Earlier, I linked a press release from the Russian Interfax News that asserted that 90 percent of the Crimean Tatars are members of an extremist Islamic organization” (Hizb ut Tahrir). This recent article from the NY Times about the struggle to build a large mosque in the Crimean capital puts that piece of propaganda in perspective.
The Crimean Tatars were deported en masse by Stalin to work camps and gulags in other areas of the Soviet Union, where many died. Since the USSR collapse the Tatars have been immigrating back to Crimea in large numbers.
The mosque was supposed to signify the revival of those expelled, the Crimean Tatars, a Turkic ethnic group that suffered as wretched a fate as any under Communism. But with work held up by local authorities, the plan has instead stirred up a dispute involving politics, communal grievances, international tensions and historic traumas.
The Tatars’ return has repeatedly touched off legal clashes over restitution of land and property, much of which is now owned by ethnic Russians. Some have turned violent.
The situation is complicated by the political status of Crimea, which would generally prefer to secede from Ukraine and rejoin Russia. Crimea was transferred by Nikita S. Khrushchev, then the Soviet leader, to Ukraine in 1954, a move then thought to be a formality, since it remained in the Soviet Union and was populated mostly by ethnic Russians.
Tatars have better ties with the Ukrainian government, and are often seen by ethnic Russian nationalists in Crimea as Kiev’s proxies. The three sides jockey for power on the peninsula, and the mosque has been one focal point.
Tatar leaders maintain that the mosque is being blocked in part to stoke anti-Muslim and anti-Ukrainian sentiment, especially in advance of presidential elections in Ukraine, scheduled for January.