Friday, July 4, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Firebombing of Muslim Prayer Room in Buddhist Kalmykia Raises Specter of a Burma in Southern Russia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 4 – Much of the world has been shocked by the violent clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in Burma, clashes that have claimed many lives and destabilized that southeast Asian nation. But now there is a risk that a similar kind of conflict could emerge in predominantly Buddhist Kalmykia, a republic in southern Russia.

                Earlier this week, masked men threw four Molotov cocktails at the only Muslim prayer room in Elista, the capital of Kalmykia, destroying it entirely just after believers ended prayers and only a few days after the facility was completed, with helpfrom Daghestan and Turkey (,,and

            Sultanakhmed Karalayev, the head of the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) of Kalmykia, said that he was concerned about what this might foretell for relations between Kalmykia’s 40,000 Muslims, who now form 13 percent of the population of Kalmykia, and the Buddhist majority.

                Since 2008, when his MSD was established, there have been several other attacks on Muslim facilities and Muslims, including himself and his family, Karalayev said.  What is especially disturbing is that in no case have those responsible been brought to justice. And he indicated that he has little faith that the authorities will do any better this time around.

            The mufti pointed out that Elista has “the largest Buddhist shrine in Europe.” It has a Russian Orthodox cathedral.  And it even has a Roman Catholic church.  “But there is no mosque.”  Officials have consistently refused to offer any piece of land on which the Muslims could build a mosque with their own funds. Some Muslims there say Moscow is behind this.

             A local Elista Muslim leader said that when the fire broke out in their prayer room, the Muslims who had been attending services attempted to put it out but were unsuccessful. Most of those involved were Muslims from the North Caucasus who had been travelling through Elista and were sleeping in their cars nearby.

            Now that Muslims in Elista have no place indoors to pray, the Muslim leaders say, they “will pray on the streets,” just as Moscow’s Muslims now do, especially on Islamic holidays. Such public prayers may have the effect in Kalmykia that they have often had in the Russian capital, increasing rather than decreasing tensions between people of the two faiths.

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