Mar 20, 2013

Crimean Tatars: Tensions Arise In Run Up To 69th Deportation Anniversary

The Simferopol authorities refuse to work with the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars in organizing the remembrance events to commemorate the 69th Anniversary of Sürgün, the Mass Deportation of the Crimean Tatars.

Below is an article published by Kyiv Post:

In 2008, the Russian–Georgian war over South Ossetia prompted a surge of international interest in Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. The media found any number of analysts, competent and otherwise, to speculate on whether Crimea “could be next.”

Attention waned, as it does, and by 2010 relatively little attention was paid to the extremely specific problems of this autonomous republic within Ukraine. That situation needs to change now before the Crimean leadership, almost certainly with encouragement from above, unleashes conflict of potentially tragic consequences.

The latest remarks from Anatoly Mohylyov, prime minister of the Crimea, are in no way out of character.  This is, in fact, the problem. President Viktor Yanukovych was well aware of Mohylyov’s hate speech directed against Crimean Tatars and role in the gratuitously violent confrontation on Ai-Petri plateau in Crimea on Nov. 7, 2007 when he appointed Mohylyov as interior minister in March 2010. The president then promoted him to the top post in the Crimean leadership in November 2011.

Examples of how both Kyiv and the peninsula’s leaders have been edging out the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars and bringing in others, either antagonistic to the Mejlis, or generally more malleable can be found here.

As reported, the Simferopol authorities have refused to work with the Mejlis in coordinating the remembrance events on May 17 and 18 [2013], commemorating the deportation of Tatars by Josef Stalin’s regime in 1944.

Tens of thousands of Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians gather each year to honor the memory of the victims of that crime. Last year’s ceremonies were attended by many former Soviet political prisoners and – for the first time – totally ignored by the peninsula’s leaders.

Any doubts regarding the real driving force behind the Simferopol authorities’ sudden wish to coordinate the remembrance events they ignored last year with highly marginal groups and exclude the Mejlis were dispelled on 12 March [2013].  At a press conference, Mohylyov had the following to say:

“The Mejlis is a structure outside the legal framework in Ukraine. I am ready to cooperate with (member of parliament) Mustafa Dzemiliev and member of the Crimean parliament Refat Chubaro. However, let’s get rid of this word Mejlis.”

Since 1991, when newly independent Ukraine encouraged the Crimean Tatars deported in 1944 to return to their native Crimea, the Mejlis has been the representative executive body elected by the Crimean Tatar Kurultai [National Congress]. Tatars make up less than 0.2 percent of Ukraine’s population, but the community is heavily concentrated in Crimea.

Mohylyov is aware that the lack of official recognition for the Mejlis has long aroused concern. The lack of de jure status does not diminish the standing of the Mejlis, and his attempts to “remove the word” or present the Mejlis as an outlaw organization will not wash. 

Mustafa Dzhemiliev is convinced that Mohylyov is simply carrying out Yanukovych’s instructions. He believes that the latter has it in for the Mejlis because it acts as an autonomous body and has in recent years supported parties and candidates in opposition to Yanukovych.

With the European Union-Ukraine association agreement in jeopardy most particularly over selective prosecutions of opposition leaders, such extraordinary short-sightedness does not seem improbable.

It remains extremely hazardous. Predictions of confrontation during the remembrance events on May 17 and 18 [2013] are realistic. The Verkhovna Rada Committee on National Minorities has called on the president to intervene, but Dzemiliev, a member of the committee, is not optimistic.

With Ukraine holding the chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe this year, it would seem appropriate for that body as well as other international structures to remind Ukraine’s leaders of the country’s commitments and of the grave dangers of fueling conflict and enmity in the Crimea, whether to settle personal scores or for other questionable motives.