RUSSIA: Taganrog Muslims Ordered to Demolish Mosque.

by Tatyana Titova, Keston News Service, 10 April 2001

Muslims in the southern Russian city of Taganrog, not far from Rostov-on-Don, must demolish their partially-built mosque, the Rostov oblast arbitration court finally ruled on 5 March, upholding – after numerous deferments - the decision of the Taganrog city arbitration court of 18 December 2000. Head of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims in Rostov oblast (and deputy to Mufti Talgat Tajuddin, head of the Russian Federation Central Muslim Spiritual Administration) Mufti Jafar Bikmayev told Keston News Service on 2 April that he would not demolish the mosque, but Taganrog’s deputy mayor Nikolai Savchenko said the same day that court bailiffs would force the Spiritual Administration to carry out the order.

The mosque in Taganrog was destroyed during the Soviet period and the congregation of 7000 applied to the city administration for permission to construct a new building. A plot of land was allocated, and a draft decision on building the mosque prepared after all the relevant agencies agreed. Subsequently, however, the city administration froze the signing of the documents and took the Rostov oblast Muslim Spiritual Administration to court for laying foundations for the future mosque. (See KNS 8 December 2000.)

The city administration also opened a criminal case against Mufti Bikmayev for illegal construction work, which was only recently dropped on the grounds that no offence had been committed. The Mufti told Keston in January that despite a document in his possession - ‘a decree dated 23 June 2000 with fifteen signatures – of the mayor, his first deputy, the chief architect, the chief lawyer etc.’ - both the local and the oblast court insisted construction had been started without the permission of the local authorities. He claimed that the Taganrog administration brought to court on 15 January a decree rushed through three days before the hearing. This 12 January decree gives the land on which the part-constructed mosque stands to local businessman Sergei Kasayan for the construction of a hotel and restaurant complex. On 2 April the Mufti told Keston that he would not demolish the mosque: ‘I have spent $38,000 on installing services and building the foundations and I am responsible to the people who gave their money for the construction of the mosque.’

Deputy mayor Savchenko insisted that the Mufti did not have official permission to build the mosque. ‘There was a draft of the document which did not pass through our office. It did not have a number and was not registered, therefore it did not come into force and was not an official document,’ he told Keston on 2 April. He welcomed the decision of the oblast arbitration court ordering the Muslims to halt construction and to demolish the building themselves. As far as he knew, however, demolition had not yet begun and the order would have to be enforced by the court bailiffs. Asked whether the administration was offering the Muslims another building plot, Savchenko said a request had not been received. ‘They should apply in accordance with the law, start afresh the whole procedure for securing official approval, and then we’ll see what decision is reached’.

The Mufti told Keston that not long before the court hearing on 5 March the Spiritual Administration had approached the Taganrog administration ‘with peace proposals’, which had been rejected. He had reached agreement, however, with the Cossacks, whom the administration had cited in support of its unwillingness to have a mosque: ‘We convinced them that we are not Wahhabites.’

Vladimir Takhtamyshev, the Rostov oblast administration’s expert on work with religious organisations, told Keston on 2 April that the Rostov regional administration had attempted to reconcile the two sides. He said that at a meeting with Mufti Bikmayev in the presence of the oblast’s deputy governor, Taganrog mayor Sergei Shilo had promised to offer the Muslims another place to build the mosque, further from the city, provided they agreed to a smaller building without any religious distinguishing features. ‘But so far the Taganrog administration has not made any other site available,’ said Mr Takhtamyshev. ‘This is typical for the whole North Caucasus: after the wars and the bomb explosions attitudes to Muslims are cool. The city authorities are afraid of the penetration of Islam in its extremist forms and also of its cultural and economic influence.’ He added that there are Russian families who regularly attend Muslim services and that this is also a source of anxiety. (END)