Vienna, November 6 – Twice in the last week, Crimean Tatars report, Ukrainian special militia forces working together with ethnic Russian Cossacks attacked a group of Tatar activists in Simferopol demonstrating against a recent court decision ordering them to vacate a portion of their ancestral lands.
During the first such confrontation last Friday, the Ukrainians and Russians backed off in the face of Crimean Tatar opposition. But in the second that occurred earlier today, a larger group of Ukrainians and Russians used truncheons and rubber bullets to drive off the Tatars, before taking 28 of them into custody.
The Crimean Tatars are angry not so much about the efforts of the authorities to enforce the court order, however much they disagree with it, but rather with the fact that Ukrainian officials have chosen to rely on anti-Crimean Tatar Russians who have no official standing.
By doing so, the Ukrainian militia has forfeited whatever legitimacy it had in the eyes of the Crimean Tatars and potentially opened the way for additional vigilante actions by this group of Russians or others, something that will inevitably destabilize the situation on the peninsula.
So far, relative little is known about these incidents. Ukrainian and international news agency have not provided much detail. Instead, individuals and groups tracking these events must rely on reports and pictures on the Crimea-L list, which is available online at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/crimea-l/.
Somewhat more has been publicized about the pre-history of these events. On September 30, Ukraine’s interior minister organized a meeting of Crimean militia officials at which time he said that as a result of the court decision about the area in Simferopol, the time had come to evict all Crimean Tatar “squatters” from the land.
At the time, many Crimean Tatars assumed that this declaration was only official posturing, but the moves against them on November 1 and today and even more the Ukrainians’ use of ethnic Russian Cossacks to assist them in these actions have convinced them otherwise.
Whether the Ukrainian authorities on their own or working together with ethnic Russian Cossack groups are ready to launch a broader campaign nonetheless remains unclear, but whether they do or not, the two incidents this last week suggest that tension in the Crimea are almost certainly going to increase.
And to the extent that happens, neither the Ukrainian authorities nor the Crimean Tatars who are trying to make a life for themselves after returning from their Central Asian exile will benefit. Indeed, the only group that might gain would be those in the Russian community who believe that instability there could force Moscow to act.
But given these risks, one can only hope that those in the media, human rights organizations, and government agencies will focus on this problem. Until that happens, however, those who care about the rights of the Crimean Tatars and the integrity of the Ukrainian state there will have to rely on the courageous reporters on Crimea-L.