Will the Crimean authorities override the President’s word?
The authorities in the Crimea have gone against the commitment which President Yanukovych gave the Crimean Tatars. The President has on several occasions promised that he will help the Muslim community to build a Soborna or Assembly Mosque in Simferopol at the place where local Muslims have been worshipping for several years already. However, Radio Svoboda has learned that the Crimean Prosecutor’s Office is insisting on a ban on the construction of the Mosque. A similar statement was made in the last few days by the newly-elected Mayor of Simferopol from the Party of the Regions, Viktor Ageyev.
The Crimea is home to the largest Muslim community in Ukraine with over 300 thousand followers of Islam. The Simferopol City Mosque can hold only 2 hundred worshippers, while on Fridays up to a thousand people come, and on major Muslim festivals around 2-3 thousand.
The Mufti of the Crimean Muslims says that the need for the Soborna Mosque is urgent. The Crimean Muslims first approached the authorities with the request for land to be allocated back at the beginning of the 1990s.
In 2004 the Simferopol City Council finally approved the allocation of 2 and a half hectares on the outskirts of the city, on the road leading to Yalta.
The relevant plan and documents were organized, and Muslims collected almost 300 thousand bricks, one for each Muslim in the Crimea, yet, as reported, the City Council suddenly cancelled its own decision.
(On 10 January 2008, it took the decision to change the location, allocating a different site. The Crimean Prosecutor registered a protest in support of the Spiritual Directorate’s claim for the site on Yaltynska St. On 7 February the Crimean Economic Court ordered the Simferopol City Council to conclude a lease agreement within ten days with the Spiritual Directorate of the Muslims of the Crimea for the landsite on Yaltynska St )
The Spiritual Directorate of Muslims has twice won appeals against the Council’s decision, yet the City Council did not enforce the rulings even after President Yanukovych publicly promised to sort the matter out.
Last week the new Mayor of Simferopol unexpectedly announced that he was not against the building of a Soborna Mosque, but not in that place. (As reported earlier, the cost involved in all the planning and permits was considerable, and a new site would mean starting from scratch).
The Crimean Prosecutor’s Office, now run by people from the Donbas region, has issued a cassation appeal against the previous rulings in the Spiritual Directorate’s favour. The Prosecutor is claiming that the Mosque cannot be built there because of the proximity of the reservoir. This for some reason is not seen as a problem in building the Orthodox Chapel on the opposite shore of the same reservoir.
The Crimean Muslims are already up in arms and there are calls in the local press to protest. However the Mufti stresses the need for balance and trust in Allah’s will. He told Radio Svoboda that he is in favour of dialogue with the authorities, and says that he thinks the President is not aware of what is going on.
Radio Svoboda, however, says that their sources in the Muslim community report that members are extremely unhappy with the Ukrainian authorities. They do understand, the Mufti says, that they must not be succumb to provocation. Sooner or later the Soborna Mosque, Dzhuma-Dzhami, will raise all four minarets in the place prayed for, Mufti Khadzhi Emirali Ablayev is convinced.
Information in brackets is from previous reports, otherwise based on a report by Volodymyr Prytula at Radio Svoboda