Hundred years of persecution

Homage to the Crimean People’s Republic

Liberation of Ahtem Chiyhoz and Ilmi Umerov, the two most famous Crimean Tatar activists, who had been subjected to political repressions in Russia, has brought some great relief. But this also should remind us that many other Crimean prisoners still stay behind bars. Ruslan Balbek, deputy head of the Russian State Duma’s Committee for nationalities stated that “the President of the Russian Federation, who adheres to the principles of humanism, has pardoned” Chiyhoz and Umerov. However, this “pardon”, followed by a prompt expulsion from the country, hardly looks like a pardon at all: the two activists were taken directly from their prison cell with all their belongings and were put on a flight to Turkey. They themselves did not even know where they were being transferred to and had a suspicion that they were being sent straight to Siberia. So it was hardly a proper procedure for pardoning people. This has already raised some fears and suspicion that Chiyhoz and Umerov would not be allowed to return to the Crimea in future, as is the case so far of Mustafa Dzhemilev and Refat Chubarov, two leaders of the Crimean Tatar people, who had been de facto expelled from Crimea by the new “bosses” of the peninsula.

This is all very sad and it makes us remember other historical events. Exactly a hundred years ago congress of the Crimean Tatar organizations decided to organize a convention of the Kurultay, which then, in November 1917, proclaimed the Crimean People’s Republic. The Republic was headed by the mufti and poet Noman Çelebicihan, who declared: “The goal of Kurultay … is to found a real civilized Switzerland on the beautiful island of Crimea. The Kurultay thinks not only of the Crimean Tatars, but of all the peoples who have lived together for centuries. The Kurultay invites them to work together, we will go hand in hand with them. The Crimean Tatars will not play the role of the leader, but the role of the pioneer, the initiator.”

This dream was not destined to come true: almost immediately after that clashes with supporters of the Bolsheviks began and Crimea saw a massive wave of Red Terror. Thousands of residents of the peninsula in January-March 1918 have been killed; in Sevastopol, Evpatoria, Feodosia, Yalta and other cities the “revolutionary sailors” of the Black Sea Fleet dealt in this way with everyone who have dared not to like them. Noman Çelebicihan was also killed, the Crimean People’s Republic did not have enough time to become a reality. In a quarter of a century since then Crimean Tatar inhabitants of the peninsula, like many other peoples, who used to live ”together for centuries” with them (Greeks, Bulgarians, Armenians, Roma, Germans, Italians), were subjected to mass repression – they were deported from Crimea to the Central Asia, and then for decades were not allowed to return to their homeland. Crimean Tatar activists fought discrimination through all the years of Soviet power, seeking their right to live in Crimea, to speak their native language, to create their self-government bodies.

Now, like a century ago, the Crimean Tatar people remain the “initiators” of the struggle for the rights of the inhabitants of Crimea. Here is a vivid example: more than a hundred picketers came out on October 14, 2017 onto the highways and roads of Crimea with posters calling for an end to the repression of Muslims and Crimean Tatar activists. The tragic history of persecution continues, because after 2014 dozens of representatives of the Crimean Tatar people were subject to political repression by the Russian authorities. All those who want to remain faithful to their people, to their representative body Mejlis (elected Kurultay), to their faith, language and culture, are now being subjected to discrimination in the annexed Crimea.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) has expressed its concern about violations of human rights in Crimea: a ban on the representative body of the Crimean Tatar people, the persecution of Crimean Tatars, including criminal and administrative cases, disappearance of people, mass searches, interrogations and other forms of pressure, the closure of the media in the Crimean Tatar language, restrictions on the study and use of the Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian languages. The Committee recommended that the Russian government ensures unhindered access of the Office of the UN Ombudsman to the territory of Crimea, abolishes all administrative and legislative measures aimed at discriminating ethnic groups, investigates human rights violations and compensates for the harm that had been inflicted.

Following this, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights at its September 2017 session published its comments addressed to the Russian Federation. Anti-Discrimination Center “Memorial” has prepared its report about the systemic discrimination of the Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians in the annexed Crimea, which was also supported by the “CrimeaSOS” NGO. The UN Committee took into account the report on the violations of the rights of those who did not renounce their Ukrainian citizenship and urged the Russian authorities to ensure the implementation of socio-economic and cultural rights of these groups. The Russian Federation is being constantly reminded of the need to follow the UN Resolution that had obliged Moscow to restore the rights of the Crimean Tatar people and reinstate the Mejlis, which had been previously declared a “prohibited organization” by the authorities of the Russian Federation.

The implementation of these recommendations is a necessary and real condition for the observation of human rights in Crimea. This is a real goal, which should be achieved, unlike various ridiculous proposals “to buy out Crimea”, which are being discussed by some. Who can buy something, which is not for sale? And even if it was being sold, like Alaska once upon a time, then what would become of those people who live in Crimea, facing daily persecution and discrimination? Are they also to “be bought”? Alas, conquest, annexation, seizure of new territories more than often failed to take into account the rights of residents and indigenous peoples. It is high time to understand at last that the rights of people should come first, before the military, strategic and economic interests of various powers.


First published in the blog of Radio Liberty

Photo from the fb of “Crimean Solidarity”

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