On Thursday July 19 Valiulla Yakupov, the deputy chief mufti of Russia’s Republic of Tatarstan, was gunned down near the door of his house in Tatarstan’s capital of Kazan. Several minutes later an explosive device ripped through the car of his boss – chief mufti of Tatarstan Ildus Faizov. The spiritual leader of Muslim Tatars was wounded in his legs and taken to a hospital. Both clerics were known as critics of radical Islamist groups, whose activity keeps growing among Muslim population of the Russian Federation.
This act of terror that literally shock Russia got a minimal coverage in American media. Here is the New York Times take on the event: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/20/world/europe/two-muslim-officials-attacked-in-tatarstan-russia.html?_r=1&ref=world
The New York Times article is titled: “Two Muslim Officials Attacked in Southern Russia”. The fact that the attack took place in the capital of the most prominent, prosperous and influential Muslim republic of the Russian Federation is not even mentioned in this title. No newspapers reader can understand from the title that what happened was in fact an assassination of the official leaders of moderate Islam in Russia – the country with the biggest Muslim population in Europe.
Islam is the second largest religious group in the Russian Federation, after Orthodox Christianity. In one of his official speeches Vladimir Putin said that in his opinion there are now 20 million Muslims in the Russian Federation. Some Muslim leaders believe that correct figure is close to 30 million. Nobody knows for sure.
Many Russians believe that the worst problem their country faces is the demographic crisis. In 2001, when Vladimir Putin just came to power, he said in his speech to Parliament: “For several years the population of our country is reduced annually by the average of 750 thousand people. If to believe to the forecasts, in 15 years Russian population will lose 22 million. If the present trend continues, the survival of the nation is threatened.”
Here is the quote of the Putin’s speech made 6 years later, in 2006: “In fact, we reached already critical point. Over the past 13 years, the number of deaths in Russia exceeded the number of births by 11.2 million people. If nothing is done, by the end of the twenty-first century, the population of Russia will be reduced by half.”
The problem is still unsolved. Meanwhile in Russia the birth rate of Muslims many time exceeds the birth rate of Orthodox Christians and atheist ethnic Russians.
Furthermore, the number of mainly young migrants from the former Soviet Muslim republics of Central Asia and the Caucasus grows in Russia. According to some sources about 3-4 million people with Islamic traditions have lately found jobs and a new home in Russia: about 2 million of Azerbaijanis, one million of Kazakhs, and several hundreds thousand each of Uzbeks, Tajiks and Kyrgyzes.
More than 2 million Muslims now live and work just in Moscow. It has become one of the biggest cities for Muslims in Europe and its few houses of worship can no longer cope. During the Muslim holidays Moscow’s four mosques are overflowing and tens of thousands of Muslims gather for prayers in the streets.
There is a Muslim support centre in Moscow, teaching and advising new ethnic Russian converts. This center has registered more than 10.000 newly converted women alone.
To believe some demographic estimates, there is a real possibility that in not far away future the majority of Russian population will become Muslim.
Meanwhile the Muslim extremism keeps growing in the North Caucasus area of Russia.
In the summer of 2006, the so-called military Amir of Kabardino-Balkaria Anzor Astemirov (Emir Saifullah) published on the website “Kavkaz-Center” a list of the “imams – traitors”. “They are now warned” – stated Amir, –“they would be given time to improve. If they do not accept the warning, they will be destroyed.”
After this statement attacks on traditional imams have increased sharply in the North Caucasus. If, in 2007, there were five attacks on imams, in 2009, that number had doubled. Five imams were killed and as many wounded.
Terrorist attack in Kazan is the first case of such assassination happening outside of the North Caucasus area. Tatarstan is a part of Russia from 16th century, and Tatars are one of the ethnic groups that seem to be perfectly integrated into Russian society.
That’s why the attack triggered the attention and coverage of the Russian media.