Thursday, May 22, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Trying to Force Crimean MSD to Break With Crimean Tatars

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 22 – Moscow is seeking to force the mufti of Crimea to break with the Crimean Tatar Mejlis or face the prospect that he and his Crimean Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) will be “marginalized” by the authorities who will move to create “a more adequate centralized structure” for the Muslims of Crimea, according to Roman Silantyev.

            In the current issue of “NG-Religii,” Silantyev, the deputy chairman of the Russian Justice Ministry’s experts commission on religious literature and a commentator who has become infamous for his anti-Muslim writings, says that the Crimean MSD is now “in danger” because of its links to the Mejlis (

                The Mejlis, the commentator says, has remained staunchly pro-Ukrainian and in his words has “not concealed its sharply negative attitude toward everything Russian and Orthodox” or refrained from supporting the Ukrainian authorities “in the struggle against ‘Moscow separatists.’”

            Because the Muslims of the Crimea are overwhelmingly Crimean Tatars, the Crimean MSD has taken the same position. Its head is an ex officio member of the Mejlis and “in essence,” Silantyev says, “the Crimean muftiate has become the religious subdivision of the Mejlis without the opportunity to conduct an independent policy.”

            In the course of a review of Russian and Kazan Tatar actions in Crimea over the last two months, Silantyev notes that the Mejlis and its media outlets were sharply critical of Tatarstan Mufti Kamil Samigullin who as the first senior Russian Federation Muslim leader to visit Crimea supposedly was “lobbying for Russian interests.”

            Then, Ravil Gaynutdin, the head of the Council of Muftis of Russia and a frequent target of Silantyev’s attacks in the past, came to Crimea together with Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov. Gainutdin made the situation worse, the Russian writer says, by sharply criticizing other Russian muftis for not being “sufficiently respectful” toward the Crimean Tatars.

            That only hardened the anti-Russian position of the Mejlis, Silantyev said, but it drove the Crimean MSD to join it in opposing the Russian referendum on annexation, to criticize Vladimir Putin, and to put out stories that Russia’s “FSB [was] preparing a new deportation of Crimean Tatars.”

            Given the response of Crimean Tatars to Mustafa Cemilev, Crimean prosecutors announced that he would not be allowed in to his own homeland until 2019 and told the new head of the Mejlis Refat Chubarov that his organization would be declared to be “extremist if provocations by its members continued.”

            On the eve of the 70th anniversary of the deportation of the Crimean Tatars, Russian President Vladimir Putin received a carefully selected group of opposition figures from the Melis.  Cemilev described them as “representatives of a fifth column from among the Crimean Tatars.”

            In order to prevent clashes – or alternatively although not mentioned by Silantyev to create the possibility for provocations – the occupation authorities in Crimea banned any commemoration of the anniversary of the 1944 deportation. The Mejlis sought to get around this by not holding a meeting in the center of Simferpol but conducting smaller meetings elsewhere.

            Throughout all this, the Crimean MSD has remained in lockstep with the Mejlis, Silantyev says.  No alternative to it as yet is strong enough to challenge its position. But unless the MSD breaks with the Mejlis, Silantyev warns, it will face “confrontation” with the authorities and “marginalization” because “a more adequate centralized structure for all Muslims of the peninsula will inevitably appear.”

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