Human Rights in Ukraine

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05.07.2017 | Halya Coynash

Crimean Tatar activists reject Russia sponsored attempt to foist a fake ‘Day of Joy’

18 May 2014, Bakhchysarai, (right) Server Kerametov detained for remembrance on 18 May 2017
   

Crimean Tatars have categorically rejected a proposal to establish a new ‘cheerful’ festival, ‘Avdet Kunyu’ or Day of the Return to Crimea after decades of forced exile following the 1944 Deportation.  Amid mounting repression under Russian occupation, and when Crimean Tatars are prevented from gathering to remember the victims of the Deportation, with some detained and prosecuted for supposed ‘administrative offences’, the mere suggestion of such a festival seems inappropriate. 

The proposal has come from the organization Medeniy Qırım (Медений Къырым).  This is run with the support of DUMK, the religious authority of Muslims of Crimea under Mufti Emirali Ablayev who has chosen to collaborate with Russia.  The idea itself, as presented by Emir Kerimov, might, under different circumstances, seem innocuous enough.

Zair Smedlyaev, a prominent figure in the Crimean Tatar Qurultay or National Congress, notes , however, that similar attempts were used in Soviet times to try sow division among Crimean Tatars.  He is blunt about the plan.

“The idea of such a festival came from those who are depriving us of our Liberty, our Homeland and national identity.”  The festival would create the appearance that the Tatars had returned home and were blissfully happy, unlike those ‘extremists’ who “want to be Crimean Tatars, speak and study in our native language, retain our culture and religion”.   

Smedlyaev also posts a statement from Crimean Tatar activists from various youth organizations.  They are categorically opposed, and “given the current situation of your people, as well as the situation in Crimea, consider it unacceptable to create such a festival.

They point out that any decision about a festival must be taken by the Qurultay, the elected congress of the Crimean Tatar people and not any individual group. 

The statement is endorsed by "Qardaşlıq", the Crimean Tatar Youth Centre; the media project "QaveTV", the youth wing of the World Congress of Crimean Tatars, as well as by other civic activists and cultural figures.

Smedlyaev called the initiative an attempt by Russia to foist a ‘Day of Joy’ and said that it reflects and repeats the refrain they have been hearing for the last three years from officials in the occupation regime, that it’s time to “quit mourning, and start celebrating”.  The only difference, he adds, is that this time the mouthpiece is Medeniy Qırım. 

It is indeed not the first such attempt, with others also citing Crimean Tatar civic organizations, albeit without naming them.  In April 2015, Dmitry Polonsky, a top figure in Russian-occupied Crimea told Lenta.ru that the “cult” of May 18 – the anniversary of the Deportation of the entire Crimean Tatar People in 1944 should be stopped and Crimeans should instead celebrate a "day of joy".

This was purportedly the conclusion of a “joint conference of all major civic Crimean Tatar organizations” which he claimed had taken place on April 2.  It was they, he asserted, who “expressed the opinion that it is long time to remove the accent from May 18.  This is undoubtedly the anniversary of a tragedy, a day of mourning, however it should be held in memory of the dead, by going to the cemetery and remembering the innocent victims at home.

The cult of 18 May among Crimean Tatars was for decades artificially created by the leaders of the so-called mejlis [sic] in order to give people an inferiority complex”.

Asked what was proposed instead, Polonsky asserted that “the Crimean Tatar civic activists suggested April 21.  The day that the President of Russia Vladimir Putin signed a degree about the rehabilitation of victims of the deportation. This was not only about Crimean Tatars, but also the Armenian, German, Greek and other peoples of Crimea. From a day of mourning we must nonetheless move to a day of joy.” 

More than 100 thousand Crimean Tatars died as a result of Stalin’s Deportation, and from when the Crimean Tatars were welcomed back to their homeland by Ukraine’s newly independent government, a huge remembrance gathering was held each year in the centre of Simferopol on May 18. 

Until 2014 - the seventieth anniversary of the Deportation and a month after Russia’s annexation of Crimea – when the occupation regime banned all public gatherings until June  (see: Russian Clamp on Crimean Tatar Remembrance).  The remembrance prayer gatherings that were held took place with military helicopters flying overhead

Since then there have been heavy-handed measures on every anniversary, with these including detentions, administrative prosecution and police / FSB harassment against Crimean Tatars for actions aimed at honouring the victims of a monstrous crime. 

As well as administrative proceedings this year against some young Crimean Tatars who drove with Crimean Tatar flags on their cars, five Crimean Tatars have just been summoned to the police in Dzhankoy for laying flowers at a monument to the victims on May 18.  The police decided that, since there had been a lot of people wanting to make this same sign of respect and remembrance,  this constituted an ‘unauthorized meeting’. 

There are currently at least 37 Crimeans held illegally in occupied Crimea or Russia, including the Deputy Head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis.  Another Mejlis leader Ilmi Umerov is currently on trial for saying that Russia should leave Crimea.  He, journalist Mykola Semena and Crimean Tatar regional Mejlis member Suleiman Kadyrov are all facing 5-year sentences, effectively for saying that Crimea is Ukrainian.  There have also been no effects by the occupation authorities to find Crimean Tatar activist Ervin Ibragimov, other civic activists or young Crimean Tatars who were abducted and never seen again.   

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