Monday marks the start of an international summit called by Ukraine to pressure Russia over the annexation of Crimea, which has been denounced as illegal by most countries around the world. The fate of the Crimean Tatars is one of the main topics discussed at the inaugural meeting of the Crimean Platform. The Turkish ethnic group faces relentless repression from the Russian authorities as part of the ongoing systematic policy of discrimination and persecution.
Erfan Kudusov fled Crimea with his wife and four children after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Black Sea Peninsula in 2014, along with many other Crimean Tatars who resented the Moscow regime.
For Kudusov and others in Crimea, the Russian takeover evoked tragic family memories of the mass deportation of the Crimean Tatars in 1944 on the orders of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, raising fears of discrimination and persecution. Their fears materialized.
A few of Kudusov’s friends who remained in Crimea have since been convicted of extremism, separatism and membership in banned organizations, and have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from eight to 19 years.
“Fear for my children and the memory of the crackdown on my people forced us to pack all our things in two suitcases and literally leave our beloved Yalta in one day,” Kudusov told The Associated Press (AP) in his little restaurant in Ukraine. capital of Kiev. “Most of those who left were well educated and energetic people who actively opposed the occupation of Crimea.”
Only an ancestral cover for their Koran, a few paintings of Crimean rocky landscapes and some ceramics now remind Kudusov of his native land. Letters from prison and discussions with relatives over messaging apps paint a grim picture of the life of the Crimean Tatars now under Russian control.
“Russia has a concentration camp there behind a beautiful facade,” Kudusov said. “People in Crimea are very scared and afraid to speak out loud.”
In August 2018, Vatan Karbash set himself on fire in the Crimean regional capital, Simferopol, to protest against the measures taken by the authorities to raze the homes of Crimean Tatars. He survived with severe burns.
Ethnic Russians, who form the majority of Crimea’s 2.3 million inhabitants, largely supported Russian annexation, but the Crimean Tatars, who made up nearly 15 percent, opposed the takeover of Moscow. It is estimated that 30,000 Crimean Tatars have fled Crimea since 2014.
Some of those who remained faced a relentless crackdown from the Russian authorities, who banned the main representative body of the Crimean Tatars and some religious groups. About 80 Crimean Tatars have been sentenced and 15 activists are missing, according to Amnesty International.
“The Russian Federation continues its policy of intimidation, systematic pressure and criminal prosecution against the Crimean Tatars, who disagree with the occupation or refuse to cooperate with the de facto authorities,” said Kateryna Mitieva, member from the rights group. âThe homes of Crimean Tatar militants are systematically searched by the FSB (the Russian internal security agency).
Just last week, four Crimean Tatar activists were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 12 to 18 years for affiliation with Hizb ut-Tahrir, an international group that Russia banned as a terrorist organization in 2003. The group has been banned in most Arab countries, China, Turkey and Germany.
“Russia brought imperialism, fear, its own vision of freedom and its understanding of who is a friend and who is an enemy,” Mufti Ayder Rustamov said at a Kiev mosque frequented by Crimean Tatars .
Moscow strongly rejected accusations of discrimination against the Crimean Tatars. The Russian Foreign Ministry highlighted the construction of new mosques in Crimea, the allocation of 100,000 land to the Crimean Tatars and its growing support for their cultural and educational projects.
At the same time, Russian officials accused the leaders of the Crimean Tatars who protested against annexation of serving Ukrainian interests, and Russian law punishes those who demand the return of Crimea to Ukraine.
Refat Chubarov, the leader of Crimean Tatar Mejlis, a representative body of the ethnic group, was sentenced in absentia to six years in prison by a Russian court in June for inciting mass unrest for protesting against annexation in 2014 .
“Moscow continues its policy of crushing the Crimean Tatars, and all these repressions, including arrests and long prison terms, are aimed at suppressing the will of the people and forcing them to leave Crimea out of fear for the future of their children, âsaid Chubarov, who was forced to leave the Black Sea Peninsula in 2014.
Chubarov accused Moscow of encouraging people from other regions to settle in Crimea, with more than 500,000 Russians who have settled there since annexation.
âBefore our eyes, the Russian authorities have artificially altered the ethnic makeup of Crimea,â he said.
In 2016, Russian authorities banned Mejlis as an extremist organization. In 2017, an international tribunal asked Russia to revoke the ruling, but it ignored the ruling.
âMoscow has totally ignored all decisions, appeals, recommendations and decisions of international organizations and tribunals,â Chubarov said.
In a bid to draw international attention to the plight of Crimea, Ukraine established the Crimean Platform, which holds its first meeting in Kiev on Monday, bringing together senior officials from 44 countries and blocs, including United States, European Union and Turkey.
“(This) is a platform for constant dialogue which aims to consolidate the international and Ukrainian effort to unoccupy Crimea,” Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Emine Dzhaparova told the PA.
Turkey is one of the most active supporters of the Crimean issue at the international level, Dzhaparova also said recently, expressing hope that the upcoming Crimean platform will strengthen global efforts for the liberation of the region.
Military tensions between Ukraine and Russia have been high since Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014.
Turkey, along with the rest of NATO, criticized Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and expressed support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity as Kiev forces fight pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The Crimea Platform was established in October 2020 as part of Ukraine’s strategy to rid Crimea of ââRussian forces.
Turkey was one of the first countries to express support for the Crimean Platform to be held on August 23.
Ukrainian authorities claim that the massive construction projects launched by Russia in Crimea are aimed at militarizing the peninsula.
âCrimea is a military base with Ukrainian citizens held hostage,â Dzhaparova said.
âTo be a Crimean Tatar is to keep a genetic memory of the pain my people have suffered,â said Susana Jamaladinova, a singer who, under the stage name Jamala, won the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest with a song sad deploring the Soviet deportation of 1944.
“An ethnocide is underway in Crimea – even memorial gatherings are prohibited for Crimean Tatars,” said the 37-year-old singer, born in the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan.
In May 1944, nearly 200,000 Crimean Tatars, who then represented about a third of the Crimean population, were deported to the steppes of Central Asia, 3,200 kilometers to the east by Stalin. The Soviet dictator accused them of collaborating with the Nazis – a claim widely dismissed by historians as a sham. It is estimated that half of them died in the next 18 months from hunger and harsh conditions.
Other ethnic groups who faced similar massive deportations on Stalin’s orders were allowed to return to their native lands soon after the death of the Soviet dictator in 1953, but the Crimean Tatars were only allowed to return. shortly before the Soviet collapse of 1991.
Kudusov said his father was 2 during the Stalinist deportation and his own twins were that age when he and his family fled Crimea in 2014.
âIt looks horrible and surreal,â he said. “But my family experience shows that Crimean Tatars always come back to Crimea.”