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Tatar-Bashkir Report: August 10, 2004

10 August 2004
Kuwaiti Minister Visits Tatarstan
A Kuwaiti delegation led by Islamic Affairs Minister Abdullah Ma'tuq al-Ma'tuq visited Tatarstan on 1-2 August, and Tatarinform reported. The delegation is on a visit to Russia at the invitation of Council of Muftis of Russia Chairman Rawil Gainetdin.

On 2 August, al-Ma'tuq met with President Mintimer Shaimiev, during which they exchanged opinions on joint oil-production projects in Kuwait, deliveries of KamAZ and Kazan Helicopter Plant products, and assembly of KamAZ trucks in Kuwait. Al-Ma'tuq told reporters that Kuwait is ready to make investments in the Tatarstan's economy. Shaimiev said attempts to establish an atheistic society were unsuccessful and over 1,000 mosques have been built in Tatarstan in the past 15 years while there were only 23 in 1990. Al-Ma'tuq praised "the support provided by Tatarstan's president to Tatarstan's religious communities. We are also impressed by the tolerance of religions of people in the republic."

Justice Body Seeks Closure Of TIU's Chally Branch...
The Russian Justice Chief Directorate in Tatarstan asked the Chally City Court to abolish the Chally branch of the Tatar Public Center (TIU), reported on 2 August. The appeal cited the federal law on public associations, according to which the TIU Chally branch had to pass state reregistration by July 1999 but had not done so. The branch also had to report annually on its activity, its permanent address, and heads of the organization but nothing was done. TIU coordinator Yunis Kamaletdinov said that attempts to reregister the Chally branch were made several times but documents were returned every time for revision.

...As Prosecutor Apologizes To Its Leader
Meanwhile, TIU Chally branch leader Rafis Kashapov received on 2 August a letter from Chally prosecutor Ildus Nefiqov in which he offered an official apology for criminal persecution and recommended that Kashapov appeal for compensation for moral and financial damage, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 3 August. Kashapov was accused of inciting national, racial, and religious hatred after police searched the TIU Chally branch office and found leaflets allegedly inciting interethnic discord. Kashapov was also accused of organizing an attempt to destroy the foundation of a chapel of the St. Tatyana Orthodox Church under construction near Chally's Victory Park (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 2, 3, 4, 7, 10, 14, and 31 October, and 4 and 25 November 2002). On 16 April, the Chally court acquitted Kashapov and the Tatar Supreme Court on 22 June upheld the verdict.

President Expects Return Of Famous Kazan Icon By Late August...
President Mintimer Shaimiev said the people of Tatarstan hope the copy of the Mother of God of Kazan (Our Lady of Kazan) icon that is currently in the possession of the Vatican will be returned by the end of August, according to Interfax on 3 August. "This icon is an Orthodox object of worship, and its significance was confirmed by the fact that it was kept in the room of the head of the Vatican, John Paul II," Shaimiev said. Shaimiev said the icon is believed to have repeatedly saved Russia from being captured by foreigners. The president also said work on the return of the icon was on hold for a long time through diplomatic channels but that the "decisive role in the process...was played by a meeting the previous year between President Vladimir Putin and the Roman pope." Shaimiev called the decision by the Vatican to return the relic to its home without preconditions an act of goodwill and a signal of hope for dialogue between the Catholic and Orthodox churches to settle long-running disagreements. The Tatar leader expressed his hope that those controversies will be eliminated as "the entire Christian world is waiting for the time when reconciliation of the two churches happens."

...But Weekly Suggests It Might Not Be Returned To Kazan
Meanwhile, the Tatar Public Center's (BTIU) presidium issued an appeal on 22 July under the title "Naught to the Symbol of Colonial Yoke" to protest the planned return of the Mother of God of Kazan icon to the Tatar capital, "NG-Religii" reported on 4 August. The appeal, signed by BTIU Chairman Reshit Jegeferov, condemns efforts by the Kazan administration, which it says is spending time and money on "affairs insulting the religious sensibilities of Muslims."

The weekly noted that the Russian Orthodox Church still has not made any official statement saying specifically that the Vatican will return the icon to Kazan. The fact that the relic is not the original icon but a copy provides grounds for returning it to claimants other than Kazan, according to the publication. The report quoted the head of the Moscow Patriarchate's Foreign Religious Relations Department, Metropolitan Kirill, as saying the icon "belongs to the entire Russian Orthodox Church and country, not to any city," so "it is not Kazan that should resolve the issue on where it will be kept."

Tatneft Sets Up Joint Venture With Iranian Fund
Tatneft and an Iranian fund for veterans will establish a joint venture within a month for developing oil deposits in Iran and elsewhere, Tatarstan's Trade and Foreign Economic Relations Minister Khefiz Salikhov said on 3 August, according to The project was agreed during a visit by Tatar Prime Minister Rustam Minnikhanov to Iran on 26-28 July and approved by the Tatneft board of directors on 30 July. Salikhov said the fund shows an annual trade turnover of $5 billion and is a "strong partner" for Tatarstan, adding that the joint venture will allow exponential growth in bilateral trade, which currently totals $3 million-$4 million annually. The Iranian side was interested in Tatar-made aircraft, Salikhov continued, adding that the Kazan Helicopter Plant will deliver three Mi-17 helicopters to Iran in the near future. The Gorbunov Aircraft Plant plans to participate in a tender on deliveries of jets to Iran due to be held by Iranian Airlines in 2005.

Great Volga Route Conference Starts In St. Petersburg
The international conference "The Great Volga Route" officially opened on 4 August in St. Petersburg's Smolnyi Palace, reported the same day. In greeting the forum participants, Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev noted that the conference, held under the aegis of UNESCO, the Council of Europe, and Organization of the Islamic Conference's International Research Center for Islamic Culture and Art, promotes development of cultural and scientific cooperation between different countries and dialogue on the ethnocultural, environmental, and socioeconomic issues of cities and regions of the Volga Route. He expressed confidence that the forum will contribute to the revival of the Great Volga Route as a bridge between cultures and civilizations.

The conference program includes a roundtable titled "The Great Volga Route and Prospects for Civilized Tourism" and a roundtable on the development of interregional cooperation as a basis for the economic development of Great Volga Route regions.

The route of the current conference began in Staraya Ladoga, passes through St. Petersburg, Yaroslavl, Kostroma, and Nizhnii Novgorod and is scheduled to end in Kazan on 10 August. At the project's previous stages, conference participants traveled from Kazan to Astrakhan, from St. Petersburg to Stockholm, and from Astrakhan to Tehran.

BTIU Head Resigns
Tatar Public Center (BTIU) Chairman Reshit Jegeferov announced that he will resign from his post, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported on 5 August. He explained his move by saying it was due to a split that had occurred within the BTIU leadership. A group of people opposed to the BTIU leader formed within the organization a year ago and on 17 June that movement elected veteran Mars Shemsetdinov as the new chairman without consulting Jegeferov or the BTIU presidium. The group suggested that Jegeferov leave his post without discussing the issue either at a presidium session or at a BTIU plenum. At its 7 July meeting the BTIU presidium issued a resolution saying that Shemsetdinov's election was illegitimate. The presidium asked Jegeferov, after he announced his intention to resign, to continue performing his duties until the next plenum slated for October. The republic's mass media outlets, however, reported on 5 August that Jegeferov was going to step down.

Tatarstan Communist Leader Ousted
A plenum of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) in Tatarstan on 7 August dismissed Aleksandr Salii from the post of first party secretary, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 9 August. The party's city chairman in Chally, Khefiz Mirgalimov, was elected its new leader. Salii remained on as a member of the KPRF's republican-committee bureau. Party members prohibited Salii from any contacts with alternative congress leader and Ivanovo Oblast Governor Vladimir Tikhonov. Salii participated in alternative KPRF plenum and congress held by KPRF leader Gennadii Zyuganov's opponents in Moscow in early July that elected Tikhonov leader; the meeting was deemed null by a 3 August resolution from the Russian Justice Ministry. Salii's dismissal was initiated at the republican-committee bureau meeting on 11 July but postponed pending a conclusion by the Justice Ministry on the legitimacy of the respective KPRF congresses (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 13 July 2004). At the 7 August gathering, Salii prefaced his resignation by saying he had vowed to step down "if Gennadii Zyuganov remained KPRF leader."

A group of delegates proposed that Salii, Nesime Stolyarova, and Robert Sadyiqov -- who also took part in the alternative forum -- be expelled from the party. Mirgalimov, who chaired the plenum, proposed that Salii be reelected bureau member in the interest of maintaining "unity within the party." Salii, Stolyarova, and Sadyiqov were rebuked for "betraying the line promoted by Zyuganov and an attempt to split the KPRF."

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Kazan Scholar Doubts Discoveries By Bashkir Historians
The two main ideas promoted at a 27 July roundtable titled "Ufa Is 1,200 Years Old" were that Ufa is older than Kazan and that it was Bashkir khans who founded Ufa, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported on 1 August. The forum, organized by the World Bashkir Congress Executive Committee, was aimed at placing the founding of Ufa earlier than the current 430 years ago to at least 1,200 years ago. Tatarstan ethnologist Damir Iskhaqov told RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service on 1 August that attempts by Bashkir scholars to make Ufa older and prove that it was founded as a Bashkir settlement are motivated by their desire to provide evidence of Bashkirs being the oldest and indigenous people on the territory. Iskhaqov said recent archeological findings in Ufa should be subjected to independent chronological analysis to determine their age and their ethnic origin should be clarified. According to historical data, Finno-Ugric tribes populated the territory before nomadic Bashkir tribes appeared there in the 9th-13th centuries.

Criticism Arises Over Conclusions Of Probe Into Midair Collision
Valentin Dudin, a military pilot and reputed expert in the investigation of air collisions, examines in "Vremya novostei" on 3 August the recent report by a German commission investigating the midair collision involving a Bashkir Airlines Tu-154 and a Boeing-757 over Lake Constance in Germany in July 2002. Most of the victims were children from Bashkortostan en route to Spain. The report asserts that the document is full of inexactitudes and contradictions. The causes of the accident presented in the document are inadequate, Dudin claims, adding that the conclusions qualify the cause as the fact that "crossing echelons [of jets] was not noticed in time at the managing point." In fact, Dudin says, eight minutes before the collision the Skyguide dispatcher who was guiding the aircraft permitted the Boeing crew to ascend to the same altitude as the Bashkir jet, resulting in a "tremendous difference in conclusions."

Dudin claims that the report veils the disorder that was reigning that night at the Skyguide Zurich-South sector. The air-traffic controller was reportedly working alone in two working functions, controlling airspace and landings, while a colleague had gone on break, Dudin adds. Two warning systems were out of order as well, along with telephone communications with neighboring zones of airspace.

Ufa Marks 10th Anniversary Of Bilateral Treaty With Moscow...
A conference was held on 3 August in the Bashkir State Assembly to mark the 10th anniversary of the power-sharing treaty between Ufa and Moscow in which deputies and representatives of the Bashkir presidential administration and the Bashkir government took part, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported on 4 August.

Participants agreed that the 1994 treaty has become a mechanism of developing federative relations in Russia. State Assembly Chairman Konstantin Tolkachev said Tatarstan's and Bashkortostan's power-sharing treaties with Russia contributed to establishing the republic's statehood. Tolkachev said the importance of Bashkortostan's power-sharing treaty cannot be overestimated, but added that in the current situation the treaty has shortcomings, including contradictions with federal law and the unclear character of some provisions. Those shortcomings, however, do not provide grounds for giving up on the document, Tolkachev said.

...While Bashkir Leader Not Optimistic About Document
In an interview with RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service on 3 August, Bashkir World Congress Executive Committee Chairman Ekhmet Soleimanov said there is no sense in praising the bilateral treaty in the current situation, when the rights of peoples and national republics are being restricted in Russia. Soleimanov said the treaty is not being implemented, since Bashkortostan, which should be a sovereign republic under the document, has begun sending all its money to Moscow and waiting for what Moscow allocates for the republic. Soleimanov also opposed the merging of Russian regions, one of which proposes merging Bashkortostan with Orenburg Oblast and another Tatarstan with Ulyanovsk Oblast, saying that this will result in transforming national republics into governorates.

Tax Ministry Draws Attention To Bashkir Refineries
Anton Ustinov, head of the Russian Tax Ministry's Legal Department, said that the ministry considers it unfair that the media only pay attention to the Yukos case while the ministry revealed in 2001-02 violations at a number of large oil refineries, including the Ufa and Novoufimskii oil refineries and Ufaneftekhim, reported on 4 April, citing "Neftegazovaya vertikal." As a result, an arbitration court declared illegal agreements on the leasing of equipment between the refineries and companies registered in Kazakhstan's Baikonur offshore zone to evade paying of taxes. The court ruled that the refineries, not the Baikonur companies, were actually the producers of oil products. The three Bashkir refineries were ordered to pay a total of over 12 billion rubles to the state, Ustinov said.

Protest Against Violations By Bashkir Interior Ministry Forces Held In Nizhnii
Some 13 people staged a protest against corruption by Bashkir law-enforcement bodies on 5 August in Nizhnii Novgorod, NTA-Privolzhe reported the same day. The protesters demanded that Bashkir Interior Minister Rafail Divaev and the head of the Russian Interior Ministry's Chief Directorate in the Volga Federal District, Vladimir Shcherbakov, be dismissed. On 15 July, a similar action took place in Moscow (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 16 July 2004). Relatives of people who died while detained by Bashkir law-enforcement agencies and human-rights activists took part in the action. Vyacheslav Bikbulatov, a coordinator of the human-rights movement in Bashkortostan, told the news agency that 43 people have died in Bashkortostan's pretrial detention centers in the last four years. The demonstrators want to meet with Volga Federal District officials and plan to continue their action on 6 August. The agency quoted an unnamed source in the district administration as commenting that allegations of inactivity on the part of district officials are unfounded since "in response to the appeals of victims, the Russian Interior Ministry, with our support, have repeatedly inspected the activities of the Bashkir [Interior] Ministry. As a result, [Bashkir] First Deputy Minister Nikolai Patrikeev was dismissed while Minister Rafail Divaev was rebuked."

Russia's Biggest Glass-Package Plant To Be Built In Bashkortostan
Under an agreement signed by Bashkir Prime Minister Rafael Baidavletov and the president of Turkey's Anadolu Cam Sanayii A.S., Teoman Yenigun, on 4 August in Ufa, the Turkish company will construct a glass-packaging plant in Bashkortostan, "Kommersant-Povolzhe" reported on 6 August. The Turkish side will invest 50 million euros in the project. Anadolu Can Sanayii A.S. is a division of Turkey's leading glass concern, Sisecam. On 9 July, Bashkir Prime Minister Baidavletov promised tax breaks for the Anadolu Group and the Efes Beverage Group in exchange for investing 75 million euros in republic's beer industry. The previous year, Efes purchased the Ufa brewery Amstar. Under the 4 August protocol, the first line of the glass-packaging plant will be launched in July while by April 2006, the total production volume will reach 700 million bottles a year.

Bashkir Delegation In Kazakhstan
Bashkir presidential administration head Radii Khebirov and Bashkir Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Economic Relations and Trade Minister Boris Kolbin visited Kazakhstan's capital Astana on 5 August to discuss preparations for an October visit of Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov to Kazakhstan, Bashinform reported on 6 August. Issues of bilateral cooperation and the opening of a Bashkir representation in Astana were also on the agenda. The delegation visited the Russian Embassy in Kazakhstan, met with Kazakh presidential administration head Imangali Tasmagambetov, Deputy Foreign Minister Nurlan Onzhanov, and acting Industry and Trade Minister Gosman Amrin. Meeting with the heads of the Astana administration, the Bashkir officials discussed developing further ties with Kazakhstan.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Chelyabinsk Interior Ministry Official Files Defamation Suit Against Journalist
The Chelyabinsk Central Raion Court began a defamation suit on 3 August by Chelyabinsk Interior Directorate head Viktor Lesnyak against the NVK television board of editors and "Scandal, Rumors" host Vladimir Filichkin, reported the same day. Lesnyak is demanding that he be paid 100 million rubles ($3.4 million) in compensation for "moral damage" inflicted after the broadcast of a program in which Filichkin called Lesnyak a "silovik in the pocket of oblast prosecutor Bragin." Filichkin also said it is a "well-known fact that Lesnyak roofs [controls as a mafia boss]...several markets in Chelyabinsk."

State's Stake In Magnitogorsk Metallurgy Giant To Be Sold
The state's stake in the Chelyabinsk Oblast's Magnitogorsk Metallurgy Group of Enterprises (MMK) can be sold this year in the wake of a decree signed by President Vladimir Putin that excluded the company from the list of "enterprises of strategic importance for the country," "Novyi region" (Chelyabinsk) reported on 6 August. Some analysts estimate the state's stake in MMK to be worth more than $700 million. The starting price for the share in the company has been fixed at 8 billion rubles ($274 million). The absence of the presidential decree was considered a major obstacle for auctioning off the stake, which has been in planning for three years. The company's management and Steel Group Mechel are considered major contenders for purchasing the stake. MMK, Russia's leading steel mill, produced 11.5 million tons of steel and 10 million tons of rolled metal last year. The company had $3 billion in revenue and had a $630 million net profit in 2003. Some 60 percent of the MMK shares are owned by the company's management, 17.8 percent belong to the Agency for the Management of Federal Property, while 16 percent are owned by Steel Group Mechel.

Ural Federal District's Deputy Envoy To Run For Kurgan Governorship
Viktor Basargin, the deputy presidential envoy for the Ural Federal District, will run for the post of Kurgan Oblast governor in the fall gubernatorial elections, reported on 2 August, citing Basargin's statement. The candidate has reportedly already begun forming his campaign staff. The agency said the reaction to the news by Petr Latyshev, the presidential envoy for the Ural Federal District, is unclear.

Unified Russia Backs Reelection Of Marii El President
The Unified Russia Supreme Council bureau has stated its support for incumbent Marii El President Leonid Markelov in the republic's presidential elections, "Kommersant-Povolzhe" reported on 3 August. A corresponding resolution was signed by Unified Russia leader Boris Gryzlov. The elections are to be held no later than January. The term in office for the president of Marii El will be extended from the current four years to five years, according to an amendment passed by the local legislature in 2003. Markelov and his predecessor in the post, Vyacheslav Kislitsyn, have announced their plans to run for president. The daily also named Yoshkar-Ola Mayor Vladimir Tarkov as a possible participant in the race. The previous week, a group of leaders from several Marii El cities and raions appealed to Markelov to run, saying in a statement: "we realize the value of reaching stability and success in the republic and are ready to go with the incumbent president as a united team."

Russian-Wide Muslim Women's Group Set Up
The Russian Muslim Women's Council was established at a gathering in Orenburg Oblast's Buguruslan Mosque that was attended by delegates from some 60 Russian regions, reported on 4 August. The council is intended to unite the efforts of Muslim women's organizations in Russia as they defend their rights. Specifically, the group will promote the option of Muslim women to wear headscarves in the workplace. Meryem Shengereyeva was elected the council's chairwoman while Reshide Iskhaqyi was nominated as the organization's honorary chair. Iskhaqyi is the mother of chairman of Tatarstan's Muslim Religious Board, Gosman Iskhaqov, while Shengereyeva is Iskhaqyi's granddaughter.

Court Upholds Expulsion Of Opposition TV Station In Nizhnii Tagil
The Sverdlovsk Oblast Arbitration Court confirmed a decision according to which the Nizhnii Tagil opposition television channel Telekon should be evicted from its offices, reported on 5 August, citing the Sverdlovsk Creative Union of Journalists. A Telekon employee said "this is the response by Nizhnii Tagil Mayor Nikolai Didenko to the request by Nizhnii Tagil City Duma deputies to leave Telekon at its current location for the next three years and to repair its [damaged] transmission cable." Information about the dispute was given to Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Alvaro Gil-Robles during his meeting with Sverdlovsk Oblast human-rights activists on 22 July. The conflict between Telekon and the Nizhnii Tagil administration arose in February after the company's transmission cable was damaged and the company was denied an extension of its rent agreement and ordered to leave its offices.

Police Stage Hunger Strike In Sverdlovsk Oblast
Some 10 policemen in Nizhnyaya Salda began a hunger strike to demand payment of back salaries, "Novyi region" reported on 3 August, citing Sverdlovsk Oblast Human Rights Representative Tatyana Merzlyakova. The police are charged with guarding the local Scientific Research Institute of Mechanical Engineering, which is subordinate to the Federal Aerospace Agency. The strikers have reportedly not been paid since December.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova