The Muslims of Ukraine

The Muslim Observer

The Muslims of Ukraine

By Geoffrey Cook, TMO


Men pray in the mosque of the Khan’s Palace in the Crimean town of Bakhchisaray March 10, 2014. Bakhchisaray is the historic capital of the Crimean Tatars, the largest minority on today’s Crimean peninsular. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

Alameda California–When there is news coming from a place that is but is not associated with Islam, your author — mostly out of curiosity – researches to see if there are Islamic influences.  He found them in his articles on these pages on Haiti and Sichuan (China) after the two earthquakes. 

So it is with the Ukraine.

(All of the research was done on the web.  Most of this article is an updating of two Wikipedia articles plus newspaper ephemera, and the checking of facts in various research sources.)

Most Ukrainian Muslims are Tatars and reside on the Kiev side of the Crimean peninsula, located on the northern coast of the region which was recently overrun by the Russian Army. 

The number of Muslims in the Ukraine is about 500,000–and 300,000 resided in the Crimea as of the year before last.  The total percentage in the whole country are about 0.6%, but the Tatar believers equals about 12% of the population there.

The Crimean Tatars are Sunnis.  The Mufti is the preeminent religious figure there, taking precedence over the imams–and there are nearly 150 mosques in the whole of the Ukraine.

The Islamic Crimean Tartar Khanate emanated out of the Peninsula from 1441 to 1783.  They were Turkic-speaking.  The Ottoman Empire, which succeeded the Khanate, was overseen by Istanbul with autonomy.  In the late Eighteenth century C.E. this area became part of Russia’s expanding Empire.

At the Communist Revolution (1917), Muslims equaled about one-third of the peninsular territory’s inhabitants. 

In 1944, 200,000 of the Muslims were subjected to resettlement in the Central Asian Republics during Stalin’s ruthless reign.  Nearly 200,000 Crimean Tatars were deported.  Of those, 45% died on the journey.  In 1967, Moscow rehabilitated the deported Crimean Muslims although there was no provision for them to reoccupy their former homes on the north shore of the Black Sea.  The restoration of Islamic Tatars to their ancestral home commenced in 1989 after the collapse of the Soviet State.

Since the 1960s, there has been a Crimean “parliament” or mejlis–with a degree of proportional representation.  Further, Muslims in the Ukrainian Crimea are afraid that that institution along with the Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of the Crimea (DUMK) would be repressed under a Russian-controlled area between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.

Which side is the Muslim community on in the current crisis? 

Hakan Kirimli, an international affairs advisor in the Crimean Tatar National Movement said in a recent interview reported in the U.K.’s Guardian that such a split, which could see areas of the country annexed by Russia, would be “totally suicidal” for the country’s Crimean Tatar Muslim minority, such a split, which could see [large] areas of the country become part of  Russia, would be “totally suicidal” for the country’s Crimean Tatar Muslim minority. He alluded to the 1944 deportation of Tatars; therefore, “They are for staying in [the] Ukraine and by no means [wish to go to] Russia.”

Marc Schneier, who has observed Islamophobia in the Ukraine, said that “it’s too early to tell” whether the unrest will have a negative effect on the country’s Muslims.  “We must…be vigilant…so that Muslims – particularly in the Crimea – will not be targeted in any xenophobic or any negative way,” he said.

Succinctly the Muslim population in the Autonomous Republic of the Crimea favor being part of the Ukrainian State and the fear of the effect of a new Russian empire would have upon the            Islamic people in the Autonomous Republic of the Crimea.


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