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.

 
 
Turkey, Balıkesir, 15 January 2016. Uman, 33, converted in 2012 inspired by a meeting with her Chechen neighbours. Like many Russians, she used to consider Chechens terrorists before. She then married a Ukrainian convert to Islam and they started a business together. 4 months into the marriage Uman had to flee to Turkey alone after her husband was arrested by special forces and accused of recruiting women to become suicide bombers.

Turkey, Balıkesir, 15 January 2016. Uman, 33, converted in 2012 inspired by a meeting with her Chechen neighbours. Like many Russians, she used to consider Chechens terrorists before. She then married a Ukrainian convert to Islam and they started a business together. 4 months into the marriage Uman had to flee to Turkey alone after her husband was arrested by special forces and accused of recruiting women to become suicide bombers.

 
 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. 


Olga Kravets/NOOR
 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. 

Olga Kravets/NOOR

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.

Russia, Ekazhevo, 13 May 2010. Remains of an exploded hand grenade on the grass in the yard of 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.

Russia, Ekazhevo, 13 May 2010. Remains of an exploded hand grenade on the grass in the yard of 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.


Turkey, Erzurum, 16 April 2015. Maxim (Salman) Baidak, 29. Maxim a former Russian nationalist who found Islam after 9/11 and later become a preacher and Islamic activist in Russia, that caused his arrest in 2013, has since made the longest exile route: Turkey-Israel-Ukraine-Armenia-Norway, where he is now waiting for a response to his political asylum claim.

Turkey, Erzurum, 16 April 2015. Maxim (Salman) Baidak, 29. Maxim a former Russian nationalist who found Islam after 9/11 and later become a preacher and Islamic activist in Russia, that caused his arrest in 2013, has since made the longest exile route: Turkey-Israel-Ukraine-Armenia-Norway, where he is now waiting for a response to his political asylum claim.

Turkey, Istanbul, 17 April 2015. Grigory (Amir) Mavrov, 35, converted to Islam at 23 after a course of Sharia law during his law studies in his native town of Yoshkar-Ola, the capital of Mari El Republic on Volga river. He is a founder of National Organisation of the Russian Muslims in 2004, and later, The Islamic Civil Charter in the wake of mass protests in 2012.

Turkey, Istanbul, 17 April 2015. Grigory (Amir) Mavrov, 35, converted to Islam at 23 after a course of Sharia law during his law studies in his native town of Yoshkar-Ola, the capital of Mari El Republic on Volga river. He is a founder of National Organisation of the Russian Muslims in 2004, and later, The Islamic Civil Charter in the wake of mass protests in 2012.

Russia, Saint-Petersburg, 17 May 2015. X, 28, is photographed next to a building which used host a makeshift mosque, now closed, where he converted about 6-7 years ago. He got interested in Islam by randomly opening a web site dedicated to this religion. He asked not to be identified as he still resides in Russia.

Russia, Saint-Petersburg, 17 May 2015. X, 28, is photographed next to a building which used host a makeshift mosque, now closed, where he converted about 6-7 years ago. He got interested in Islam by randomly opening a web site dedicated to this religion. He asked not to be identified as he still resides in Russia.


 

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.

 
 
Turkey, Alanya, 20 August 2015. Pavel Okruzhko, 32, (does not use a name in Islam) is pictured together with his family, whose identities are protected at Pavel’s request. He converted at 20, following a disappointment in Orthodoxy.

Turkey, Alanya, 20 August 2015. Pavel Okruzhko, 32, (does not use a name in Islam) is pictured together with his family, whose identities are protected at Pavel’s request. He converted at 20, following a disappointment in Orthodoxy.

Turkey, Antalya, 21 August 2015. Alexey (Ali) Alekseev, Yulia and their son Zakharia. Alekseev, 33, converted to Islam at 25 after being a practicing Orthodox. He had been a Muslim-hater, but his views changed while he worked alongside Muslims in oil and gas extraction in Russia’s North. Alexey met Yulia, also a Russian convert to Islam, online.

Turkey, Antalya, 21 August 2015. Alexey (Ali) Alekseev, Yulia and their son Zakharia. Alekseev, 33, converted to Islam at 25 after being a practicing Orthodox. He had been a Muslim-hater, but his views changed while he worked alongside Muslims in oil and gas extraction in Russia’s North. Alexey met Yulia, also a Russian convert to Islam, online.

Turkey, Istanbul, 23 August 2015. Dmitry (Khamza) Chernomorchenko, 37, pictured with his son Zakharia, 4, converted at 21, after a hospital nurse offered him to read Quran while recovering after a car accident.

Turkey, Istanbul, 23 August 2015. Dmitry (Khamza) Chernomorchenko, 37, pictured with his son Zakharia, 4, converted at 21, after a hospital nurse offered him to read Quran while recovering after a car accident.

 

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 

Russia, Voronezh, 27 August 2015. Nikita (Sayfuddin) Khabarov, 22 (R) is a fairly new convert who is still struggling to express his views on religion. He prefers not to tell why he has converted, but hinted on influence of friends.

Russia, Voronezh, 27 August 2015. Nikita (Sayfuddin) Khabarov, 22 (R) is a fairly new convert who is still struggling to express his views on religion. He prefers not to tell why he has converted, but hinted on influence of friends.