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Who burns Orthodox churches in Tatarstan and why

December 02, 2013, 16:49 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
© ITAR-TASS/Vasily Alexandrov

MOSCOW, December 02. /ITAR-TASS/. An Orthodox church on fire in Russia’s constituent Republic of Tatarstan, where Islam and Orthodoxy are the two major religions, is a frequent occurrence these days. Local authorities, who at first interpreted such incidents as something casual, have finally admitted the arsons were terror attacks. The investigators are still making their first inquiries, but many in Tatarstan are already certain that the hand of radical Islamic terrorists was at work here.

Many pundits argue the authorities underestimate the threat of radical Islam in Russia.

Four Orthodox churches have been damaged by fire over the past two weeks. Last Thursday night fires occurred at a deserted church in the Kreschenye Kazyli village and at the church in the Albay village. Earlier, fires were reported at two churches at night before November 17 in the town of Chistopol and the Lenino village.

Fortunately, nobody was hurt in the fires. The parishioners of all these churches are Kryashens, a sub-group of the Volga Tatars who adopted Christianity many centuries ago.

The Tatarstan Prosecutor’s Office has demanded a criminal case be opened over terror attacks. Those found guilty may face a strong punishment, up to life imprisonment. At an emergency meeting last Friday, Prosecutor Ildus Nafikov said the arsons were not accidental and urged the law enforcement authorities “to give those who are trying to shake loose the situation in the region a proper response.”

In a joint statement, Tatarstan’s Mufti Kamil Samigullin and Metropolitan Anastasy, of Kazan and Tatarstan, expressed “extreme concern” over “these radical acts” and called upon the adherents of different religions for solidarity.

Russian patriotic organizations in the republic are sure radical Islamic terrorists are to blame for the arsons. The republic’s acclaimed scholar, university lecturer Aleksandr Salagaev, stressed this idea in his own message to the public at large, quoted by the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily.

The scholar believes the authorities’ inactivity towards extremists in Tatarstan has given the radicals a free hand to create real mayhem again and again over the past fifteen years.

“In the 1990s they attempted to ruin the foundation of St. Tatyana’s Church, under construction in Naberezhnye Chelny. At the beginning of 2010 they set fire to a priest’s house in the Bazarnye Mataki village. Two chapels were set on fire in the Zakamie district in September-November,” Salagaev said.

The scientist believes the extremists have declared a war on Orthodoxy.

The very fact that a criminal investigation has been launched indicates that the situation is serious, indeed, the director of interethnic and religious problems studies at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISS), Vladislava Filyanova, told Itar-Tass. This refutes the rumors the fires were accidental and confirms they were willful crimes, she believes.

Filyanova added there had been many arsons recently, though statistics vary. This time, Filyanova believes, Tatarstan’s authorities took the incident in full seriousness: “We cannot say they are doing nothing about it — all churches are now under observation and priests have security guards.”

The expert sees the fires as “an attempt to put pressures on certain Orthodox groups”, including Kryashens.

Russia’s major Muslim organizations have condemned the arsonists. Chief Mufti Talgat Tadzhuddin urged the law enforcers to track down and punish the criminals.

“These are instigators, who are sowing interethnic enmity. We should not yield to such provocations,” Deputy Chairman of the Russian Muftis’ Council Rushan Abbyasov told Itar-Tass. “Such barbarity as setting fire to wholy shrines is contrary to the spirit of good-neighborliness, which is Russia’s innate, historical feature. We denounce any acts of aggression and pray for peace in our multinational homeland,” he said.

“We strongly condemn anybody who by ignorance or on commission has dared carry out these insane acts of vandalism, and we urge the law enforcement authorities to prosecute the criminals for these willful acts vigorously and with the utmost rigor of law. We urge all people of good will and sincere belief, all people of Tatarstan and all fellow citizens of our Fatherland guarded by God to strengthen unity, brotherly mutual respect, peace and accord,” goes the statement issued by the Central Muslim Board of Russia.

Some experts argue that radical Islam is now increasingly aggressive in Russia because it confronts no due resistance.

“Traditional Islam, loyal to the Russian state and Russians as the titular nation, is unable of resisting its radical trends properly,” the head of the RISS Caucasus Studies Sector, Yana Amelina, believes. “Unfortunately, the authorities are in no hurry to take tougher measures. As a result, those who are more active gain the upper hand. And radical Islamists are certainly more active than traditional Muslims and the state.”

The state underestimates the danger of radical Islam, says RISS researcher Galina Khizrieva. “Apparently, in-depth understanding was developed as late as 2013. And the state is not yet quite aware of what the ‘Islamic project’ is all about and how global it really is,” she said in an interview to the Russkiy Reporter weekly.

“Wahhabi and Salafi cells crop up everywhere,” the expert believes. “Islamic terrorists take root wherever there is oil and gas.

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