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Tatar-Bashkir Report: June 27, 2005

27 June 2005
Reconstructed Qol Sherif Mosque Opens In Kazan
The opening of the biggest mosque in Europe, the Qol Sherif, was held in Kazan on 24 June, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the same day. Roughly 17,000 people gathered for the celebration despite the cold and rainy weather. Delegations from 40 countries attended the event. The facility was reconstructed on the site where Kazan Khanate's biggest mosque was destroyed in the 16th century. Speaking at the ceremony, Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev said "the Qol Sherif mosque is a new symbol of Kazan and Tatarstan...a bridge connecting...our past and future." Shaimiev said the decree on restoring the Qol Sherif mosque was signed in 1995. The same decree also ordered the reconstruction of the Lady Day cathedral in the Kazan kremlin that was taken away from Orthodox Christians after the 1917 revolution. "This was a gesture of restoration of historical justice and consent between the religions," Shaimiev said.

The construction cost over 400 million rubles ($14 million), a major part of which was donated by Tatneft, Nizhnkamskneftekhim, and several of Tatarstan's agroindustrial companies. Over 35,000 people also made donations to the project, including the late Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, who contributed 100 million nondenominated rubles in 1997, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 25 June. The mosque can accommodate 1,500 people and there is room for an additional 9,000 on the square in front of the mosque's entrance. The building's cupola is 39 meters high while the minarets are 57 meters high.

Shaimiev Favors Russia's OIC Membership...
Tatarstan is ready to make its contribution to Russia's joining the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Tatar President Shaimiev said in Kazan on 24 June, ITAR-TASS reported the same day.

Shaimiev was speaking at the second international symposium on Muslim culture in the Volga-Ural Region initiated by the OIC. "People in the whole world are concerned about tensions that appeared in relations between the West and the Islamic world. It cannot be permitted that a new Berlin Wall appears," Shaimiev emphasized. He criticized the demonization of Islam in the mass media and spoke against equating Islam with terrorism and radicalism. "Terrorism isn't generated by Islam. It is covered by it," Shaimiev said. OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, who took part in the forum, expressed his hope that relations between the OIC and Russia will develop further.

The idea of Russia joining OIC was initiated by Russian President Vladimir Putin during his visit to Malaysia in August 2003.

...Criticizes Motherland Party For Anti-Semitic Rhetoric...
Tatar President Shaimiev on 24 June backed an appeal by the Federation of Russia's Jewish Communities (FEOR) that called on the leadership of the Socialist international not to accept the Motherland party as a member for openly playing the "anti-Semite card," RIA-Novosti reported the same day. Specifically, FEOR recalled that 14 members of the Motherland faction in the State Duma signed the "letter of 19" to the Russian Prosecutor-General's Office calling for a ban on certain Jewish organizations. Speaking at a press conference in Kazan, Shaimiev said "similar parties should be left without support in Tatarstan. I'll do my best to explain this to people. Such leaders create hostility between people." "I think there won't be room for extremism in Tatarstan," Shaimiev added.

...Comments On Power-Sharing Treaty With Moscow
President Shaimiev told a press conference in Kazan on 24 June that a meeting between the Tatar and Russian presidents is necessary to complete work on the power-sharing treaty between Tatarstan and Russia, Tatar-inform reported the same day. Shaimiev said a couple of such issues remain to be resolved. Specifically, they include powers connected to the Tatar-language issue. Despite the fact that solutions have not yet been found, the Tatar president expressed confidence that correct decisions will be made, adding that issues that seemed unsolvable have been left behind.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova

Tatar Civic Leaders Accused Of Arousing Ethnic Unrest
Bashkir State Assembly Chairman Konstantin Tolkachev told "Kommersant-Volga-Urals" on 25 June that actions by the leadership of Bashkortostan's regional National Cultural Autonomy of Tatars (NKAT) are "provocative and aimed at arousing interethnic discord." Tolkachev was commenting on the results of the NKAT congress that was held in Ufa on 22 June in which a resolution was passed stating distrust in Bashkir President Murtaza Rakhimov and demanding his dismissal. Forum participants also protested the "oppression of Tatars" by Bashkortostan's authorities. Tolkachev said "irresponsible statements" by leaders of NKAT, specifically by its leader, Ramil Bignov, "verge on a deed due to be legally punished." The speaker said Bignov shouldn't forget recent events that took place in Central Asia, where an ethnic card was played to change political power.

Bashkir Airlines Recognized Bankrupt...
The Bashkir Arbitration Court decided on 24 June in a lawsuit by the state-run company International Airport Ufa to recognize Bashkir Airlines (BAL) bankrupt, RosBalt reported the same day.

The suit was filed after Bashkir Airlines failed to repay by 1 April some 2.9 million rubles ($101,000) in debt that it owed under an accord signed in March 2004. The court ruled that an external supervision procedure should be introduced at BAL. Representatives of BAL and the Bashkir Board of the Federal Agency for Federal Property Management said they will appeal the decision. Representatives of Bashkir Airlines trade unions also expressed dissatisfaction with the verdict, saying they consider the process "political" and "held in the interests of big financial industrial groups."

BAL is now federal property and will become a joint-stock company by 20 August. The airline possesses seven Tu-154M jets, two Tu-134 aircraft, and two MI-8 helicopters and employs more than 1,000 people.

...As Government Backs Court Decision
Speaking before reporters the same day, Bashkortostan's Deputy Construction, Architecture, and Transport Minister Nikolai Protasov praised the court decision, saying it "will prevent the taking away of the airline during its rearrangement into a joint-stock company."

He said the Bashkir government has been doing everything for a long time to maintain the company but its management acted "extremely inefficiently." He added that the republican leadership is discussing the idea of setting up a new airline that would funded by the republic government and be "one of big federal carriers." The regional government would own the company's controlling interest. Protasov refused to specify probable participants in the project, saying a co-founder will be chosen without holding an open competition or a tender based, but rather that an investor would be chosen based on the most profitable terms offered.

Rakhimov's Former Aide To Assist Federation Council Senator
The influential aide of President Murtaza Rakhimov, Ural Bakirov, who left his post the previous week (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 21 June 2005), didn't retire as was reported but was appointed an aide to Rudik Isquzhin, the Bashkir president's representative to the Federation Council, an RFE/RL Ufa correspondent reported on 24 June.

The move began speculation that Rakhimov will resign his post this fall and that Isquzhin will be his successor. Experts comment that Bakirov, known as a "gray cardinal" in the Bashkir presidential administration who used to handle the appointments of top republican officials, is a politician and ideologist capable of coaching Isquzhin to maintain the policies of the Rakhimov government.

Compiled by Gulnara Khasanova