Why Sochi Has No Mosques
- [googlemaps https://maps.google.com/url?q=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.panoramio.com%2Fphoto%2F58812191%3Fsource%3Dwapi%26referrer%3Dkh.google.com” target=”_blank”>one-room wood-frame building.
In February of 2012, Sochi mayor Anatoliy Pakhomov reached an agreement with Vyalit Ilyasov, a leader of the local Muslim group Yasin, to build an Islamic cultural center with prayer rooms for men and women—but still no mosque.
The city’s lack of accommodations for Muslims is in part a product of a dark regional history. The Russian government is largely deferential to Islamic customs in historically Muslim areas, but although Sochi is in the foothills of the Caucasus mountains, a Tsarist purge in the 19th century killed hundreds of thousands of ethnically Circassian Muslims and displaced many more. In the 1930s, the last surviving mosque in the region—in Tkhagapsh—was shut down.
Athletes in Sochi, at least, won’t have to worry about finding a place to pray. “The Sochi 2014 Organizing committee is ensuring that prayer rooms are available for various religious during the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games,” the Sochi Olympics organizing committee said in a statement. “As with previous Games, multi-faith centers will be available in the Olympic and Paralympic villages with five separate prayer rooms in each for followers of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism.”
And there’s a chance Sochi may yet get its mosque. In January, Askerbiy Kardanov, Chairman of the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of Adygea and the Krasnodar Territory (which includes Sochi), told reporters that plans for the long-awaited mosque project would pick up again after the Olympics, when the city would be looking for new uses for its Olympic villages and acres of asphalt. “The first thing [is] to find a suitable place for the construction of God’s house,” he said, according to Caucasian Policy.
But Sochi’s impasse only underscores the larger issues facing religious freedom in Russia. The mining city of Kostomuksha recently scrapped a mosque construction project, approved six years ago, due to local protests. Another approved plan, for a mosque in the steppe city of Novokuznetsk, also fell through. And as international religious freedom advocate Katrina Lantos-Swett pointed out at an event at Washington’s Heritage Foundation last week, Moscow “has two million Muslims, but only four mosques”—a number that’s not likely to change now that mayor Sergei Sobyanin has said the city has reached its limit.
In Putin’s Russia, there’s at least one construction boom the government can’t seem to get behind.