UKRAINE: A Year Without Progress Over Simferopol Mosque.

by Anna Vassilyeva, Keston News Service, 16 July 2001

One year after submitting a request to build a central mosque in the Crimean city of Simferopol, the Muslim community is still awaiting a response from the authorities. A representative of the council of muftis has accused them of deliberately dragging out consideration of whether to allocate a plot of land for construction work, although the mosque will not be built at the state's expense. No official has been prepared to tell Keston News Service what is holding up the application or even to discuss it.

Arsen Alchikov, the representative of the council of muftis in the Crimean Tatars' representative body the Majlis, complained the case has become bogged down in the Crimean Council of Ministers at the office of the chairman's assistant, Aleksandr Formanchuk. `At first we were working with Formanchuk, but then he went on leave and did not return,' Alchikov told Keston on 9 July in Simferopol. `Now he has a whole stack of documents, but without him the matter seems to have ground to a halt.'

On 10 July, the main reception at the Council of Ministers in Simferopol told Keston that Formanchuk `was not working' there any more, and that his work had not been passed on to anyone else. Asked when he left his post, Keston was told `a long time ago'.

On 13 July Keston tried to contact the chairman of the Council of Ministers, Sergei Kunitsyn, but the secretary suggested that Keston should telephone later. On ringing back, Keston was put through to Formanchuk's former direct boss, Tatyana Zvereva. `I have not heard about this case at all,' she told Keston. `I cannot help you in any way.' When Keston asked whether it would be possible to talk to Kunitsyn, she answered bluntly `No'.

Almost exactly a year ago, on 18 July 2000, Mufti Haji effendi Emir Ali Ablayev and acting chairman of the Majlis Remzi Ablayev wrote a letter to Kunitsyn (of which Keston has a copy) calling for the allocation of a plot of land for construction of a central mosque and a monument to the victims of the deportation in 1944, when Stalin ordered the removal of the entire Crimean Tatar population beyond the Urals. The letter proposed the construction in the centre of Simferopol of a central mosque `for 2,000 faithful Muslims' in a complex which would also include a `monument to the victims of deportation'.

The Muslims requested `a stretch of grassland in the new part of the Salgurka park on Yaltinsky street (in the city of Simferopol), an area of 1.5 hectares [3.7 acres]'. The Spiritual Administration of Muslims in Crimea and the Majlis both regard this plot of land as the best in view of its location, accessible to nearby areas where Crimean Tatars are concentrated.

In February 1995, Simferopol city executive committee had granted the Majlis permission for initial survey work on the same plot of land for the eventual construction of a monument `to the memory of the victims of genocide and deportation'. A document authorising the choice of a plot of land and execution of inspection work was signed by all relevant officials, but `further action was halted' for economic reasons.

`We plan to finance the construction work without making any calls on state budget resources,' Alchikov stressed. `It will be paid for by the Crimean Muslim community.' Construction work is projected to take between two and two and a half years.

A member of the Ukrainian parliament and chairman of the Majlis, Mustafa Jemilev, wrote to Kunitsyn on 17 August last year also calling for the Salgurka park site to be allocated for the mosque and memorial. His call failed to elicit a response.

A small monument to the victims of the deportation has already been erected on the site the Muslims have requested. Alchikov reported that a draft plan for the mosque has been drawn up, incorporating `a cupola construction between 35 and 40 metres high, an area of construction of 1,000 square metres and two or three 45-metre minarets'. An Islamic university and a museum on the deportation are planned for the ground floor of the building. (END)