Staunton, March 13 – Ten days ago, OMON troops broke into a Surgut bar frequented by workers from Central Asia and the south Caucasus, detained some of them and forced others to shave their beards, Interfax-Religion reported yesterday, an incident that had received little notice before then but that is now sparking outrage on many Muslim websites.
The Russian news agency report is straightforward. It says that heavily armed OMON troops entered a bar near the mosque in the Khanty-Mansiisk republic city because of reports that there was a fight there, detained several for a day or two, and forced three to shave or at least trim their beards (interfax-religion.ru/islam/?act=news&div=50331).
Faizulo Aminov, the head of the Tajik diaspora in Surgut, told the news service that he had spoken with Aleksandr Yerokhov, the city’s chief of police, who acknowledged that the incident had taken place, that the officers were his subordinates and offered his apologies. Yerokhov added that “the guilty party” had been “found and punished.”
But the Interfax report not only led to more reports by mainstream Russian news services (see, for example, lenta.ru/news/2013/03/12/surgut/ura.ru/content/khanti/12-03-2013/news/1052154665.html, nr2.ru/yamal_ugra/428464.htmlsitv.ru/arhiv/news/incidents/56054/).
These outlets, while adding some interesting details – the OMON troops involved were from a unit that had carried out the attack in the Latvian capital on January 20, 1991) and the gastarbeiters involved were from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan – generally repeated the Interfax report.
Islamic and Caucasian sites, however, were more critical of what took place, featuring photographs of some of those involved which clearly show that the men involved may have been forced to trim their beards but certainly did not shave them off entirely as the Interfax report had implied (kavpolit.com/surgutskie-ciryulniki/ and ansar.ru/rfsng/2013/03/12/38560).
And these sites gave more prominence to reports that the “OMON raid” was connected with the recent wave of arrests in various places in the Russian Federation of “members of one of the extremist groups of Salafis” rather than being something of only local interest.
Consequently, this story is likely to be picked up by other media outlets in the Caucasus and Central Asia and generate anger among Muslims there and by outlets in the Russian blogosphere which are likely to present the behavior of the OMON as heroic or at least entirely justified.
Those differing interpretations in turn will only raise the temperature of relations between Muslim gastarbeiters and Russian residents and could trigger more such events elsewhere, yet another example of the way the new media are playing an ever greater role in inter-ethnic relations in the Russian Federation.