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Tatar-Bashkir Report: August 26, 2004

26 August 2004
Tatar Public Center Criticizes Pope Over Icon's Return
The moderate nationalist Tatar Public Center in a letter to Pope John Paul II published by the weekly "Zvezda povolzhya" on 26 August, accused the pontiff of involvement in "indecent political games" through his role in the Roman Catholic Church's return this week of an 18th-century copy of the Mother of God of Kazan icon to the Russian Orthodox Church.

The center claimed that the icon is a symbol of the colonization of the Tatars, because following Russia's conquest of the Kazan khanate, Russian authorities spread word that the original icon was miraculously discovered among the ruins of the Kazan fortress in 1579, and held as proof that the Russian state was the rightful ruler of the Tatar lands. The letter also stated that the forcible Christianization of the Tatars in the 16th and 17th centuries resulted in a significant Tatar population loss. The copy was taken from the Soviet Union following the Bolshevik Revolution and resurfaced in the 1970s when it was purchased by a Roman Catholic group and subsequently gifted to Pope John Paul II, who kept the icon in his personal chapel in the Vatican.

The return of the icon has since been at the center of a dispute between the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church, and Vatican representatives have expressed their hope that the icon's return will help warm relations.

The campaign for the return of the icon in time for Kazan's millennium celebrations was strongly promoted by Mayor Kamil Iskhakov.

The icon was placed in the alter of the St. Paul Cathedral on 26 August for public viewing. It is to be delivered to Moscow by air on 27 August, and will be handed over to Patriarch Aleksii II the next day, ITAR-TASS reported.

Tatneft Not Benefiting From Global Oil-Price Hike
Tatneft General Director Shefeget Takhautdinov told reporters in Elmet on 24 August that only the federal budget is receiving a windfall from the current upsurge of global oil prices, as under the current tax system any price over $26 per barrel brings no profits to the oil company. Takhautdinov said that the optimal global oil price for Tatneft is $20 per barrel.

Tatar Poet, WWII Hero Honored In Kazan
About 1,500 people gathered near Kazan's monument to Tatar poet Musa Celil on 25 August in honor of the 60th anniversary since a group of ethnic Tatar officers in the Soviet army were taken captive by the Germans and executed during World War II. President Mintimer Shaimiev said at the event that Celil is a symbol who exhibits spiritual strength, and incarnates people's ideas and aspirations.

Islamic University Opens Branch In Chuvash Republic
The Kazan-based Russian Islamic University opened a branch in Shigirgani, Chuvash Republic, on 26 August, Regnum reported. The branch will prepare students for the Russian Islamic University, and organize qualification-improvement courses for local Muslim clergymen.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Ufa Company Among World's Major Defense Industries
The "Defense News" weekly included the Ufa motor-building plant (UMZ) among the top 100 defense industries of the world, in 84th place, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported on 26 August. UMZ, with estimated annual production of some $390 million in engines and spare parts, was mentioned along with six similar industries across Russia. Ninety-six percent of UMZ's production is military-related.

New Installation To Process Chemical Weapons In Bashkortostan
A new factory will be built in Qambarqa near Neftekamsk in Bashkortostan for recycling Lyuizit, a gas, which has been stockpiled in Russia since World War II, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported on 25 August. The installation's capacity has not been revealed in official statements, but it is known that it will employ some 1,200 people.

Rakhimov Meets With Volga-Ural Military District Commander
The newly appointed head of Volga-Ural Military District, General Vladimir Boldirev, met with President Murtaza Rakhimov on 25 August to state his hope in Bashkortostan's further assistance to the army, Bashinform reported the same day. During the talks, Boldirev thanked Rakhimov for the "impressive" material assistance of $20.6 million to the military, contributed by the republic's government in the last three years.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi