FSB looks for ‘extremists’ in a Crimean school
In the latest of a series of affronts and infringements of the rights of Crimean Tatars under Russian occupation, a madrasa or Muslim school in the Crimea has been subjected to a long search by armed and masked men, seemingly from the FSB.
The 13 children were fast asleep when masked men in camouflage and wave machine guns burst into the school in the village of Kolchugino outside Simferopol at around 6 a.m. on Tuesday morning. They made their way in without providing any identification or court order and began searching everything, breaking down doors and smashing windows in the process. Representatives of the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of the Crimea who arrived on news of what was happening were told that the search was being carried out in accordance with a court order due to suspected ‘extremism’ and possession of weapons.
No weapons were found. No extremism either, although the term in Russia under the present regime of Vladimir Putin has become so vague and elastic that what they expected to find in the school is anybody’s guess.
A few of the men had the word Berkut [from the Ukrainian special force disbanded after they played a major role in repressive measures during EuroMaidan] on their camouflage gear, but otherwise there was no indication of who these armed men were. They appear to have been from FSB together with local police.
The madrasa students were understandably terrified by the appearance of men with automatic weapons. According to 15-year-old Emir, “two men ran into the room with Kalashnikov rifles and began asking who was the oldest. Then they ran into the next room and through the window aimed a gun at one of the students. They demanded that he open the door. The student opened the window, then they ran into the room and ordered us to sit quietly. They left us in the rooms and went to [the deputy director]. “
The children’s mobile telephones were taken away meaning that the children were unable to even contact their parents. Radio Svoboda’s Crimea site reports that Ali Aliev, the father of one of the students had come to visit his son. Instead he found a police car and buses with armed men, and could not get any answer as to what was happening. One of the armed men advised him to think about what his son was being taught there. He answered : “Do you read the Bible? We also read the Bible, as well as the Koran. It is all God’s word. There is nothing prohibited here”
Masked men also burst into the building where senior teacher Aider Osmanov lives with his wife and their two small children (a 4-year-old daughter and 11-month-old son).
A representative of the local Mejlis, Aziz Sadykov was permitted into the madrasa to ensure that the children were safe.
The search by armed men of a school lasted around 5 hours with even the children’s personal belongings looked through. After finding nothing at all suspicious, the FSB took several computers away, together with Osmanov who was interrogated for about an hour and a half before being released.
The Spiritual Directorate sees the action as a demonstration of force. Parents of the students are outraged and consider the visitation an insult to the religious sentiments of Crimean muslims.
Such measures, they warn, could lead to an outbreak of inter-ethnic and inter-faith conflict in the Crimea. One of the parents told Radio Svoboda that they feel insulted as the indigenous population, as Crimean Tatars and as Muslims that they are being treated like enemies. “We are a tolerant people, we have always lived at peace with everybody. There have been churches and mosques side by side. It’s insulting”.
Said Ismailov, Mufti of the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Ukraine [UMMU] warns that over the last 10 days there have been a number of articles in the press and a press conference where members of religious and civic organizations, as well as “guests from Russia” claimed that a form of Islamic extremism had appeared in the Crimea, supported and financed by Ukraine.
Entirely unsubstantiated accusations of ‘extremism’ have been heard over the last months. As reported here, searches were carried out in May of the home of veteran Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Jemiliev, who has himself been banned entry to his homeland; member of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People Ali Hamzin, and around 150 Crimean Tatars. The latter were reportedly suspected of ‘extremism’ because they wear head scarfs and often visit the mosque.
The vast majority of Crimean Tatars were from the outset against Russia’s annexation of the Crimea. At the beginning of June, the Chief Editor of Avdet, the newspaper of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People received a formal warning over what the occupation regime’s prosecutor called ‘propaganda of extremism’.
The specific examples given appear to have involved using terms like ‘annexation’ and ‘occupation’. Extremism it would seem can often be a synonym for disagreement with Russia’s actions which are rightly called annexation far beyond the Crimea.