On Russia and Islam – 3 Aug 14

Islamic Movements in North Ossetia
Dr Mikhail Roshchin

PRAGUE, 10 April 2014, Caucasus Times. This paper is based mostly on my own field-research in North Ossetia. I hope it will give a picture of what is going on in Muslim republics of Russian North Caucasus.

Little is known about the Muslims of North Ossetia outside its borders. However, according to the assessments of experts (in particular, the Ossetian sociologists Timur Dzeranov and Olga Oleinikova), approximately 15 percent of the population of the republic is Muslim.1/ Islam was disseminated in North Ossetia mostly during the 19th century. The central city mosque of Vladikavkaz was built in the early 20th century. The funds for the construction of the mosque were allocated by the Azerbaijani oil magnate Murtuza Mukhtarov, who was married to an Ossetian woman with the last name of Tuganova. The mosque was built in the Egyptian style and it is unrivaled in the North Caucasus in terms of its architectural features.

During the Soviet period, all mosques on the territory of North Ossetia were closed, but during the religious renaissance that arrived during the perestroika years and which continued after the breakup of the USSR, the religious life of Ossetian Muslims experienced a revival. On the one hand, the older generation of Muslim traditionalists 2/ was becoming increasingly active and their most vivid representative was Dzankhot Khekilaev, who died in the summer of 2004. 3/ On the other hand, thousands of young men in North Ossetia began actively following Islam and, in particular, its salafi variety. This, in turn, led to the formation of two parallel Muslim structures in the republic. The Muslim traditionalists founded the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of North Ossetia in 1990, while Muslim youth began to build their own organization, which they called the “Jamaat” and which was officially registered as the Islamic Cultural Center in 1996. The young people elected Ermak Tegaev to be the chairman or Emir of the newly created entity. It should be noted that 40-year-old Tegaev had a criminal past and had spent 12 years behind bars during the Soviet period.

The composition of the Jamaat, according to its Vice Emir and imam of the Vladikavkaz central city mosque, Suleiman Mamiev, who met with me on a number of occasions, included the Muslim communities of Beslan and Elkhotovo. The Ossetian Jamaat closely cooperated with the Jamaat of Kabardino-Balkaria, headed by the charismatic imam Musa Mukozhev, who was popular among Muslim youth and who later became an outlaw and one of the leaders of the armed Islamic opposition in Kabardino-Balkaria. Musa Mukozhev was killed on 10 May,2009 during a special operation of Russian services. Suleiman Mamiev told me that the Muslim community of Vladikavkaz in the early 2000s numbered about 500 members and that a majority of them was ethnic Ossetian. Before the tragedy in Beslan, Vladikavkaz was teeming with many Chechen and even Ingush students, but after the tragic events of September 1-3, 2004, many were expelled from colleges and forced to leave the city.

One of the militants who participated in the September 2004 Beslan school hostage crisis—Vladimir Khodov—was a resident of the North Ossetian village of Elkhotovo. He was an ethnic Russian who converted to Islam and later worked as a cook in the detachment of Chechen militants led by Ruslan Gelaev. Khodov moved to North Ossetia in his childhood in 1979, when his mother, a resident of the Ukrainian town of Berdyansk, married Anatoly Khodov, an Elkhotovo native and an Ossetian. Who Khodov’s real father was is unknown, but he was raised in an Ossetian village by an Ossetian stepfather. The village of Elkhotovo is predominantly Muslim. The local mosque was built in 1902. According to village residents, Anatoly Khodov was a former military man who was respected and whose family was relatively well-off.

The first criminal search for Khodov was announced in 1998, when he was accused of rape. After that, however, he frequently visited Elkhotovo, and it was during this period that he decided to enter one of the madrassas in Dagestan. After graduating from the madrassa, Vladimir Khodov underwent a metamorphosis and joined the radical Muslims, who are colloquially called “Wahhabis” in the North Caucasus. He visited his mother in Elkhotovo regularly and spent many hours at the mosque every day. Since 2002, Khodov has been accused of organizing a February 2004 bombing in Vladikavkaz and a failed bomb attack on a train in the vicinity of Elkhotovo in May 2004. Nonetheless, this had practically no impact on his life in his home village. He lived there, albeit not on a permanent basis, but still quite often. The neighbors maintained normal neighborly relations with him. Then the Beslan tragedy took place, after which the local court ordered his mother to leave the village. 4/
According to the North Ossetian Muslim newspaper Da’ua, on February 2, 2005, officers from the Directorate of the Federal Security Service (FSB) of the Russian Federation for the North Ossetia, in a joint operation with operatives from Interior Ministry’s Directorate for the Fight Against Organized Crime raided the house of the chairman of the Islamic Cultural Center, Ermak Tegaev. According to Da’ua, witnesses saw how law enforcement officers planted explosives in Tegaev’s residence and, based on the alleged discovery of the explosives, he was later arrested. 5/ When Ermak Tegaev was detained, he was found to be in possession of 270 grams of plastic explosive and three electric detonators as well as religious literature and instructional materials, including video- and audio cassettes of extremist nature. 6/

According to Ermak Tegaev’s supporters, and also other Muslims, his detention represented a special action aimed at destroying the Ossetian Jamaat and Islamic Cultural Center. Later, in August of 2005, the Sovietsky District Court of Vladikavkaz sentenced Ermak to two-and-a-half years in a forced labor camp and during the year after that the imam of the Vladikavkaz city mosque, Suleiman Mamiev, immigrated to Turkey together with his mother. After his return from a labor camp Tegaev tried to renew ‘Jamaat’ activity, but very quickly disappeared. Presumably he was killed by services.

In April of 2005, Murat-khaji Tavkazakhov, a resident of the Kartsa suburb of Vladikavkaz, which is predominantly populated by Ingush, became the head of the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of North Ossetia. However, the ethnic Ossetian Tavkazakhov failed to improve Ossetian-Ingush relationships within the Muslim community of Ossetia. His close ties to the Ingush caused constant dissatisfaction among Ossetian Muslims. 7/ In addition, many Muslims suspected him of being corrupt and misappropriating funds pouring in from various Muslim foundations and charities that support Islam in Ossetia.

In February 2008, Ali-khaji Evteyev was elected the new mufti of the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of North Ossetia. 8/ He was born in Moscow in 1974 in an ethnically mixed family: his father was Russian, while his mother was Ossetian (her maiden name was Komaeva) and was originally from a family of Muslims. In early childhood Evteyev moved with his parents to Beslan, where he grew up. At the age of 22, he accepted Islam and in the late 1990s he took active part in the creation of the Ossetian Jamaat. As a matter of fact, he was among those who supported the election of Ermak Tegaev to the position of Emir. Later, in 2000, he became disillusioned with Ermak Tegaev and the Jamaat itself. He decided to travel to Cairo, Egypt, with Kumyks from North Ossetia. In Egypt he entered preparatory courses at the Muslim university of Al-Azhar, where he studied for four years.

In 2004, Evteyev made a small pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia and entered the International University of Medina. However, while studying in the Arab countries, he never lost touch with Ossetia. He visited every summer and in 2004 he became the deputy mufti of North Ossetia. When Ali-khaji Evteyev was elected the mufti, he was studying in Medina, but he took an academic leave of absence and decided to return. When he assumed the position of the head of the Spiritual Directorate of North Ossetia, Evteyev soon discovered that his treasury was empty and that he had to start from scratch. 9/

The new mufti described me his main task as uniting the Muslims of Ossetia. This implied the youth, which was previously oriented towards the Jamaat, and the supporters of traditional Islam, who are mostly representatives of the older generation. Ali-khaji’s views are moderately Salafi what is exceptional among all other muftis of North Caucasus. He is against the armed struggle of Muslims across the North Caucasus because it does not correspond with Sharia law, which must be understood not formally but in its totality. At the same time, a return to the roots, a rethinking of the Muslim worldview based on the experience contained in the Noble Quran and Sunnah, in Evteyev’s view, will help the Muslims of North Ossetia to find their place in the modern world.
Not everyone is enthusiastic about this position. The muftis of neighboring republics in the North Caucasus have accepted Evteyev reluctantly into the ranks of the Coordinating Council of Muslims of North Caucasus. That is directly related to the fact that the rest of the muftis are followers of traditional Islam and, moreover, none of them received such a well-rounded Muslim education as Evteyev. A Congress of North-Ossetian Muslims confirmed in April 2009 Evteyev as Mufti of North Ossetia. Among participants of this congress there were for the first time a few representatives of South Ossetia where local Muslims are planning by now to build their own mosque in Tskhinval, a capital of South Ossetia.10/

Despite the difficulties in recent years, which were primarily related to the unresolved Ossetian-Ingush conflict, the Muslim community of North Ossetia is gradually growing, and this should be mostly attributed to the influx of Ossetian converts.

The Ossetian Jamaat, which functioned legally in the past, now operates in the underground and from time to time informs the public about its existence by carrying out operations. One of the recent occurred on February 13, 2009 when a car belonging to a battalion commander of an armed detachment was blown up near the building housing the dormitory of the Military Prosecutor’s Office in Vladikavkaz. 11/ In the end of 2007 Caucasus Emirate even declared that North Ossetia becoming a vilaiyat Iriston, but on May,11, 2009 this vilaiyat was suppressed and included into Ingush vilaiyat 12/, presumably because Ingush involvement into the movement of radical salafi Islam becoming gradually predominant in North Caucasus.

During last time there is growing tension between Ossetian authorities and Muslims. Ali Evteyev told me that the authorities are not happy with Muslim revival in Ossetia. In autumn 2010 Evteyev was obliged to leave Russia and returned to Medina to fulfill his Muslim education. Later on December, 26, 2012 Ibrahim Dudarov, the imam of Central Mosque of Vladikavkaz, was killed under strange circumstances. He was alone Muslim Ossetian leader who got a regular higher religious education in Muslim University (Al-Jamia al-Islamia) of Medina.


1/ http://www.krotov.info/libr_min/17_r/osch/in.htm
2/Traditional Islam in North Caucasus including North Ossetia represents Sunni Islam with a big impact of local traditions (adat).
3/ http://www.religare.ru/print14426.htm
4/ Yury Kvyatkovsky.’ The history of the village of Elkhotovo’.
5/ http://www.al-azan.ru/site_news.php
6/ http://www.memo.ru/hr/hotpoints/caucas1/msg/2005/08/m49747.htm
7/ http://www.ingushetia.ru/m-news/archives/003572.shtml
8/ http://www.islamnasledie.ru/interviews.php?id=920
9/ Based on my personal interviews with Ali-khaji Evteyev in November 2008 and interviews with people close to him.
10/These details were kindly given me in the end of December 2009 by Elbrus Satsaev, a member of Board of Spiritual Administration for Muslims of North Ossetia.
11/ http://www.rosbalt.ru/2009/02/13/618023.html
12/ http://generalvekalat.org/content/view/37/30/



Moscow’s Orthodox Churches Deserted While Streets are Filled with Muslims
Paul Goble
The Interpreter | July 30, 2014

Staunton, July 30 – This year, the Russian Orthodox ‘Day of the Baptism of Rus’ coincided with the Muslim holiday of Uraza Bayram [The Sugar Feast, when Muslims traditionally break the fast – The Interpreter]. On Monday, in what many will see as symbolic, Moscow’s churches, with the exception of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, were largely empty, while the streets around the capital’s five mosques were filled with Muslims.

In a commentary for the religious affairs site, Portal-Credo.ru, Feliks Shvedovsky says that this picture “would be funny if it were not so sad” and if it were not the case that this is “nothing new but on the contrary typical” of the situation in the Russian capital, all the talk about the return of Orthodoxy notwithstanding.

The Union of Muftis of Russia has been emboldened by this to renew its request that the Moscow authorities reverse themselves and allow the construction of at least one mosque in each of the ten administrative divisions of the city, something Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has said he will not do because of the reaction of Muscovites.

At the same time, of course, Sobyanin has gone along with the Russian Orthodox Church’s plans to build 200 new churches in the Russian capital, even though there have been at least as many protests about what such construction projects will do to parks, neighborhoods and traffic patterns as there have been about the possible building of mosques.

But, feeling themselves increasingly numerous and thus strong, Shvedovsky says, many Muslims in Moscow are now joking at least among themselves about “the fate of numerous Orthodox churches in Constantinople, which is now called Istanbul,” after the Muslims took over that city and made it the capital of the caliphate.

Unfortunately, the Russian religious commentator says, Moscow officials are nonetheless unlikely to accede to the Muslim requests. They rather adopt what he calls “a ‘Crimean’ scenario,” in which, instead of optimizing what already exists, “the authorities will unite new territories under the control of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.”

Moreover, they will invest ever greater funds “into propaganda of ‘Orthodox-patriotic values’ which have nothing in common with faith and spiritual life” and which does not oppose “the further demonization of the image of Islam at the day to day level.” This reflects a judgment by those far above Sobyanin’s pay grade that can re-ignite Islamophobia after Ukraine.

Within the Russian Orthodox Church, one might have expected believers and hierarchs to be most concerned by the passing of the Metropolitan Vladimir on July 5, as Vladimir had been the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate. But instead, it appears, most were upset that Patriarch Kirill hadn’t been able to travel to Kiev for this anniversary.

As a result, Shvedovsky says, the center for the celebration of the anniversary of the Baptism of Rus had to take place in Moscow where “it immediately became obvious that this is already almost a Muslim city and that the chimeras of ‘the Russian world’ haven’t existed since Crimea was taken from fraternal Christians.”

“Nature” in this, as in all things “abhors a vacuum,” the commentator says, “and in place of a transparent chimera” of the Russian Orthodoxy that is offered by the Moscow Patriarchate, it came in the shape of a vital and energetic Moscow Muslim community which includes the immigrant workers. That is a contrast few in the Russian government or the Patriarchate can be comfortable with.


Islamic Finance Budding Slowly in Russia

By Alexey Eremenko
The Moscow Times | Jun. 29 2014

The Qolşärif Mosque in Kazan, the republic of Tatarstan

There are at least 10 million Muslims in Russia, but only four public organizations where they can invest and borrow in compliance with the Quran.

Islamic finance is a fast-growing field worldwide, and proponents say it offers both ethical and practical benefits to the faithful and non-Muslims alike. Russia, however, lags behind in the industry, analysts and Russian Islamic financiers interviewed by The Moscow Times agreed.

Russian Muslims are slow to change their financial habits, while nonbelievers are plagued by a deep-rooted distrust of Islam — as are, to some extent, the financial authorities, who are in no hurry to adapt economic legislation to facilitate Islamic banking, analysts said.

"The religious renaissance that spans all creeds in Russia does not mean people rush out to seek services that comply with their religion," said Andrei Juravliov, a leading expert on Islamic finance who teaches at Moscow State University.

Still, an Islamic finance industry has been budding over the past decade in Russia, and analysts and players show cautious optimism about its prospects.

"The niche is small, but the demand is better than, say, seven years ago," said Rashid Nizameyev, the head of finance house Amal, which is one of those four venues to provide Islamic banking services.

"There are more believers now … though only a fraction try to actually live by their religion’s customs," said Nizameyev, whose organization is based in Russia’s predominantly Muslim republic of Tatarstan.

No Money From Money

The core tenet of Islamic banking is a ban on riba, or interest, and loaning money for profit. The ban comes straight from the Prophet Muhammad, and is spelled out in the Quran.

On the face of it, such a ban should eliminate any possibility of sharia-compliant banking — but this is not actually the case.

The ban on "riba" prohibits making money from money. So instead, Islamic banks earn profits by co-investing in their clients’ goods and businesses (see table for examples.)


Conventional Banking

Islamic Banking


Consumer Credit / Murabahah

Bank loans money to the client to buy goods and services

Bank buys goods / services for the client, resells it to them

The bank offers: money vs. goods / services

Joint Venturing / Musharakah

Bank loans money to the company, earns money through interest

Bank (co-)invests in a company, earns a portion of any profits

Bank gets money: regardless of company’s performance vs. only if the company turns a profit


Islamic banks are also banned from financial speculation of any kind — where, again, money is made from money — as well as from investing in haram, or sinful, products, such as alcohol, pork and gambling.

The meticulously worded practices have seen a fair share of criticism from those who say they are just a piously worded cover-up for conventional banking.

This may be true in some cases, conceded Nizameyev of Amal.

But in general, true Islamic banking is more client-oriented: banks are supposed to go easy on borrowers in case of emergencies that render clients unable to pay, even up to forgiving their debts, said Juravliov of Moscow State University.

Moral vs. Financial Merit

The ethical nature of Islamic banking operations is one unquestionable — if nonmonetary — advantage of this practice, said Rinat Gabbasov, director of the Russian Center of Islamic Economics and Finance.

It can also at times prove an obstacle. Amal once had to refuse a prospective client who worked in a private security firm that guarded a distillery, said Nizameyev.

"Security services are good in and of themselves — but sadly, alcohol production is not," he said.

The financial merit of the Islamic system is a more complicated issue. Gabbasov said Islamic banking offers better interest rates, and Nizameyev claimed that Amal’s investment portfolio had brought in returns of almost 21 percent in 2013, compared to the market average of 15 percent.

However, Juravliov of Moscow State University said that in general, Islamic banking operations are less profitable than conventional banking, but banks can make up for that by devoting a bigger share of the profits to dividends.

On the other hand, Islamic banking is more client-friendly, he said.

Thanks to its ban on financial speculations, interest in Islamic banking has even peaked worldwide since the last recession — though not necessarily in Russia.

Recent Invention

Nizameyev of Amal embraced finance first and Islam second.

Though always a believer, he was often negligent about practicing his faith until a routine class trip to a mosque as part of a religious studies class at the Kazan State Finance and Economics Institute in Tatarstan changed his ways, he said.

"I just felt something there, on a physical level," the 33-year-old said.

He spent several years in conventional financial organizations before founding Amal, which offers halal financial services, in 2011.

He said that he trained himself in Islamic finance through self-study, though several colleges in Russia now offer courses on the subject.

Islamic finance is generally a recent invention, first developed in the 1960s. It has since grown to an industry with $1.3 trillion in assets as of 2012, according to last year’s Islamic Finance Development Report based on data by Thomson Reuters.

Among the powerhouses of Islamic banking are Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Iran, although banks in many Western countries, including Britain and the United States, also offer halal-friendly banking services.

The first bank to offer Islamic financial services in Russia, Badr-Forte, folded in 2006. The industry has been gradually sprouting ever since and lately seems to be making headway.

Several non-Islamic Russian banks have attracted halal investment in recent years, including Ak-Bars Bank in Tatarstan, which brought in a total of $160 million in two investment deals in 2012 and 2013.

But despite these signs of growth, the country’s pool of officially registered Islamic financial institutions remains limited to two organizations in Tatarstan and two in the republic of Dagestan in the North Caucasus, said Gabbasov of the Russian Center of Islamic Economics and Finance.

Analysts agreed that the Islamic finance market is at an "embryonic stage" in Russia. Juravliov estimated the total volume of assets managed by Russian halal financial institutions at $10 million, a blip on the radar for the country’s banking system, whose total assets stood at 57.4 trillion rubles ($1.7 trillion) in 2013.

Nizameyev declined to disclose the size of Amal’s assets.

Practice What You Preach

The prospects for growth may seem glorious, given the size of Russia’s Muslim population. Muslims were estimated to make up 7 percent of the populace, or about 10 million people, by independent pollster Levada Center in 2013. In 1991, that figure was just 1.5 million.

However, many new believers are slow to change their practical habits, Juravliov said.

"Religion is one thing for them, and everyday life is another," he said.

Russian regulations are also poorly suited to Islamic banking: Russian banks are supposed to refrain from trade operations, in which they would technically engage when providing many Islamic banking services.

"We do not expect the regulations to change any time soon," Nizameyev said with a tinge of fatalism. His company circumvents the problem by registering as a "finance house," not a bank.

Another problem is widespread distrust of Islam, a result of the 15 years of violent turmoil in the largely Muslim North Caucasus, analysts said. Many officials share this antipathy, which is why they have little desire to modify Russian legislation for the industry.

The situation is better in the Muslim heartlands: for example, authorities in Tatarstan are interested in supporting Islamic finance and have hosted numerous conferences on the matter, said Linar Yakupov, head of the republic’s Investment Development Agency.

However, Nizameyev said that this support has yet to translate into any kind of financial backing or tax breaks.

The industry still has plenty of room to grow — Thomson Reuters forecasts that Islamic banking assets in Russia will reach up to $10 billion by 2018, Gabbasov said.

The potential client base includes both Muslims and nonbelievers, analysts said — though some limitations are unavoidable. Amal regularly turns down deals worth tens of millions of rubles on ethical grounds, said Nizameyev.

And some client bases are yet to be evaluated for sharia compliance: for instance, Nizameyev conceded that Amal has no policy on gay clients.

"I am honestly not sure whether we would have a gay person for a client. It has never happened before and we would have to consult our sharia analysts," he said.



Local cleric found dead in Russia’s Dagestan

Text of report by Russian internet news agency Regnum, specializing in regional reporting

16 May: The imam of Stalskoye village in Kizilyurtovskiy District of Dagestan, Omaraskhab Alibekov, who was kidnapped on 15 May, has been found dead, the imam’s relative who lives in the village, Magomed Gadzhiyev, told a REGNUM on 16 May.

According to Gadzhiyev, the imam went to Kizilyurt for business. However, after a while, relatives could not get through to him. "Early in the morning, a burnt car with a dead body inside was found in Buynakskiy District. We could hardly identify him," Magomed Gadzhiyev said.

There have been no reports from the law enforcement agencies about the incident yet. The investigations department of the Investigations Committee of the Russian Federation did not comment on the incident either.

There have been several murders of religious figures in Dagestan. Magomed Zakaryayev, 32-year-old teacher of a religious school, was killed on 10 April  2014 in the village Nechayevka in Kizilyurtovskiy District.

On 3 August 2013, imam Ilyas Ilyasov was killed in Makhachkala. Ismayil Gadzhiyev, the imam of a mosque in Uchkent village of Kumtorkalinskiy District was killed in October 2013. The imam of a local mosque, Gadzhi Aliyev, was murdered in Khadzhalmakhi village of Levashinskiy District in November 2013.

Source: Regnum news agency, Moscow, in Russian 1235 gmt 16 May 14

Slain Dagestani cleric said to be insurgency leader’s nephew

A village cleric who has been found dead in the southern Russian region of Dagestan is a nephew of the North Caucasus insurgency leader, Abu Mukhammad, Kavkazskiy Uzel website quoted the local police as saying. The man’s relatives said that the day before he was found dead the cleric had been detained by the police. The following is the text of report by Russian Kavkazskiy Uzel website, specializing in news from the Caucasus, on 16 May; subheadings have been inserted editorially:

16 May: Omaraskhab Alibegov [mentioned in previous reports as Alibekov], an imam of Stalskoye village in Dagestan’s Kizilyurtovskiy District who was found dead [on 16 May], was presumably abducted by law-enforcers on 14 May, one of the imam’s relatives has said.

The dead man was identified by the relatives as Omaraskhab Alibegov who was a nephew of the new leader of [self-proclaimed] Caucasus Emirate, Abu Mukhammad (Aliaskhab Kebekov), a source within the Interior Ministry said. The information has not yet been confirmed officially.

On 16 May, the dead body was found in a burnt car in Dagestan’s Buynakskiy District. Local residents said the dead man was the imam of a mosque in Stalskoye village of Kizilyurtovskiy District.

The relatives identified Omaraskhab Alibegov, born in 1974, a source within the Kizilyurtovskiy District police department told Kavkazskiy Uzel. The dead man is a native of Teletl village of Shamilskiy District, and also a relative of the new leader of the Caucasus Emirate, Aliaskhab Kebekov (Abu Mukhammad), the source said.

Alibegov’s relatives did not appealed to the district police department about his abduction, the source said.

"After he (Omaraskhab Alibegov) went missing, his relatives were worried and started searching for him. On 15 May, we learnt through unofficial channels that he had been detained," a relative of the deceased said.

His relatives learnt that he had been held at a police department. "A high-ranking police official said that he would soon be set free and that relatives should not make a big deal out of this. However, on the night of 15 May he was found dead in his car," the man said.

His relatives assume that "the imam was killed and then blown up in order to cover traces of torture," he noted.

According to local resident, the situation is tense in Stalskoye village due to religious disagreements there. Conflicts occur periodically between representatives of Sufism and Salafism. The slain imam was a Salafi, local residents said.

Imam enjoyed locals’ support

Meanwhile, the chairman of the association of lawyers Traditsiya, Ziyautdin Uvaysov, said that he had many times visited Stalskoye village where Alibegov was the imam of local main mosque. The lawyer said that Alibegov enjoyed support of the locals.

"After a number of reports in the mass media about the alleged tense situation in Stalskoye in 2012, I together with Kavkazskiy Uzel correspondent Akhmednabi Akhemdnabiyev visited the village to verify the information and to communicate with local residents. Natives of many Dagestani regions live in that village. Despite of this, most of the villagers supported the imam," Ziyautdin Uvaysov told Kavkazskiy Uzel.

"Only a small group of people who complained to various agencies, trying to get the imam replaced. This was back in 2012. Later, the conflict was resolved. I can tell it again – that majority of the villagers supported Alibegov. The mosque was filled with visitors every Friday. The mosque was crowded on Fridays," Uvaysov said.

The Interior Ministry and the Investigations Committee have not officially confirmed the report about Alibegov’s detention on 14 May and his having been identified by his relatives.

At least two people were killed in Stalskoye this year [2014].

On the evening of 26 April, the 60-year-old farmer, Gadzhi Gasanguseynov, left a dairy market in the village, and did not reach home. The following day, his corpse with bullet wounds on it was found inside a car.

On 21 January, law-enforcers carried out a special operation in the village to search for members of illegal armed formations. On the same day, Eldar Magatov, born in 1984, who according to law-enforcers had been the leader of Babayurtovskaya group, was killed in a shoot-out.

Source: Kavkaz-uzel.ru website, Moscow, in Russian 2354 gmt 16 May 14


Ethnic Russians protest construction of a mosque in Stavropol region

Eurasia Daily Monitor
June 18, 2014 — Volume 11, Issue 110

Mosque Construction in Stavropol Sparks Debate Over Role of Islam in Region

On June 8, residents of the village of Vinsady in Stavropol region’s Predgorny district rallied against government plans to allow the construction of a mosque. Six hundred people joined the protest against the authorities’ decision, but went home after a local official reassured them that public hearings would be held on the issue. Stavropol regional authorities allotted a piece of land to the Muslim community for the mosque’s construction after a court in Pyatigorsk ordered the demolition of the existing mosque in the city. The Muslim leader in Stavropol, Muhammad Rakhimov, appealed to President Vladimir Putin, saying that one-third of Pyatigorsk’s population was Muslim and they needed their mosque. Now, having encountered stiff opposition from the locals, Rakhimov said that Muslims would retract their plans to build a mosque in the village if it produced such a conflict (Kavkazsky Uzel, June 10).

The head of the village’s administration, Sergei Gorban, explained the decision to protest the plans to build the mosque by the absence of Muslims in the village, which has a population of 9,500 and is located 10 kilometers from Pyatigorsk (Kavkazskaya Politika, June 12).

Xenophobic attitudes toward Muslims and, in general, toward North Caucasians have been widespread among ethnic Russians in Stavropol region. The region is the only territory in the North Caucasian Federal District that has a predominantly ethnic-Russian population. However, given its proximity to the North Caucasian republics, it has been experiencing a large influx of ethnically non-Russian North Caucasians, raising fears among ethnic Russians that they might eventually become a minority. The eastern part of Stavropol region has experienced a large influx of Dagestanis and Chechens, while ethnic Russians have been on the move, seeking better prospects elsewhere in Stavropol region or in other parts of Russia. The southern part of Stavropol region, known as Kavkazskie Mineralnye Vody or KavMinVody, has been known as a resort hub with substantial employment opportunities. It has traditionally been a desirable destination for ethnic Circassians, Karachays and other North Caucasians. In fact, Circassians and Turkic peoples historically owned this land prior to the Russian conquest in the 19th century, but they now have to defend their civil right to free movement. The acting governor of Stavropol region, Vladimir Vladimirov, who is facing elections in September 2014, spoke against allowing free migration into the region of KavMinVody to avoid putting excessive pressure on its infrastructure and employment market (Yuga, May 6).

Pursuing the agenda of ethnic-Russian nationalists in Stavropol region, the governor rejected plans for expanding government construction programs in KavMinVody. An official from the Russian Federal Migration Service (FMS), Vladimir Kirichenko, spoke against the governor’s proposal. “I understand this: that even the governor of a region has no right to break the constitution. The constitution guarantees our rights. We can live where we want and move in unlimited numbers” (Yuga, June 9).

Against the backdrop of Russia’s gamble in Ukraine, another type of Russian internationalism has sprung to life. The new ideological line emphasizes the external enemy’s strength and calls for ethnic Russians and non-Russians to close ranks against it. While there is nothing new in this approach, it is interesting that some forces in Russia see the Russian-Ukrainian crisis as an opportunity for increasing the unity of Russian citizens. The political party National Security of Russia unexpectedly spoke in defense of building the mosque in Pyatigorsk, something that has not happened in many years in the region. The leader of the party, Alexander Fedulov, told the Kavkazskaya Politika website that Western security services were pitting Russian Orthodox against Muslims and called on Christians and Muslims to unite to defend Russia. Fedulov praised Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov for helping to protect Russians in Crimea. Further, North Caucasians are helping Russia fight the “junta” in eastern Ukraine, Fedulov said, adding that Russians should therefore show greater understanding for their Muslim fellow citizens (Kavkazskaya Politika, June 13).

The latest spin in Russian domestic policies reflects the Russian-Ukrainian crisis, in which ethnic Ukrainians have all of a sudden turned into “enemies” of Russia. The Russian government may hope this conflict will provide a firm ideological foundation for the new Russian state, with ethnic-Russian nationalism uniting with other ethnic nationalisms to form some sort of civil nationalism. Trying to build a national identity on a common foreign enemy is not uncommon. However, in Russia’s case, such a move will encounter a number of difficulties, the primary one being that Russia is not under attack and hardly expects to be attacked. Moreover, apart from declarations about the unity of all Russian citizens, there has been little practical action. The very fact that predominantly ethnic-Russian Stavropol region is holding gubernatorial elections in September, while Moscow has deprived the North Caucasian republics of the chance to hold popular gubernatorial elections, indicates that treating Russia’s ethnic Russian and ethnic non-Russian regions differently is deeply ingrained in the government’s thinking.

–Valery Dzutsev

Russia’s Crimea grab may strengthen Tatarstan’s position

Russian Activists Complain About the Tatarization of Tatarstan
Eurasia Daily Monitor
May 21, 2014 — Volume 11, Issue 95

The World Forum of Tatar Youth recently staged a game called “Tatar Watch” in Kazan, the capital of the Russian Middle Volga republic of Tatarstan. The “Tatar patrols,” as they called themselves, went around the city in groups of seven people, wearing T-shirts that said in Tatar “I speak Tatar,” and documented restaurants that were in breach of the republican law on state languages. The Tatar youth activists also took photographs of signboards in Tatar that contained errors. Also, the activists compiled a list of Tatar-friendly public eateries for those who would like to spend their time and money there (http://www.ng.ru/regions/2014-04-25/3_kartblansh.html).

According to Tatarstan’s laws, both Russian and Tatar are the official languages of the republic, but many public offices prefer to use only Russian. Tatarstan is known for various initiatives by Tatar activists to boost their traditions and language. The republic is relatively well positioned to do so, since ethnic Tatars comprise a sizeable minority in the Russian Federation and Tatarstan has enjoyed a windfall of revenues from its booming oil business. Tatarstan’s efforts to improve the state of the Tatar language, however, have evoked significant resentment among ethnic Russians, whose activists denigrate the Tatar language, dismiss its popularity even among ethnic Tatars themselves and vehemently oppose what they see as the forcible imposition of Tatar culture not only on ethnic Russians, but also on the Russified Tatars.

According to the Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper’s correspondent in Kazan, Gleb Postnov, who is known for his critical attitude toward the Tatars, the fact that Tatar activists are promoting the Tatar language indicates that interest for the language is dying. Many Tatar children attend Sunday schools organized by the Russian Orthodox Church in Kazan, he wrote. Moreover, Postnov alleged that ethnic Tatars, or at least people with Tatar names, are sometimes found among Russian nationalists in Kazan (http://www.ng.ru/regions/2014-04-25/3_kartblansh.html).

However, if the Tatar nation and Tatar language are in such a deplorable state, it is not exactly clear why a Russian reporter in Kazan is so indignant about Tatar activists’ efforts to popularize their culture.

Ethnic Russians in Tatarstan are increasingly voicing concern over what they regard as the Tatarization and Islamization of Tatarstan. According to the chairman of the Society of the Russian Culture of Tatarstan, Mikhail Shcheglov, there are only 225 churches in Tatarstan and a whopping 1,524 mosques. In Kazan, there are 30 churches and 60 mosques, and 11 mosques and only 1 church are under construction in the city, while Shcheglov estimates that there are more Christian Orthodox residents than Muslim residents in the republic’s capital. Several historical churches in the republic are still used as museums, the Russian activist complained.

Russian activists say that Christian Tatars, also known as Kryashen Tatars, are being assimilated by the majority Muslim Tatar community. The Russian Orthodox Church is ignoring the plight of the Kryashen Tatars, according to their leader, Arkady Fokin, who quoted a Russian Orthodox priest in the republic as saying: “Why should we pay attention to you, you soon will cease to exist anyway” (www.regnum.ru/news/fd-volga/tatarstan/1802296.html). Again it is unclear why the Tatarization of Christian Tatars is worse than their Russification.

Sensing the rise of Tatar identity in Tatarstan, Moscow is employing the same tools there that it has used in the North Caucasus, such as the Russian Orthodox Church and Cossacks. However, both those institutions are also in profound crisis. The Russian Orthodox Church in Tatarstan was shaken by sex scandals, while Cossacks in the republic are a marginal force with little support from the population. One Cossack leader, Alexei Loginov, complained that the republican administration simply dismissed his application for registration on the pretext that “there have been no Cossacks here and will not be in the future.” The notorious Russian Orthodox cleric Vsevolod Chaplin visited Tatarstan in May, but reportedly avoided meeting Russian activists in the republic because he was under constant observation of the Tatarstani president’s administration and the official Russian Orthodox Church clergy in the republic. Chaplin promised to return to Tatarstan and meet with Russian activists (www.regnum.ru/news/fd-volga/tatarstan/1802296.html).

Meanwhile, with Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March, Tatarstan acquired more leverage against Moscow: its ethnic kin who reside on the peninsula. Even though the Crimean Tatars are not very numerous, they are politically active and live in a politically highly salient region. Moscow is trying to use Tatarstan and its leadership to mollify the Crimean Tatars. On May 16, a Tatarstani official, Elmira Ablyalimova, announced the republic had allotted nearly $200,000 for rebuilding a museum complex in Bakhchisarai in Crimea (www.regnum.ru/news/fd-volga/tatarstan/1802841.html).

Officials from Tatarstan frequently visit Crimea, and Crimean officials regularly travel to Tatarstan. On May 13, the Crimean State Council head Vladimir Konstantinov and Crimea’s First Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Temirgaliev visited Kazan. Konstantinov alleged that the Crimean Tatars were hostile to Crimea’s administration because they were being financed by Kyiv—which, of course, he said was in turn financed by the West. Konstantinov said relations between the Crimean authorities and Crimean Tatars would improve in the wake of Russia’s annexation of the peninsula (www.regnum.ru/news/fd-volga/tatarstan/1801214.html).

However, on May 16, the pro-Russian head of Crimea’s administration, Sergei Aksyonov, issued a decree prohibiting any public demonstrations until June, while the Crimean Tatars were planning a demonstration commemorating the 70th anniversary the group’s deportation by Joseph Stalin’s government (http://www.gazeta.ru/politics/2014/05/17_a_6037401.shtml).

The authorities ultimately allowed the commemoration to take place, but attempted to play down the importance of the date for the Crimean Tatars, dropping their name from the announcement and restricting the emblems and slogans they could use (http://www.newsru.com/russia/13may2014/crimtatar.html).

Crimea’s administration and Crimean Tatar activists are clearly on a collision course over this issue, and hardly anyone can blame that on the authorities in Kyiv or the West.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea plays into the hands of Tatarstan’s elites and activists because it increases their importance and leverage on the Russian authorities. Russian activists who expect Moscow will eventually restore their imperial status in Tatarstan are likely to remain disappointed for a long time given that, apart from everything else, Moscow now needs Tatarstan’s help in Crimea.

–Valery Dzutsev

Religion in Russia: Politicization and Disengagement

Alexey Malashenko
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Commentary, September 3, 2012

This past summer in Russia has been marked by flare-ups of religious tension. These tensions reflect conflict within, rather than between, the major religions in Russia—Russian Orthodoxy and Islam. The Pussy Riot trial, the attempted assassination of Tatarstan’s mufti Ildus Faizov, the murder of Tatarstan’s most prominent Islamic traditionalist Valiulla Yakupov, and the death of Dagestan’s most influential Islamic leader, sheik Said Afandi al-Chirkawi, all reflect the general state of both religions. This state can be briefly characterized by two words: politicization and disengagement.

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Russia’s first Islamic TV hopes to get foreign grants

The first public Islamic TV channel in Russia, Al-RTV, which is expected to start broadcasting in mid-August, will primarily target the young audience, a member of the public and editorial board of the channel and first deputy chairman of the Spiritual Board of Muslims of the European part of Russia Damir Mukhetdinov told RIA Novosti on 25 July.

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Analysis: Fight over Islam, money and power brings violence to Volga

By Thomas Grove
KAZAN, Russia | Fri Jul 27, 2012 3:33am EDT

(Reuters) – Not far from glitzy boulevards where an oil boom has sent up stadiums and high-rises overlooking the Volga River, women in headscarves wander through Islamic bookstores selling pamphlets on the institution of sharia in Russia.

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Three suspected murderers of Muslim figure Mekhtiyev detained in Moscow

2012-07-31 10:05:00

Moscow, July 31, Interfax – The investigation has detained three accomplices in the murder of Muslim religious figure Metin Mekhtiyev in the center of Moscow last April, spokesman for the Moscow division of the Investigative Committee of Russia Viktoria Tsyplenkova has said.

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Kremlin uses Islam in Chechnya to counter tarnished image in the Muslim world

Islam in Chechnya Becomes Kremlin Propaganda Tool to Rebuild Image in Muslim World
Publication: North Caucasus Analysis Volume: 13 Issue: 14
July 12, 2012

By: Mairbek Vatchagaev

As the Chechen Republic has been gradually rebuilt following the destruction of two wars, the Islamization of the region has become increasingly evident. While the federal center is not involved in Islamizing Chechnya, it has taken no steps to prevent it.

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