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Crimean Tatars: Rehabilitation or the threat of a new deportation?

23 April 2014

Source: (info)
Unknown camouflaged men stormed into the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars to capture the Ukrainian flag that was hanging from the building. Sergei Aksenov, head of the Crimea accused the Crimean Tatars of ‘inciting inter-ethnic hatred’ after they had hung out the Ukrainian flag from the building. ‘If the Mejlis continues provocations, then we should recognise this group as extremist’, he wrote on Twitter. Aksenov has threatened the Crimean Tatars with a new deportation: "97% are for Russia! If you don't like it - leave!" At the same time, local television has been instructed not to show those leaders of the Mejlis who do not agree with Crimea becoming a part of Russia.

By banning Mustafa Dzhemilev, the leader of the Crimean Tatars and member of the Ukrainian parliament, from returning to his homeland, the current authorities on the peninsula have created a trap for themselves and have laid a slow-ticking bomb which can explode any time in the coming years during the further integration of the region into Russia. The parliamentarian was halted at the border by self defence-units while travelling to the Crimea together with Refat Chubarov, chair of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people. Both men were let through only after long phone calls. But today it became known that Dzhemilev was banned from entering the Crimea until 2019.

At the same time, staff of the Tatar TV station “Crimea” say they have been unofficially told not to mention Dzhemilev’s name and not to broadcast information about him and other Crimean Tatar leaders. That is clear evidence of the fact that Russian authorities use the typical Soviet method of ‘closing one’s eyes to the problem’. He who is not seen, does not exist.

Such an approach does not help in solving problems, but drives the problems further and deeper inwards. The Tatar people exists and will continue to exist on the territory of the Crimea. If, that is, they are not driven away. The historical memory of this people will not forget the years of deportation, neither the current repression they are facing.

Putin's decree on the rehabilitation of the Crimean Tatars as well as other peoples living on the Crimean peninsula, is not likely to ease the tensions. It is hard not to agree with Dzhemilev, who stated that 'we don't need Russia's rehabilitation. Russia must rehabilitate itself before us for its crime of 1944.’

All of this suggests that the project of the 'Russian peace', which Moscow is seeking to impose on the Crimean Tatars, is not meeting its goal.

Painting: Rustem Eminov. Death Train - 2'

The ‘fifth colony’, as Putin likes to call it, will hardly calm down. The “originality’ shown by the leaders of the new subject of the Russian Federation suggests that instability in the Crimea will only grow and further irritate the Crimean authorities, forcing them to take retaliatory measures that would infringe the rights of the Tatars.

As a result, one small incident in daily life will be sufficient to create a completely new situation which will show that crucial decisions in relation to the Crimean Tatars have to be made. Or the Tatars themselves will take a decision in relation to the authorities, since already today the question has arisen of holding a referendum among Crimean Tatars on the same day as the presidential elections.

And what that may bring, we can only guess.

If the presidential elections in Ukraine are indeed held on May 25th, then tens of thousands of Crimean Tatars, those who refused to accept Russian citizenship, will try to reach the border area to take part in the vote. And much will depend on how freely they can do this and whether the Crimean authorities will seek to prevent them or not.

If the authorities possess enough common sense not to interfere, then a loophole for dialogue might emerge. But if they do decide to interfere, and there are fears that this will happen, the threat of an explosion or of continuing ‘smouldering fires’ will continue to exist. It should be remembered that the Crimean Tatars will be supported by their ‘fellow-religionists’. This will happen both domestically in Tatarstan and in the North Caucasus, as well as abroad, in Turkey and in the monarchies of the Persian Gulf.

For Russia, that could be the start of a new serious headache.

Source: Arkady Dubnov writing in Ezhednevnyi zhurnal

Translated by Eva Cukier