JRL HOME - RSS - FB - Tw - Support

It Takes a Murder
The Tragic Murder of a Muslim Activist Masks Measured Optimism Over Hate Crimes
Dan Peleschuk - Russia Profile - russiaprofile.org - 4.16.12 - JRL 2012-71

The recent murder of a prominent Muslim activist has sent ripples of fear throughout Moscow's Muslim community, offering a reminder that Russia remains plagued by ethnically motivated killings. Yet the slaying reveals several, perhaps borderline optimistic, forecasts for minority life in Moscow. Observers point to the marked decrease in hate crime, a result of better police work, and the outpouring of public grief, matched by the authorities' sympathy, as signs that ethnic tensions in Russia may be less grim than they often seem.

Metin Mekhtiyev, a 33-year-old former manager at Moscow's Islamic Cultural Center, was found stabbed to death early last week near the Belorussky train station, his face and neck brutally slashed. Investigators are treating the murder as a standard mugging, citing his stolen money and cell phone, yet Mekhtiyev's friends and former colleagues disagree. They say Mekhtiyev's was a clear-cut, ethnically motivated murder that bore all the hallmarks of a hate crime committed by ultranationalists.

Abdul Vakhed Niyazov, the center's president and chairman of the public division of Russia's Council of Muftis, said all signs point to ultranationalists as having committed the crime, part of a recent trend of anti-Muslim violence in Russia. "They even have instructions all over extremist Web sites that detail how to do this, for the shock value symbolizing the cutting of a lamb's throat," he said. Niyazov added that the presence of a girl ­ there were four men present during the murder, according to witness reports ­ has been a common denominator in a recent string of murders in St. Petersburg, in which the girl is used to claim the alleged attacker had harassed her.

Xenophobia and hate crimes are an unfortunate mainstay in Russia. As scores of Muslim migrants from the former Soviet republics of Central Asia and the Caucasus flooded over Russia's borders, working class Russians have grown increasingly worried over being forced out of the job market. Throughout the past decade, particularly, disgruntled Slavs have turned to various far right and xenophobic fringe groups to air their grievances, a potentially dangerous outlet that resulted, among other things, in a deadly ethnic riot in central Moscow in late 2010.

Mekhtiyev's murder, though not yet recognized as ethnically motivated, has once again offered a chilling reminder that ultranationalists and murderous sycophants still roam the streets of the capital ­ and likely many other Russian cities. But through such a tragedy, which time and again prompts domestic and international media to lament Russia's dire ethnic situation, there may be signs of hope ­ however limited ­ for both Moscow's embattled Muslim minority and the authorities' capacity to protect it.

For example, Tanya Lokshina, the Moscow director for Human Rights Watch, pointed to the drastic drop in hate crimes throughout recent years: the SOVA Center, a respected monitoring group, found that ethnic murder rates have decreased by 81 percent over four years, from 109 in 2008 to only 20 in 2011. "That in itself speaks to an improvement in the performance of law enforcement agencies, which became more capable of detecting potenti