How does it feel to mark Oraza bayram behind bars? Memories of Crimean political prisoners
Recorded by Tatyana Ivanevich,
Several dozens of Crimean Muslims are forced to mark one of the most important holidays in Islam – Oraza Bayram – in prison, where they were put on political charges.
In their time, Deputy Head of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people Akhtem Chiyhoz and a resident of the village of Novy Myr Ismail Ramazanov spent that day behind bars.
They shared their memories with QHA media.
Marked Oraza Bayram in the Simferopol detention centre three times – in 2015, 2016, 2017
The first two years I managed to compel the prison administration to cook pilaf for prisoners. However, when the head of the detention centre was replaced, we had a conflict over the issue with the new one from Yekaterinburg [Sergey Berezhniy – ed.]. In the third year there was no pilaf.
I also tried several times to organize a joint prayer service at least in some room. But the administration was saying that “Chiyhoz is plotting some kind of revolution, hiding behind holidays,” and they did not allow it.
For most prisoners, this day was the same in terms of internal regulations. If trials or investigative actions were scheduled on this day, no one canceled them and they were held as usual.
Many of us kept fasting in prison. I was fasting myself – it helps to calm down a little, to stabilize. But this didn’t keep us from being interrogated or tried.
We didn’t use most of the food in the detention centre, because combined fats was added to it. Survived somehow due to parcels. Of prison food we took bread and sometimes they gave us sauerkraut, which was possible to eat. But mostly their food is disgusting. My cellmates sometimes took it, but of course it was impossible to eat this slop.
Relatives and friends tried to put something good in a parcel for the holiday. On the day of the holiday, we read the prayer, made coffee, if it was in the parcel, and ate some fruit.
I don’t want to exaggerate, but cannot move my tongue to speak of any “holiday feeling”… Just read the prayer and think: “You’re spending already the second, the third holiday here…” If you can be reached by phone (I had a tougher phone restriction than others), then this is an extra emotional burden. After all, on this day I used to go to see relatives, friends came – the celebrations were very active. And there in the cell – nothing has changed over the years.
On the day of the holiday, neither relatives nor friends were allowed. On such days, the administration of the prison usually tries to limit visits on any pretext.
Now I celebrate the holiday in Kyiv. Unfortunately, there is no possibility to get home.
Marked Oraza-bayram in the Simferopol prison in 2018
I marked Oraza-bayram in the detention centre last year – I was there in June. I began to fast during the month of Ramadan together with other political prisoners: Rustem Abiltarov (“the first Bakhchysarai group” Hizb ut-Tahrir”) and Ernest Ametov (“the second Bakhchisarai group”).
But on the day of Oraza-bayram they were no longer with me. Ametov and I were separated in different cells, and Abiltarov at that time had already been transferred to Rostov-on-Don.
Conditions in my cell were terrible. I remember that water was constantly dripping from the ceiling. Then we learned that a tuberculosis dispensary was above us, where there were prisoners with tuberculosis were kept. That is how I remember that day.
Parents sent me food from time to time. Though, the jailers tried to spoil the food that was sent to the political prisoners so that we did not get it intact. But we washed it. Had to eat quickly, not to let it spoil – we had no refrigerator. We we fasting and filled up on bread.
We had no visits on holiday. The administration of the detention centre still resists that political prisoners had the opportunity to see their loved ones on this day.
The administration of the detention centre does not actually have restrictions on fasting or celebrating religious holidays – it is simply impossible to forbid. However, when, for example, it was necessary to tell the time, the administration forbade doing adhan (call for obligatory prayer). Most Muslims in the detention centre do not have clock, which means they do not know when they can break the fast, perform namaz. And the prisoner who has the ability to track the time calls to the adhan. He chants so that other prisoners could hear him. And they did.
I tried to call for prayer on the two nights of the beginning of the month of Ramadan, to announce it for those in my corps who did not have clock. But then the administration threatened: “if you do not stop shouting, we will isolate you.” I tried to explain that we do not shout, but according to Islam, time has to be indicated to those who cannot track it. There are still Muslim prisoners in the prison who call for the adhan.
On the day when we celebrated the end of the month of Ramadan, we with all the political prisoners called to one another through the windows. Opposite me in the next building Uzeir Abdullayev and Bekir Degermendzhi showed up – they were then in the hospital. And in the cell next to me were Ayder Seledinov (person involved in the “first Simferopol group”) and Server Zekeryaev (person involved in the “second Bakhchisarai group”, who has 12 children).
And so we were calling to each other through the windows. Although it is hard to call it windows. They are called “tails” – there are several layers of the grid, and even fresh air did not pass normally through it. We spoke good words, words of support, congratulated each other. And I saw the silhouettes of Abdullayev and Degermendzhi.
The guards, of course, protested. They said: “stop screaming, otherwise we will put you all down to the basement”.
I also remember that Unky Zhenya Panov (Yevhen Panov “the case of saboteurs”) was on my floor. He congratulated us on the month of Ramadan. And Volodya Balukh was also nearby, but we could not reach him.
I know that in this Ramadan, those accused in the “second Bakhchisarai group” Hizb ut-Tahrir fasted as well.