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17 Aug, 2020 13:05

Development of 'sacred' mountain in Russia's Bashkortostan halted following violent clashes between protesters & police

Development of 'sacred' mountain in Russia's Bashkortostan halted following violent clashes between protesters & police

Authorities in Russia's Bashkortostan have suspended work on Mount Kushtau, a limestone peak considered one of the region's most symbolic natural sights, after violent clashes between protesters, police, and private security.

Some locals in the republic, where Bashkirs - an indigenous, mostly Sunni Muslim, Turkic ethnic group - make up about a third of the population, consider the area to be 'sacred.' Kushtau is one of Bashkortostan's four 'shikhans' - solitary peaks, surrounded by flat steppe. They believe its future is threatened by industrial development.

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In August 2019, the Bashkir Soda Company (BSC), one of Russia's largest chemical companies, received permission to extract the limestone from the mountain. Without access to new rock, the business could shut down in 2022 due to a lack of raw materials, threatening the jobs of many residents of the nearest big city, Sterlitamak. The decision has angered some locals, who are fearful that Kushtau will have the same fate as one of the other shikhans, Shakhtau, which has been mined by the company and has almost disappeared.

On Sunday, the “defenders of Kushtau”, who are local Bashkirs, clashed with security forces including regular police, riot police, and members of a private security company. The violence came after two weeks of protests and reports that the activists' camp was attacked by unidentified men.

Local Bashkir telegram channel 'KushTau online' reported that protestors were tear-gassed and hit with batons.

Following the clashes, the head of Bashkortostan Radiy Khabirov told protesters that development would be halted until a compromise is found, admitting that the conflict is due to "administrative flaws."

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"The BSC is leaving, and you will leave, too," said Khabirov. "We are ready to sort out the situation bit by bit. Enough fighting. We will not allow any more."

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