Moscow Killings Blamed on Racism

Uvaido Shirinbekov, left, a carpenter from Tajikistan, was fatally stabbed in Moscow while out with Amid Nasratshoyev, second from left, on Valentine's Day.
Uvaido Shirinbekov, left, a carpenter from Tajikistan, was fatally stabbed in Moscow while out with Amid Nasratshoyev, second from left, on Valentine's Day. (Courtesy Of Salim Silmonov)
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By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, April 8, 2008

MOSCOW -- It was Valentine's Day, work was over, and Uvaido Shirinbekov, a Tajik carpenter, headed out for a night in the city. With Amid Nasratshoyev, a co-worker, he took the Metro from the Moscow suburb where the two lived. They planned to visit a cafe in the fashionable Chistiye Prudy neighborhood where Nasratshoyev's wife worked an evening shift.

But in Moscow, they were attacked by a gang of youths. Nasratshoyev, 27, was struck from behind on the head and fell dazed to the ground. As he stumbled to his feet, he said, Shirinbekov fell into his arms. "I've been stabbed," Shirinbekov said, according to his friend.

Five youths fled in the darkness. And Shirinbekov, 25, died on the street, just blocks from the pair's destination that night.

The killing of Shirinbekov, which remains under investigation, is part of a wave of racially motivated murders in Moscow that has put the city's migrant communities on edge, particularly people from Central Asia, according to human rights groups. Easily singled out because of their non-Slavic appearance, Central Asian workers have borne the brunt of the attacks by skinheads and neo-Nazis.

"People are living in fear," said Gavkhar Dzhurayeva of the Tajikistan Foundation in Moscow, a support group for citizens from that country. "We are advising people to be very careful. But they still have to travel to work in the morning and go home at night."

From January through March, 49 people have been killed in assaults by radical nationalists, 28 of them in the greater Moscow area, according to the Moscow Human Rights Bureau. There were 27 racist killings in Moscow in 2006 and 45 in 2007, according to the group. Most of the killings remain unsolved.

Twenty-three of the victims this year were from Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan or Uzbekistan, all former Soviet republics that supply many of the city's markets and construction sites with cheap labor. There are an estimated 850,000 migrants from Central Asia living and working in Moscow, a city of more than 10 million, according to city officials.

Kyrgyz Ambassador Raimkul Attakurov, in a letter to Russia's ombudsman this year, labeled the attacks the "savage outrages of fascist monsters" and called on Russian authorities "to pay the most serious attention to this vile phenomenon."

Local and federal officials, including President-elect Dmitry Medvedev, have begun to express alarm about the rising violence. "Law enforcement bodies should take a tough stand, should not keep silent or retreat into the bushes," Medvedev said recently. "They must act and enforce legislation."

But some officials question the scale of the problem. "I am sure there is no growing wave of extremism," said Moscow prosecutor Yuri Syomin, speaking recently to the government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta. He said the number of hate crimes is falling "year by year."

It is difficult to obtain firm statistics on hate crimes. There are no official figures. Organizations such as the Moscow Human Rights Bureau and the Sova Center, another group that tracks hate crimes, assemble their statistics from media reports and by monitoring Web sites associated with extremists as well as police reports when they are available.

City officials say the methods of both groups are deeply flawed. "Even if one person is killed, it's a problem," said Alexei Alexandrov, head of Moscow's Committee for Inter-Regional Ties and Nationalities Policy. "But some human rights groups are counting killings of non-Russians by a Russian where the motive is unknown. It could be over a girl, over money."

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