found in the works of the thinkers of the Arab medieval falsafa (philosophy). Al-Sham is a conditional region with no clear boundaries, including Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, as well as part of Jordan and Turkey. Arabs often call Syria or Damascus, less often the entire territory of Syria and Lebanon as al-Sham. There is another name for this region — the Levant. This word has Latin (French) origin and dates back to the pre-colonial period. It means the same as al-Sham. Currently, Damascus is most often called al-Sham in the Arab world, and the Levant is a region that includes Syria, Lebanon and part of the territories of neighboring countries. In its turn, the acronym DAESH is banned in the territory controlled by the militants. There are cases when children who uttered the abbreviation of DAESH in the Iraq Anbar province were severely punished [5].

Acronym as an insult

The word «DAESH» doesn’t have any meaning in Arabic language. However, it is consonant with words such as «bully», «stomping» and «sowing division» (daes, dahes). It is noted that it can be an element of ridicule in order to insult to the terrorist organization. Some experts believe that this causes irritation among terrorists. Nevertheless, the usage of the word «bully» against radicals DAESH has no serious influence. The point here is different.

The use of acronyms is not accepted in Arabic. This is a fairly rare phenomenon (however, it also occurs), when terms is used in abbreviation. Thus, in the middle of 2014y., on the wall of the hostel of Kabul University there appeared the inscription «Long live DAESH» (DAESH Zindabad…). Media and government officials have qualified this incident as a proof of DAESH presence in Afghanistan. However, it has not been established who and for what purposes left this inscription on the wall of the hostel for now. And the fact of the use of this acronym reveals that the author of this inscription has a shallow understanding of this organization. DAESH radicals prefer to use the full name of the organization or call it simply as the State (Dawla).

            In this context, almost all Arab and Muslim majority countries of the world have an informal ban on the use of the full name of the terrorist organization. So, for example, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation uses in its official statements exclusively the acronym of the DAESH and never uses the full name of the organization[6]. The same applies to leaders of Arab and many Muslim countries. Victory over terrorism is not only a special operation, and the struggle of ideologies, so-called «war of ideas». That is why careful use of certain terms (especially those who have religious origins) in relation to terrorist groupings is extremely important in the fight against them.

The problem of definitions and the casus of ISIS/DAESH

Religious political scientists, journalists and scientists use different terms analyzing radical trends. The World orientalists have long been facing the problem of a common conceptual apparatus. An adequate scientific response to the so-called «Islamic challenge» can be given provided that the process of studying this phenomenon will have minimum of politicization. “Old”, or more precisely, the traditional terms in the analysis of contemporary trends are acquiring new meanings, and gradually transforming. These are, for example, such terms as «Sunni», «Shiite», «Islamic Party», «Caliphate», «Caliph», etc.

There is the reverse side of the coin, which can be attributed to the problem of goal-setting. What is the purpose of an analysis of the manifestation of radicalism in the East? If the analysis is aimed at an attempt to solve the problem of radicalism or a scientific, impartial study of it, then traditional terminology can confuse and complicate the achievement of these goals. Moreover, usage of them by politicians, government leaders and the media can have a counterproductive effect. In fairness, we have to admit that domestic and foreign oriental studies haven’t been created alternative conceptual apparatus yet.

There is also a third factor that complicates the use of common definitions. The Prophet of Islam Mohammad predicted the fragmentation that is inherent in Islam, noting that after his death the ummah will split into seventy-three sects (shirk). “The Jews will split up into seventy-one or seventy-two sects; and the Christians will split up into seventy one or seventy-two sects; and my community will be split up into seventy-three sects: seventy two of them will go to Hell and one of them will go to Paradise.” Terms such as «militant», «radical», «traditional», «moderate», etc. are used. Thus, the orientalist A. Ignatenko notes that «there are at least seventy-three Islams»[7], and on closer examination conversations about «Islam in general» becomes “pointless».

Seventy-three currents

In connection with this, the academic study of the Middle East and various radical trends, concealed by religion, faces the difficulties of unifying the conceptual apparatus. In the definition of radical currents in Islam, the term Fundamentalism (or Neo-Fundamentalism) is used quite often, but it originally applied to Christianity. The French Islamologist O. Roy notes that fundamentalism as a current has always been present in Islam[8]. In this connection, it will not be superfluous to recall the episode when during the life of the Prophet Mohammad, one of his associates called to return to the «true Islam».[9] The term revivalism, which means the revival of old methods, is quite often used in the West too.

The central place in the ideology of the majority of radical groupings is occupied by historical memory. Radicals are influenced by the idea that Islam has been distorted for centuries, unnecessary elements have been introduced into it, and a lot of them are contrary to the heritage of Mohammad. The era of the Prophet and the Four «Righteous Caliphs» (Al-khulafa ar-rashidun), Abu Bakar, Umar, Usman and Ali, has been chosen as an ideal. In this connection, in their understanding, Islam is required to «renew» and «purify», «revive» by returning to the past.

This concept is usually called «Salafism» (As-Salaf As-salih is pious ancestors). The idea of classical Islamic monotheism (tawhid) has been carried to the extreme and become one of the cornerstones of the ideology of «salafism». Salafism origins date back to the Arabic Middle Ages and connected with the name of the Syrian theologian Ibn Taymiyyah, Taqi al-Din Ahma (1263-1328). Ibn Taymiyyah took an unprecedented step and completed the five pillars of Islam (Arkan al-Din) added jihad to them.

The term «Wahhabism» (or Neo-Wahhabism) is also widely used. Saudi theologian of the 18th century Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhaab is the founder of Hanbalism, which is the most puritanical direction, as Academician A. Vasiliev noted, within the most strictly Sunni madhhab. The teaching of the theologian was based on Salafism (he was familiar with the works of Ibn Taymiyyah) and demanded «a literal reading of the heritage of the righteous ancestors». The basis of this current was a rigid rejection of polytheism and innovations (bid’ah), photographing, as well as other forms of Islamic religion (Shiism, Sufism, other Sunni madhhabs), absolutization of monotheism.

For example, in the Wahhabi sense, any image of a living being is equated to polytheism, namely to shirk and entails a takfir, that is, accusation of unbelief (kufir). Here can be seen another term, which is actively used mainly in Arab countries, takfirizm. Wahhabism as a radical current was extremely successful. Thus, he made it possible to create a single kingdom within the borders of present-day Saudi Arabia, the starting point of which was 1744, the date of the conclusion of a mutually beneficial union between Abd al Wahhab and Muhammad ibn Saud [10]. Active dissemination of ideas of Wahhabism began from the second half of the 1960s., after the establishment of The Muslim World League. These processes especially intensified after a sharp rise of oil prices in the 1970s.

Nevertheless, this term is used too often and not always in the case. «Wahhabism,» as the current within radical Islam, is not something fundamentally new. Wahhabis are the result of the intellectual experiment of a separately taken Mazhab Hanbali theologian, who is committed to Salafi ideas. Thus, «Wahhabis» are supporters of the teachings of Mohammad ibn Abd al Wahhaab (1703/04-1797/98). The application of this term to other Salafist currents is not entirely correct. In any case, Salafism is not a goal in itself or a tool, it is a concrete concept and theory. Quite peaceful people who advocate the «revival» of their religion and return to the times of «righteous caliphs.» can be Salafists. On the other hand, theory is one thing, and practice is quite another. De facto, this «return» can not be non-violent even within one country.

Here it is appropriate to mention term «jihadism». The use of this term is true for those (it can be not only Salafist, and Salafist are not necessarily jihadists), who declared «a sacred struggle for Islam». In this regard, it is possible to give an illustrative example. Some radical Palestinian groupings that declared «jihad» to Israel may be called jihadists, but not Salafist, since they are not supporters of the ideology of «Salafism»[11]. If Salafism is mostly an idea, then jihadism is the practice of this idea. Jihadists are the practices of Salafism, using weapons and terrorist methods to implement their ideas.

On the other hand, there are difficulties here. The fact is that «jihad» is a Quranic term that is repeatedly found in the sacred for Muslims scriptures. Initially, this word was understood as an «effort», the struggle of everyone for their faith and the propagation of the Islamic principles. The verb «jahad» (be zealous, fight) occurs in the Quran more than 20 times. The concept of jihad is divided into two components: “the little jihad” is war against the infidels, the force spread of Islam and “the big jihad”, which is forcing oneself, self-improvement, struggle against vices and social injustice, according to the principles of Islam.

            In the East countries history it is quite common for individual politicians to use this Quranic principle for their political and economic purposes. Moreover, the word «jihad» (within the meaning of the struggle, the effort) is found in a number of Islamic countries in the name of different government institution. Along with this, jihad is a recommended action for Muslims, which becomes mandatory only when the ummah (community) is endangered.

The term «Islamism» quite easily merged into the public consciousness and is actively used by the media, politicians and researchers. There were reasons for that. It includes a root «Islam», which is clear to everyone, besides, the suffix -ism- clearly shows its political essence. In general, we can say that the term of «Islamism» incorporates the concepts of all the above-mentioned terms. A distinctive feature of Islamism is the complete rejection of secularism.

The term «caliphate» has Quranic origin. The word «caliph» is found in the Quran in the meaning of the head of the community, the «heir», «successor» and «representative» of God on earth. However, the Quran does not mention specific principles of the social, political, religious and economic structure of the caliphate. Nothing is said about the Caliph, which is the head of the Ummah. The first attributes of state power were created in the Arab Caliphate after the death of the Prophet Mohammad, with the second righteous Caliph Umar (634-644). Then the system of power, the Arab-Muslim theocracy begins to be formed. Classical examples of the using caliphate as a form of political and religious system were the state of the Umayyads and, partly, the Abbasid.

Fierce disputes were conducted in the Arab Caliphate as to which tribe should be the Caliph from, what are his powers? One more question was added later: should the Caliph be chosen or appointed? It is noted that one of the first who put these questions was the Kharijit sect created in 657y. Many Arab ulemas of the Middle Ages believed that the caliph must be Quraysh, that is, the representative of the Meccan tribe Quraysh, from where Mohammed himself came. However, there were those who believed otherwise. This issue was skillfully used even during the period of its formation by the ideologists of DAESH, who tied the genealogy of its leader, al-Baghdadi, to the genus of Quraysh.

 So, in the XIV century Arab outstanding philosopher and sociologist Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) noted in the famous historical and sociological work «The Muqaddimah» (introduction to the «Big Stories»), that the Caliph does not have to be a descendant of the tribe of Quraysh. Ibn Khaldun standed for the election of the Caliph, and believed that any Muslim, but not an Arab could become the head of the Ummah. The Shiites take a different position concerning the process of the power transferring. In their opinion, the genealogy of the Caliph and Imam should ascend to Ali, which is the fourth «righteous caliph».

The problem of the caliphate occupies one of the key places in the ideology of radical Islamists. Either way, Islamists seek to create (recreate) an Islamic empire, The Caliphate. The purpose of this political step is a necessary protection of the ummah from the world of «infidels”. Radicals are convinced that Islamic dogma can be rightly followed only within the Caliphate. Anyway, one of the examples of «revival» of the Caliphate was the «Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan» (IEA), proclaimed by «Taliban» movement in Afghanistan in 1996y. Then the Taliban announced that «IEA will be the first step to the world caliphate of Muslims». It is significant that one of the first prescriptions of the leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, was to use the new name of Afghanistan, the Islamic Emirate, as often as possible, so that it would quickly become common.

            The question arises, what are the boundaries of this «caliphate»? What do radicals claim at least by word of mouth? This issue is quite controversial and there is no consensus. The author of this article believes that the creation of the «Empire of the Islamic World» is part of the propaganda of radicals, because achievement of this goal is absolutely impossible. This was written by Academician V. Bartold[12]. De facto, the strategic goal can be defined as the seizure of power in a separate Islamic country (or, more likely, parts of its territory) in the Near and Middle East.

Then, radical transformation of the political, religious, economic and social system of the occupied territories is in the plans of the Islamists. In short, it is the «return» of life and nature to the Middle Ages. It should be noted that the radicals divided their enemies into two groups in order to achieve their goals: the «neighbor enemy» (the countries of the region) and the «distant enemy» (Western countries led by the United States). It can be concluded that the tendency to recreate the » Empire of the Islamic World » is a political rather than a religious phenomenon.

The Two Babylons”

In this regard, goal-setting is important in use of terms in relation to terrorists ISIS. What do you want to achieve when talking about the DAESH? Based on the above, for more precise and complete analysis, the Arabic abbreviation is more correct. On the other hand, the use of the Arabic acronym for the purposes of social support of the fight against terrorism is more appropriate.

The Saudi publicist, close to the royal elite, Abdulrahman al-Rashid agrees with this point of view. Thus, in the leading Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat [13] he noted that today’s DAEIS is not only and not just a military problem, but an ideological one. The use of the term «Islamic state» in many countries of the world, with «correct» and appropriate denominations, does not help the ideological and social struggle against terrorism, and in some cases, with excessive politicization, can contribute to recruiters of DAEIS. As al-Rashid notes, this is the goal of extremists. As Osama bin Laden once wrote, «the two Babylons» will be formed.

[1]  The organization is banned in Russia

[2] Vasiliev A., Gareev V. Historical roots of terrorism // Asia and Africa today. № 4. 2008. P. 32.

[3]French govt to use Arabic ‘Daesh’ for Islamic State group // France 24. 17 September 2014. [].

[4]  Later the grouping changed its name to simply «Islamic state».

[5] Islamic State group name raises objection// Associated Press. 12 September 2014. [].

[6] OIC Condemns Destruction of Historical Monuments in Syria and Iraq by Daesh. 27 August 2015. Official Web-site of OIC. [].

[7] Ignatenko A. A. At least 73 variations of Islam exist in the world. // Russian newspaper. November 18, 2010.

[8] Roy O. EuroIslam: The Jihad Within? // The National Interest. Spring 2003. [].

[9] Malashenko A. The Islamic alternative and the Islamist project. Moscow: Carnegie Moscow Center, 2006. P. 60.

[10]  Kosach G.G. Saudi Arabia: the internal political processes of the reform stage (late 1990-2006). Moscow: Institute of the Middle East, 2007. P. 9.

[11]  Naumkin VV Islamic radicalism in the mirror of new concepts and approaches. M.: KomKniga, 2005. P. 7-8.

[12] Bartold V.V. Works. T. VI. Moscow: Nauka, 1966. P. 420.

[13] Daesh wa al-marakat al-asm // ash-Sharq al-Ausat. 25 tamuz 2015 (in Arabic)

Georgi Asatryan, Ph.D., orientalist

This article was published on April 2016 in the International Affairs Council (RIAC, in Russian)

Who is behind the terrorist attacks in London?


There are no absolutely lone wolfs”, X-man always exists.

 The terrorist attack occurred in the heart of London. As horrible as that probably sounds, this fact did not surprise anyone. This is another terrorist attack in Europe. Five people died, dozens were injured. The world, especially the Europeans, unfortunately, have become accustomed to the terrorist attacks. However, the United Kingdom was not attacked by international terrorism for a long time. But this does not mean that fanatics have never been «interested» in the United Kingdom. Foggy Albion has always been, remains and will remain in the focus of radicals. British intelligence has been able to neutralize the terrorist attacks, both in large and small cities of the country, for a long time.

In short, the United Kingdom is convenient goal from the ideological point of view because of three reasons. Historically, the British are still perceived by the inhabitants of the Third World as the colonizers. Muslim world also has a special attitude towards them. Secondly, London is an active participant in the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Nowadays, British soldiers are represented in both countries.

Also, the United Kingdom is a member of the international coalition against ISIS led by the United States. London takes an active military and political involvement in the ongoing events in Syria and Iraq. Thirdly, the United Kingdom is the closest ally of the United States, which is “the goal number one «. Political support to Israel also causes hatred among Islamists.

At the time of this writing, no one has taken responsibility for the terrorist attacks on Westminster Bridge. I spent about five hours reading Salafite accounts and websites. A lot of them are close to ISIS, some of them are close to Al-Qaeda. That is why I have no doubt that sooner or later, ISIS or a close to it structure, will take responsibility for the terrorist attack.

Why not Al Qaeda? Firstly, it wins (in the confrontation of terrorist groups) in Syria. Gradually, this networked Salafist-Jihadist group becomes the main player in the Syrian resistance, replacing the remnants of the opposition. Secondly, al-Qaeda, unlike the ISIS, has a solid ideological base that is several decades old. Among other things, the basis of this base was the thesis of need to attack the «distant enemy», which is, the West. After certain setbacks and particularly after the appearance and strengthening of ISIS, Ayman al-Zawahiri who is the leader of Al-Qaeda, has moved somewhat away from this line.

In his own option, the grouping should strengthen position «at home», that is, in the region of the Middle East and North Africa in the current circumstances. Az-Zawahiri compiled a special list of the most suitable on the basic conditions countries and even provinces, where supporters of al-Qaeda can find a «quiet haven» and gain a foothold. But we are not talking about this now. In short, this grouping will not spend resources to find a «lone wolf» with the purpose of suicide bombing or a ram in the West. Radicals of this group are occupied by Idlib and by confrontation with the militarized wing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria.

ISIS is quite another thing. It is on its decline, suffers from one defeat after another, and permanently loses its territory and infrastructure. All this affects the budget of the grouping. ISIS finally leaves to the Syrian and Iraqi villages. Media attention is decreasing, opportunities are falling, enemies, including Sunni tribes, are becoming larger. And what should be done in this case? The ideologists of ISIS answered simply, and sometimes even illustratively.

The Frenchman of Moroccan descent, Abu Suleiman al-Faransi replaced Abu Abdulrahman at the «chief of European operations» position. The origin of the second person gave him the opportunity to take leading positions in ISIS: a Sunni, a native of a large tribe in the Iraqi province of Anbar. Abdurlrahman was killed near Mosul, and his place was occupied by the ambitious al-Faransi in the summer of 2014. Some consider him as a «merit» of the terrorist attacks in Paris. And after ISIS began to lose positions and base of support, as a result, al-Faransi made a kind of «road map» for ISIS.

At the end of 2016 he recorded a video, where he had urged supporters of the organization in Europe no longer to go to Syria and Iraq. By that time, the number of people entering ISIS dropped significantly, according to some data, by 70-90%. By the way, «true believers» had to focus on organizing attacks in their host countries. This call was accompanied by detailed instructions. In the video, al-Faransi explained in two languages how to use the knife in order to inflict more damage on the enemy. At about the same time, another issue of the journal of terrorists «Rome» was published, where there was another instruction: how to use a car as a ram.

IGIL as well as «Al-Qaeda» in the past, loves anniversaries. This is a kind of signal or reminder. Unfortunately, the terrorists succeeded in making small-scale, but extremely resonant action on the anniversary of the Belgian attacks. There is no doubt that the British special services will strengthen the counter-terrorism direction of their activities, as it was in 2005. Then, Al-Qaeda, in particular its Iraqi wing, managed to commit major terrorist acts in London. After that, the British increased their military contingents in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, now as then, this will not help. It should be understood that such actions are a new form of terrorist activity that will be used by radicals in the coming years. It is noteworthy that the tools of the leaders of terrorist underground often come from the diaspora of second or third generation. And they, in their turn, are beyond the suspicion of the special services.

The second thing is that nowadays everyone repeats the mantra of «lone wolves», attacks of individual terrorists. Briefly, no one large-scale terrorist act in modern history was committed by one person. If we talk about terrorism, and not about solitary actions of psychopaths, then this phenomenon is collective. Sometimes people cannot go alone to the supermarket, so what can we say about the organization of an attack in the West. The suicide bomber almost always is in communication with a recruiter or an ideologue, who, in turn, through a certain chain of intermediaries with the organizer. The fact that this does not get into the media is natural and normal.

The terrorist attacks of the suicide bombers have absolutely another meaning. Terrorists find a potential supporter of the Salafist ideology and use it as bait. Since the security measures after a series of large-scale terrorist attacks in the early 2000s significantly improved, making a major attack became extremely difficult. In this sense, we should not unduly focus on the thesis of the «lone wolf». Before going to a terrorist attack, a person must mature and become a suicide bomber. This is preceded by contacts with the X-man. Counterintelligence was supposed to work here.

Georgi Asatryan, Ph.D., orientalist

This article was published in Life

Syria: the endless negotiations of the eternal conflict

Negotiations concerning Syria will become successful only after the next phase of hostilities and a series of defeats of one of the parties. After that, the defeated party may make concessions. Neither party recognizes defeats and is not ready for full-fledged negotiations for now. Along with this, only the great countries such as Russia and the United States must rise above the fight and exert mutual pressure on the participants and sponsors of the conflict.

What is the result of the numerous negotiations? What were the purposes of parties? Which impact diplomacy has exerted on conflict? And what is the main difference between «Astana» and «Geneva»? And the most important: what will happen to Syria?

The Syrian conflict has overstepped five-year boundary and smoothly enters the sixth year of its existence. The efforts of the international community to organize negotiations concerning Syria have not less rich history. Diplomats have already managed to hold three rounds of negotiations in Geneva and three in Astana for the five years. It is currently planned Geneva-IV, which has already been announced by special envoys of the UN on Syria. It is not excluded that organizers of Astana will also meet for the fourth time. Syrian negotiations have already become a separate page in the history of diplomacy. They can get confused even those who follow the conflict from the first days.

They are constantly postponed, transferred and prolonged, but so far without specific successes. Here are the main results of this epic. The start of the fourth negotiations in Geneva is planned for March 20. The history of Geneva has begun on June 30, 2012. Then the representatives of the United States, Russia, China, the League of Arab States and the EU met for the first time under the auspices of the United Nations in order to discuss the possibilities of resolving the conflict, which was only gaining momentum. At that time, the UN Special Representative for Syria was the ex-secretary general of the organization — Kofi Annan, and the war has not claimed the lives of almost half a million Syrians yet. The «Action Group» adopted the final communiqué, which consisted of many items.

It is very important to remember that the document was supported by the permanent members of the UN Security Council, and hence by Russia. The document explicitly stated the need to create a «transitional board of governors», and the mention of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, was absent. Both representatives of the opposition and representatives of the Syrian government had to join the new Institute. Despite the solidity and pithiness of the document, the fighting in Syria only gained momentum. External, mainly regional, players strengthened the support of the parties, and the war funnel sucked in more and more people. The conflict assumed an «eternal» character, and the contradictions and hostility of the parties intensified.

The geopolitical interests of Turkey, Qatar, and later Russia, France and the US were added to the permanent conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran supporting different sides. Geneva-II was held two years later, in January-February 2014. This was preceded by the replacement of the UN special envoy to the well-known Arab diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi. The list of conferees was expanded, but there were no negotiators from the key country for the Syrian conflict — Iran. The Syrian opposition and forces standing behind it delivered the ultimatum, and the invitation to Tehran was withdrawn. The Syrian Kurds, who control most of the north-east of the country, were also not invited to the negotiations. Geneva-II did not lead to tangible results.

The intensification of hostility and revitalization of fighting have only exacerbated the intransigent positions of the parties. Thus, if Geneva-I can be regarded as the beginning of the negotiation process even before the intensification of hostilities, then the theater of warfare obviously determined the nature of subsequent conferences. Geneva-III was held in February 2016, when the balance of power was shaken in favor of Damascus. This was preceded by the entry of the Russian Aerospace Forces into the Syrian conflict and activation of support for the regime’s allies from Iran and the Shiite militant grouping from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Efforts by Russian advisers and aviation have succeeded in inflicting considerable damage on radical opposition groups, mainly on the number of supporters of Al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. In short, the strategic and operational balance has been broken: Bashar Al-Assad won his overthrow by force was impossible. Damascus changed the nature and tone of its diplomacy.

Syrian representative to the UN, Bashar Jafari, in a moment became another man — confident, dictating, sometimes not absolutely reasonably, his terms. The UN special envoy on Syria was also replaced: the post was occupied by the diplomat Stefan de Mistura. The negotiations organized by Russia, Turkey and Iran in Kazakhstan in January, 2017 became the following stage. Astana-I is a completely different story. As well as the previous, these negotiations haven’t led to breakthrough. They could hardly have been successful because of a whole range of reasons. First of all, the list of participants was less representative. Secondly, the Geneva format has de facto reserved for itself the status of the main platform of resolution of the Syrian conflict.

Politically Astana has become the convenient mechanism of consolidation of progress of Russia in Syria. The US and the West fell out of the Syrian settlement for a certain period, and Moscow took advantage of the vacuum and tried to strengthen its position. It is unlikely Turkey would had taken part in work of a similar format if not a victory of Donald Trump and uncertainty in Washington. Iran in turn, has treated with some vigilance attraction by Russia of Turkey. In a word, no one took «Astana», as an independent format of negotiations. It is considered that the Kazakh negotiations strengthened the ceasefire.

However, with careful analysis, it becomes evident that the cease-fire was permanently violated and there was, in fact, never a real truce. In general, the failure character of this meeting was confirmed by the absence of the leadership of delegations, including the Syrian opposition and Turkey, on Astana-II. On the other hand, we can’t call negotiations in Astana a complete failure. The permanent attempts of the parties (although not of all) to strengthen the ceasefire regime — have become the main objectives of the Astana format. And «Geneva» de facto turned into a field of conflict resolution from the political positions.

In general such division of labor is acceptable, but provided that Moscow will manage to connect all parties, including opposition, the USA and Arabs of the Gulf to negotiations in Kazakhstan. And on the eve, on March 14-15, the third round of talks in Kazakhstan took place. Representatives of the Syrian opposition did not come, and the discussion was limited at the level of deputy ministers, heads of departments and special representatives of Russia, Iran and Turkey. At the same time, negotiations in a permanent regime are conducted by experts who consult with their capitals. Despite the announced ceasefire regime, the Syrian conflict does not cease for a minute. Terrorist attacks are carrying out in Damascus, fighting is conducted in certain areas of Aleppo, Homs and Hama. Difficult and unclear situation is in Deyr az-Zore.

The terrorist groups carried out the next regrouping: new names, management and unions. Groups that are close to Al-Qaeda and the Brotherhood of Muslims group are coming to the forefront, while ISIS increasingly goes to villages, Rakka and the desert regions of Syria. In short, the negotiation process around the Syrian conflict has a limited effect on the course of hostilities. But the successes or failures of the parties on the battlefield have a tremendous effect on the position of the parties, both in Astana and Geneva. The civil war in Syria is an archetypal conflict that will last, regardless of the negotiation process, for a very long time. We should understand that different people are at war and at the negotiating table.

And the conflict between the regional forces: Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar, on the one hand, and Iran and the Shiite groups, on the other, has a tendency to increase. However, this does not mean that negotiations are not needed, but in order for them to have a serious influence, it is necessary to involve all parties and increase the fatigue factor of the conflicting parties. International mediators, in turn, should understand that they aren’t able to stop the conflict completely and they should concentrate on its regionalization.

Transformation of the civil war in Syria into the “limited” conflict in one or another region of the country, it is, perhaps, the first step to the de-escalation. Time and fatigue are the second step. Simultaneously, the great countries Russia and the United States must exert pressure on the participants and sponsors of the conflict. Syria needs compromises, concessions and reduction of hostility like air.

Georgi Asatryan, Ph.D., orientalist. 

This article was published in Forbes.