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Posts tagged ‘Tatars of Crimea’

Freed Crimean Tatar leaders fly back to Ukraine, vow to return to peninsula

October 27, 2017

Two Crimean Tatar activists sentenced for their political activities by Russian authorities in the annexed peninsula arrived in Ukraine Friday after being released thanks to an apparent deal brokered by Turkey.

Ilmi Umerov and Akhtem Chiygoz met Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko after their flight from Ankara, the Kiev ally to which they had flown from Crimea upon their unexpected release Wednesday.

The men are two of the Crimean Tatars’ most high profile community leaders and have irked Moscow by opposing the Black Sea region’s seizure from Ukraine in March 2014.

The Crimean Tatars are a Turkic-speaking Muslim people native to Crimea who were deported under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin and only returned to their homeland in the 1990s.

Umerov and Chiygoz both vowed to return to Crimea in the future after being given a rapturous welcome by their supporters at the Kiev airport.

“I am definitely going home to Crimea, no matter what awaits me there,” Umerov told reporters upon his arrival.

“No one gave me any terms or conditions upon my release,” he said.

Chiygoz added that he did not see himself as a free man because the Crimean Tatars still remained under Russian rule.

“This is not freedom,” the 60-year-old said in a quiet voice. “We will not be free until every person [jailed in Crimea] is released.”

Chiygoz was sentenced in September to eight years in prison over deadly clashes at a rally.

Umerov received two years in a penal colony on charges of separatism but was allowed to remain at home pending an appeal. He suffers from Parkinson’s disease and diabetes as well as other conditions.

Neither man explained what exactly prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to sign off on their handover to the Turkish authorities.

Mustafa Dzhemilev, the respected spiritual leader of the Crimean Tatar community, told the French Press Agency he had asked Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan to call for the activists’ release in talks with Putin.

The two men also thanked Poroshenko for playing an instrumental role in their release. Erdogan met Poroshenko in Kiev earlier this month.

The Turkish leader has tried to preserve good relations with both Russia and Ukraine and has slowly begun to assume the role of mediator between the two countries.

Crimean Tatars are traditionally pro-Ukrainian. Since the annexation, they have been subjected to intimidation, house searches and arbitrary detention, rights groups say.

Moscow says the overwhelming majority of Crimeans voted to join Russia in a proper and fair referendum.

Source: Daily Sabah.

Link: https://www.dailysabah.com/europe/2017/10/27/freed-crimean-tatar-leaders-fly-back-to-ukraine-vow-to-return-to-peninsula.

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Russia’s security agency detains 6 Crimean Tatar activists

October 11, 2017

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s domestic security agency said Wednesday it detained six people in Crimea accused of involvement in an extremist organization, a move described by one of the suspects’ lawyer as part of Moscow’s crackdown on the Crimean Tatars.

Emil Kurbedinov, a lawyer for one of the six detainees, said that police also rounded up nine other Crimean Tatars who protested the detentions in the Crimean town of Bakhchisarai. The Federal Security Service or FSB, the main KGB successor agency, said it has stopped the activities of a local cell of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, a radical Islamist group which Russia and several other ex-Soviet nations banned as a “terrorist” organization.

The FSB said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies that it has opened a criminal probe against six people suspected of involvement in the group. Kurbedinov, a lawyer for Suleiman Asanov, whom the FSB accused of organizing the cell, described the charges as “absurd.” He said all six detainees were local Crimean Tatar activists who opposed Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea.

Russia has faced criticism for infringing on the ethnic group’s rights since the annexation. “It’s yet another attempt to intimidate people with ‘terrorism’ and ‘extremism’ labels,” Kurbedinov said by phone from Bakhchisarai.

Kurbedinov said nine other Crimean Tatars who were protesting the detentions were taken into custody for holding an unsanctioned demonstration and were set to face court hearings Thursday. Zair Smedlyayev, who heads an association of Crimean Tatars, also said the move was part of a continuing crackdown on the Turkic ethnic group.

On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was visiting the Ukrainian capital, said Turkey was monitoring the situation of Crimean Tatars and thanked Ukraine for defending their rights.

Crimean Tatars celebrate Eurovision win, Russians cry foul

May 15, 2016

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Crimean Tatars on Sunday celebrated Ukrainian singer Jamala’s win at Eurovision with a song that sheds light on their horrific deportations to Central Asia under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin but also hints at their recent treatment under Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Many Russians, whose Eurovision Song Contest entry won the popular vote but finished third when the national juries’ votes were added, said they felt robbed of the win because of political bias. The Foreign Ministry spokeswoman joked sarcastically that to win next year’s contest a song will need to denounce “bloody” Syrian President Bashar Assad, who is supported by Moscow but blamed in the West for Syria’s 5-year civil war.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 was condemned by the United States and European Union, which responded by imposing punishing sanctions. Inside Crimea, the seizure of territory from Ukraine was most strongly opposed by the Tatar minority, who now face persecution on the Moscow-ruled Black Sea peninsula.

“This song is about our tragedy … and I hope that people heard this,” said Emine Ziyatdinova, a 27-year-old Crimean Tatar who was among those celebrating the win at a Tatar restaurant in Kiev. Jamala’s song, “1944,” recalls how Crimean Tatars, including her great-grandmother, were deported during World War II.

In the space of three days in May 1944, all 200,000 Tatars, who then made up a third of Crimea’s population, were put on trains and shipped off to Central Asia upon Stalin’s orders, suspected of collaborating with the Nazis during their long occupation of the peninsula during the war.

Thousands died during the grueling journey or starved to death in the barren steppes upon their arrival. In the decades after the war, the Soviet Union developed Crimea as a naval base and a tourist destination, dominated by ethnic Russians along with Ukrainians.

It was not until the 1980s that the Tatars were allowed to return to their native land. Jamala, the stage name for Susana Jamaladinova, was born in the Central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan in 1983. She now lives in Kiev.

The lyrics of her song don’t touch on Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and Jamala insists there’s no political subtext. But there’s no doubt the lyrics are powerful. She starts the song in English, singing “when strangers are coming, they come to your house, they kill you all and say ‘we’re not guilty.'”

Russians believe anti-Russian sentiment in Europe swayed the vote. Their entry, Sergey Lazarev, had all the right ingredients for a Eurovision winner: a song with a thumping techno beat, a catchy refrain and a buff man in a tight shirt riding on an iceberg through space.

“This is a political contest, 100 percent,” said Anastasia Bagayeva, who watched the contest from a Moscow restaurant. “This is not fair, but this is the current time.” Russian officials also cried foul. Maria Zakharova, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said bitterly in a Facebook post that next year’s winning Eurovision song needs to be about Assad. She suggested this chorus in English: “Assad blood, Assad worst. Give me prize, that we can host.”

The country that wins Eurovision gets to host it the following year — an expensive obligation for the state broadcaster. In reporting on Ukraine’s victory, Russian state television questioned how the extravagant song contest can be held in a country where “there is a hole in the budget, a war is being waged in the east and in the capital there is often disorder.”

After Ukraine’s Moscow-friendly president was ousted by street protests in early 2014, Russia seized Crimea and backed separatists who now control swathes of territory in Ukraine’s industrial heartland in the east. Their fight against the Ukrainian government has claimed more than 9,300 lives.

Alexander Roslyakov and Lynn Berry in Moscow contributed.

Tatars step up resistance to Russian rule over Crimea

February 15, 2016

UROZHAYNE, Crimea (AP) — Elnara Asanova lives alone with her four small children because her husband, an ethnic Tatar, is in jail. Last April, when she was seven months pregnant, police grabbed him from the streets of their village because he had taken part in a Tatar protest against Russian annexation of Crimea.

She’s not allowed to visit him, so she travels to every court hearing. Once she took 7-month-old Mustafa, so her husband could glimpse the child as he was led from the police van to the courtroom. The court has refused to release him on bail, describing him as a flight risk.

“They say he will run away. But where to?” said Elnara, a meek young woman. She points to her children. “We live in the country. You can’t survive here without a husband.” Two years after Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin touts the move as a historic achievement, looking on with a satisfied smile from countless billboards across the peninsula. However, overwhelming opposition from the Muslim Tatar ethnic minority puts a crack in this picture of unanimous support, as evidenced in interviews with more than two dozen Tatars across Crimea. And the resistance appears to be growing.

Many described the intimidation of community leaders, the closure of Tatar language classes and a general atmosphere of mistrust of Tatar residents. The Associated Press conducted some interviews at other people’s homes because of worries about police surveillance.

The majority of the people in Crimea are ethnic Russian and support Russia’s annexation. The nearly 300,000 Crimean Tatars, who make up less than 15 percent of the population, are Muslims, although largely secular.

Community leaders say repression has left young people fuming, risking their radicalization along the lines of the restive North Caucasus, a patchwork of predominantly Muslim republics in southern Russia.

Tatar activists are already fighting back. Before Russia annexed Crimea, Lenur Islyamov was a businessman with family and assets in Moscow. Last fall, he traded his business suits for military-style clothing to lead a resistance movement that imposed a blockade on the peninsula in retaliation for Russia’s persecution of the Tatars.

In September, the activists began stopping goods from crossing into Crimea. Three months later, the Ukrainian government stepped in and banned all trade. “Everyone, including Ukraine, left us with no other choice,” said Islyamov, whose assets in Moscow and Crimea have been seized. “Most of us don’t want to go to war — we want to make sandwiches, take our children to school, go shopping — but we’ve been forced to do this.”

Deliberate power outages have also become widespread. In November, unknown attackers blew up electricity pylons in Ukraine and tied Crimean Tatar flags to them, leaving 2 million people without heating. No one claimed responsibility for the explosions, but Tatar activists were suspected.

Tatars in Crimea cheered the power cuts, saying the blackout returned the world’s attention to the situation in Crimea. Muzafar Fukala, community leader of the village of Voinka, said losing light was “nothing” compared to the hardships Tatars had survived in the past.

“I’m prepared to live in a complete blackout until this scum leaves,” he said, referring to supporters of the annexation. To avoid police harassment, Fukala spoke to the AP in the home of friends in a neighboring village.

Both the border blockade and the power outages have put a big hole in the Kremlin budget at a time when plummeting oil prices have left Moscow with little to spare on shoring up its newest acquisition. Russia had to fly in supplies and thousands of generators, and speed up the construction of underwater power lines.

Islyamov is also working to set up a “battalion” of 500 Tatar activists to be stationed just a few miles from the border. Tatar activists in military fatigues, some of them carrying automatic weapons, now stand in the winter cold by the roadside of their tent camp. They used to search cars crossing into Crimea and back until blockade leaders announced that Ukrainian border guards and customs officials would now do so instead.

In November, Chechen intelligence officers called on Islyamov’s 17-year-old son in Moscow, where he studied, and threatened him unless he denounced his father publicly. Several hours later, Islyamov arranged for his son to leave Russia.

Officials in Crimea in charge of ethnic minorities didn’t respond to the AP’s requests seeking interviews and comment. Officials in the Crimean government have accused Tatar leaders who opposed the annexation of betraying the interests of the Tatars and being agents of Ukraine. Under Russian law, people can be punished for calling for the return of Crimea to Ukraine.

The Crimean Tatars have a long history of repression. In May 1944, all 200,000 Tatars, who then made up a third of Crimea’s population, were put on trains and shipped to Central Asia in the space of three days. Thousands died during the grueling journey or starved to death in the barren steppes upon arrival.

Unlike other peoples deported during World War II by Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, the Tatars were not allowed to return to their native land until the 1980s. A visit to a Tatar home today opens a window to a parallel world far from the throngs of flag-waving Russians who gave Putin a Hollywood star reception on the streets of the Black Sea port of Sevastopol on his visit last summer. Tatars here all watch ATR, a Crimean Tatar channel owned by Islyamov, which was banished from Crimea and now broadcasts from exile in mainland Ukraine. They talk of “better times” and a future “victory,” alluding to the eventual return of Crimea to Ukraine.

In almost equal measure, Crimean Tatars feel betrayed by Kiev, after Ukrainian troops stationed on the peninsula surrendered to Russian forces in February 2014 without putting up any resistance. Later on, most of these troops took Russian citizenship and joined the Russian armed forces.

Left on their own, the Tatars at first made a foray into the new Crimean government. Islyamov, who had Russian citizenship, was dispatched in April 2014 by the Mejlis, the Tatars’ self-governing body, to become a deputy prime minister. Less than two months later, he resigned. He said Russian leaders were not interested in Tatar problems and every conversation turned into a dispute about Russian supremacy.

“We saw that Ukraine had ditched us, that it was inevitable that Russia was going to swallow Crimea and the global community was doing nothing,” he said. When pro-Russian politicians tried to push through a motion in the local legislature for a vote about Crimea’s future, the only visible force opposing them was the Crimean Tatar minority. Six people, including Elnara Asanova’s husband, Ali Asanov, are now on trial in the capital, Simferopol, on charges of rioting dating back to fist fights between rival rallies of the pro-Russian party and Crimean Tatars on Feb. 26, 2014. Not a single pro-Russian protester has faced charges.

Tatar businesses with purported ties to the blockade leaders have faced closures or legal onslaught, according to local journalist Zair Akadyrov. “The blockade is drawing more attention from the law enforcement agencies to Crimean activists because everyone gets unwittingly associated with that movement” on the border,” he said.

Bekir Umerov, who owns a two-story home improvement store on the outskirts of Simferopol, is one of the few Tatar businessmen in Crimea willing to speak publicly. His troubles began after the authorities found out he was a brother of Ilmi Umerov, a prominent Tatar community leader from Bakhchisarai. For a year and a half, Bekir Umerov’s store has been saddled with audits and checks from fire inspectors, the consumer rights agency and the economic crimes department.

“They’ve told me several times they are not interested in my documents, but they have been tasked to run the store into the ground because of the political views of my brother and my own,” Umerov said. He feels his only option is to rent out the store before officials find cause to close it down.

The reaction of the Crimean authorities to any display of allegiance to Ukraine sometimes borders on farce. A shop assistant at Umerov’s store says inspectors once asked them about a mailbox that happened to be in the yellow and blue colors of the Ukrainian flag.

More and more Tatars in Crimea and outside now say they want more than a return to Ukraine’s fold, after its passive stance toward Russian annexation. What they want is Tatar autonomy within Crimea. However, unlike other nations of the former Russian Empire with a troubled past, Crimean Tatars do not have a history of armed resistance. Nariman Dzhelyal, who leads the Crimean Tatar self-governing body since its leader has been barred from entering Crimea, argues that any suggestion of a guerrilla resistance is “complete nonsense.”

“The landscape does not help,” he said, suggesting that Crimea’s windswept steppes offered no place for potential guerrillas to hide. “And there are no weapons.”

Ukraine to establish Crimean Tatar military unit

04 August 2015 Tuesday

Ukraine has stepped up to establish a troop of Muslims, leader of Crimean Tatars, Mustafa Abdülcemil Kirimoglu, said on Aug. 3. according to a report in the IB Times.

The troops will be deployed in the Kherson region on the Crimean border and would monitor transportation of goods and people between Ukraine and the peninsula, he said speaking at a congress.

The troop will be formed of Crimean Tatars, Kazan Tatars, Uzbeks, Chechens, Azeris, Meskhetian Turks and other Muslim groups, Kirimoglu noted.

Kirimoglu met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after attending the 2nd World Crimean Congress, which convened in Ankara July 31-Aug. 2

An autonomous Crimean Tatar Republic will be formed, Kirimoglu said, calling on the Crimean people to take an active role in Ukrainian politics. He expressed expectation from the diaspora on this bid.

The Muslim battalion is part of growing relations between Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians and will report to the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, said Kirimoglu. Crimean Tatars are an ethnically Turkic and religiously Islam minority group that has faced decades of religious and political persecution under Russian rule.

Ukraine has halted train services to Crimea after Russia’s annexation of the peninsula, instead directing services to Novooleksiyvka and Kherson. Turkish Airlines also added an additional flight to Kherson after the annexation.

Source: World Bulletin.

Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/headlines/162777/ukraine-to-establish-crimean-tatar-military-unit.

Crimean police detain Tatars commemorating mass deportation

May 18, 2015

MOSCOW (AP) — Police in the capital of Russia-annexed Crimea have detained demonstrators trying to take part in an unauthorized motorcade to observe the anniversary of the mass deportation of Crimean Tatars.

Tatars, a Turkic ethnic group, ruled the Black Sea peninsula from the 15th century until Russian conquest in the 18th century. In May 1944, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin accused the Tatars of collaborating with German forces and ordered their deportation, many to Central Asia.

Tatars commemorate the deportation on May 18. This year’s events in Simferopol were much smaller than those before Russia’s March 2014 annexation of Crimea, which most Tatars opposed. Crimea’s chief of inter-ethnic affairs, Zaur Smirnov, said Monday about 100 motorcade participants were blocked and the men among them were taken to a police station to be interrogated.

Crimean Tatar channel faces shutdown by Russian authorities

Mar. 30, 2015

It’s the only television channel that broadcasts in the Crimean Tatar language, and soon it might be off the air forever. ATR, which broadcasts from Simferopol, could be shut down by the Russian authorities controlling the Crimean Peninsula. Its temporary license expires on April 1, and there is no sign that Russia’s broadcast regulator will renew it. The Crimean Tatar channel is one of the last independent voices on the peninsula following Russia’s annexation last year.

Ibraim Umerov, a spokesman for Crimean Tatars in Kyiv, worked for several years for Crimean media outlets, including ATR. He stopped by the Ukraine Today newsroom to explain why the channel is so important for the Crimean Tatar community and for the right to independent media.

Ibraim Umerov, Spokesman for Kyiv Crimean Tatar community: “ATR is not an oppositional channel…”

Umerov said the Russian authorities who seized the peninsula have cracked down of freedom of speech. Umerov said ATR is more than a news channel. It’s an important part of Crimean Tatar culture, showing documentaries and Crimean Tatar films as well as other specialty programs.

ATR has applied for a broadcast license under Russian law, but authorities have rejected their attempts citing murky administrative rules. Umerov and ATR journalists see it another way.

The Crimean Tatars, who make up about 10 percent of the peninsula’s population, have faced harassment under Russian occupation. Properties have been seized and activists have disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev, a former Soviet dissident and longtime leader of the Crimean Tatar community, was banned from re-entering Crimea after travelling to mainland Ukraine last year. Human rights groups, including Freedom House, have called the situation alarming.

Source: Ukraine Today.

Link: http://uatoday.tv/geopolitics/crimean-tatar-channel-faces-shutdown-by-russian-authorities-418577.html.

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