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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06MOSCOW2447 2006-03-13 16:39 2011-08-30 01:44 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Moscow

DE RUEHMO #2447/01 0721639
R 131639Z MAR 06

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MOSCOW 002447 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/10/2016 
Classified By: Minister-Counselor for Political Affairs Kirk 
Augustine.  For reasons 1.4 (b and d). 
1. (C) SUMMARY.  Two ongoing court cases in the southern 
Russian city of Astrakhan have stirred part of the local 
Muslim community to protest against perceived discrimination. 
 On a February 28 - March 1 trip to Astrakhan, we found that 
some in its Muslim community suspect that a city order to 
destroy a recently built mosque, as well as a criminal case 
against a Muslim businessman accused of inciting religious 
hatred, were both instigated by authorities to exert control 
over the Muslim population in Russia's south.  The merits of 
the two cases remain unclear, but such perceptions in the 
local Muslim community could produce tension, in the long 
term possibly influencing the moderate nature of Astrakhan's 
Muslim community.  END SUMMARY. 
2. (C) The city of Astrakhan, located on the Caspian Sea, has 
an ethnically and religiously diverse population of just over 
500,000.  Originally a crossroads of trading routes, 
Astrakhan has reportedly developed into a tolerant community 
where people of different backgrounds live together 
peacefully.  While the majority of the population (around 70 
percent, according to oblast authorities) consider themselves 
Christian, a significant Muslim population exists.  The 
Muslim community is largely Volga Tatar and considered 
moderate, despite the influence of a more radical Dagestani 
diaspora.  There are over 40 mosques in Astrakhan Oblast, and 
with an Islamic Institute headed by an Algerian-born rector, 
two Islamic centers, and several independent Islamic 
foundations, the Muslim community appears vibrant. 
3. (C) The Muslim community has reportedly maintained good 
relations with other religious communities within the city. 
Father Mikhail of Astrakhan's Russian Orthodox Church told us 
that he considered Oblast Mufti Nazambek Ilyasov (who works 
in conjunction with the Central Spiritual Directorate of 
Muslims) a good friend, although he noted that new mosques 
remained empty, implying that mosque construction may be 
outpacing the growth of the Muslim population.  Rabbi Shlomo 
Goldenberg, the Astrakhan rabbi of the Federation of Jewish 
Communities, also claimed to us that he enjoys good relations 
with the Muslim leadership and commented that they often 
jointly attend oblast celebrations and holiday functions. 
4. (C) The Astrakhan city administration issued an order in 
January for the destruction of recently built Mosque Number 
34, located at the entrance to the city on the airport road. 
The order gave the Muslim community two months to tear down 
the mosque before the city would step in and do so. 
Astrakhan Vice-Mayor Yevgeniy Aptekar and Oblast Deputy 
Minister for International Cooperation Oleg Kolominov both 
claimed to us that the order is related to construction 
regulation violations that make the mosque structurally 
unsound and therefore unsafe.  Both denied that the order was 
a violation of religious freedom. 
5. (C) The Council of Mosque Number 34, represented by 
Chairman Asya Makhmudova, reacted strongly to the order, 
appealing it to the oblast court and applying for permission 
to hold a protest rally.  Permission for a planned February 
protest was denied, and on March 1 the oblast court denied 
the appeal.  The Council now has until May 1 to tear down the 
mosque.  Makhmudova believes the order was issued after an 
August 2005 visit by President Putin.  She told us she 
believed that Putin was dissatisfied that a mosque would be 
the first image to greet visitors upon entry into the city 
from the airport.  Seeking to compromise, the Council told 
the city administration that it would not be opposed to the 
construction of an Orthodox Church next to the mosque, if 
that would resolve the situation.  The city did not respond. 
Veronica Karpycheva-Petrova, the Council's attorney, 
indicated to us that the Council would take its case to 
Moscow, both through the courts and through a public 
relations campaign. 
6. (C) The reaction from the rest of the Astrakhan community 
has been mixed.  Karpycheva-Petrova told us that local media 
refused to write about the case because of their loyalty to 
the administration.  A local journalist was quick to echo to 
us the administration's position about construction 
violations.  Although the eleven councils of Astrakhan city's 
Muslim community signed on to a letter to Astrakhan Governor 
Aleksandr Zhilkin protesting the case, other religious 
communities have reportedly remained silent. 
MOSCOW 00002447  002 OF 002 
7. (C) In addition, federal authorities have been prosecuting 
a local Muslim businessman and activist, Mansur Shangareyev, 
on charges of fraud and incitement to religious hatred. 
Already sentenced to three years on the fraud charges, &#x000
A;Shangareyev is currently being tried on the second charge. 
Shangareyev was arrested in March 2005, after authorities 
searched his home and claimed to have found leaflets and 
other material used to spread radical Islamic ideas.  His 
attorney, Vladimir Ryakhovskiy of the Slavic Center for Law 
and Religion, told us that the charges were unfounded and 
that the evidence was planted by security services during the 
search.  Human rights activists in Moscow, including the 
GOR's former human rights ombudsman, Oleg Mironov, have 
signed a letter to Astrakhan Oblast officials protesting this 
"state discrimination." 
8. (C) For Astrakhan's Muslim community, the two cases run 
counter to a history of support from local, regional, and 
federal authorities.  Makhmudova, noting that the previous 
city administration was supportive of Mosque 34, passed us a 
copy of a letter signed by the previous mayor asking the 
local construction board to facilitate permission for its 
construction.  Former Governor Anatoliy Guzhvin reportedly 
set aside funds from the oblast budget to work on restoring 
another local mosque and urged the business community to 
contribute.  Makhmudova said the turnaround in authorities' 
attitudes toward the Muslim community was hard to understand. 
9. (C) The role of Mufti Ilyasov is similarly confusing.  As 
the two cases have proceeded, it appears that Ilyasov has 
struggled between supporting his community and maintaining 
his good relationship with the federal and oblast 
governments.  Makhumudova referred to Ilyasov's stance on the 
mosque as two-sided, mentioning that "he tells the Muslim 
community that he supports it, and then tells the authorities 
that he supports them."  Ilyasov has met several times with 
Putin to discuss support of Russian Muslims.  Some observers 
believe that Ilyasov may have been behind the case against 
Shangareyev due to a split in the Astrakhan Muslim community 
that may have endangered his position as mufti. 
10. (C) Meanwhile, Astrakhan State University representatives 
told us that increasing numbers of students are studying 
Farsi and participating in student exchanges and information 
technology training in Iran.  Local officials also told us 
that business ties with Iran are on the rise, as Iranians 
look to use Astrakhan as a point of entry for their goods. 
During a meeting with Astrakhan Oblast Minister of 
International Cooperation Askar Kabikeyev, he explained that 
he was meeting later the same day with an Iranian official. 
11. (C) As in Tatarstan and other areas of Russia with a 
significant Muslim population - with the possible exception 
of the North Caucasus - Muslims in Astrakhan have practiced a 
moderate form of Islam since the collapse of the Soviet Union 
and lived peacefully with their non-Muslim neighbors.  There 
is, however, some cause for concern as younger Muslims now 
have greater access to more radical thinking from abroad. 
Friction can be compounded by stronger nationalism among 
ethnic Russians and an increasingly close relationship 
between Russian Orthodoxy and the Russian government.  For 
the present, however, Astrakhan remains a city where specific 
grievances have not yet boiled over to feed violence of the 
sort now regularly seen in Dagestan and elsewhere in the 
North Caucasus. 


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