Crimean Tatars and occupation of Crimea

Natalya Belitser
Expert/Senior Researcher
Pylyp Orlyk Institute for Democracy

Although there is abundant literature on Crimean Tatars (CTs), especially about about their tragic fate related to the genocidal deportation of May 1944, some aspects of the CTs case, less known and poorly understood by the international community, need to be clarified.

One of the points is their ’indigenousness’. CTs identify themselves as an indigenous people –not just one of the numerous national minorities of Ukraine – from the very beginning of the repatriation to their Homeland in late 80-s of the 20th century. Indeed, they fully comply with all ‘indigenous peoples’ definitions enshrined in the international law. For CTs, the Crimean Peninsula is not simply a geographical area where their ethnogenesis took place or the land they traditionally cultivate; they have strong spiritual ties with the Crimea and its nature. This territory is inextricably linked to the unique Crimean Tatar identity which they have never lost, despite all attempts by the Russian and Soviet Empires to deny it through either assimilation or not separating from a larger Tatar ethnos.

CTs demanded such a status to be officially recognised, but this did not happen until occupation of Crimea by the RF in 2014. Only on March 20, 2014 Verkhovna Rada issued Decree N 1140-18l followed on 1 July 2021 by the long-awaited law on CTs as an indigenous people of Ukraine, and the Mejlis as their main representative-executive body.

During occupation of the peninsula CTs proved to be the main politically and socially organised force that persistently but peacefully resisted it. For this and generally pro-Ukrainian position they were ‘punished’ by persecutions and repressions including illegal searches, detainments, abductions, ‘disappearances’ never properly investigated, and arrests under false charges of ‘terrorism’ and ‘extremism’ – without any proven evidence of crimes committed or even wrongdoings breaching the RF-imposed Russian legislation. In all cases, international HR law and vast majority of articles of the 4th Geneva convention (1949) – the basis of the international humanitarian law – have been brutally violated.

Although persecutions on political and religious grounds are widespread on the occupied peninsula, there are CTs who suffer the most and constitute the lion share among all victims of the oppressive regime. At the end of 2021, 162 out of 230 persons repressed by the occupants, were CTs (while they make up only 13 – 15% of the Crimean population). In 2016 Mejlis was banned as an ‘extremist organisation’, two Deputy Heads arrested (Akhtem Chiygoz in January 2015, Ilmi Umerov – in May 2016; on 25 October 2017, both were saved by the President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who swapped them for two Russian spies). Nariman Dzhelyal, the only CT leader remaining in Crimea, was arrested on 4 September 2021 on absurd charges of ‘sabotage’ – in fact, due to his participation in the inauguration summit of Crimean Platform in Kyiv on 23 August. Criminal cases were also initiated against the Head of the Mejlis Refat Chubarov and charismatic people’s leader Mustafa Djemilev; both men were prohibited from entering the peninsula. Now the Mejlis office functions in Kyiv, whereas many active members of the community moved to mainland Ukraine in 2014 – 2015 and some of them joined the ranks of Ukrainian Army as volunteers or under contract.

Attempts to intimidate CTs and force them to stop their peaceful struggle against the occupiers have failed. All cases of political persecution continue to be covered, and support for the repressed and their families provided. An outstanding role in the information flow from the occupied Crimea to mainland Ukraine, used also by international organisations, belongs to the public movement ‘Crimean Solidarity’ (CS). Although many coordinators and civic journalists from the CS have been arrested and sentenced, its activities and growing popularity are not suppressed, and the number of the CS members and supporters is on the rise. First appeared in 2018 as a reaction to the persecutions of Crimean Tatar Muslims, it gradually transformed into the genuinely ‘all-Crimean’ initiative uniting and consolidating people of different ethnicities and religious denominations. Its effectiveness is also determined by a ‘horizontal’ networking structure not depending on a single leader. This amazing example of a non-violent counteraction to the occupying power shouldn’t come unheeded by the international community. It is especially topical after peaceful protests in Russia and Belarus were crushed and almost ceased to exist, thus undermining the validity of the concept of non-violent resistance described and promoted by Gene Sharp in his famous pamphlet ‘From Dictatorship to Democracy”.After the large-scale military invasion of the RF into Ukraine on February 24, 2022, many CTs, who settled in the southern regions bordering Crimea, experienced the second wave of occupation. Some of them fled to safer places or become refugees. Men with military training re-joined Ukrainian troops, hoping that victory in this crucial phase of the eight-year war would help de-occupy Crimea and enable them to return to their Homeland.


Expert article 3225

>Back to Baltic Rim Economies 2/2022

To receive the Baltic Rim Economies review free of charge, you may register to the mailing list.
The review is published 4-6 times a year.