Crimean Tatars: Russian Rule Fosters Discrimination and Hinders Economic Well-Being
Since the annexation of Crimea by Russia in March 2014, the peninsula has been going through economic hardship. Crimea used to be Ukraine’s "holiday paradise", but investors have left and Russia has not met its promises for the development of the territory. In particular, the Crimean Tatars are suffering from discriminations and are losing hope for the future.
Below is an article published by the World Bulletin:
Business has come to a halt. Many people have been fired. There are no laws there and no peace,” says Adile Seyyid, a Crimean Tatar living in Istanbul.
Talking about her homeland in a reigned tone, Adile is just one of thousands of Crimean Tatars living in Turkey almost one year after the formal Russian annexation of the Ukrainian Black Sea territory.
Thirty-seven-year-old Adile, a Russian and Tatar teacher, is not alone. Many members of this Turkic Muslim ethnic minority are unhappy about the recent situation in Crimea.
Crimea — which was a tourism destination under Ukrainian rule — unilaterally decided to join the Russian Federation in a March 2014 referendum condemned by the international community and the Ukrainian government.
Moscow backed the vote, calling it legitimate and in line with international legal standards. The majority of Crimean Tatars — native to the Black Sea peninsula — boycotted the referendum.
“Think about it. Many Russians are living in Antalya, a southern Turkish city. Putin will come one day and say: ‘I’ve come to preserve Russians here. With a referendum, I would like to annex Antalya,’” she says in an interview with The Anadolu Agency.
“Of course, if the majority of the population is Russian there, Russia will win the referendum. What we have experienced in Crimea was the same thing one year ago.”
According to Turkey’s Foreign Ministry, there are 280,000 Crimean Tatars in the region, which constitutes close to 13 percent of the total population.
The Tatar teacher says she always travels to Crimea as her brothers and relatives live there and can see the difference in the region very clearly.
“It was a holiday paradise earlier. There was peace and business but now no one is going there. It is like a ghost region, which is very sad.”
After the annexation, both the U.S. and the E.U. imposed sanctions to stop firms from operating or investing in the territory.
From Dec. 20 last year, EU companies no longer buy real estate or finance companies in Crimea.
“Ukraine, at least, was trying to solve our problems. Earlier, we had a future there. We were making plans for our future but …there is big uncertainty in our homeland right now,” Adile adds.
“Even our Russian neighbors have started losing hope when they see that the Russian authorities have not met their promises so far.”
Another Crimean Tatar, 51-year-old Niyar Abali, who has been living in Istanbul for around 10 years, agrees.
“My brother’s children are afraid of going out since the annexation. People are lost. There is no peace there and they are putting pressure on Tatars.”
According to the Human Rights Watch, there are at least 15 cases in which Crimean Tatars or pro-Ukraine activists were forcibly disappeared, abducted, or went missing in Crimea since March 2014.
Six were subsequently released. Two of those who were forcibly disappeared were later found dead. The true number of forced disappearances is likely to be higher, it says.
Abali also talks about the financial side of the annexation. “Shops are being closed down. Everything is very expensive. People are barely earning money... The situation is really worse than one year ago.”
Since Russia annexed the territory, Crimean Tatars have reportedly faced discrimination and pressure for their opposition to the new regime.
A 36-page-report released last year by the UN Human Rights monitoring mission documented a number of problems related to Crimean Tatars and other minorities after the annexation.
These included the issue of citizenship, the free movement of Tatar leaders and descriptions of physical harassment.
After the annexation, the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, the highest executive body of the Crimean Tatar people, was closed down and all the Mejlis’ equipment and its money confiscated.
Crimean Tatar leaders Mustafa Abduldzhemil Dzhemilev and Refat Chubarov were banned from entering the territory for five years.
Ahtem Ciygoz, the deputy head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, was also detained by Russian Federal Investigative Committee on suspicion of organizing "mass disorder."
The U.N. report also talked about fears of religious persecution of those who are practicing Muslims.
“Bad memories of Tatars, who experienced the 1944 deportation, came back when Russians took control of the region and they started being afraid of experiencing similar things,” says Celal Icten, the chairman of Istanbul Association of Crimean Tatars.
In 1944, the entire Crimean Tatar population was forcibly exiled to Central Asia by Stalin’s Soviet government as they were accused of collaborating with Nazi Germany.
Approximately half of them died from hunger and disease in the early years of the deportation.
“Tatars are also suffering religious oppression in Crimea. Russian authorities seized religious books in mosques and Islamic schools built by Tatars. They are treating Tatars as if they were second-class people,” says Icten.
“Our only expectation is for Russians to be withdrawn from Crimea. We want them to give us our national assembly back and to free the Tatars who are detained for nothing.”
Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko said last month in a statement that “they will regain control over the temporarily occupied territory."
"The events of Feb. 23, 2014 and the referendum on Crimea's joining Russia were a cynical act aimed at seizing Crimea – an integral part of the Ukrainian state," he said.
However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismisses criticisms against Russia’s policy towards Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea, saying it was not a violation of international law.
“What happened in Crimea was the exercise of the right of self-determination. It is part of the U.N. Charter,” he said last month during a Munich Security Conference.
In spite of everything, the ethnic Tatar community has not abandoned hope.
“We must show a determined stance against the Russians. As they withdrew from Kars and Ardahan (eastern Turkish cities) and Afghanistan in the past, they will withdraw from Crimea one day as well,” the chairman of the Crimean Tatars says.
“Earlier, no one imagined that the Soviet Union would fall but it has fallen. Nothing is impossible. I am hopeful that one day Russians will give Crimea back,” Crimean Tatar teacher Adile Seyyid states.
“The only question in my mind nowadays is when Crimea will return to Ukraine. I am dreaming of seeing these days again,” Abali also notes.