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Tatars In Belarus Hope For Help From Tatarstan

MINSK -- The small Tatar community in Belarus says it hopes to meet with visiting Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov to ask for financial help for education purposes and to build a mosque, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reports.

Minnikhanov arrived today in Minsk on a one-day visit.

Ismail Varanovich, the mufti of the Belarusian Muslims' Spiritual Directorate, told RFE/RL that the Belarusian Tatar community "needs help to build an [Islamic school] that at least offers elementary classes and a mosque in Minsk."

He added that Russia's republic of Tatarstan was already helping Belarusian Tatars who want to study Islam at universities. Many Belarusian Tatars are currently studying in Kazan, whereas in the past they were sent to countries in the Middle East.

Varanovich said the Russian Embassy in Minsk provided aid to two nongovernmental Tatar organizations in Belarus.

There are about 3,000 ethnic Tatars in Belarus, where they constitute the largest Muslim minority. Most of them are descendants of the Lipka Tatars, who came to Belarus, Poland, and Lithuania from the 14th to 16th centuries.

Hundreds more Tatars settled in Belarus from elsewhere in the Soviet Union after the collapse of the USSR.