Some 500 residents of Naberezhnie Chelny, a town in the Republic of Tatarstan, have declared their desire to “help the Afghan people in their struggle against U.S. aggression.” According to Rafis Kashapov, who heads the local branch of the Tatar Public Center in Naberezhnie Chelny, a number of the perspective Afghan volunteers know how to use weapons and have medical training and thus would be useful to Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban government. The Naberezhnie Chelny branch of the Tatar Public Center has officially taken the decision to render humanitarian aid to Afghanistan (Regions.ru, October 17). Last week, NTV television reported that twenty-five Naberezhnie Chelny residents, including “young nationalists” who “openly call themselves Wahhabis”–followers of the orthodox strain of Sunni Islam dominant in Saudi Arabia–had asked the local Tatar Public Center chapter to send them to Afghanistan to fight on the side of the Taliban (see the Monitor, October 12). The latest reports suggest that the movement is growing.
Earlier this week, 1,500 demonstrators marched in Kazan to commemorate the Tatar soldiers killed in 1552, when troops dispatched by Ivan the Terrible seized the Tatar capital. Some of the marchers carried signs accusing Russia of “chauvinism” and demanding that President Vladimir Putin be brought before the International War Crimes Tribunal, while others burnt a flag bearing the two-headed eagle, Russia’s national symbol. Speakers at a protest rally claimed that Muslims were being repressed in Russia, Palestine, Chechnya and Afghanistan and called on Allah to punish the United States, which, they said, had become “the Devil’s country.” The protesters called on Putin and Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev to adopt an act on Tatarstan’s full independence, to introduce Tatar passports and to replace the Tatar language’s Cyrillic alphabet with the Latin one (NTV, October 15; see also the Monitor, September 25).
The demonstrations in Tatarstan were relatively small, but nationalist and Islamist sentiment there appears to be on the rise, which is causing worry among some Russian observers. “Tatarstan is considered one of the most peaceful and stable national republics in the Russian Federation,” the SMI.ru website noted. “Separatist sentiments have, of course, always existed there, but have not enjoyed particular popularity among the population…. The growth of these sentiments seem to be a highly alarming fact” (SMI.ru, October 14).
In a similar vein, Abdul Vakhed Niazov, leader of the Eurasian Party of Russia, declared yesterday that the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan involved actions that bordered on being “state terrorism.” Niazov, who is also a deputy in the State Duma, said that while there were serious disagreements among Russia’s 20-25 million Muslims on various issues, the U.S. military strikes in Afghanistan had created more “solidarity” among them than at any time in the last decade. Russia’s Muslims are “extremely outraged” over the strikes on Afghanistan, he said, because it was “absolutely unproven” and “absolutely not obvious” that either the Saudi-born terrorist Osama bin Laden or the Taliban were involved in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Niazov added, however, that he was not defending either bin Laden or the Taliban, which, he said, had caused “serious harm to the image of Islam throughout the world” (Regions.ru, October 18).
RUSSIA’S ECONOMIC REVIVAL CONTINUES, DEFYING GLOBAL TRENDS.