All but one faith persecuted in occupied Crimea
Who could have imagined that in the 21st century in the centre of Europe we would be seeing widespread repression unleashed on the basis of religion?
Said Ismagilov, Mufti of the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Ukraine
The occupation regime in the Crimea, together with the FSB (Russian security service), are waging a witch hunt against all but one religious group in the Crimea, with the situation in Donbas under Kremlin-backed militants similar in many ways.
At a press conference on Tuesday, the NGO Crimean Human Rights Field Mission warned that most religious faiths in the Crimea are experiencing intimidation; discrimination; attempts to discredit them; destruction of their property; summonses for questioning and other forms of pressure. The human rights activists, together with representatives of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church; the Ukrainian Orthodox Church under the Kyiv Patriarchate; the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Ukraine and a number of Protestant communities gave examples indicating a serious deterioration in religious freedom since the Crimea was annexed by Russia. For all, that is, except the Orthodox Church under the Moscow Patriarchate.
Several Kyiv Patriarchate Orthodox priests have been forced to leave the Crimea and the majority have been summoned to the FSB for questioning.
Kyiv Patriarchate churches have been shut down in Sevastopol; Krasnoperekopsk; Kerch, as well as in the village of Perevalne, which was subjected to an armed attack in June. The prosecutor’s office has refused to initiate criminal proceedings over the attack.
Kyiv Patriarchate Archbishop Clement of Simferopol and Crimea constantly receives threats. His dacha was burned down and he fears that his church could also be targeted.
Members of the Moscow Patriarchate Orthodox Church have massively increased the rent in an attempt to force the Kyiv Patriarchate to relinquish its main church in Simferopol.
It is clear from the accounts given by representatives of both the Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate [UOC KP] and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church [UGCC] that Russian propaganda has had a destructive impact on religious tolerance in the peninsula, with representatives of both Churches branded as ‘nationalists’; supporters of the ‘Kyiv junta’, etc. The armed pro-Russian Cossacks who seized the church at Perevalne were joined by ‘self-defence’ vigilantes who claimed to be looking for members of Right Sector, the far right party which Russia has been demonizing since before its invasion and annexation of the Crimea.
According to Father Yevstratiy from the UOC KP, FSB officers have turned up at church services and demonstrably observed worshippers. Already months ago veteran Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemiliev reported that the FSB were openly watching believers in Crimean mosques.
In June Pastor Ruslan Zuyev from the Salvation Army left the Crimea after being the object of overt harassment by the Simferopol FSB. He says that they began phoning and then turned up at his office asking strange questions. His wife and daughter had also received threats.
Rabbi Misha Kapustin left Simferopol following threats over his opposition to Russia’s occupation of the Crimea. Russian propaganda was subsequently caught out faking material in order to suggest that he had fled Ukraine out of fear of the supposed ‘fascist Kyiv junta’.
As reported, the demand that religious communities re-register according to Russian legislation may be a weapon to remove churches that have long been present in the Crimea. Concern over this likelihood was expressed by the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations back on Oct 20
Only citizens of the Russian Federation are allowed to register religious associations, meaning that members of Ukrainian churches and of the Muslim and Jewish communities who remain Ukrainian nationals will be ‘illegal’ from 2015.
Father Piotr, the head of a Roman Catholic parish in Simferopol and a Polish national, was forced to leave the Crimea despite having provided all necessary documents and assurances from the occupation regime’s ‘prime minister’ Sergei Aksyonov and ‘prosecutor’ Natalya Poklonskaya that all would be resolved.
According to Oleksa Petriv from the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, a number of UGCC priests have been driven out of the Crimea because of harassment by the ‘self-defence’ vigilantes. Also, many of its clergy are foreign nationals who are allowed by Russian law to be in the country for only 90 days, after which they have to leave and can return only after three months.
“In Ukraine we have full freedom of worship and we had become so accustomed to it that we couldn’t imagine that things could be different”.
Oleksa Petriv, UGCC
Said Ismagilov quoted these words in comments after the press conference. “When you look at the problem from the point of view only of Muslims, the situation seems simply bad, whereas when the negative experience of various religions is added together, you begin to see how much worse it is than it seemed. Who could have imagined that in the 21st century in the centre of Europe we would be seeing widespread repression unleashed on the basis of religion?”
In his address, the Mufti pointed out that there had been two arson attacks over the last 9 months (on June 13 in Simferopol and Nov 12 in Solnechnaya Dolina), whereas no mosque in Ukraine outside the Crimea has ever been the target of an arson attack.
He noted another ‘specifically Russian form of entertainment – grabbing people of non-Slavonic appearance”. He was referring to two major raids on markets in Simferopol as well as on Turkish and Crimean Tatar cafes (see: Ethnic Raids in the Crimea).
Said Ismagilov also accuses the ‘authorities’ of placing classical Muslim religious works on the list of ‘prohibited literature’.
As reported here, the FSB has conducted numerous armed searches of mosques, religious schools and private homes, claiming to be looking for “arms, drugs and prohibited literature”.
Crimean Tatars have been accused of ‘extremism’, on occasion for the use of words like ‘annexation’ and ‘occupation’. Over recent months, however, there have been attempts to present Crimean Tatars as ‘radical Muslims’ who could unleash a wave of violence in the Crimea.
An effort seems to be underway to create schism and undermine the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of the Crimea and all Crimean Tatars whom the regime cannot cower into submission, including the effective seizure of the renowned Juma-Jami Mosque in Yevpatoria. A Tavrida muftiat has recently been established, headed by Ruslan Saitvaliev, who has claimed to the Russian media that the Crimea is a hotbed of Muslim extremism and that most Crimean mosques are led by ‘vakkhabites’, members of Hizb ul-Takhrir (an organization banned in Russia) and other forms of ‘non-traditional Islam”.
In nine months the occupation regime have demonstrated profound intolerance and unwillingness to brook any religious or political ‘dissent’. The Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate is favoured, and all others are subject to harassment aimed at intimidating them into silence or hounding them from their home in the Crimea.