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Tatar-Bashkir Report: April 16, 2002

16 April 2002
TIU Holds First Forum In Four Years
The Tatar Public Center (TIU), a moderate, nationalist Tatar organization, held its seventh forum on 15 April in Kazan, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Despite the center's initial plans to hold a forum every two years, four years have already passed since the TIU held its last forum in 1998.

The center's chairman, Reshit Yagfarov, said in his opening address that it is a "remarkable achievement that we have managed to gather so many participants." There were no empty seats at the Galiasker Kama Drama Theater of Kazan, which can seat more than 700 people, as the center's activists from throughout the Russian Federation gathered to consider a package of resolutions and appeals addressing the public, Tatarstan's government, federal authorities, and the United Nations.

Speaking about the upcoming census to be held in October, the TIU stressed the importance of the census for the Tatar nation and disagreed with the federal government's decision to register Kreshens (baptized Christian Tatars) as a separate ethnic group.

Tatar historian and ethnologist Damir Iskhakov said that his view is that religion cannot be used to separate Kreshens as an ethnic group different from other Tatars.

In the resolutions passed at the forum, the TIU openly condemned "Russia's colonial policies" regarding non-Russian ethnic groups and protested the federal tax reform that has led to a reduction in tax revenues for the republican budget. The TIU's resolutions also called for the formation of an Idel-Ural confederation, which is seen as a possible remedy to the current situation involving tensions between the Tatar and Bashkir peoples, based on the violation of Tatar rights in Bashkortostan (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 11 April 2002). The center also criticized Russia's Nuclear Energy Ministry for its plan to resume construction of nuclear power plants in Bashkortostan and Tatarstan, "since, following the Chernobyl tragedy, all developed, Western countries revised their plans for implementing [the use of] nuclear energy and we should do the same."

The center also pledged to try to do more to obtain official status for the Memory Day mourning event, which is held annually on 15 October, "in light of coming 450th anniversary" of the conquest of Kazan by Russian troops in 1552.

Tatar Prisoner Wants To Return Home
Igor Tkachev, an investigator at Russia's Prosecutor-General's Office, told "Izvestiya" on 15 April that "one of the three Russian citizens being held at the American military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, wants to return home" (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 3 April, 4 April, and 15 April 2002). Ravil Gumarov, who was captured by U.S. troops during the antiterrorist operation in Afghanistan, expressed his wish to go back to Chally where he has a wife and three children.

According to the report in "Izvestiya," the three detainees, two of whom are from Tatarstan, say they went to Afghanistan to join the Taliban in search of "pure Islam."

Nevertheless, if tried by U.S. law, they may face the death penalty for acting as mercenaries. Article 359 of Russia's Criminal Code, however, stipulates a sentence of three to seven years in prison for the same crime.

Tatarstan Special Forces Leave For Chechnya
Fifty-four members of the special forces from the Tatarstan State Board for Sentence Enforcement (GUIN) left Kazan on 15 April to join federal law-enforcement troops in the Chernokozovo region of Chechnya. According to previous reports by human-rights activists and in Russia's "Novaya gazeta" weekly, Chernokozovo is home to several prisons with inhuman living conditions where Chechen prisoners are reportedly subjected to torture.

Presidential Staff Receives New Appointees
President Mintimer Shaimiev signed a decree on 15 April to appoint Jawdat Salikhov, former head of the presidential security service, as an executive officer in the presidential staff, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported the next day, citing a presidential spokesperson. Salikhov's former deputy, Rafis Khabibullin, was also appointed on 15 April as the new head of the presidential security service.

Shamil Zarifov, a former executive officer of the presidential staff, resigned from his post two weeks ago, (see "RFE/RL Tatar-Bashkir Report," 2 April 2002).

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Rakhimov Upbeat About Ethnic-Rights Situation In Republic
In an interview in "Vek" on 12 April, Bashkortostan President Murtaza Rakhimov said: "We have formed new legislation in the sphere of ethnic relations. Our priority is to ensure citizens' constitutional rights in all spheres regardless of their ethnicity or faith, and to give [them] free choice of language for communication and [free] use of [their] native language, [as well as the right to] education and upbringing in their native language."

According to Rakhimov, schoolchildren in Bashkortostan study 15 ethnic languages, while 64.6 percent of non-Russian children are reportedly given the opportunity to study their culture in their native language. The republic also has newspapers published in nine ethnic languages.

Rakhimov quoted Russian President Vladimir Putin as saying that, "Bashkiria reflects all of our Russia with its variety of cultures, languages, and friendship among peoples. We will use your example and value everything that we have achieved in many hundreds of years."

Prime Minister Criticizes Presidential Housing Fund
Bashkortostan Prime Minister Rafael Baidavletov told Rosbalt agency on 15 April that, "the situation in Bashkortostan's real-estate market is unfavorable and paradoxical." He said he was not satisfied with the unjustifiably high prices of real estate and the pace of the construction of new housing in the Bashkortostan capital, Ufa. The Bashkortostan Presidential Housing Fund paid for the construction of 18,500 square meters of new apartments in the city during the first three months of 2002, representing only 4.8 percent of expected construction for 2002, despite proper and timely funding.

Baidavletov said he was surprised that, while the average market price of apartments in Ufa is 12,100 rubles ($387) per square meter, and the cost of construction estimated by the housing fund is 8,000 rubles ($256) per square meter, construction companies under the housing fund are demanding 13,000-14,000 rubles ($419-$450) per square meter. He added that "here we have a paradox, with cheap construction materials and expensive housing."

Gazprom Officials Visit Ufa
President Rakhimov met with a delegation from Russia's natural-gas monopoly, Gazprom, in Ufa on 11 April. The delegation, led by Aleksandr Ananenkov, deputy chairman of administration of Gazprom, came to Ufa to discuss the fulfillment of mutual obligations by the republic and the natural-gas producer, Bashinform agency reported, citing the presidential press service on 15 April. The parties reportedly discussed the issue of maintenance of the gas-supply networks owned by Gazprom on the republic's territory.

Officials React To Problem Of Malnutrition
According to Bashkortostan's State Statistics Committee on 15 April, residents of the republic, including children, have in recent years been suffering the effects of vitamin-depleted diets. Many residents have been surviving on diets of bread, potatoes, and sugar, which are more affordable than various types of meat, fruit, and vegetables. Health officials responded to these statistics by urging the distribution of vitamin supplements.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi