Issue 3, Article 6, 3 March 2000

Immediate reporting on violations of religious liberty and on religion in
communist and post-communist lands.

Friday 3 March 2000

by Anna Vasilyeva, Keston News Service

This year the Crimean Tatars' Zyndzhyryly Madrasah in the historic Crimean
town of Bakhchisaray will mark its 500th anniversary, but the community
seems unlikely to regain it fully in the near future unless greater efforts are
made to find alternative accommodation for a mental institution housed in part
of the property.

The madrasah is part of a unique multi-faith complex located at the Mariam-
Dere canyon (named in honour of the Virgin Mary) near Bakhchisaray, which
remains one of the most revered sites for pilgrims from different religious
faiths. Not far from the canyon was a castle, once the residence of the Crimean
khans. The canyon itself is a place where Christianity, Islam and the Karaite
faith peacefully coexisted. On the slope of the canyon lies the Dormition of the
Mother of God Orthodox Monastery, founded in the second half of the
nineteenth century and reopened in 1992. In its very centre, up until the 1920s,
was the Zyndzhyryly Madrasah. Farther on in the canyon there are Karaite

After the Soviet authorities closed the madrasah and the monastery in the
1920s, some of the buildings were converted into a hospital, but after the
second world war the facility became Bakhchisaray's mental institution, which
is still located on the madrasah's land and in several buildings which used to
belong to the monastery. Pilgrims going to the Dormition Monastery and
tourists pass the mental institution.

`This madrasah used to be an educational centre for the Muslims of the Crimea
and the northern coast of the Black Sea,' explains YEVGENI PETROV,
director of Bakhchisaray historical and cultural conservation area, to which the
complex belongs. `In 1996 one building of the whole complex was given back
to the Muslims.' However, as he told Keston News Service in an interview in
his office at the museum on 22 February, finding a solution to the problem of
the mental institution will not be easy. `Dividing the territory between the
monastery and the foundation is primarily connected with moving the mental
institution elsewhere. Even if the problem of transferring patients can somehow
be solved, the problem with the employment of the staff remains very complex.
The mayor of the city is in charge of the situation and there are grounds to
suppose that there will be changes in the nearest future.'

The mental institution is now supervised by the Ministry of Social Protection
of the Autonomous Republic of the Crimea. `We have completely given back
everything that belongs to the religious communities,' the chief doctor of the
mental institution, NADEZHDA PLOTNIKOVA, told Keston in an interview
in her office on 22 February. `Now the institution employs 140 people for 381
patients. If the patients can be transferred to some other hospitals, there are no
guarantees of employment for the staff. They all have families to feed. We are
the owners of our territory and we have a document which certifies this fact.
Now we have become a stumbling block for both Muslims and Christians.'

`After Bakhchisaray was named the capital of the Crimean Khanate, the
Madrasah was founded by the second Crimean Khan Mingly Hirey as a
training centre for future state officials,' said the chairman of the Zyndzhyryly
Madrasah foundation, RISA SEITVELIYEV, in an interview with Keston in
the building of the Bakhchisaray Mejlis on 22 February. `The curriculum
included both secular and theological subjects. Later, after the Crimea had been
annexed to the Russian Empire, the Madrasah became a religious school. The
complex included mosques, educational and administrative buildings. In the
post-war era, after the deportation of the Crimean Tatars in 1944, this place
was occupied by kitchen-gardens and the tombstones were taken away.'

Asked whether any of the buildings have been returned so far, Seitveliyev
answered: `In 1996 two buildings were given back, one dating back to the 16th
century, the other to 1908. Both are in poor condition. Only part of the land
was returned. It seems the rest is not going to be given back.' He stresses that
the former mosque remains at the mental institution's disposal and is being
used as a canteen. 'At the moment the owner of the buildings is the Simferopol
organisation Krym, while Zyndzhyrly Madrasah is a Bakhchisaray foundation
which specifically handles the madrasah's restoration. We are not applying for
the land's ownership now since only part of it has actually been given back and
if the current state of affairs is enshrined on paper the acquisition of the rest of
the land may be delayed indefinitely.' Seitveliyev reports that the Orthodox
monastery is in the same situation. 'Only one building has been returned while
all the rest are occupied by the mental institution.' Asked why his community
does not seek redress through the State department for religious affairs,
Seitveliyev responded: 'Legally the madrasah is not regarded as a the cult
complex and that is why they have not applied to the department for religious
affairs for the return of this property.'

Seitveliyev and his colleagues have suggested one way forward. `The problem
is where the patients should be transferred; they cannot be thrown into the
streets. We proposed that the institution be moved to a vacant building of the
former military base which has the required infrastructure, but our proposal has
not been supported.' Have there been any government funds allocated for the
renovation of the buildings? `No, but the territory was bordered with a fence.
Turkey assisted. For these funds we have been able to partly renovate the
buildings, however we do not have sufficient funds to complete the work.'
Asked if they rely on believers' donations, Seitveliyev responded: `Right, but
there are no donations. The believers are in need themselves.' What are the
plans for this complex for the future? `If everything is returned to us, there will
be a training centre, initially a kind of a secular/religious grammar school - a
centre where we could develop our culture, language and traditions, while in
the future we would like to see it as a higher educational establishment.'
Seitveliyev reported that there are two similar religious schools in the Crimea,
in the village of Azovskoye in Dzhankoy region and in Simferopol.

Asked in general about the return of religious property to the Muslims,
Seitveliyev responded: `A great number of buildings have not been returned.
Only on paper, not in reality.' Before the war there were 33 mosques in
Bakhchisaray, now only two are functioning.

ARSEN ALCHIKOV, Mejlis representative in the headquarters of the Crimean
mufti, told Keston in an 18 February interview in the mufti's office that where
there were 52,000 mosques five centuries ago, most had long been destroyed.
`By the time the Crimea was annexed to the Russian Empire there were 1,700
mosques. Since then their number declined considerably. Obviously, the
hardest year for the whole Crimean Tatar nation was their deportation in 1944.
After that most of the mosques were either destroyed completely or used for
different purposes. After the Crimean Tatars were completely rehabilitated in
1988 their mass return started. Approximately 250,000 people have returned to
their historical motherland so far. Thirty mosques have been rebuilt over the
past decade.'

Alchikov believes the severest damage was inflicted on the Crimean Tatars'
spiritual values. `In 1944 there were hundreds of fires set all over the Crimea
which destroyed all the religious and educational books.' He adds that there are
only the two functioning madrasahs, in Simferopol and Azovskoye. But in
general they are having difficulties regaining former madrasah buildings.

Crimean Mufti EMIRALI ABLAYEV confirms that the Ukrainian government
has not allocated any funds for the restoration of religious property. All the
restoration projects were funded by Turkey.

In an interview in his office in Simferopol on 23 February VLADIMIR
MALIBORSKY, the head of the State department for religious affairs in the
Crimea, gave Keston some statistics on the Muslim community. `At the
moment 220 Muslim communities are registered in the Crimea. 47 per cent of
the Muslims are provided with cult buildings. 30 original mosques have been
returned, 18 have been built. More than 50 buildings, for example, former
kindergartens, schools, etc. were given to the regional authorities to be handed
over later to the Muslims communities for cult use.' He too confirmed the
Ukrainian government's failure to finance any reconstruction. `The construction
and reconstruction of the buildings have been sponsored by Turkey or the Arab
countries. The government does not allocate any funds for these purposes.'

Asked about the return of the Bakhchisaray madrasah, he answered that the
buildings had already been given to the Krym foundation and that legally they
belong to it. He added that at the moment there are no applications in his office
for the return of this property and that if there is such a problem it could be
considered by his office only after all the relevant documents had been

Maliborsky pointed out that the process of returning religious property has
been slow in the Crimea. `While 66 per cent of religious property has been
returned to the communities in Ukraine as a whole, only 40 per cent has been
returned in the Crimea.'
In the middle of January the mayor of Bakhchisaray conducted an open
meeting in the town hall about the complex's future, with all the parties
involved, including the foundation, monastery and mental institution, but a
compromise solution which would satisfy all the parties involved has not been
found so far. 'Opinions were listened to, but no actual solution was reached,'
Seitveliyev reports. 'The resolution of this problem is impossible without the
consent of the city authorities, though all the parties are convinced that the
mental institution has to be transferred elsewhere.' (END)

Copyright (c) 2000 Keston Institute. All rights reserved.