Russian occupation and dominance of Russian nationalism in Crimea have made the lives of Crimean Tatars extremely hard. Russian propaganda is zealously working to discredit the Crimean Tatar people. It has accused them of all manners of crimes: killing people during the rally on February 26, 2014, collaborating with Turkish intelligence services and even recruiting Ukrainian Muslims to ISIS. The last accusation is especially cynical, since it was made after the disappearance of 16-year-old Elvina Razakova, whose fate is still unknown. QirimInfo tried to find out whether there are any real grounds for accusations that Elvina was connected to terrorism and who benefits from such accusations.
Unfortunately, disappearances of Crimean Tatars in Crimea have not been uncommon since the annexation. Missing people were mostly openly pro-Ukrainian citizens, civil activists etc. However, disappearance of 16-year-old Elvina Razakova attracted especially large amount of attention. She left her home in the village of Dubki on January 13 to go to her school in Simferopol. That was the last time anyone saw her.
On January 22, Russian TV channel LifeNews, infamous for its propaganda, said that Elvina ran away from home and was planning to go to Moscow or Rostov-on-Don and then travel to Syria and join fighters of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, a terrorist organization that is outlawed in Russia.
Moreover, LifeNews journalists published a fragment of their interview with Elvina’s maternal grandmother Khatidzhe Kadyrova, who accused Elvina’s father Abduaziz Razakov of fostering radical views in Elvina and being connected to her disappearance. It is telling that LifeNews decided not to publish the interview with Elvina’s fraternal grandparents it also recorded.
“They [LifeNews] first interviewed my parents and my ex-wife’s mother (Elvina’s parents are divorced), then me. In their reports, however, they used only my comment and the accusations against me my ex-mother-in-law made. For some reason, she really dislikes me,” told QirimInfo Elvina’s father.
According to LifeNews, Abduaziz Razakov, Elvina’s father, is Salafi — Salafists take a fundamentalist approach to Islam and Salafism is used by some terrorist groups, including ISIS, to justify violent acts — and tried to send his daughter to mainland Ukraine during the annexation of Crimea by Russia. Razakov denies these claims.
“I am not a Salafist, it is a lie LifeNews made up. I did not plan to take Elvina to mainland Ukraine: I want my children to be happy and live by their parents’ side, at their home,” said Abduaziz regarding the accusations.
Abduaziz’s niece and Elvina’s cousin Safiya Saifullah confirms his words.
“Elvina’s maternal grandmother dislikes my uncle. She considers herself a Muslim, but Elvina often said that her grandmother denies the existence of God and thinks religion is an instrument for enslaving people. The thing is, both grandmothers were interviewed, but LifeNews showed only the one, whose position was advantageous for them,” Safiya said.
Elvina’s family indeed is religious: its members perform salah and its women mostly wear hijabs.
“I started wearing hijab only three or four years ago and my sister Elvina started only two years ago, when she came to it herself,” said Safiya. “No one forced us, since forcing someone to do that is a sin. The faith in Allah should be sincere.”
Elvina’s relatives completely reject the version that she fled to Syria and consider it ungrounded nonsense.
“How could she join ISIS? That is impossible. Once I saw her near the central market walking with an elderly woman and carrying a couple of bags. When I asked her what she was doing, Elvina replied that she took pity on that woman and wanted to help. Elvina always treated everyone well, regardless of their ethnicity or religion,” Safiya recalls. “Elvina is very dutiful and calm. She lived with her mother, since her parent divorced, but she had good relationship with her father.”
According to Safiya, Elvina’s family disapproves of ISIS and believes that its members have little in common with Islam.
Currently Elvina Razakova’s whereabouts are unknown and that makes it easy to spread various rumours. Russian authorities of Crimea, however, are ignoring the fact that claims about their citizens running to Syria are casting a shadow over them. Especially as there are thousands of people — both Muslims and representatives of other religions — who reportedly left Russia to fight for ISIS.
“Claims that this girl supposedly went to Syria to join ISIS does not justify the actions of occupational authorities and might even prompt accusations that authorities themselves organized such a “trip”. Think about it, it is unlikely that a young girl, who does not know foreign languages well and has no outside assistance or help from the government, was able to cross this many borders and get to the territory controlled by terrorists,” Oleksandr Bohomolov, head of the Ahatanhel Krymsky Institute of Oriental Studies, presents his opinion on the issue.
Moreover, it is possible that a Crimean Tatar girl was accused in order to discredit all Crimean Tatars and Elvina was targeted because of her religiousness and adherence to sharia.
Bohomolov knows the religious life of Crimean Tatars well, since he used to work in Crimea and studied Ukrainian Islam a lot. He believes that extremism was never widely-spread among Crimean Tatars. Though sometimes they were accused of extremism or even being connected to al-Qaeda, these accusations usually were ungrounded and aimed at discrediting Crimean Tatar politicians or organizations.
“I have seen no conditions for spreading of extremist views among Crimean Tatars. The most problematic organization that used to evoke a sense of danger on the peninsula — even among Crimean Tatars themselves — was Hizb ut-Tahrir. In reality, however, it is not a terrorist organization, despite accusations of Russian authorities,” expert explains. “It is unconventional and a little radical, but not terrorist at all. Besides, it had only about 200 supporters in Crimea. They used to make loud statements sometimes, for example, regarding US intervention in Iraq, but mostly to attract attention to themselves.
There are adherents of Salafism — a movement within Islam, that is sometimes used to justify extremism — in Crimea, but only few of them. It is true, though, that Crimean Tatars reportedly participated in the conflict in Syria, fighting either for ISIS or for other armed groups.
“There is an organization called Jabhat al-Nusra. It opposes ISIS and is close to al-Qaeda. One of its units mostly consists of Muslims from former USSR countries. In the list of its members I found only two or three Crimean Tatar surnames,” says Bohomolov.
He also admits that occupation of the peninsula might have led to radicalization of Crimean and especially Crimean Tatars society. Of course, there is a possibility that some Crimean citizens, unhappy with their lives on the peninsula, might leave for Syria, but only isolated cases are possible and even then these are only assumptions, since there is no evidence. Currently there are only criminal cases filed against civil activists, but not against religious figures.
Let us not forget that a disappearance of a person has a legal aspect to it, so the government is responsible for it, with ensuring safety of citizens being one of the state’s functions. In this case, Russian authorities are the ones responsible for the safety of Crimean citizens and they are supposed to search for the girl. It seems, however, that the investigation is progressing incredibly slowly, if it is progressing at all.
On January 23, Mejlis member Eskender Bariev wrote on Facebook that on January 18 and 19 two bodies were found in Simferopol, one woman, who was later identified, and one unidentified girl. Bariev made an assumption that the second body belongs to Elvina Bazakova, but law enforcers are trying to hide this information.
Only a full-fledged victim identification procedure and proper examination can prove or disprove Bariev’s surmise. Crimean police, however, it taking its time — Elvina’s parents have not even been invited for identification procedure.
“The fact that parents were not invited for identification is definitely a mistake on law enforcers’ part. It may well be so that they are acting deliberately. A person disappeared and an unidentified body was found in the same region. Usually criminal cases are filed in both cases. According to Russian laws, when a person disappears, a criminal case over murder is filed,” Bariev explains. “If there have been these incidents, victim’s relatives are supposed to be invited for identify the victim visually or make a DNA test.”
Elvina’s father is also dissatisfied with the progress law enforcers made.
“Police says nothing. I was not able to get any specific information from them. They are pleading the investigation is confidential all the time. They tell me that they cannot say anything and that they will call me and things like that and then send me home,” says Abduaziz Razakov.
Bariev believes that the story about Elvina’s connections with ISIS was invented to hush her disappearance up and the longer the investigation goes on, the less true information we are going to get.
“In its report LifeNews clearly mentions ‘law enforcement institution of the Republic of Crimea’ as the source of information about girl’s departure for ISIS. If she left for ISIS, the case is closed. It seems no one is going to search for her. That is why we must attract attention to this issue, talk about it, demand that occupational authorities react to what we are saying,” says Bariev. “I will calm down, when I see that the girl is alive. I am ready to apologize publicly then for false information I have spread. So far, however, I think I did the right thing and so does the law enforcement environment I communicate with. The most important thing is that parents find a qualified lawyer to help them in this process as quickly as possible.”