Previously we talked about the history of the troubled relationship between Slavs and Tatars. We talked about the changing realities since 2014, when Tatars, like other Crimean nationalities, came under the jurisdiction of the government of the Russian Federation. Since then, the Russian government has bent over backwards to make Tatars feel comfortable and wanted (for example, making Tatar an official state language, which the Ukrainians never did). Sociological surveys indicate that this effort is working, and that most Tatars feel no particular yearning to return to Ukrainian jurisdiction.
Today we discuss how external forces seek to influence and disrupt the new Crimean status quo. One of their weapons is religion. Specifically, radical Islam.
Islam is one of the major religions practiced in Russia, with approximately 6.5% of Russian citizens professing this faith. That’s a lot of people! The wiki entry I just linked makes intelligent points about the differences between people who “technically” belong to a particular faith (i.e., born into it, but not necessarily believing in the doctrines); people who don’t really believe in it, but observe holidays and teach their children the basic principles; and people who are really into it and actively belong to some kind of congregation. These subtle differences can be difficult to measure. Per wiki:
Yet another way of comparing relative popularity of various religions in Russia is to look at the numbers of registered local congregations (Christian parishes, Muslim mosques, and so on). According to the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), there were 21,664 registered religious organizations in Russia as of January 1, 2004, including 20,403 local congregations. 10,767 were Russian Orthodox; 3,397 were Muslim; almost 5,000 were various Protestant organizations and groups; 267 were Old Believers; 256 were Jewish; 235 were Roman Catholic; 180 were Buddhist.
The idea of people going to a physical place to worship acquires particular importance in the Muslim context, since radical and violent Muslim sects are known to use the physical buildings of Mosques as their places of recruitment and organization. In addition, there is much suspicion against “radical imams” who enlist susceptible youth into terrorist cells. All of these things actually happen in the real world, although Americans, say, might get the wrong impression that such practices are endemic to the Muslim faith itself. As opposed to being manifestations of a political wing of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism.
It is also no secret that Western intelligence agencies, in conjunction with Saudi Arabia, have employed extremist Wahhabist terror cells, as early as the 1970’s, in the Cold War against the Soviet Union. Wahhabist fanatics such as Osama bin Laden were recruited by the CIA and Saudis to undermine the secular Afghan government, a Soviet ally.
After the end of the first Cold War, a second Cold War was launched against Russia. Let’s call it Cold War II, and it continues to this day. Once again, the Usual Suspects were trotted out for diversionary activities, blowing up things and blowing up people, from Chechnya to Crimea, and beyond. I am simplfying, of course, because this is a very complex war, involving many players, and by no means is Russia the only geopolitical target of the United States and NATO: Nations like Iran and Syria are even more important targets; and then there is the whole issue of Sunni vs Shia in the Islamic world. Again, too much backstory to take on, in my relatively simplistic post about Crimean Tatars.
Alliance of Ukrainian Nationalists and Tatar Mejlis
I need to stress, however, that in the Ukrainian context, the geopolitical alliance between Ukrainian Nationalists and Radical Islamists, is a marriage of convenience against Russian interests in the area. Ukraine’s major ally here is Mustafa Dzhemilev, whose political organization is called the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars. This Mejlis was founded in 1991 to represent the Crimean Tatar community within the Ukrainian authority. Russia also has Mejlis organizations which represent Muslim communities as special interest groups in their dealings with the Federal government. From what I understand, “Mejlis” is just a neutral, unloaded word from the Arabic, meaning “council”. But in the Crimean context, this word became associated with the diversionary acts committed by Dzhemiliev and the Ukrainian Banderites; and hence his Mejlis organization was deemed terrorist and banned in Russia in 2016. Diversionary acts included attacks against Crimean residents and their infrastructure, for example, blowing up electricity pylons, shutting off waterways, blockading road transit, even physical attacks against persons.
From Dzhemilev’s bio it is unclear if he himself is a religious person, or simply a political Russophobe. In Soviet times Dzhemilev was a political dissident, which earned him the admiration of the West. Any anti-Soviet person (and today, any anti-Russian person) can expect to be fawned upon by Westie governments and media. Their reward for anti-Russian activities is an almost ludicrous level of personal flattery. In addition, they are shoe-ins for every type of international prizes, ranging from routine “humanitarian” awards on up to the Nobel Peace Prize; and even the kitschy Eurovision song contest! Whether or not they can carry a tune.
A noted philosopher once wrote, “There is nothing new under the sun.” And indeed, this is the same, age-old story of Westies scraping together anybody they can find as blunt hammers against Russian interests. By 2015 Ukrainian Banderites were collaborating fully with Tatar activists led by Lenur Islyamov to cut off water and electricity to Crimean residents — and all of this done under the banner of Stepan Bandera!
Fortunately for Russia, for every pro-Ukrainian Dzhemilev or Islyamov, there is a pro-Russian Balbek.
Ruslan Balbek is the Deputy Chairman of the Russian Duma’s Committee on Nationality Relations. Speaking at a press conference in Moscow last week, he warned that the Ukrainian military is attempting to cover up their diversionary role by hiding behind Crimean Tatars: “Since 2014 these professional Crimean Tatars have called upon my fellow countrymen to join the partisans and engage in types of violent actions. But we see that the Crimean Tatars are not paying any attention to them.”
Balbek goes on to dismiss Dzhemilev as a fake “leader” who was dreamed up by Western propaganda: “To his calls [for radical actions] no more than around 10-15 people have responded, both within and outside of Crimea. This defiency of human resources he compensates for by appealing to the media and Western public opinion. He is attempting to provoke a flow of religious extremists to the South of Kherson Province. This illegal paramilitary formation in Chongar serves to discredit the Crimean Tatars.”
Balbek is referring to the town of Chongar, in the Ukrainian province of Kherson, which borders the Crimean peninsula from the North. Kherson has a colorful multi-cultural history; but in the past year or so has become a hotbed of Ukrainian/Tatar diversionary activities against Crimea.
Balbek reports on Russia’s traditional solution to dealing with issues of religious authority within sectarian communities. Namely, to support traditional religions and their leaders against sectarian offshoots.
“In the Ukrainian period,” according to Balbek, “of 400 [existing] mosques, only five actually had legal permission documents. This provided an opportunity for extremist religious organizations to participate in the struggle to build cult-like formations. Traditional Islam never even had a chance to defend itself. Destructive sects seized the opportunity. But now all the mosques are part of a unified canonical and jurisdictional authority. Russia has unified all the Muslims of Crimea and protected them against the influence of extremist currents.”
Under these conditions, traditional Islam has the opportunity to flourish. In just the past three years, 150 new mosques have been built in Crimea. In April of 2019 there are plans to open a giant new mosque in Simferopol. An event, according to Balbek, which Crimean Tatars have eagerly been awaiting these past ten years.