Sep 052008

The Mujahedin in Nagorno-Karabakh: A Case Study in the Evolution of Global Jihad (WP)

Michael Taarnby
WP 20/2008 – 9/5/2008

The current volume of publications dealing with Islamist militancy and terrorism defies belief in terms of its contents. This can be perceived as part of a frantic effort to catch up for the lack of attention devoted to this phenomenon during the 1980s and 1990s, when this field of research field was considerably underdeveloped. The present level of research activity is struggling to keep pace with developments. Thus, it is primarily preoccupied with attempting to describe what is actually happening in the world right now and possibly to explain future developments. This is certainly a worthwhile effort, but the topic of this paper is a modest attempt to direct more attention and interest towards the much overlooked sub-field of historical research within Jihadi studies.

The global Jihad has a long history, and everyone interested in this topic will be quite familiar with the significance of Afghanistan in fomenting ideological support for it and for bringing disparate militant groups together through its infamous training camps during the 1990s. However, many more events have been neglected by the research community to the point where most scholars and analysts are left with an incomplete picture, that is most often based on the successes of the Jihadi groups. Yet there are plenty of examples of failures which have rarely been placed in the larger context and a thorough understanding of these events would undoubtedly provide a much more nuanced picture of the Jihad. Examples such as al-Qaeda’s failure to establish itself in the Horn of Africa and its exodus from Sudan, the lack of local support for the foreign Mujahedin in Bosnia or the more general failure to unite disparate Jihadi groups all provide stimulus for further inquiry. The framework of this particular sub-field would require systematic studies on overlooked and underexploited historical events within Jihadi studies, and this would obviously include obscure militant groups and events.

Somewhat ironically, the only known effort to compile historical case studies with the aim of learning from past mistakes has been undertaking by the Jihadis themselves. The seminal work of Abu Musab al-Suri in his The Global Islamic Resistance Call is little known outside Jihadi ideological circles, yet al-Suri spent several years during a self-imposed sabbatical from the Jihad to devise a new concept of Jihadi warfare. Considering the thought put into this massive 1600-page treaty one has no option but to conclude that he succeeded. Few Western scholars have approached this important book with the respect it deserves, the exception being Brynjar Lia in his equally seminal Architect of Global Jihad.[1]

The sub-field of historical Jihadi studies is wide open to anyone seriously interested in acquiring a deeper understanding of the development of the Jihad. There are plenty of failed militant Islamist groups, lost battles, strategic blunders and vicious ideological strife to examine. They all represent a minuscule part of a large mosaic that, when properly pieced together and understood, will eventually present a much more comprehensive picture of the development of the global Jihad over the past three decades. This is indeed an interesting historical journey and one that presents a number of surprises even for the initiated. The following case study on the Mujahedin who fought in Nagorno-Karabakh is exactly one such very small piece, yet for all its obscurity it sheds light on several subsequent events linked to the Jihad.

See the Full Paper: Elcano Royal Institute – PDF Version or HTML Version