The Unlikely Terrorists
By Olga Kravets
Since 2014, Olga Kravets has been documenting a community of Russian converts to Islam in Turkey. They had been persecuted for their faith in Russia and had to flee. The current Russian state, heavily building upon the Orthodox Christian identity, wants to control the country’s Muslim population. The Kremlin sees the increasing number of ordinary Russians converting to Islam (several thousand a year, according to researchers) as a particular slap in the face: these people should be Orthodox by blood and yet they change religion.
Russia, Ekazhevo, 13 May 2010. A destroyed house in the village of Ekazhevo, Ingushetia, Russia. On March 2,2010, four men were killed and three were detained here during a security operation by Russian forces. The prominent radical ideologist Said Buryatsky (born Alexander Tikhomirov, converted at the age of 15) was among the killed.
When she started in 2014, the imams were ordered to gather converts’ names, people were summoned to questioning, their fingerprints were taken, they got arrested. At first, she was motivated by a strictly human rights angle: nobody should be persecuted for their faith if they have not committed anything illegal.
Olga Kravets has been covering human rights abuse against Muslims in Russia since coming to Chechenya in 2005. She chose only to document ethnic Russian converts persecuted unlawfully; she meticulously fact-checked the stories that made it to the project. She also uses her archives from covering anti-terrorist operations in Russia.
But soon she uncovered another important aspect: the path of spiritual research leading to conversion. She casts these six out of dozens to uncover the complex global issue in the most comprehensive way: they all have very different responses to the essential questions that this work poses: Why is there still a need for religion in the modern world and how does one choose the right one? Why choose a religion that makes you an outsider in society? Is exile an effective way to escape the repressions against Muslims in Russia? Where in the world is a Muslim exile welcome today, if he is not willing to join ISIS and just wants to live in peace?
This project has been supported by Robert Bosch Journalists on Location grant and Leica artist loan