OK, that said, the Caucasus are awesome. Fascinating. Responsible for the best art collective in the world. Responsible for one of the best sayings in the world, "Come back, Imam. But this time, smile." But yeah, I would never want to live there. Because nowadays, Chechnya (and its neighboring republics) look like a film noir.
This article by RFE/RL shows best what I'm talking about. Magomedali Vagabov comes out looking like some sinister mix of Osama bin Laden and Keyzer Soze, which is probably somewhat accurate:
The biography implies that Vagabov was behind the creation of several new jamaats between 2007 and mid-2009, but gives no details of his other activities during that time. Specifically, there is no mention of any further contacts with Khalilov (who was killed in September 2007), or of Vagabov's role in, or response to, the proclamation by Umarov of the Caucasus Emirate in October 2007.So here we have a now-deceased guy who was probably the creative mind fixing up new assault groups and getting funding from abroad. And maybe, maybe, but certainly most-interestingly, the dreaded Chechen-Afghanistan link that has been asserted but never proven. And I emphasize the probably. I doubt the NKVD even knows too much about the guy. Other than that he's dead. Maybe.
What's more, none of the information about Vagabov's activities prior to 2008 can be corroborated by searching the archives of kavkazcenter.com, the main insurgency website. And the key figures who might have shed light on his activities in Daghestan -- Maksharipov, Khalilov, and Rasulov -- are all dead.
And the place is just full of these guys. C.J. Chivers' fantastic article on Beslan has numerous references to the "nihilist" Shamil Besayev. With his bald head and missing foot, he was right out of a Dick Tracy cartoon.
Dzhokar Dudayev, of course, looked and acted like the Errol Flynn of Grozny.
All this is to say, the recent attack on Ramzan Kadyrov, president of Chechnya, may not be business as usual, but is at least frighteningly ordinary. Ramzan's father, Akhmad, was killed in a bombing at the Grozny stadium during a parade. As for the 19 people killed in this recent attack? Well, the Kadyrovsty are the closest thing you'll find today to a Varangian Guard. Dudes know how to kill, human rights abuse or no (but probably yes).
An HBO series on the area would never be able to get launched for being too bizarre, too bloody, and too devoid of good guys. In about a year, you will hear lots of tongue-clicking about having the Olympic games so close. Despite all of the many differences between the West and East North Caucasus (and please, I don't mean that as an "East v. West" trope).
But things will be interesting, of course. And for us in our air-conditioned apartments with our wireless, all we can ask for is that things be interesting. Just remember, "Every morning you wake up, thank whatever God you believe in that you were not born in Grozny."