Airat Vakhitov, a 39-year-old public figure, a political refugee and the most prominent Muslim opponent of ISIS in the Russian speaking Turkish community, was arrested in Turkey on July 4, 2016.
Airat Vakhitov (Salman Bulgarskyi) is not only a journalist who stands for human rights. Being an adherent of Islam he is a member of the Association of the Russian-Speaking Muhajir in Turkey and the Union of Honor (online community of Muslim emigrants), and is also prominent for his translations of tafsir, Quranic exegesis, from Arabic into Russian.
This is not the first time for Airat Vakhitov to deal with law enforcement - through his life he had been serving time in Russian jails, was a Taliban prisoner and a Guantanamo detainee.
This article in the Hurriyet and this one in the Voice of America which are full of factual errors and inaccurate information were the reason for Airat Vakhitov’s image being represented incorrectly and thus blackened in mass-media of different countries.
According to the media sources he was detained by Turkish police on July 4, 2016 on suspicion of being involved into the Istanbul airport attack.
According to Vakhitov himself as he had told journalists before being arrested it had to do with visa issues and checking the validity of his residence permit.
At the same time spokespeople for the Association of the Russian-speaking Muhajir in Turkey claim it was connected with the requests for criminal extradition which Russian authorities make systematically to Turkey. The present Head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, for instance, officially demanded from Turkey the extradition of several Chechens on July 6th, 2016.
Airat Vakhitov was born in Naberezhnye Chelny, a city in the Republic of Tatarstan, Russia. At the age of 14 he started to visit Hifz school. Instead of becoming a street thug as the most part of the boys of his age did he was studying the Quran and learning it by heart. He was brought there by his mother, Amina hanim, a strong-willed woman. She still lives in Naberezhnye Chelny. For almost ten years she has no opportunity to meet her son, so she learnt how to use a computer and now talks to him with the help of the Internet.
Airat Vakhitov speaks several languages including English and Turkish. He graduated Imam Abu Hanifa College for Arabic language, studied in Medina and Egypt.
The 1990s was a period of an extensive Islamic revival in Russia. After 70 years of the atheistic ideology being dominant, Islam became extremely popular among the Tatar population in Tatarstan. However, they lacked well-educated imams fluent in Arabic and so at the age of 21 Airat Vakhitov became the youngest imam in Russia.
The outbreak of the Second Chechen War in 1999 was followed by the mass arrests of the most active Muslims in Russia.
Airat Vakhitov had visited Chechnya between the two wars as a lot of people did, still for him as a Muslim it resulted in a jail term.
After two months of imprisonment he was released due to absence of evidence. He was also warned that from that moment on he had been under threat of being detained again. When the next time came, he fled. First to Tajikistan, the former USSR Republic on the border of Afghanistan, where he stayed with his relatives, and sometime later to Afghanistan. There he was captured by the Islamic movement of Uzbekistan and further became a Taliban prisoner.
After the United States had invaded Afghanistan the foreign prisoners were captured by US troops and convicted of being a Taliban militants.
This turned Airat Vakhitov from a Taliban prisoner into simply a Taliban serving time in American jail first in Afghanistan and then in Guantanamo.
He spent two years in Guantanamo Bay detention camp and was released due to lack of evidence and being absolutely guiltless.
And yet he wasn’t set free as the US government handed him over to Russia, so he became a detainee again. He was finally released four months later for the same reason - no evidence proving his guilt was found.
Among all of the former US detainees from Russia and other countries he is now the most ardent spokesman for Muslims conditions in Russia and around the world as well as for tortures and so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques”. He participated in conferences, appeared on talk shows and wrote newspaper articles.
July 27th, 2005 he was kidnapped from his apartment in Moscow by the special operations group of the Russian Federal Security Service. Luckily he managed to contact a popular radio station and through this was soon released.
In November 2005 there was a conference in London organized by Amnesty International in cooperation with Justice in Exile organisation. Among other former Guantanamo detainees Airat Vakhitov was invited to speak about Guantanamo torture.
Still staying in Russia he felt even more and more pressure.
Being distressed, chased and threatened for three years he decided to leave the country trying to find a better place for both himself and his family. He tried to work in Egypt and Saudi Arabia and had finally found asylum in Turkey.
As Turkey started to accept the increasing flow of Syrian refugees Airat Vakhitov joined the humanitarian activities organized to help them.
Together with other Muhajirs in Turkey he organized provision of food for Syrian refugees and helped to rebuild a nonsectarian school destroyed in a bomb attack.
Among all the representatives of Russian-speaking Muslim community he was the first person to criticize ISIS severely after its emergence in 2014. This, however, was followed by multiple threats and in 2015 he was sentenced to death in abstention on behalf of ISIS.
Nowadays Airat Vakhitov writes articles for different Internet sources, lectures and communicates willingly with journalists from all over the world.
His social network activity is limited by frequent DDoS attacks caused, as he suspects, by Russian Security Service and those advanced Internet users who support ISIS.
In 2007 he started a translation of Tafsir ibn Kathir (Quranic exegesis) from Arabic into Russian. Though during all of the ills of life he was suffering the translation was partially lost he managed to finish the work consisting of four volumes. The translation has been published and its free of charge electronic version can be easily downloaded. Airat Vakhitov received no fee for his translation and the publishing costs were covered with the charitable contributions. With such an unstable financial position sometimes he has to stop his translating and work as a builder to earn his leaving.
The Association of the Russian-Speaking Muhajir in Turkey includes thousand of members and all of them filled with uncertainty and anxiety are waiting for what is going to happen next. Evidence from many of them confirms that people are getting arrested, still only few of detainee are connected with ISIS. Most part of those who are captured were criticizing either Russian military intervention in Syria or Assad and his regime. People tend to believe that Turkish authorities stays indifferent to the current situation and just follows the Russian requests obediently.
On October 11th, 2013 the Russian newspaper called “Culture” published an interview with Roman Silantyev, an odious director of the human rights centre of the World Russian People’s Council, touching upon 1 million Muslims living in Russian Federation and having its citizenship. He appealed for solving the situation by force. Later he articulated another figure - 700 000 Muslims - labelling them as “Wahhabis” and “potential ISIS terrorists” suggesting expelling them from a country despite the fact of them being Russian citizens.
The whole idea seemed to be a complete nonsense.
Still in defiance of all expectations at the beginning of 2015 the most part of Russian Muslims with proactive attitude to life had already left the country: scientists and publishers, businesspeople and constructors, translators and human rights defenders, charity fund managers and halal manufacturers, cafe owners and Muslim shopkeepers, teachers and doctors, heads and professors of Islamic schools and colleges - no one was protected from being declared “an ISIS supporter” one day.
In 2004 seven out of eight Guantanamo detainees, including Vakhitov, were released. They refused going back home to Russia claiming for any other country. Ravil Mingazov, the eighth, is still there declaring his flat refusal to leave the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.
Could there possibly be something more terrible and terrifying than serving time in a foreign jail for 15 years?