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In Quiet Russian Republic, Shock And Paranoia Follow Attack On Muslim Leader

Article illustrative image Partner logo In Tatarstan, more than half the population is Muslim (Adam Jones)

KAZAN - Nobody has the exact numbers. The arrests are only talked about when the suspect is someone already well-known in the region. People like Artyom Kalashov, a Russian weightlifting champion, who they first interrogated, then tried to arrest without actually accusing him of the crime. The court blocked the arrest. Then they arrested the lead singer of a well-known local band.

At 2 a.m. in the streets of Kazan police stuck a gun in Danis Safargali�s back, and �summoned� him to the police station. Safargali, the leader of an activist organization called The Golden Horde, says he has never gotten involved in religious questions, but he was still taken to the police station that specializes in fighting religious extremism and interrogated for nine hours. Police repeated their questions again and again, trying to force Safargali to take a lie detector test. Safargali was released only after his lawyer got involved - every procedure in the book was violated, and police could not accuse Safargali of anything.

The city of Kazan, located 800 kilometers due east of Moscow, has been struggling to deal with both the psychological and security fallout of the nearly simultaneous attacks on the lives of the Mufti of Tatarstan, the region�s Islamic leader, and his deputy.  Ildus Faizov, the Mufti, was injured when his car exploded from three bombs on July 19, a day before the beginning of Ramadan. His deputy, Valiulla Yakupov, had been shot dead at home earlier that day. Kazan is the capital of Russia�s Republic of Tatarstan, where around 55 percent of the population is Muslim. But unlike the Caucasus, Kazan and Tatarstan have never struggled with violent religious extremism. 

On Kazan�s central pedestrian street, activists held signs saying: �We won�t allow a fight between the Russian and Tatar people� and �Hands off of Kazan.�

Azat Akhunov, professor of regional and Islamic studies in Kazan, says the double terrorist attack shocked many people in Tatarstan. �The shock is not only because of the crime, which is horrible in and of itself, but from the knowledge that it happened here, in Kazan. There are none of the other conditions in Kazan that usually lead to this kind of thing. Tatars don�t have that kind of mentality, to fight with violence. The overwhelming majority of Muslims in Tatarstan are good, well-adjusted people.

Valiulla Yakupov, in our conversations, often stressed how in Kazan he could travel freely and didn�t have to worry about his safety every minute, like he would have had to in the Caucasus.

Many versions

Akhunov is convinced: �The situation will not get out of control, in spite of the many attempts to unravel it. Everything was and will be calm here.� You want to believe it. But for the moment, Kazan is brimming with rumors. Depending on people�s beliefs and sympathies, some think there are �signs of the Wahhabis,� a reference to fundamentalist Sunni Muslims, while others see �the hand of secret police.� Others cite even more exotic versions of events, like a foreign power trying to destabilize all of Russia by spreading disorder in Tatarstan. Hillary Clinton has promised that Russia and China would pay for their position on Syria - maybe it�s time to pay the tab? Given that people in Tatarstan are convinced that their republic is the �place where Russia unites and falls apart,� the price is steep.

It�s popular among the people to talk about an �economic undercurrent� to the terrorist acts. It�s no secret that there was serious conflict between the region�s spiritual leadership and the travel agency Idel Hajj, because of quotas on planned pilgrimmages to Mecca. The agency organized all-inclusive trips for thousands of people, each one costing more than $3,000. And if you add to that various religious business, such as certifications and licenses for Halal products, there is serious money to be fought over.

The �money-motive� version seems to be one of the most commonly accepted. But can it all be attributed to financial maneuvering? For many people in Kazan, it�s obvious. Wherever there is Arab money, there is a corresponding amount of Saudi ideology. That means there are Salafists, who liked Tatarstan�s previous Mufti much more than Faizov.

Then there is the �alternative version,� that has been advanced by some of Mufti Faizov�s enemies. In this version, the attempt on Faizov�s life was a sort of demonstration, and the Mufti himself, who has been genuinely fighting with the Salafists regarding the traditions of Islam, is nothing more than a puppet. According to this conspiracy theory, the attack on Faizov�s life was the first step in an elaborate scheme to destabilize Tatarstan, revoke its privileged status as a republic and give the region�s natural resources to outsiders. The subtext of this version is also clear: the enemies are from outside, not from within.

To outside observers, this kind of conspiracy scheme might seem outrageous. But in Tatarstan, there are more and more voices expressing their outrage that the region sends $12.4 billion to the federal government every year and only gets around 10 percent of it back in federal subsidies. People complain of open attacks on the Tatar language in schools, of attempts to call the Muslim Tatars �primarily Orthodox Christian� and the region�s lack of higher education. They worry that the federal government is trying to �russify� Tatars, so that nobody will prevent seizure of the Republic�s property. These are the kind of people who believe in complex conspiracy theories.

Who is guilty?

Trying to fight these kinds of feelings with repression will only aggravate the situation. Radical Islam is still very weak in the region, but if the wrong sorts of measures are taken, it will start to grow exponentially, following the examples of Dagestan and Inigushetia.

It is still not clear where to look for the criminals behind the double terrorist attack. Nobody has claimed responsibility for it. The �economic version� gives a motive for the attack on the Mufti, but fails to explain the killing of his deputy. Yakupov, the deputy, handled neither financial questions nor had anything to do with pilgrimages. The President of Tatarstan, Rustam Minnikhanov, said in a television interview: � Our spiritual leaders followed traditional Islam. It is clear that there are other currents out there, and what has happened is a wake-up call. Our position should be even firmer. Traditional Islam would never allow this kind of thing, especially because the attack was on people who themselves were in the service of Islam.�

He made transparent allusions to the �Wahhabi version,� without making any direct accusation.

There are currently five people being held in connection with the attacks on Faizov and Yakupov, including the head of the Idel Hajj tour operator. But in an additional wrinkle, one of Faizov�s primary ideological opponents, Ramil Yunusov, abruptly disappeared from Kazan around the time of the attacks. 

Faizov, who suffered two broken legs and other injuries when his car was blown up, has called for dialogue and offered forgiveness for his attackers in his public speeches since the attacks. He also has asked law enforcement to carry out their investigation without infringing on the rights of the citizens of Kazan.

Read the original article in Russian

Photo - Adam Jones

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About this article source Website: http://www.kommersant.com/about.asp

Kommersant ("The Businessman") was founded in 1989 as the first business newspaper in the Russia. Originally a weekly, Kommersant is now a daily newspaper with strong political and business coverage. It has been owned since 2006 by Alisher Usmanov, the director of a subsidiary of Gazprom.

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