Solidarity with an embattled minority

EMU Ukraine Hearing, Berlin, 3 May 2014

Berlin (EMU) – At the invitation of the European Muslim Union (EMU) Foundation and the Islamische Zeitung (IZ), a hearing was held Saturday, 3rd May 2014 on the situation of Muslims in Ukraine, especially in Crimea, in a Berlin conference hotel. Muslim representatives from Germany and abroad travelled to this special meeting. It was important for the EMU that European Muslims show solidarity with their oppressed brothers and sisters.

The first part of the hearing was devoted to introductory presentations by four speakers. The event was initiated by the editor of the “Islamische Zeitung”, Germany’s leading Muslim monthly newspaper, and EMU-chairman, lawyer Abu Bakr Rieger.

Rieger made it clear that this was not about a simple black-and-white view of the matter, nor was it a simple-minded anti-Russian stance on the basis of daily politics. Good relations have in the past been established by the Foundation with Russian Muslims and officials through several trips and high-level meetings. There was also a common stance in the commitment against terrorism. However, we must now conclude that legitimate concerns exist at present about the current and future attitude of Moscow towards minorities and in particular Muslim minority populations. Rieger pointed out that the present-day crisis is part of the global crisis of law, which is evident in the financial and security crisis of our times.

The first of the speakers was IZ- editor in chief Sulaiman Wilms who spoke on the history of Muslims in the region and provided a context for the history of European Muslims in general. Wilms made clear, among other things, that the Muslim Crimean Tatars were an integral part of European history as well as the Muslim community in Europe.

This was followed by the geopolitics expert Parvez Asad Sheikh from the University of Barcelona. Sheikh situated the crisis in Ukraine within the global crisis of the nation state as a whole – which finds itself faced with enormous challenges. In particular, the emergence of influential anti-Muslim movements, such as the Front National in France, raises fundamental questions about its further existence. It is to be feared that there will be emergence of territorial zones of extended influence, a “national politique,” as well as an increased discrimination of minorities in the future.

In the second part of the keynote speeches the Ukrainian academic and translator of the Qur’an into Ukrainian, Mykhaylo Yakubovych, and the representative of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people Abdurrahman Egiz spoke about the current situation in Ukraine, the position of Muslims in the Ukrainian society, and finally about the actual fate of the Tartars.

According to Yakubovych many stereotypes from the international reporting do not correspond to the real situation on the ground. As an element of the religious landscape of their homeland, the Ukrainian Muslims are not a ‘foreign body,’ but rather an integral part of their country. This has been based on the full religious freedom which the Ukrainian Muslims have enjoyed since the independence of their country – a religious freedom greater than that of Russia, and greater even than that of Western Europe.

There is no question that Islam belongs in the perception of the majority of the Ukrainian population to the identity of the country. In the current crisis the Muslims – even those in the disputed areas of the eastern region such as the Donetsk Basin – were in the main supportive of the Maidan movement. This included, of course, the Crimean Tatar Muslims who constituted the majority of the Muslim community in Ukraine.

Their representative Abdurrahman Egiz closed the keynote speeches with a description of the fundamental difficulties of his people, as well as the current crisis. Egiz, who was attacked just three days after the event by unknown thugs in the Crimea, saw his people’s rights at risk by the annexation of his homeland by the Russian Federation. “All events in Ukraine affect us as well,” he stated. He noted too that the leading figure of the Crimean Tatars had been refused entry to the Crimea. It is symbolic of the situation of his people, that Mustafa Dschemilew who had struggled during the Soviet era for a return of the exiled Crimean Tatars to their homeland, cannot go home again.

According to Egiz the Crimean Tatars are aware that they themselves are not able to actively change their current situation. Therefore, they have chosen a policy of non-confrontation and are now concerned with a protection of the Muslims and their institutions in the Crimea. The current crisis of Ukraine and the Crimea must be solved by the international community. The Muslim countries here also have a duty to support them. His people call on them to “protect our rights.” It is quite possible that discrimination shall manifest in the future or that the conditions shall deteriorate to such a degree that it shall be impossible for the people to remain in the Crimea.

In the second part of the hearing, participants had the opportunity to clarify open issues and to study in more detail some aspects of the issues raised. It became clear that in Germany – and beyond – there is a need for more information on the general situation of the Crimean Tatars as well as the Ukrainian Muslims. So far, the assessment of the policies of the great powers is still lacking a position vis-à-vis the Muslims.

Unanimity was expressed that on account of the current crisis – as well as for other reasons – a stronger, sustained exchange of Muslims in Eastern and Western Europe is necessary. Likewise there prevailed a consensus among the speakers that there should be no place for anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic sentiments in Ukraine.

In the foreseeable future it is planned to send a European Muslim Union delegation to visit the Ukraine.

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