Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard
The other day, during a operation on the identification of the persons involved in the activity of the terrorist organization “Hizb ut-Tahrir” (forbidden in the Russian Federation), in the Bakhchisarai region of Crimea law enforcement officers made arrests. Their exact number isn’t known, however in the place of detention security forces also confiscated literature of an extremist nature.
Activity of the radical pan-Islamic organization “Hizb ut-Tahrir” in Crimea assumed a menacing scale in the middle of the last decade, and was secretly supported by the government of Ukraine. The main points of the charter of the international “Islamic Liberation Party” speak about the need of a fight against the States whose policy “doesn’t correspond to the basic principles of Islam”. The number of members of the organization, according to unverified information, totals one million people. Despite the fact that the organization is forbidden in the majority of the Central Asian and Middle Eastern states, “Hizb ut-Tahrir” continues to operate actively on the Middle East and in the CIS space.
The chairman of the State Committee for Interethnic Issues and deported citizens of the Republic of Crimea Zaur Smirnov in conversation with the correspondent of FAN in detail explained the work of religious extremist groups and organizations on the territory of Crimea and explained why Ukraine bears the lion’s share of responsibility for the introduction of radical Salafi ideology in Crimean Tatar society.
“I am pleased to say that for last three years the number of Crimean Tatars sympathizing with religious extremists has considerably decreased. However, despite this, even today on the territory of Bakhchisarai special operations take place on the suppression of the activity of persons involved in the activity of ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’. And these facts, of course, don’t please us. Similar excesses can’t but disturb Crimean society, and Crimean Tatars first of all, since we are talking about their relatives, neighbors, and friends. Crimean Tatars, due to small numbers and some other reasons, know each other very well,” stated Zaur Smirnov during the conversation
Smirnov stated that even isolated cases of the detention of Crimean Tatars provoke a wide resonance in society. Each case of this kind first of all draws the attention of political opponents. The Ukrainian authorities, being guided by opinions of numerous “human rights activists”, actively use detentions and criminal cases against members of Islamic communities of Crimea following them as political speculation. In addition to a peculiar “liberal” line pursued by the Ukrainian media after each alleged “unreasonable detention of young people”, the media, close to the presidential pool of Ukraine, tries to sell each operation of the Russian security forces as “continuation of the policy of Soviet repression against Crimean Tatars”.
Zaur Smirnov, being one of the official representatives of the Crimean Tatars, considers such a reason as undoubted speculation on historical events.
“Certainly, nobody perceives the fight against the organizations such as ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’ as an element of State policy directed against the Crimean Tatars,” he said
The activity of the organization is forbidden across all the territory of Russia. Law enforcement bodies especially started actively working after the tragic events in St. Petersburg. And in this regard, we every time analyze the root cause of the situation, and look back at the “Ukrainian period”.
Zaur Smirnov is convinced that the lion’s share of responsibility for the strengthening of radical religious moods among Muslims of Crimea lies in Ukraine. The Ukrainian authorities, due to weakness and short-sightedness, was building domestic policy too often using the provocation of conflicts among various associations and groups. This concerns not only the economic or law enforcement sector. The methodology of the stabilization of the situation chosen by Kiev concerned also religious organizations.
“By provoking a ‘conflict’, the Ukrainian authorities achieved a certain temporary neutralization of the problem. So it was the same in Crimea too,” remembers Smirnov. Concerning Islam. When Ukraine didn’t want to strengthen the spiritual rule of the Muslims of Crimea and saw in it “threat” – a “merging with Turkey”, etc – the authorities immediately started stimulating the work of certain other parallel structures, which instantly entered into conflict with official structures.
This parallel structure was, in particular, “Hizb ut-Tahrir”. They acted legally in Crimea, and enjoyed strong support from powerful officials in the administration of the President of Ukraine, in the government … It is enough to say that you are from “Hizb ut-Tahrir”, and you were immediately picked up at the highest level and everything was done so that you actively counteracted the Muftiate. And spawn there about one hundred of such communities.
Zaur Smirnov considers that Crimea was saved from the mass epidemic of religious extremism only by the fact that the Tatar youth perceived the doctrines offered by “Hizb-ut-Tahrir” as a certain pop culture.
“Where are there? Ah, you went to the ‘hizbs’? Ah, okay,” laughs Zaur, remembering how an average conversation between two potential “religious extremists” of 20-22 years of age looked.
The average member of the community didn’t even understand what he did there. But even this enough for the organizers, because they regularly demonstrated to people around them the high number of such groups.
“The meeting in support of the Syrian opposition, against the President of Syria Bashar al-Assad was one of the key moments in the activity of religious extremists. It happened in Simferopol in 2013. It was a mass meeting, people with black banners … If you at that moment found yourself in Crimea, you would think that you are in Lebanon or Palestine,” remembers Zaur.
“This situation even forced the Ukrainian authorities to think about where they came from. But, by and large, it was already too late because a large number of Crimean Tatars stood up under the banners of “Hizb ut-Tahrir”. And, certainly, a part of them, rather small, but large in the scale of Crimea, appeared, of course, in Syria. And, unfortunately, we are compelled to say that among Crimean Muslims there are those who are at war, and those who died on the territory of Syria and Iraq. And we know that the traces of the majority of those who human rights defenders of so-called ‘missing Muslims’, live in the regions of Raqqa, Mosul, etc.”
It should be noted that the leader of the Taurian Muftiate of Crimea Ruslan Saitvaliyev in the middle of November, 2014, stated that, according to information that is available to him, about 500 Crimean Tatars are fighting on the side of religious extremists in Iraq and Syria. The Ukrainian Muslim organization “Arraid” played not the last role in assistance to volunteers wishing to enter various religious extremist groups, giving full financial and informational support to Crimean communities organized within the framework of the activity of “Hizb ut-Tahrir”. According to several independent political analysts, the main training camp for Crimean Tatars are located in the south of Turkey, and also in Cyprus. Turkish security forces actively cooperate with organizational units of the group despite the fact that the latter is forbidden in Turkey.
“We perfectly understand that this process, which risks to become irreversible, was stopped by the events of the Crimean Spring. The Russian authorities more soberly and in detail approached the issue of the existence of such groups in Crimea. And already in 2014 the vector of development of the situation with Crimean Muslims lay in the opposite direction. Leaders of “Hizb ut-Tahrir” were one of the first to leave Crimea. They received a signal from their leaders, and moved to Kiev during the first days after the referendum. However, it is worth reminding that the role played by “Hizb ut-Tahrir” was noticeable not only in the framework of meetings or counteractions against the Muftiate. On February 28th, when on the square in front of the State Council there was the well-known standoff, the most aggressive and active group counteracting the will of the people was the group of youth involved in “Hizb ut-Tahrir,” considers Zaur Smirnov.
Contrary to the regular condemning statements of the Crimean muftiate concerning the participation of the Tatar youth in military operations in Syria on the side of religious extremists, the flow of people interested in doing some fighting under the banners of jihad was reduced only after the reunion of Crimea with Russia. Despite the educational work that is carried out by the muftiate among the Muslims of the peninsula, some youth activists continue to sympathize with terrorist organizations and to push agitprop their compatriots, urging them to participate in military operations. The death of compatriots (in particular, the twenty-year-old Crimean Tatar Abdullah Jepparov, who died in 2014 in Syria) is also some kind of psychological barrier.
“At the moment, we know that about 150 Crimean Tatars who left Crimea at the initiative of religious extremists. Of course, not all of them are in Syria or in Iraq. Many work in Ukraine. Some of them are a part of the so-called “Muslim battalions”. One of such battalions, according to the information of the General Staff, protects the port in Mariupol. And among these 150 there are those who forever remained on the land of Syria and Iraq. Such people are no more than 15,” says Smirnov, summing up one kind of conclusive line under the conversation about religious extremists.
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