KESTON NEWS SERVICE
Issue 5, Article 25 and Correction, 26 May 2000
Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.
CORRECTION to LAST BAPTIST MISSIONARY DEPORTED FROM
TURKMENISTAN (KNS 23 May 2000). The deportation of VITALI
TERESHIN from Turkmenistan to Russia took place in May, not in April. He
was placed on a train on 16 May and arrived in Saratov, Russia on 18 May. He
was therefore deported two months after the deportation of his wife and their
Friday 26 May 2000
RELIGIOUS DIFFICULTIES FORM BACKDROP TO CRIMEAN TATAR
by Anna Vasilyeva, Keston News Service
On 18 May, the 56th anniversary of the mass deportation of the Crimean Tatars
from the peninsula by the Soviet authorities under Stalin's orders, protest
demonstrations swept Simferopol, Sevastopol and other cities of the Crimea.
Although the primary demands were political and legal, the involvement of
religious leaders in the event was significant. The Crimean mufti and other
senior Crimean Tatars attending the commemoration told Keston News Service
that they considered religion an integral part of their nation's cultural identity.
But with only a handful of reopened or newly-built mosques, they declared that
not enough had been done to revive the religious life of the Crimean Tatars,
who are by tradition Sunni Muslims.
Demonstrators marched in columns through the city of Simferopol, the
Crimean capital, to take part in the commemoration at Lenin Square in front of
the building of the Council of Ministers of the Autonomous Republic of the
Crimea. Some 3,000 to 5,000 people took part in the commemoration, with
about 3,000 militia officers on duty to prevent possible public disorder.
The meeting - organised by the Crimean Tatars' representative body, the Mejlis
- began with prayers led by the Crimean Mufti EMIR ALI ABLAYEV, who
remembered the victims of the deportation. The prayers were followed by a
speech from the deputy of the Supreme Council of Ukraine and deputy leader
of the Mejlis, REFAT CHUBAROV. MUSTAFA JEMILEV, the chairman of
the Mejlis was not present, as he was on an official trip abroad.
Official figures put the number of Crimean Tatars who have returned to their
historical homeland in the past decade at 260,000, representing one tenth of the
Crimean population. However, only a few mosques have been built or restored
so far. Crimean Tatar leaders declared at the commemoration that the
restoration of religious life and culture damaged by the deportation had still not
Crimean Tatar leaders are insistent that religion plays a vital role in the
Crimean Tatar identity. `When we speak of such a people as the Crimean
Tatars - who do not have their own state and who have borne significant
deformation as a result of persecution - religion becomes another obstacle to
their russification and denationalisation,' Chubarov told Keston in an interview
immediately after the commemoration. `It becomes a source which helps them
to reveal those lost and silenced aspects of their cultural life. That is why for
me religion is not only a way of purification for people and a force to oppose
evil, but a powerful support for the cultural development of an ethnic group.'
Chubarov's views were echoed by NADIR BEKIROV, the head of the
department of political issues of the Mejlis. `Religion is an integral part of our
consciousness and our ethnic cultural identity,' Bekirov told Keston in an
interview immediately after the commemoration. `Over the past decade the
culture and religion of the Crimean Tatars has been revitalised to a certain
extent. But I am convinced that this is not enough.'
Asked by Keston whether enough has been done to restore and revitalise the
spiritual life of the Crimean Tatars, Mufti Ablayev declared categorically: `No,
not enough. How can we say enough when we had 1700 mosques before 1944
and we have built only 30 mosques up till now?' Asked whether there were
many believers among the Crimean Tatars, he told Keston: `The Crimean
Tatars are all believers, all Muslims. There are 270,000 of us in the Crimea
today. We are all Muslims, all believe and all pray.'
The only telegram from other denominations read out during the meeting in
Simferopol was from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate,
led by Patriarch FILARET (DENISENKO). Despite the presence of a number
of officials at the commemoration, no representatives of any religious
denomination attended officially.
Chubarov told Keston that he regretted what he believed was the `politicisation'
of religious groups which, in some cases, even went as far as `discrimination'
against other religious groups. Declining to identify any religious groups
specifically, he believed elements of such views were present in all faiths. `I
think this happens as a result of the process of self-restoration. During this time
of religious revitalisation I wish for only one thing - especially for such states
as Ukraine, which is a multi-confessional one, and for our neighbour Russia -
that none of the confessions would occupy a closer position to power. We can
witness this phenomenon in Russia now. In Ukraine there are probably similar
tendencies but our president LEONID KUCHMA, though he himself is a
Christian, endeavours to be equal in his attitude to other confessions. From the
legislative point of view I would institute a complete division between power
and all confessions without exception. And then everyone would be in an equal
The main demands of the Simferopol demonstrators included introduction of
direct presidential rule in the Crimea and dismissal of the Crimean parliament,
as well as the practical resolution of the problems facing the Crimean Tatars,
such as discrimination, unemployment and land rights. (END)
Copyright (c) 2000 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.