Geopolitics

In Quiet Russian Republic, Shock And Paranoia Follow Attack On Muslim Leader

In Tatarstan, more than half the population is Muslim (Adam Jones)
In Tatarstan, more than half the population is Muslim (Adam Jones)
Ildar Abuzyarov with Sergei Melnikov

KAZAN - Nobody has the exact numbers. The arrests are only talked about when the suspect is someone already well-known in the region. People like Artyom Kalashov, a Russian weightlifting champion, who they first interrogated, then tried to arrest without actually accusing him of the crime. The court blocked the arrest. Then they arrested the lead singer of a well-known local band.

At 2 a.m. in the streets of Kazan police stuck a gun in Danis Safargali�s back, and �summoned� him to the police station. Safargali, the leader of an activist organization called The Golden Horde, says he has never gotten involved in religious questions, but he was still taken to the police station that specializes in fighting religious extremism and interrogated for nine hours. Police repeated their questions again and again, trying to force Safargali to take a lie detector test. Safargali was released only after his lawyer got involved - every procedure in the book was violated, and police could not accuse Safargali of anything.

The city of Kazan, located 800 kilometers due east of Moscow, has been struggling to deal with both the psychological and security fallout of the nearly simultaneous attacks on the lives of the Mufti of Tatarstan, the region�s Islamic leader, and his deputy. Ildus Faizov, the Mufti, was injured when his car exploded from three bombs on July 19, a day before the beginning of Ramadan. His deputy, Valiulla Yakupov, had been shot dead at home earlier that day. Kazan is the capital of Russia�s Republic of Tatarstan, where around 55 percent of the population is Muslim. But unlike the Caucasus, Kazan and Tatarstan have never struggled with violent religious extremism.

On Kazan�s central pedestrian street, activists held signs saying: �We won�t allow a fight between the Russian and Tatar people� and �Hands off of Kazan.�

Azat Akhunov, professor of regional and Islamic studies in Kazan, says the double terrorist attack shocked many people in Tatarstan. �The shock is not only because of the crime, which is horrible in and of itself, but from the knowledge that it happened here, in Kazan. There are none of the other conditions in Kazan that usually lead to this kind of thing. Tatars don�t have that kind of mentality, to fight with violence. The overwhelming majority of Muslims in Tatarstan are good, well-adjusted people.

Valiulla Yakupov, in our conversations, often stressed how in Kazan he could travel freely and didn�t have to worry about his safety every minute, like he would have had to in the Caucasus.

Many versions

Akhunov is convinced: �The situation will not get out of control, in spite of the many attempts to unravel it. Everything was and will be calm here.� You want to believe it. But for the moment, Kazan is brimming with rumors. Depending on people�s beliefs and sympathies, some think there are �signs of the Wahhabis,� a reference to fundamentalist Sunni Muslims, while others see �the hand of secret police.� Others cite even more exotic versions of events, like a foreign power trying to destabilize all of Russia by spreading disorder in Tatarstan. Hillary Clinton has promised that Russia and China would pay for their position on Syria - maybe it�s time to pay the tab? Given that people in Tatarstan are convinced that their republic is the �place where Russia unites and falls apart,� the price is steep.

It�s popular among the people to talk about an �economic undercurrent� to the terrorist acts. It�s no secret that there was serious conflict between the region�s spiritual leadership and the travel agency Idel Hajj, because of quotas on planned pilgrimmages to Mecca. The agency organized all-inclusive trips for thousands of people, each one costing more than $3,000. And if you add to that various religious business, such as certifications and licenses for Halal products, there is serious money to be fought over.

The �money-motive� version seems to be one of the most commonly accepted. But can it all be attributed to financial maneuvering? For many people in Kazan, it�s obvious. Wherever there is Arab money, there is a corresponding amount of Saudi ideology. That means there are Salafists, who liked Tatarstan�s previous Mufti much more than Faizov.

Then there is the �alternative version,� that has been advanced by some of Mufti Faizov�s enemies. In this version, the attempt on Faizov�s life was a sort of demonstration, and the Mufti himself, who has been genuinely fighting with the Salafists regarding the traditions of Islam, is nothing more than a puppet. According to this conspiracy theory, the attack on Faizov�s life was the first step in an elaborate scheme to destabilize Tatarstan, revoke its privileged status as a republic and give the region�s natural resources to outsiders. The subtext of this version is also clear: the enemies are from outside, not from within.

To outside observers, this kind of conspiracy scheme might seem outrageous. But in Tatarstan, there are more and more voices expressing their outrage that the region sends $12.4 billion to the federal government every year and only gets around 10 percent of it back in federal subsidies. People complain of open attacks on the Tatar language in schools, of attempts to call the Muslim Tatars �primarily Orthodox Christian� and the region�s lack of higher education. They worry that the federal government is trying to �russify� Tatars, so that nobody will prevent seizure of the Republic�s property. These are the kind of people who believe in complex conspiracy theories.

Who is guilty?

Trying to fight these kinds of feelings with repression will only aggravate the situation. Radical Islam is still very weak in the region, but if the wrong sorts of measures are taken, it will start to grow exponentially, following the examples of Dagestan and Inigushetia.

It is still not clear where to look for the criminals behind the double terrorist attack. Nobody has claimed responsibility for it. The �economic version� gives a motive for the attack on the Mufti, but fails to explain the killing of his deputy. Yakupov, the deputy, handled neither financial questions nor had anything to do with pilgrimages. The President of Tatarstan, Rustam Minnikhanov, said in a television interview: � Our spiritual leaders followed traditional Islam. It is clear that there are other currents out there, and what has happened is a wake-up call. Our position should be even firmer. Traditional Islam would never allow this kind of thing, especially because the attack was on people who themselves were in the service of Islam.�

He made transparent allusions to the �Wahhabi version,� without making any direct accusation.

There are currently five people being held in connection with the attacks on Faizov and Yakupov, including the head of the Idel Hajj tour operator. But in an additional wrinkle, one of Faizov�s primary ideological opponents, Ramil Yunusov, abruptly disappeared from Kazan around the time of the attacks.

Faizov, who suffered two broken legs and other injuries when his car was blown up, has called for dialogue and offered forgiveness for his attackers in his public speeches since the attacks. He also has asked law enforcement to carry out their investigation without infringing on the rights of the citizens of Kazan.

Read the original article in Russian

Photo - Adam Jones

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food / travel

The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire


According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA

Unsplash/@nemo23


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council


Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire


The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

Unsplash/@hkblind


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke


During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press


Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

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