“We are suffering deliberate and disproportionate persecution.”

“We are suffering deliberate and disproportionate persecution.”

During and after the annexation of Crimea, the Tatar community, of the Muslim faith, was the most resistant to subordination to Russia. So much so that it has recently become known that there is a rebel group, called the Atysh, which appears to be fighting from within against the authorities that now rule the former Ukrainian peninsula. But this also happened a decade ago, when this resistance was channeled into street marches and protests in Simferopol and other Crimean cities, which then culminated in the imprisonment or exile of several Tatar leaders. Among them is Rifaat Chubarov.

How many people from your community have left Crimea since the Russian annexation in 2014?

We do not know for sure, but thousands of Tatars left Crimea during these ten years. Many left because of persecution, fear for their lives or the lives of their children, and also because of mobilization. Over the years, there have been several claims that Tatars were disproportionately white in Russian conscription.

In 2016, the Redeemer Corps, the most representative body of the Crimean Tatar community, was declared an extremist organization and banned. Is this the reason for their exile to Kiev?

Yes really. The Mukhlis and Kurultai Association, the Tatar association, no longer operates in Crimea because it is banned.

You can't go back either.

I was denied entry in 2014. But a worse fate befell the example of Ekhtem Txedgöz, the deputy head of the Redeemer. He was arrested and spent three years in prison. Another leader, Emi Umarov, was about to be imprisoned, but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan intervened and released him. They were then sent to Ukraine in a prisoner exchange. But in 2021, Nariman Jelal was arrested and is still in prison. He was arrested after participating in events with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and was sent to a prison in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia.

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How many Crimean leaders are in Russian prisons today?

There are currently about 190 political prisoners of Crimean origin. Two-thirds of them are Tatars. This is deliberate and disproportionate persecution.

But why do you think this is so?

The reasons are many, and undoubtedly they are also historical. We should not forget that Crimea was first annexed by the Russian Empire in 1783. Before that, Crimea was under the control of the Khanate and was essentially a mono-ethnic region, where 97% were Muslims and Crimean Tatars. That's when the chase began. Then this happened again with the so-called Crimean War between 1853 and 1856, in which the Russian Empire fought against the Kingdom of Greece. This conflict ended with the defeat of Russia, which lost several regions but kept the Crimean Peninsula. Moscow then blamed the Tatars, accusing them of supporting enemies. Then, when the Russian Empire collapsed, the Tatars tried again to rebuild a state of their own, but the Bolsheviks arrived and their aspirations faded once again. Finally with Joseph Stalin during World War II, mass deportations began.

But there was a time in those years when some kind of peaceful coexistence was achieved, wasn't there?

correct. It happened in the first years of the Soviet government, where we were granted some freedoms, and were even allowed to have 33% representation in the Crimean Parliament. It was a strategy to consolidate power because no one wanted the communists in Crimea. So it didn't last long, about 10 years.

Do you think it is dangerous to be a Tatar in Crimea today?

It is dangerous for anyone who does not think like the authorities who took over the peninsula in 2014. Tatars have also been targeted because in 2014 they were the ones who took to the streets the most to protest.

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How is the relationship with the Ukrainian authorities?

A lot has changed since 2014, but there is still a lot to be done. We have asked for a special law to recognize us as indigenous people of Crimea, but it has not yet been passed. We also want greater autonomy, which the Constitution recognizes. We realize that the word autonomy is seen today as a toxic term, but we are not talking about separatism. We just want to be recognized.

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