Monday, 2 November 2009

Muslim Tatars Dream of Crimea Mosque in Ukraine

Despite efforts by Muslim Tatars to have a mosque in the Ukrainian Crimean Peninsula, the cherished dream is dying down on the rock of political differences in the eastern European country.

“Everyone realizes that their opposition doesn’t make sense, because they had already given us permission,” Muslim leader Refat Chubarov told The New York Times on Friday, October 30.

“Behind the scenes, they are saying: ‘Crimea is Russian Orthodox land. If they want to build a mosque, they should build it where no one can see it.’ "

The government gave permission to Muslim Tatars in 2004 to build the mosque in 22 Yaltinskaya Street in Simferopol, the capital of Crimea.

But the project stalled by the Simferopol local council on claims of opposition from locals.

“The mosque will be built, but only after taking into consideration the views of the public,” said Simferopol’s mayor, Gennady Babenko.

He said that the city council has suggested other sites for building the mosque.

The mosque plans are vehemently opposed by ethnic Russians, who make up the majority of the Simferopol residents.

They fear that the mosque would signal the revival of Muslim Tatars, who were brutally expelled from Crimean by former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.

The Tatars, who have inhabited Crimea for centuries, were deported in May 1944 by Stalin, who accused them of collaborating with the Nazis.

The entire Tatar population, more than 200,000 people, was transported in brutal conditions thousands of miles away to Uzbekistan and other locations. Many died along the way or soon after arriving.

The Soviets confiscated their homes, destroying their mosques and turning them into warehouses. One was converted into a Museum of Atheism.

It was not until perestroika in the late 1980s that most of the Tatars were allowed back, a migration that continued after Ukraine became independent with the Soviet collapse in 1991.

More than 250,000 Tatars now live in Crimea, about 13 percent of its population of 2 million people.

The Tatars’ return has repeatedly touched off legal clashes over restitution of land and property, much of which is now owned by ethnic Russians.

Muslim leaders blame political forces for blocking their dream to have a mosque in the peninsula.

“There are many, many political forces that want the strains to remain,” Mustafa Dzhemilyov, chairman of the Tatar legislative council, said.

“I am referring to the Russian-speaking and Russian separatist organizations, which are supported by and fed by the government of Russia.”

Some groups in Crimea are demanding to secede from Ukraine to region Russia.

Crimea was transferred by Nikita S. Khrushchev, then the Soviet leader, to Ukraine in 1954, a move then thought to be a formality, since it remained in the Soviet Union and was populated mostly by ethnic Russians.

Tatars have better ties with the Ukrainian government, and are often seen by ethnic Russian nationalists in Crimea as Kiev’s proxies.

The three sides jockey for power on the peninsula, and the mosque has been one focal point.

Hoping to see their dream fulfilled, every Muslim Tatar in Crimea has brought a piece of brick to build the mosque.

“From each Muslim, one stone,” said Chubarov, the Muslim leader.

As the deadlock still remains, the mosque site has turned into a mountain of limestone pieces, with Muslims still waiting for a way-out.

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Who Are Muslim Crimean Tatars?

Identity

In the USSR, it was often impossible to use the ethnic name "Crimean Tatar". The Soviet authorities insisted that there was no such thing, just "Tatars" in general.

The Crimean Tatars therefore understandably put the stress on "Crimean". In fact, there is a growing movement to call "Crimean Tatars" (Qirimtatar, plural Qirimtatarlar).

Simply, they use "Crimeans" or even "Tavreans" (Tavry ) after the Greek name "Taurica " for the broader region.

The very word "Crimea" comes from the Crimean Tatar word Qirim.

This reflects the idea that the Crimean Tatars are in fact a multi-ethnic conglomerate.
Anyone who adopted Islam in Crimea in the Middle Ages supposedly and automatically became a Crimean Tatar.

Read more here.

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