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Russian Muslims break with Kremlin over Myanmar

5 September 2017
Rally in Grozny on 4 September (Rizvan Edilsultanov/Instagram)

As Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis rages on, Muslims in Russia have come out in support of the country’s Muslim minority — while Moscow is supporting the government of Myanmar.

Last week, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, a Rohingya insurgent group, attacked several police stations and a military base in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. This sparked a wave of violence in the country largely affecting its civilian population. According to the BBC more than 123,000 Rohingya have fled their homes in the latest round of violence since 25 August.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that they ‘strongly condemn this armed raid aimed at undermining the efforts of Myanmar’s authorities and the international community to stabilise the situation in Rakhine State’.

Rallying in support of the Rohingya

Many Muslims in Russia have come out against the official line. A rally of around 1,000 people, many Muslims from the Caucasus and Central Asia, was held in front of Myanmar’s Embassy in Moscow on 3 September.

A report by the BBC says that some of the protesters were suggesting travelling to Myanmar to fight on the side of Muslims there. The rally was concluded with a prayer in front of the embassy.

On the same day, several hundred Daghestanis rallied in Daghestan’s capital Makhachkala in support of the Rohingya. They gathered in the morning on the city’s central square and from there walked along the central avenue, chanting ‘Allahu akbar’ (God is great) and ‘la illaha illallah’ (no god but God).

Close to the afternoon, they went to a mosque for a namaz (prayer). Organisers had planned to continue the rally outside the mosque, but this did not go ahead due to a power shortage, which protesters blamed on the administration of the mosque who they suspected of sabotaging the demonstration.

On 3 September, the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Daghestan published a statement calling for ‘the population of the region and the whole country to pray for all the oppressed and our brothers and sisters who are believers in difficult situations over the whole world’. However, they urged people not to take action based only on information from social networks, and to resist ‘provocations’.

On 4 September, the Head of Daghestan Ramazan Abdulatipov released a statement expressing concern about the situation in Myanmar. The statement said that ‘all sides to the conflict should follow international law, not inflame violence, and seek to solve problems only by peaceful means’.

Kadyrov: ‘I am against Russia's position’

On 4 September, a similar rally was held in the capital of Chechnya, Grozny, with several thousand people attending. According to a statement from Chechnya’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, at least a million people took part in the demonstration; Chechnya’s population is 1.4 million.

Protesters walked along the city’s main avenue stopping at the central Heart of Chechnya mosque. A number of leaders of the republic participated in the rally.

According to Chechen television company Grozny TV, the participants of the rally adopted unanimously a resolution calling on Russian President Vladimir Putin to ‘stop the genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’.

According to them, the protesters held a collective prayer and burned posters of nationalist Buddhist monk leader Ashin Wirathu.

The previous night, Head of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov released a video opposing Russia's position on Myanmar.

‘Even if Russia supports those shaytans [evil spirits] who are committing crimes today, I am against Russia's position, because I have my own vision, my own position. The position of Erdoğan is the most open and the best position. We support him’, the Chechen leader said in his video message. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has labelled the oppression of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar genocide.

On 5 September, Russian President Vladimir Putin commented on the situation at a press conference following the BRICS summit.

‘We are against any violence and we call on the authorities of this country [Myanmar] to take control of the situation. As for the opinion of Russian citizens on the foreign policy of the Russian state, everyone has the right to have their own opinion, regardless of his official position’, he said. Putin added that this concerned the leaders of various regions of Russia as well.

‘And I assure you that there is no anti-government unrest on the part of the leadership of Chechnya. I ask everyone to calm down. Everything is in order’, he was quoted as saying.

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