UKRAINE: Muslims Protest Against 'Secret' Property Decision.

by Anna Vassilyeva, Keston News Service, 19 July 2001

Crimea's Muslims have objected to the decision of the Crimean authorities to renege on an eighteen month-old agreement over how to divide the site of the former Zyndzhyrly madrassah in Bakhchisarai and the neighbouring monastery of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (see KNS 3 March 2000), describing it as `a serious political act of provocation'. Muslim representatives told Keston News Service that they had only learnt of the decision, taken last March, in early July, complaining that it had been adopted in secrecy and calling for it to be revoked. Despite numerous attempts, Keston has been unable to speak to any of the officials involved in the March decision to ask them why the original agreement - drawn up by the then deputy chairman of the Crimean Council of Ministers, Lentun Bezaziyev, and approved by the Muslims and the Orthodox – has been changed without apparent consultation.

According to resolution 108 of the Crimean Council of Ministers on 27 March, which modifies resolution 131 of 25 April 2000 `On the return of the former buildings of the Bakhchisarai Monastery of the Assumption to their owners', it was resolved `to give [the monastery] for use, free of charge, block 9 within the historic boundaries of the Monastery of the Assumption, with the adjacent building, summer pavilion and medical centre, passage, public toilet, morgue, chlorinator, garage building and equipment that is not included in the dismantling process'. The resolution was signed by the acting chairman of the Council of Ministers Vasili Kiselev and a minister, Oleg Gavrin. Bezaziyev was given responsibility for carrying out the resolution.

`This document happened to reach us - completely by chance - at the beginning of July,' the chairman of the Crimean Tatars' representative body, the Majlis, in Bakhchisarai, Ilmi Umerov, told Keston from Bakhchisarai on 11 July. He said Bezaziev agreed the division of territory between the madrassah and the monastery a year and a half ago, but the new decision ignored that agreement. He claimed that Gavrin had not actually seen the resolution itself, although his signature appears on it. Umerov could not say precisely whether the list of buildings that had been transferred included those to which the Muslims laid claim.

`No-one consulted us during the drafting of this decision and no-one took account of our interests,' Arsen Alchikov, a representative of the mufti in the Majlis, told Keston on 9 July in Simferopol. He says that confrontation in Bakhchisarai is `deliberately' being provoked, although the Muslims do not blame the Orthodox for the dispute.

Alchikov also claims the agreement over how to divide the site between the Muslims and the Orthodox has been violated, adding that although the psycho-neurological hospital that occupied the madrassah site and monastery has vacated all the buildings, the Ministry of Culture is now also laying claim to them, and in the view of the former owner the ministry will in future bear in mind `the interests of all parties'.

The madrassah, which celebrated its 500th anniversary last year, is the cultural and historical centre of the Crimean khanate and borders the Monastery of the Assumption and Karaite holy sites in the Marya-Derya valley, in the suburbs of Bakhchisarai (see KNS 17 May 2000). The site, a place of pilgrimage for people of different faiths and for tourists, is located on the site of a historical and architectural monument, which also includes the Khan's palace.

The main obstacle to the return to believers of the madrassah complex and some of the buildings belonging to the monastery had been the presence on the site of the psycho-neurological institution.

When Keston tried to reach Kiselev by telephone on 10 July to find out more about the adoption of the resolution, his office said he was not currently available. Later, when they realised that it was Keston telephoning Kiselev's office, they said he was very busy and could not come to the telephone, claims repeated on subsequent occasions when Keston called.

On 10 July, Keston was told at Gavrin's office that he would be there the following day, while on 11 July his assistant said that he simply had sight of documents and did the preparatory work for the commission `and so he signed all of the resolutions'.

Umerov said that on 4 July a letter signed by the chairman of the Bakhchisarai city council was sent to the then chairman of the Crimean Council of Ministers Sergei Kunitsyn, asking for all previous resolutions on the division of the territory and buildings associated with the site to be revoked. `We will wait until 23 July, and then on 25 July we will attend a meeting,' he told Keston. `If the meeting takes place, it will be a protest against the policy of the authorities, which are trying to provoke religious and ethnic conflict.' (END)