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Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Crimea: Islamist movements and danger of radicalization (Part I)

Crimean Tatars during one of the demonstrations
(Image: The World)
The issue of Crimean Tatars, who survived terrible Sürgün – mass deportation from Crimea by Joseph Stalin on 18 May 1944, and who returned back home after Ukraine gained its independence, remains still unresolved and very sensitive, as Ukrainian government paid unfortunately very little attention to the problems of Crimean Tatars, and Russian military invasion and illegal annexation of Crimea in March 2014 made situation of Crimean Tatars, who are indigenous inhabitants of the peninsula, tenser and more problematic.

Crimean Tatars, who opposed Soviet regime during their exile in Central Asia, appeared to be patriots of Ukraine and expressed their opposition to Russia and pro-Russian forces in Crimea after its annexation. Traditional Crimean Tatars’ authorities and representative bodies, such as Qurultai (Parliament) and Mejlis (representative body of Qurultai), remain on their position of non-violent struggle for regaining the rights and freedoms of Crimean Tatars and call to keep low profile and not to engage in any radical or violent activities. But Crimea hosts not only liberal and traditional, democratic Islamic organizations and groups, such as official bodies Mejlis and Qurultai and Crimean Tatars National Council, formed by the prominent human rights advocate and dissident Mustafa Djemilev in Uzbekistan during the exile times, but also some radical and extremist Islamist movements and groups, which aren’t numerous currently and didn’t engage in any criminal or violent activities on the territory of Ukraine, but which ideas spread rapidly in the region and which influence increased significantly during the latest years. And this issue considered being among the most problematic and even dangerous issues of the regions, as many experts and local representatives of traditional Islamic organizations warned systematically about the real threat of radicalization.

Thus, speaking about Crimean Islamist groups and organizations, it’s worth mentioning that there are two major Muslim organizations in Ukraine and Crimea, controlling activities of the Islamic groups and institutions. These are DUMU (Spiritual Administrations of Muslims in Ukraine) and DUMK (Spiritual Administration of Muslims in Crimea). As for Crimea, there are presently 391 Muslim religious groups, institutions and organizations in Crimea, while only 344 of them operate in Crimea legally and are registered by DUMK. The remaining 47 organizations are unregistered and unofficial and call themselves “independent Muslim communities”, and most of them represent radical and extremist ideology and allegedly have close ties and links with the foreign Islamist and jihadist groups. Most of them don’t recognize DUMU and DUMK and reject their authorities.

Islamist radical and extremist groups in Crimea include the groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami, Milli Firqa, Davet, Ansara, Ar-Raid, Crimean Tatar Popular Front, NGO Sebat, Takfir wa al-Hijra, Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Tamaat and others, though it’s worth mentioning that most of them are marginal groups, with exception of Hizb ut-Tahrir and Ar-Raid.

It’s important to note, that Islam came to Crimea in 14th century. It was an official religion of Crimean Khanate and was really tolerant and peaceful form of Islam, as people of different faiths coexisted on the peninsula. There were no religious wars registered on the territory of Crimea, thus, Islam in Crimea never was radical and fundamentalist. Crimean Tatars in their majority are Sunni Muslims, of Hanafi current, which is actually a liberal and non-conservative form and interpretation of Islam. In addition to that, due to historical reasons, Islam for Crimean Tatars is more an issue of a national identity, cultural and historical factor rather than an issue of religious identity, and many liberal Islamist movements, such as Crimean Tatars National Council, are rather political organizations than religious ones and they are committed to non-violent struggle. But de jure illegal position of the representative Crimean Tatars’ authorities, such as Mejlis, and continuous conflicts with the local Crimean pro-Russian government and pro-Russian activists, who are traditionally hostile towards Muslim Crimean Tatars, weakened the positions of liberal Islamist forces, opening the doors for more radical groups, who offer the decisions and ways to resolve long standing crisis and problems, such as land, social, economic and cultural problems, unemployment, injustice etc.

Crimean pro-Russian government and current occupant authorities as well always questioned the authority and legal status of Mejlis, trying to undermine its role and to dissolve it, what creates deeper problems and confrontations within the local society and helps spreading radical and fundamentalist Islamist ideas and groups as a response to the continuous restrictions and oppression. Weakening the role and position of Mejlis and Crimean Tatars National Council limits the ways and possibilities of peaceful, legal, democratic and non-violent resolving of the current problems of Crimean Tatars and could be a reason for stronger influence of fundamentalism, as radical and extremist groups have other methods and ideology. That is what is happening currently in Crimea, as radical Islamist groups gain more and more popularity, especially among the local youth. Crimea cannot be considered being a really dangerous zone, but it could potentially turn into one, especially considering the fact that we can observe an expansion of foreign fundamentalist and jihadist ideology in Crimea.