, MOSCOW, Dec 1 – Workers rounded up, businessmen questioned, a cultural centre closed: the Turkish community in Russia appears to be under pressure a week after Ankara downed one of Moscow’s jets.
There were still several hours to go before dawn when riot police and immigration officers descended on a dormitory for construction workers from Turkish firm Mebe just outside Moscow.
The officials hauled off around 400 workers — some Turkish and others from ex-Soviet Central Asia — to fingerprint them and conduct background checks.
“They said the check was due to national security,” Mebe’s deputy human resources director Irina Lebedeva told AFP on Tuesday.
Eventually the labourers were let go but the raid on Friday lasted all day and halted work at the company’s sites.
“We hope this will not be repeated. It did disrupt our work,” Lebedeva said. “Perhaps in the current situation it can be justified.”
The crackdown on the Turkish construction firm is just one of a litany of moves against Turks or Turkish interests reported in Russia since Ankara blasted a Russian warplane out of the sky on the Turkey-Syria border last Tuesday.
The downing has sparked a furious war of words between Ankara and Moscow and a raft of Russian sanctions against Turkey including a ban on some food imports, stopping the sale of package holidays to the country and reinstating visas for Turkish visitors.
But before the Kremlin sanctions even enter into effect authorities across the country, fired up by fierce official rhetoric, have begun clamping down.
In three southern regions scores of Turks have detained for immigration irregularities, while in Krasnokamensk on the border with China three await deportation, local media reported.
Last Thursday in the southern city of Krasnodar 39 businessmen visiting an agricultural fair were questioned by police.
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The Turkish Embassy in Russia said Sunday that it has been receiving complaints by Turks in the country of pressure from Russian authorities.
“The complaints come from businessmen, workers, students and ordinary people,” Interfax quoted an embassy spokesperson as saying.
Turkey has indeed even warned its citizens against non-urgent travel to Russia until the situation calms down but that is likely more part of the diplomatic tit-for-tat than out of genuine security concerns.
The Kremlin estimates that there may be some 90,000 Turks working in the country and if you include their families and relatives the total number living in Russia could be up to 200,000.
It is not only businesses and workers that are being hit, cultural ties with Turkey have also suffered following the announcement of Moscow’s sanctions against Turkey by President Vladimir Putin at the weekend.
A Turkey-focused research centre at a major Moscow library has closed its doors, with staff saying they had no idea why the decision was taken.
The centre served to support research on Turkey by PhD students, provided literature in Turkish and taught Ottoman Turkish language. No one at the library was available for comment about the reasons for the centre’s closure.
“All the planned round tables, lectures and conferences are cancelled,” said a note on the website of the Russia-Turkish research centre, based in Moscow’s Foreign Languages Library. “Our centre has closed.”