|06ISTANBUL1313||2006-07-21 11:42:00||CONFIDENTIAL||Consulate Istanbul|
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C O N F I D E N T I A L ISTANBUL 001313
1. (C) Summary: Approximately 4,000 mourners congregated at
the Fatih mosque in Istanbul on 14 July for an "in-absentia"
funeral in honor of Chechen rebel leader, Shamil Basayev.
Aside from raucous anti-Russia, anti-U.S. and anti-Israel
chanting, the event proceeded in a relatively benign and
orderly manner. The funeral, co-sponsored by a charity
suspected by some of international terrorism financing, drew
nearly three times as many mourners as the Istanbul-based
funeral held in honor of Basayev's fallen colleague, Aslan
Maskhadov, in March 2005, possibly reflecting an increase the
number of in Chechen sympathizers in Istanbul. End summary.
2. (U) Prompted by a full-page invitation in Yeni Safak,
Turkey's principal Islamic-leaning daily, to the in absentia
funeral of "the big hero of the Chechen resistance," we
attended a memorial service for fallen Chechen rebel leader,
Shamil Basayev at the Fatih mosque in Istanbul. The event,
organized by the Chechen Solidarity Association, drew a crowd
of approximately 4,000 men, women and children, following
regularly-scheduled Friday prayers and four genuine funerals.
Aside from a few fence-jumpers, worshipers generally
congregated calmly while police patted down individuals as
they entered the mosque's courtyard.
3. (C) As the real funerals drew to a close, 350-400 men
(most appearing to be in their early 20's), began the Basayev
tribute by leading the crowd in a series of chants including
"God is Great" and "There is no God but Allah." Bulent
Yildirim, the president of one of the event's sponsoring
organizations, the Foundation for Human Rights, Liberties and
Humanitarian Relief (IHH), detailed atrocities (presumably
conducted against Chechens) and told the audience that they
were not just here to shed tears but that they "would go and
do what needs to be done." (Note: In 1997 local officers at
IHH's Istanbul headquarters were arrested after a raid by
security forces uncovered firearms, explosives and
bomb-making instructions. End note.)
4. (U) Mourners continued chanting Arabic slogans
interspersed with the following phrases in Turkish: "Killer
Russians--out of Chechnya," "Killer Israelis--Out of
Palestine," "Killer Americans--Out of the Middle East,"
"Shamil Basayev--Your way is our way," and "Hamas--Go on
Resisting." As a possible reference to the upcoming election
season, Yildirim also had a message for the Turkish
Government, "Don't support these infidels--if you go
straight, we're ready to follow you." Mid-way through the
ceremony, participants burned a flag--which we could not
see--to the crowd's great delight. As for Basayev, Yildirim
praised the fact that he didn't compromise, claiming that he
aimed for independence and died for God and the cause.
Despite the core group's efforts to maintain the rally beyond
the allocated 45 minutes, the crowd dispersed fairly readily
on schedule with the final "amin."
5. (U) Turkish press reported that in absentia funerals for
Basayev were held in major cities throughout Turkey,
including Ankara, Izmir and Antalya among others. The
largest protest, organized by the Saadet (Felicity) party,
reportedly drew over 40,000 mourners in Diyarbakir. Similar
events were held in March 2005 after the death of Chechen
rebel leader, Aslan Maskhadov, whose Istanbul-based funeral
attracted 1500 mourners.
6. (C) Comment: Turkey, and Istanbul in particular, has a
long and complicated history with Chechnya. Though many
Turks trace their ancestral roots to the Caucasus, the crowd
which gathered for this event had no apparent shared ethnic
affiliation -- only a few individuals were carrying Chechen
flags. Notably, neither Russia nor Turkey officially
recognize as terrorists the other's principal perceived
domestic threats. In 1996 a group of pro-Chechen gunmen
hi-jacked a ferry going from Trabzon to Russia across the
Black Sea. The hijackers were arrested and imprisoned but
later escaped amid Russian suspicions that they were set
free. Later, in April 2001, the Swiss Hotel in Istanbul was
taken hostage by gunmen, including the leader of the 1996
incident. In both cases, the hostage takers were charged
with "hijacking" and "limiting personal liberty" as opposed
to terrorism-related charges which would have carried a much
harsher penalty. The Russian government for its part, left
the PKK off of its official list of terrorist organizations
-- publicly released for the first time on July 18 -- a point
which was not lost on the Turkish press. End comment.