KESTON NEWS SERVICE, 11.00 15 November 2000

Crosses have been torn down in three towns in reaction to the Orthodox
diocese's decision to erect crosses all over the peninsula. The dispute hinges on
whether the Orthodox diocese has the right to erect large crosses on public land
which it believes it has the right to do as an expression of religious liberty but
which the local Muslim community considers an affront.

and Muslim leaders have met recently to discuss whether more crosses may be
erected and who will replace those already torn down.


by Anna Vassilyeva, Keston News Service

A simmering dispute between Orthodox and the Crimean Tatars over the
Orthodox diocese's decision to erect crosses all over the peninsula came to a
head on 25 October, when a group of Crimean Tatars destroyed a cross put up
four hours earlier in the village of Morskoye near the town of Sudak on
Crimea's southern coast. On 26 October about 400 people gathered - Orthodox
and Muslims - but there was no bloodshed. The dispute hinges on whether the
Orthodox diocese has the right to erect large crosses on public land which it
believes it has the right to do as an expression of religious liberty but which the
local Muslim community considers an affront (see separate KNS article).

All sides linked the demolition of the Morskoye cross to the decision of the
Spiritual Leadership of the Muslims of the Crimea to suspend membership in
the Crimean Interconfessional Council in response to the policy of the Crimean
diocese of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) to put up
crosses and placards across the peninsula.

The Morskoye executive council gave permission to the Orthodox community
of St John of Kronstadt to place the cross on the hill which dominates the
village on 21 December 1999. However, the nine-metre cross was put up only
at noon on 24 October. Council leader Leonid Kryssov claimed to Keston on 6
November that among those taking part in last December's council meeting that
approved the placing of the cross was one deputy who was also chairman of the
local Mejlis `and at that time he had no objections'.

The local priest, Father Valentin Romushin, told Keston on 6 November that
the group of Crimean Tatars said to have been responsible for demolishing the
cross was apprehended by the police but released by the evening. He added that
villagers held a spontaneous rally that night. Despite a meeting between
representatives from the Russian-speaking population and the Crimean Tatars,
no compromise was

A Crimean Tatar resident of the village told Keston that before the mass
deportation of the Crimean Tatars in 1944 only a few Russian families lived
among the Tatars. Now, Father Romushin reported, there are approximately
250 Crimean Tatars and 1600 Russian-speaking residents.

`We have been deeply hurt,' the chairman of the local Muslim community Alim
Emirsujunov complained to Keston, `we felt as if we were buried'. He
confirmed they had seen the cross being put up, tried to intervene, but `failed to
find the priest'. People were acting `spontaneously', maintained Shaib
Mennanov, the former deputy of the local Mejlis and the local mullah' son.
`Had there been no cross there would have been no problems,' he stressed.

`We have not kept our intention to place the cross a secret,' Father Romushin
told Keston. Preparations lasted for almost a year, a model was made and `it
was well known'. He confirmed that he had been aware of Muslim unhappiness
about the cross, but added that on the eve of the event he had met Archbishop
Lazar (Shvets) and the latter `knew that the cross was going to be placed'. The
solemn consecration was scheduled for a later date.

Menannov declares that the Muslims insist on returning to the `starting point',
while Kryssov asserts that `the cross will be put up again by all means'. Father
Romushin suggests three options: restoration of the cross at the original spot,
placement of an Islamic symbol next to it as a `sign of reconciliation' or
relocation of the cross upon the agreement of the local Tatar community to
build an Orthodox church in the village centre. The last option is opposed by
Tatars claiming the same plot of land for housing.

Father Romushin declared that `they will not sue the offenders if the Tatars do
not object to the church being built where the Orthodox community wants it'.
However, Kryssov declared `they are going to sue the offenders'. But he
admitted that he had not been aware of the declaration of the Muslims' Spiritual

A meeting of those concerned, including the Crimean Muslim leader Mufti
Emir Ali Efendi, Archbishop Lazar, the Crimean authorities and interior
ministry bodies postponed the final decision until the end of November.
According to Kryssov, Vladimir Maliborsky, chairman of the Crimean
Committee for Religious affairs, has expressed indignation. `There are 48
confessions,' he quoted Maliborsky as saying, `and if we were to ask
permission from each of them before doing anything we would get nowhere.'


by Anna Vassilyeva, Keston News Service

In the wake of the demolition of the Morskoye cross (see separate KNS article),
two crosses have also been demolished in the village of Kirovskoye in the
district adjoining Morskoye and at the Inkerman monastery in the Black Sea
port of Sevastopol. No one has claimed responsibility for the demolitions.
However, as the long-running war of crosses intensifies in Crimea, new crosses
have been set up in the suburbs of Feodossya in south east Crimea and in Stary
Krym in the south of the peninsula.

The Morskoye demolition was condemned by Crimean parliamentary speaker
Leonid Hrach, who accused the Crimean Tatars of disrespect for other religions
and the law. Mustafa Jemilev, chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars,
countered by declaring that the cross should not have been erected in the first
place because it was a potential source of conflict. `We condemn the
construction of these crosses as violence and in the same manner we condemn
the destruction of these crosses,' he told a local paper Den. `I don't understand,
however, why the crosses were put up in the first place.'

However, a resolution may be in sight. A source in the Crimean Orthodox
diocese told Keston News Service that Crimean Muslim leader Mufti Emir Ali
Efendi and Archbishop Lazar (Shvets) of Crimea and Simferopol held a three-
hour meeting in early November. They agreed that if Archbishop Lazar stopped
placing crosses then the Mufti would re-erect those which were demolished.
The Mufti reportedly declared that his decision depended on the endorsement
of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis.

Archbishop Lazar announced earlier in the year his plans to erect 1,000 crosses
in Crimea to mark the 2,000th anniversary of Jesus' birth and the thousandth
anniversary of the baptism of Rus. Crimea's top muftis issued a statement
condemning what they regarded as such a one-sided view of the religious life
and history of the Crimean peninsula which they said hurt the religious feelings
of Muslims.

Speaking to Keston on 29 August, Jemilev described Archbishop Lazar's
actions as `aggressive' and `provocative'. He pointed out that the Mejlis had
several times received complaints from local people about the placing of
crosses and threatened to dismantle them unilaterally. `But you understand
what consequences it might lead to,' he had warned. `It seems that all this is
being done deliberately to create conflict.'

Officials of the Crimean diocese - which is under the jurisdiction of the
Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate - rejected such claims.
A statement of 31 July faxed to Keston in Crimea declared that setting up the
crosses did not represent `the imposition of a certain ideology, but restoration
of what had been lost'. The document claimed that the Crimean Orthodox
clergy were tolerant over the construction of mosques and the singing of
muezzins calling Muslims to prayer `though it sounds both late in the evening
and early in the morning, and not only in the places of the Crimean Tatar
settlements'. `Respecting Muslims' feelings, we are entitled to count on respect
of our historical traditions.'

The Crimean Tatars received the support of Patriarch Filaret, the head of the
Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kiev Patriarchate, during a June visit to the
Crimea (see KNS 21 July 2000). In a subsequent interview with Keston in Kiev
on 28 September, Patriarch Filaret explained: `I believe Archbishop Lazar
should not have gone into that conflict with the Muslims. Why? Because
Muslims will never convert to Orthodoxy and Orthodox will never become
Muslims and Archbishop Lazar's actions there are just unreasonable.' He
declared that such actions merely aroused further, avoidable inter-religious
confrontation. `Creating conflicts with the Crimean Tatars does not do any
good. Since they are citizens of Ukraine, we have to live in peace with them.'

Viktor Bondarenko, the head of the State Committee for religious affairs of
Ukraine, has also been brought into the crosses dispute. `This problem is
serious and I think that it must be resolved by leaders of religious
organisations,' he told Keston in Kiev on 28 September. However, he
downplayed the offence the crosses were causing to the Muslim community
and believed it was just an excuse for the Muslims to leave the
Interconfessional Council. `Those six or eight crosses set up in the Crimea are
not the real reason for such a declaration. The Crimea is the cradle of
Christianity for the whole Eastern Slavonic world as can be read about in any
history textbook.' (END)