On April 3rd, 2016, a contingent of Dagestani wrestlers from the national team arrived in Russia's Kalmykia region for an amateur tournament. Ahead of the competition, the group of martial artists took a tour inside a Kalmyk Buddhist temple. Instead of enjoying an educational excursion through the holy temple, the group were embroiled in an religious scandal that eventually led to an arrest and an apology from the Dagestan leader.
Said Omarov, a member of the national team, was charged with violating the right to freedom of religion after he allegedly "defiled" one of the Buddha statues within the shrine. According to reports, Omarov appeared to urinate on the statue before landing a karate-style kick. A picture of his display of martial arts on the religious idol went viral shortly thereafter.
The desecration was captured by Omarov's teammates, who immediately shared the disrespectful gesture on social media. Within a matter of hours, a mob had gathered outside the team's hotel. They demanded that Omarov show himself to answer for his antics. The hotel was raided and the team was forced to present the 22-year-old wrestler. He attempted a frightened explanation, which did not impress the locals.
"I did not know that this is a monument," Omarov claimed.
The wrestler's plea of ignorance infuriated the crowd further. They dragged him to Buddha statue and forced him to kneel and apologize. One report placed local authorities at the scene of the incident, though they did not interfere with the frustrated crowd.
Once the mob was satisfied with the turn of events, Said still had to face legal consequences for his actions. The tournament was suspended. Law enforcement officers arrested Omarov and charged the Muslim with violating the right to freedom of religion.
The assault on a Buddha statue is a serious crime in Kalmykia. It is hailed as the only region in Europe where Buddhism is practiced by the majority of the local population. The Southern republic borders with Volgograd Oblast, Astrakhan Oblast, the Republic of Dagestan in the south, Stavropol Krai, and Rostov Oblast and has successfully held various world religions throughout history. The Kalmyks/Oirats also trace their roots back to the Mongol hordes.
According to a local resident, who was interviewed by Gazeta.ru, Kalmykia is prone to these sorts of ethnic conflicts with visitors from other Russian regions.
"Two years ago there was a case came to us people from Dagestan, allowed themselves to all sorts of liberties, insulting people, but religion did not touch. in general, there are fine representatives of any religion in Kalmykia, including Muslims. Just need to behave normally, it is not necessary to become impudent."
Activists in the predominantly-Muslim Dagestan attempted to organize a rally in support of Omarov's release from prison, though the protest was denied by Dagestan's Minster of Justice. The official reason was that large crowds were easy opportunities for terrorist attacks. The attempted protest involved Muslim Gasanguseynov, a member of the Liberal Democratic Party.
Tensions continued to rise between the two regions following an increase in international coverage on the incident. The leader of Dagestan, Ramazan Abdulatipov, even issued an apology directed at the Kalmykia leader.
"In Dagestan, we received the news of the act committed by a native of the republic with a deep sense of indignation and condemnation," Abdulatipov wrote. "Unfortunately ignorance, lack of culture and the low level of education has led to such a shameful act that can never be justified." (h/t Newsweek)
Abdulatipov also confirmed that Omarov was sacked from the national team. Said was released from a Kalmykia prison on a 150,000 ruble bail on June 10. However, he was arrested again a week later on "suspicion of inciting ethnic hatred." The Dagestan native will now face a second trial.