Editorial: Akhmadala & Kadyrov the (Oxy)moron

The Akhmat Arena in Grozny.

Akhmat is a name likely alien to regular football spectators across the globe, but in Grozny, the Capital of Chechnya, it is ubiquitous.

The religious home of the nation is the Akhmad Haji Kadyrov Mosque, the currently-under-construction Akhmat tower is set to be the tallest building in the Caucasus, the city centre is known as Akhmad Square and local football team is FC Akhmat Grozny. The side themselves play at the Akhmat Arena, are chiefly sponsored by the Akhmat Foundation, and two of the side’s youth players are Abdurakhman Akhilgov and Adam Abdurakhmanov.

This is all in veneration and reverence to former Chief Mufti of the Chechen Republic in the 1990s during and after the First Chechen War and first President of the Chechen Republic; Akhmad Kadyrov. In 2005, the Chechen parliament even voted to rename the city Akhmadala in his honour.

The current President of Chechnya is Akhmad Kadyrov’s son, Ramzan Kadyrov – a living embodiment of an oxymoron.

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of an oxymoron is as follows:

a figure of speech by which a locution produces an incongruous, seemingly self-contradictory effect, as in “cruel kindness” or “to make haste slowly”.

Kadyrov Jr’s own form of oxymoronic rule is far from incongruous, he is nothing less than both Vladimir Putin’s guard dog of the Caucasus and a fiercely troublesome headache; brutal tyrant but social media superstar as the ‘Strongman of Instagram; a proud Chechen but doting Russian.

Kadyrov has led a regeneration of both the city and football club since the destruction of it during the two Chechen Wars,? but meanwhile clamped down upon all aspects of Chechen society and the rights of his people.

However, with the prospect of a new third-tier European competition on the horizon, Akhmat would’ve likely finished high up enough in the table to have qualified in three of the last four years had the competition existed. The admittedly generally well-ran club could become a haunting spectre upon continental football in Europe due to their owner.

The “Strongman of Instagram”

Just like Putin, Kadyrov considers himself the face of a nation. He plasters himself all over the state-ran news and social media. Videos of him constantly working-out in the gym, embracing animals, meeting citizens and engaging in traditional Chechen culture and rituals of Islamic faith are go-to snippets promoted by his propaganda team.

It is promulgated that Ramzan is not just President, but a symbol of the regeneration of the nation. Chechnya suffered from a fraught 90s, blighted by war but also, like Russia, alcoholism. Putin and Kadyrov are desperate to overcome the problems of that decade by promoting a healthy lifestyle alongside materialistic strength.

Kadyrov favoured to promote this message on his now infamous Instagram account. Although now not just infamous, but also banned completely, he would repeatedly post images and videos of the aforementioned list, along with some quite bizarre attacks on anything – or anyone – who angered him.

This was genuinely uploaded by Kadyrov to his Instagram account. I mean, what? | Photo: Instagram

His rosy, almost warm personality is in complete juxtaposition as to how many of his own followers live, and is even farther away from the scores who wont have the account in the first place.

He points rifles, threatens political opponents and knocks the tar out of a government underling in some of the nearly 8,000 posts that have made him Instagram’s most prolific political strongman. Yet what is just as important, is when he occasionally reveals a soft side, too, cuddling kittens, nuzzling a horse and praying.

Chechen Press & Information Minister Dzhambulat Umarov once claimed:

Our leader knows that the key to developing the region is constant interaction with the people. That’s how he knows what their problems are, what their worries are.

Day-to-day, we all use social media the world over, largely in order to create a carefully curated and meticulously materialised account of ourselves. But Kadryov is – or was – the professional, either undulating or mystifying the vast majority of his three million followers.

In Chechnya, the continuous stream of charming, callous and menacing posts by Kadyrov et al serves as a tool of political control, a warning to those who would stray from the party line and an example of how social media can be as much a tool of repression as of liberation.

In one post, a rifle’s crosshairs were superimposed over a video of an opposition politician. A supporter’s social-media post showed a man forced to walk on a treadmill in his underwear while praising Mr. Putin. It is as much of a threat as a joke.

His obsession with social media is simple: He likes it, but it also gives him a place to control the news coming from Chechnya for the Kremlin, and show people that he’s the boss.

These are the worlds of Human Rights Watch analyst Tanya Lokshina in an interview with WSJ.?

The intended effect is spontaneity. However, everything posted is done so with the utmost control. Filmed for social media but with professional assistance including a full camera crew, photographers, writers and even a state-hired director.

Everything is scripted, including Kadyrov’s publicity stunts, such as photos with Diego Maradona and a birthday bash with actress Hilary Swank, who later said she regretted taking part.

In juxtaposing the soft with the hard, the Strongman of Instagram is in fact not spontaneous or nice in anyway, but omniscient and omnipotent.

READ MORE:?Akhmat Grozny – Three Name Changes, Two War’s and One Crazy Owner

“Comedic” Nepotism

Why are the names ‘Akhmat’ and ‘Akhmad’ plastered all over the streets of Grozny and the very soul of the cities football team? Look no farther than the Blofeld-esque figure running both. Soon enough, every single fan will be renamed Akhmad or Vladimir in a doting, comedic tribute and gift to his biological father Akhmad and Vlad his political dad.

However, it doesn’t just stop there. Kadyrov’s nephew, Khalid, plays for Akhmat. Well, “plays” is a loose term – he has in fact only played 16 games in eight years at the club, starting in the league a lowly twice and completing just 319 minutes in the process. Khalid has never completed a full 90 minutes and 90% of his appearances have been appearing off the bench from the 80th minute onwards.

He is, however, a regular on the Louis Vutton blanket-clad Akhmat bench, missing out just three times in the last three years. Almost week-in, week-out you can bet your life savings that Khalid Kadyrov will be named on the bench – which of course in Russia is unrestricted – and will likely not see any game time whatsoever.

The infamous Luis Vutton blankets given to keep Akhmat players warm in Winter | Photo: Nash Futbol

Khalid Kadyrov himself is clearly not good enough for RPL football, but did actually impress in a cup game with NoSta Novotroitsk, playing 83 minutes off the right-wing and scoring. Khalid is Akhmat’s almost un-used number ten and is obviously only a professional footballer thanks to his family name. Akhmat may well be an efficient club who have developed some great youth prospects (including Daler Kuzyaev, Andrey Semenov, Fedor Kudryashov et al), but this instance of utterly comedic nepotism is a prolonged joke.

In fact, this is the biggest problem. For years AKhmat have developed from within and have been well-ran by the club executives. Kadyrov has very little input in the day-to-day running, but unfortunately influences? everyone and can override any decision.

Igor Ledyakhov, Mikhail Galaktionov, Oleg Kononov, Rashid Rakhimov, Yuri Krasnozhan and Stanislav Cherchesov have all managed Khalid since he broke into the first team, and overlooked him. This is no coincidence.

Despite this prodigious list of talents that have been developed at the club, it was Khalid who was presented with a golden boot from his uncle during a “two-hour conversation over a cup of tea”.

Khalid Kadyrov and Akhmat captain Rizvan Utsiev flank Ramzan | Photo: Sports.ru

What makes it even funnier? His brother, Abubakar Kadyrov, also plays for Akhmat. The 22-year-old striker holds the number seven shirt for the club, but in fact has never actually played for his uncle’s first-team.

It would also be remiss to mention Kadyrov’s political shows and parties hosted in the name of President Vladimir Putin, featuring football legends and celebrities the world over, including even former manager Ruud Gullit, Franco Baresi and Ronaldinho.

READ MORE:?Kadyrov’s Chechen Football Party for Putin

Chechen Regeneration?

There is no doubts as to the incredible turn-around the city itself has undergone since the Chechen Wars. The city was a wholly broken entity throughout the whole of the 90s and much of the start of the 21st Century, but the city is ever-improving and actually rather pleasing on the eye.

Despite my total and utter disdain for Kadyrov and his armed mob (sorry, militia) the Kadyrovsty, they have led a nation which is undergoing a genuine regeneration; of culture and structure – well, atleast if you merely scratch the surface.

The countryside in Chechnya has always been beautiful; a glorious, mountainous scene home of nomadic tribes for centuries.?

However, down town Grozny now features broad avenues – including one named after Russian leader Vladimir Putin – lined with luxury boutiques and new glass-fronted skyscrapers. Many of the city’s once-shattered residential neighbourhoods now boast clusters of graceful high-rise apartment blocks. Grozny’s airport is totally refurbished and hosts daily flights to Moscow and other Russian cities. Where mine fields and piles of rubble dominated the city’s centre just ten years ago, the marble-lined Akhmad Haji Kadyrov mosque – reputedly the largest mosque in Europe – now towers over the landscape with its four 197-foot minarets.

The Akhmad Haji Kadyrov Mosque in central Chechnya | Photo: vfl.ru

How? Thanks to Vladimir Putin. He knows the country would be incredibly difficult to overrun and the people almost impossible to make subservient. So he has Kadyrov do it for him.

Chechnya is essentially an independent sovereign state within a sovereign Russian state. Sergei Arutyunov, a Caucasus expert at the official Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology in Moscow claims;

What goes on there is impossible in the rest of Russia. It’s extraordinary that Kadyrov is able to be absolutely independent in his decisionmaking, while he is simultaneously completely dependent on the Kremlin for his funding. Chechnya survives thanks to vast subsidies from Moscow, yet Russian authority scarcely exists there.

Physical progress has come at a high price. In exchange for peace, the Kremlin has turned Chechnya over to Kadyrov who runs the mountainous republic of about 1.5 million people as if it were his private fiefdom.

The first thing you see when you enter Grozny is a massive sign. Not a welcome sign such as the eponymous at the bottom of the Las vegas strip, but a huge?spasibo.

This huge sign located at the main square in Grozny reads: “Ramzan, thank you for Grozny”. It is a microcosm of modern Grozny, an almost ironic reminder that he may as well rename the country Akhmat, or maybe just Ramzan.

The thanks should be a hollow thanks in reality. Maybe it is. Chechens do after all know how to survive.

Tyrannical Subjugation

Kadryov’s leadership relies upon cruelty and transforming people into walking, humanoid jokes by enormous shows of bizarre public humiliation.

Of course, it goes without saying that the press is controlled while political opposition is non-existent. However, Ramzan doesn’t stop there. Anyone who publicly belittles or shames Kadyrov in any way is generally met with an iron fist, quite literally.

Other forms of punishment include orchestrated public apologies, blockading towns, burning down people’s homes and generating fake charges.?

One particularly galling case is that of?Ramadan Dzhalaldinov. The resident of Kenhi uploaded a video to YouTube imploring President Putin to aid the deplorable living conditions in his home village – in-turn criticising the Chechen premier and his inner circle.

Dzhalaldinov recieved numerous death threats from fellow Chechens and was forced to flee to Dagestan. Authorities responded by bloackding the town, burning his house to the ground and interrogating each member of the community on his whereabouts.

What came next, was the biggest show.

Dzhalaldinov was seen on live state television apologising to Kadyrov, asking for his forgiveness. The leader “magnanimously accepted” his apology and then allowed him to return home (to his burnt down home, no less). Kadyrov then stared straight at the camera and delivered the following;

I know about all your comments, I know all the Instagram or Facebook profiles you use. We have all your comments saved and we know who you are…and sooner or later you’ll answer for every one of your words.

Through humiliation and intimidation, the authorities put pressure on the honour not only of a particular person, but also of his or her family members – and the wider community. There is no way of resolving these offences if they are inflicted by authorities.

I could literally be here all day divulging the gruesome details of how Kadyrov, his inner circle and authorities allegedly carry out high-profile political assassinations, repress women’s rights and abduct, carry out violence against and torture?members of the LGBT+ community in the country.

A highly controversial depiction of Putin during an LBGT rights rally in St. Petersburg in 2014 | Photo: Reuters

Even the football club and it’s fans have been embroiled in human rights issues within the last year.

In October 2017, Chechen authorities “ordered” 100% turnout for Akhmat’s home match with local rivals Anzhi Makhachkala. Ahead of the game, students in Grozny were threatened with both violence and removal from University should they not attend.

One lower-level state employee leaked the following from a meeting;

On the 30th [October] at the Akhmat?Arena there will be a match between our team and Dagestan Anzhi.

Turnout must be one hundred percent.
Otherwise, there can indeed be very big problems for everyone, from the rector to the ordinary student.

Teachers and students were previously ordered to attend the match as fans.

Each college, technical school is assigned a certain sector and a certain number of places.?The map of places allocation is made in the city mayoralty.?Therefore, it is enough to consult with her to see in which sector the tribunes were not filled.

Akhmat Arena accommodates 30 thousand people, so people should be allocated not only universities and colleges, but also all ministries, departments, organizations and enterprises.

“Vahid”,??an employee of the Chechen Ministry of Education.

As with most official government memoranda, documents and meeting notes, the statement is wrought with tension and (intentionally) poorly veiled threats.

The regime is utterly abhorrent, and is responsible for tenfold more Chechen repression than it ever is Chechen regeneration.

Lap Dog on a short leash

Ramzan may be in Putin’s good graces for keeping an iron grip on the most unstable part of the nation, but it truly is a narrow gulf between the two men; they may stand alongside each other as equals, as allies, but there can only be so long Putin is forced to keep his lap dog in tow.

Kadyrov himself is an oxymoron, and he even switched sides during the Chechen wars, fighting both for and against both Russians and Chechens, but so are his policies for running both a nation and a football club.

Powerful yet cuddly on Instagram, leading regeneration and repression in politics, and comedic but effective at running Akhmat Grozny, the oxymoronic Kadyrov would almost be funny if he wasn’t so dangerous.?

Akhmat have finished one place away from European qualification in the past, and with the increased places thanks to the RPL’s ever-increasing co-efficient rankings and a new third-tier competition, the spectre of Kadryov’s madhouse is haunting Europe. It must not be forgotten, however, that no matter how well ran on the pitch or within the academy, the successes of the club cannot be celebrated nor tolerated as long as it remains merely a tool of the state.


Author: James Nickels

Born and raised in South Shields, the direct mid-point between Sunderland and Newcastle in North-East England during an era of sustained success and European football for the Magpies, while the Black Cats floundered in the lower divisions, so naturally I decided to support Sunderland. I’ve developed an interest in Russian football over the last decade or so, but it piqued while studying for my Masters’ Degree in Russian and Soviet History, and I’ve been hooked by Spartak Moscow ever since. Considers Eduard Streltsov the best of his generation, and a fond proponent of his repatriation.

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