RUSSIA: Southern Muslims complain of fall-out from anti-terrorist moves
Since the start of the second Chechen conflict, Islamic representatives maintain to Forum 18 News Service that a "negative policy towards all Muslims" in parts of the northern Caucasus has intensified. Imam Magomed Erkenov, who oversees 15 mosques in the southern Karachai-Cherkessia republic, told Forum 18 that since 1999 it has become "much harder" to register new Muslim communities. Officials visit mosques about twice a month to conduct interrogations of worshippers, Erkenov stated, on one occasion accusing a worshipper of being a Wahhabi and arresting him. An imam in a neighbouring mosque, speaking of visits by officials, told Forum 18 that "people are afraid to be seen to be Muslim now." Regional religious affairs official Yevgeni Kratov insisted to Forum 18 that mosque check-ups take place "entirely within the framework of the law" and entail neither searches nor abuses of any kind. "A police officer might drop by and take an interest, especially following a terrorist attack," he explained.
Outside Chechnya, the first Russian republics in the area to crack down on militant Islam were Dagestan and Kabardino-Balkaria, which adopted laws against "Wahhabism" and "religious extremism" in 1999 and 2001 respectively. ("Wahhabism" is commonly used as an all-embracing term for militant Islam.) In nearby Karachai-Cherkessia, there has been no formal toughening-up of the law so far. Since 1999, however, it has become "much harder" to register new Muslim communities in the republic, Magomed Erkenov, a village imam who oversees the activities of 15 mosques, told Forum 18 in the republic's north-eastern Malokarachayev district on 29 September.
Officials from the state security services visit mosques approximately twice a month to conduct interrogations of those who attend, Erkenov maintained, on one occasion accusing a worshipper of being a Wahhabi and arresting him because of his beard. On entering the mosque in the neighbouring village of Pervomaiskoye, Forum 18 was told by its imam that the state representatives' visits were having a negative effect upon mosque attendance. "People are afraid to be seen to be Muslim now," he remarked.
Magomed Erkenov stressed to Forum 18 that the state check-ups on mosques are federal rather than local policy, and that the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Karachai-Cherkessia and Stavropol Region has good relations with the republic's authorities. The assistant to the Spiritual Directorate's mufti, Abubekir Kurdzhiyev told Forum 18 on 29 September that these positive relations mean that all the organisation's communities in the republic hold state registration, and that almost all have built mosques over the past decade. (During the Soviet period there was only one small village mosque open in the entire republic.)
Karachai-Cherkessia's sizeable new mosques – the largest of the four viewed by Forum 18 in Malokarachayev district would easily accommodate over a thousand worshippers - were all built without foreign aid, according to Magomed Erkenov. While Islamic organisations from Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia would be prepared to finance such construction, he said, Muslim communities in Karachai-Cherkessia are currently barred from receiving foreign funding. And while he himself studied in Turkey in the 1990s, Erkenov similarly maintained to Forum 18 that it was now impossible to obtain official permission to study Islamic theology abroad. In 1999, he said, the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Karachai-Cherkessia opened an Islamic theological institute in the republic's main city, Cherkessk, where some 80 students are currently enrolled.
Speaking to Forum 18 on 29 October, Karachai-Cherkessia's regional religious affairs official said that there were currently 102 registered and 12 unregistered Muslim organisations in the republic, all of which are affiliated to the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Karachai-Cherkessia and Stavropol Region. Yevgeni Kratov added that the most recent community to be registered, in 2002, was a mosque in Elkush village, Malokarachayev district. On contacting Mufti Ismail Berdiyev on 29 October, Forum 18 was told that there are 130 registered Muslim communities in Karachai-Cherkessia. The apparent discrepancy, the mufti explained, is due to the fact that some small communities attend larger mosques for worship because they do not have an imam-khatib (an imam qualified to preach at Friday prayers).
Regional religious affairs official Yevgeni Kratov insisted to Forum 18 that check-ups on mosques in Karachai-Cherkessia take place "entirely within the framework of the law" as part of a co-ordinated policy involving regional and federal agencies, and entail neither searches nor abuses of any kind. "A police officer might drop by and take an interest, especially following a terrorist attack," he explained. "Naturally, people may become uneasy if they feel that too close attention is being paid to them." Kratov also maintained that it was not within his competency to comment on the monitoring of foreign funding to local Muslim communities. While Karachai-Cherkessia's authorities do not prohibit students from receiving Islamic education abroad, he added, "we do encourage them to study in our own region."
For more background information see Forum 18's Russia religious freedom
survey at http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=116
A printer-friendly map of Russia is available at
11 October 2004
China maintains few controls on religious life in the mountainous Altai [Altay] region in the far north of Xinjiang, Forum 18 News Service has noted, apparently because there are only low levels of Islamic, Buddhist, Pagan, Orthodox and Pentecostal Christian religious practice among the majority ethnic Kazakhs, as well as among Chinese and most other local minorities. In contrast, Forum 18 has observed strict controls in nearby mosques amongst the Muslim Dungan people, and the visit of a Russian Orthodox priest, Fr Vianor Ivanov, was met by the authorities arresting him, as well as questioning virtually all the several dozen elderly Orthodox believers in the city Fr Ivanov visited, before deporting him.
27 September 2004
Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, has two Protestant and one Catholic church, which are suspected of being "show churches" for display to foreigners, so it remains unclear whether any North Koreans will be able to or will dare to regularly attend an Orthodox church under construction. The building is funded by the North Korean state, and Forum 18 News Service has learnt that it is "65 per cent finished". By the early 1900s, about 10,000 Koreans had converted to Orthodoxy due to Russian missionaries in the now divided Korean peninsula. Dmitry Petrovsky, of the Moscow Patriarchate's Department for External Church Relations, expressed the hope to Forum 18 that links with this past missionary activity remain, as is the case with Orthodox churches in South Korea. Four North Koreans are studying at the Moscow Theological Seminary, and Petrovsky remarked to Forum 18 that they are displaying "zeal and a genuine interest in Orthodoxy".
22 September 2004
As Baptists were putting up a tent on privately-rented land in a village near Moscow on 20 August, administration officials demanded they provide advance notice of their two-day meeting. The Baptists refused, arguing that they did not need to for a non-political event. Several hundred armed police and secret police officers, "prepared as if for a terrorist attack" as Pastor Nikolai Dudenkov told Forum 18 News Service, invaded the site after the local administration banned the event. Workers pulled down the tent, but 4,000 Baptists went ahead with the meeting under police surveillance. On 10 September, local Baptist Yelena Kareyev told Forum 18, her teenage sons saw one of the officers involved in the raid lurking in woods behind their church. Three days later the building went up in flames and Kareyev saw men running away. She said the fire brigade was in no hurry to put out the fire.