Mustafa Dzhemilev: Russia hunts Tatars off Crimea once again
The Tatar population in Crimea since the Russian annexation of the peninsula has it harder than ever. Last weekend, Mustafa Dzhemilev, a leader of the Crimean Tatars, visited the Netherlands to sound the alarm. Since its annexation in March last year, the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated seriously.
"Tatars are worried for their lives," said Mustafa Dzhemilev on Sunday at the airport, just before flying back home. "There are house searches, people are disappearing, being tortured and killed, mosques are torched. The aim is to expel Tatars from Crimea." The 71-year-old Dzhemilev is the leader of the Crimean Tatars' national movement and a member of the Ukrainian Parliament. Last year, Russia denied him entry to Crimea for five years after he declared invalid the referendum on the peninsula annexation. During his visit to the Netherlands, Dzhemilev spoke with members of the House and the High Commissioner for Minorities.
According to Dzhemilev, resisting the “russification” of the peninsula is almost impossible. After the annexation, the population had to sign a statement saying Crimea joined Russia by their own will. "Those who refused were forced to register as “foreigners”, something a Tatar would never do," says Dzhemilev. It puts the Tatar population in an extremely difficult situation because life without a passport is virtually impossible."You cannot work, you can not settle your affairs, you cannot sell or buy land." Tatars are also drafted for the Russian army; those who refuse end up in jail. In a phone call Dzhemilev had with Putin last year, the president promised that the Tatars have a 'bright future' under Russia's rule. Since then, tensof thousands of the 300,000 Tatars in Crimea have left the peninsula. International human rights organizations have been sounding the alarm about the prevailing lawlessness and intimidation of the population by the so-called pro-Russian self-defense commands.
The Tatar self-government and the media in Crimea are also intimidated. Last week, there was a raid at the Tatar news agency ATR and Vice President of the Tatar Parliament Akhtem Chiygoz was arrested. According to Dzhemilev, the arrest was a revenge of Russians. Chiygoz now faces a possible ten year prison term due to the disruption of public order. "It is a part of a broader plan to replace the Tatar leadership with Russian straw men of their own."
"The West must make every effort to ensure the safety of Tatars in Crimea," Dzhemilev says. He fears that the attention to the Tatar case weakens in the West. "All the attention is now focused on the war in eastern Ukraine, threatening to fade the problem of Crimea and turn into a frozen conflict." The lawmaker warns of the increasing militarization and the presence of nuclear weapons on the peninsula.
World War II
Last week, media reported that the US have eased sanctions imposed last year on the peninsula. Crimea residents may again open (private) bank accounts in US banks and certain goods are imported again. American companies, such as MasterCard and Google, just recently stopped their activities in the area.
It is not the first time in history that Crimean Tatars are driven out of their homeland. During World War II, Stalin deported the entire Crimean Tatar population on the suspicion of collaborating with the Nazis. Dzhemilev himself was exiled with his family to Uzbekistan. As a teenager he was at the roots of the Tatar resistance movement during the Soviet rule and sat for years in jail for that. Only in the eighties, Dzhemilev could return to Crimea. "History repeats itself, only now it's worse. They were not killing us back then."