Vienna, March 17 – Mustafa Cemilev, the leader of the Crimean Tatar national movement, warned the European Parliament that the situation in his homeland is increasingly fragile in the wake of the Russian invasion of Georgia in August 2008 and the recent election of pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovich as president of Ukraine.
Those two events, he argued, have exacerbated a situation already tense because of the anti-Crimean Tatar rhetoric and actions of the local ethnic Russian community, which justifies its presence there by attacking the Crimean Tatars, and by the failure of the Ukrainian government to provide the necessary support for the Crimean Tatars on their return from exile.
Lest the situation deteriorate still further, Cemilev continued, the European Parliament not only needs to declare the Soviet deportation of the Crimean Tatars in 1944 a genocide, an action fully in keeping with that body’s actions on Stalin-era crimes against humanity, but take a number of specific steps to reduce tensions and ensure the survival of the Crimean Tatar nation.
While it is unlikely that the European Parliament will take any immediate action – there are too many countervailing pressures – Cemilev and the Crimean Tatars can claim a real victory by attracting attention to a problem that all too many government officials and even human rights activists often view as an historical matter.
And by suggesting that instability and violence are real possibilities in Crimea unless the European Parliament and other international bodies take note and take action, Cemilev is forcing such groups and international opinion more generally to recognize that if they fail to take steps now in a small place about which they know little, they will bear responsibility for what happens.
Cemilev, the head of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, began his remarks by thanking the European Parliament for paying attention to the issues of his people and homeland by devoting “a special session” to the discussion of the problems in Ukraine and in Crimea.
The problems of Crimea, a region that constitutes four percent of Ukraine’s area and five percent of its population, have “became more complicated and disturbing after the war between Russia and Georgia in August 2008” and the adoption of a new Russian military doctrine saying that Moscow has the right to use force beyond its borders if Russian citizens are threatened.
Those developments have intensified the feelings of many ethnic Russians there that the exile of the Crimean Tatars in 1944 was not a genocide but rather an appropriate punishment for their supposed “collaboration” because such feelings justify the presence of the ethnic Russians there and the mistreatment or even expulsion of the Crimean Tatars.
In his remarks, Cemilev talked about the many problems the Crimean Tatars face: the difficulties they have in gaining ownership of land, their low representation in government offices, the obstacles they face in maintaining schools and opening mosques, and the continuing exile of the more than 100,000 members of their nation who have not been able to return.
And these problems have been intensified recently by the election of Viktor Yanukovich, “who is considered a pro-Russian and anti-Western politician,” as president of Ukraine, a man the ethnic Russians of Crimea overwhelmingly supported but that the Crimean Tatars overwhelmingly opposed.
This situation, Cemilev continued, could lead to instability, and consequently, the Crimean Tatar leader called on the European Parliament not only to declare the expulsion of the Crimean Tatars a genocide but also to support a series of specific programs to ensure that the Crimean Tatars, “now on the verge of the loss of linguistic and cultural identity,” will survive.
Cemilev called on the European institution to support the construction of schools for the Crimean Tatars, the renovation of Crimean Tatar historical and cultural treasures, the promotion of digital and print media in Crimean Tatar, the development of small and mid-sized enterprises, and, perhaps most important, support for easing repatriation efforts for those not yet returned.
If the European Parliament and other European structures respond even in part, Cemilev concluded, their efforts will represent “a contribution to the cause of strengthening an independent and democratic Ukraine and stability in the greater Black Sea region in Eastern Europe.
NOTE: Mubbeyin Altan, head of the Crimean Tatar Information and Research Center in the United States, kindly provided the author with an English and a Russian text of Mustafa Jemilev’s remarks in Brussels. Anyone who would like to receive a copy of these texts can do so by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org