Mustafa Dzhemiliev: Our Principle of Non-Violence enabled us to avoid bloody conflict in the Crimea



Mustafa Dzhemiliev, Head of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, National Deputy and former political prisoner was recently put forward by a group of scholars from Ukraine and other countries for the Nobel Peace Prize.  As reported here, at the beginning of May he became the second Laureate of  the “Light of Justice” Award given, as its founder explains, to people who have distinguished themselves through their ability to light the candle of justice in the dark recesses of the human soul and to guide the way to a more humane society.

As the anniversary approaches of the Deportation of the Crimean Tatars in 1944, Mustafa Dzhemiliev spoke with journalists Volodymyr Prytula and Olesya Bortnyak.

How would you assess the results of the Crimean Tatar national movement over several decades? Have all your expectations been fulfilled?

The aims of the national movement were formulated back in the mid 1950s. By this I mean the full return of the Crimean Tatar people to their historical Homeland and the reinstatement of their rights. We have not 100% achieved our goals. A fairly large number of Crimean Tatars have been forced to remain in the places to which they were exiled. The return was hard and many problems have still not been resolved. However I would say one thing. Of course we knew that one day that regime would be destroyed, that the empire would disintegrate and that one day we would return to our Homeland. However in honesty the fact that we would see it with our own eyes, that we ourselves would return – that we couldn’t believe. Therefore it would be wrong to say that we have achieved nothing. Obviously there were more wishes, but the reality … In reality we did not expect such great steps, that it would happen like this. My greatest dream for example was to die at liberty, so that they’d bury me without a number in the head.  The idea that I myself would return, that I scarcely believed.

What elements of Ukrainian reality do Crimean Tatars most run up against these days? What problems are still not resolved?  How can one minimize the acuteness of the land issue on the peninsula?

As for the most acute and immediate problems faced by the Crimean Tatar people, I would name as first not the land issue, but the question of returning ones national identity. Our children virtually can’t speak their native language. There are no schools or system of education in their native language. If before the Deportation there were around 400 schools in the Crimea, in all the years of Ukraine’s independence we have only managed to open 15.  Obviously they’re not schools like those before the War. They’re much larger, yet only 10 % of Crimean Tatar children study in them which means that only 10% of our children have the opportunity to gain at least some knowledge of their native language.

Yet most subjects they study not in their native language?

Of course most are not in their native language, but nonetheless in those schools they at least gain a knowledge of the Crimean Tatar language. The other 90% go mainly to Russian language schools. We’re talking about a loss of national identity, assimilation. The threat of the total disappearance of a people. And the land issue – those are social issues which can with time be resolved. If people lose their sense of who they are, it turns out that all our struggle, all the years of imprisonment were in vain. We could have assimilated successfully in Central Asia.

Experts say that the land issue is not merely a social issue, but a part of the Crimean Tatar people’s identity.

That’s clear. When the Jewish State was being built, the leaders of the Zionist movement said that you could only be a people working on your own land. Without their own land a people cannot stand firmly on its own feet. However here, in the Crimea, the land issue was more social. There was a big mistake in the land issue. When the Land Code was being prepared we repeated turned to the authorities since the draft Code did not allow for the rights of those Deported. The provisions about how land during privatization was passed to those who’d worked on it, i.e. the members of collective farms, were not fully acceptable for the Crimea and the Crimean Tatars. For well-known reasons they had not been able to be members of collective farms in the Crimea.  We were in exile during that time, in Uzbekistan. That needed to be envisaged in a separate article – “the right to land of Crimean Tatars who have settled in rural areas and have the same right to land as members of collective farms”. We didn’t, unfortunately, manage to achieve that and we were badly cheated in the distribution of land. That is one side of the situation.

The other is allocation of land for construction. The State is not returning what was taken away from us unlawfully – our land, our buildings.  Other people are living in those buildings, people who came from various regions of Russia. We’re not insisting after all we understand that they have nowhere to go. The government says that it will resolve our problems allocating money from the budget. Indeed each year certain amounts are allocated for resolving our problems.  However the amounts are pitiful. Of the 80 thousand families who have settled in the Crimea, only around 7 thousand received housing from the State.”

Mustafa Dzhemiliev says that the State should at least allocated land if it can’t provide housing. Here, however, is where they run up against resistance since land is expensive and local officials prefer to give land to commercial structures and get money for this in their own pockets. “This results in fights. After all the Crimean Tatars see such injustice with land allocation and are forced to squat land plots for construction.”

The situation, he reiterates, is forced on them and they would prefer to do everything according to the law.

Mustafa Dzhemiliev was asked to assess the likelihood that the Crimea could explode and of Crimean Tatars being directly involved in conflict.

He responded by mentioning various conflicts in the post-Soviet area, and says that there were far more reasons for bloody conflict in the Crimea. Thank goodness, he says, they managed to avert such a scenario.  He says that the authorities in Kyiv try to attribute this to their own wise policy, but that the real reason lies elsewhere. “The main reason lies in the principles which we developed at the beginning of the national Crimean Tatar movement, the principle of non-violence. In all fraught situations we made every effort to prevent bloodshed.” He stresses that such bloodshed is difficult to stop and leads to a dead end.  He points out that there are attempts at provocation which can be seen also on the Internet with the huge number of provocative publications fill of insults against the Crimean Tatars, especially in the Russian press.  While there are exceptions, he says that the attitude in the Russian media is clear: that the Crimean Tatars are enemies, that they will make the Crimea blow up, turn into another Chechnya. “Certain forces very much want Ukraine to have its own Chechnya. Thank God we have for now managed to avoid that.”

With regard to the influence of Russia and pro-Russian groups

“I know that a group has been created which supports the Russian side. After the Russian-Georgian military conflict in 2008 they sent a letter to Medvedev asking him to protect the Crimean Tatars from “the political genocide” which Ukraine was carrying out against the Crimean Tatar people. That was a fairly provocative appeal since many civic organizations of Crimean Tatars immediately gathered and held a press conference where they named the letter’s authors provocateurs who don’t reflect the views of even one hundredth of Crimean Tatar opinion. (More information at: The Crimean Interests not represented

Yet to our amazement with the coming to power of Viktor Yanukovych, these groups became favoured by the regime. They’re supported, they try to get them on the Council of the representatives of the Crimean Tatar people, a special decree was issued. All of this is quite understandable. At the presidential elections the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People through a decision at its national congress basically worked for the other candidate – Yulia Tymoshenko. Here in the Crimea Viktor Yanukovych was supported by pro-Russia organizations.  That therefore is payment for support.”

Asked about the influence among Crimean Tatars of such pro-Russian groups, Mustafa Dzhemiliev said that support was next to nil.  He says that the parties they supported at the local elections got serious support from the authorities, but still didn’t cross the three-percent threshold.

On the likelihood of radical Islamist groups influencing the principle of non-violence in resolving difficult issues

“The Crimea differs from other Muslim regions of the former Soviet Union. We were very lucky that we created our own system of national self-government before the collapse of the Soviet Union. During the last year of Soviet rule, in the summer of 1991 we held our national congress of the Kuruptai. Since the national movement envisages the renewal of religious life, activists from the national movement took the most active part in the formation of religious communities. Therefore the vast majority of Muslim communities in the Crimea are controlled by a secular structure, the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People. However those groups whom we’re talking about create their own religious communities and register them officially. The regime is for some reason strongly supporting this. Such religious communities are independent of the Spiritual Department of the Crimean Muslims. There are around 340 Muslim associations in the Crimea at present of which about 10 percent have independent status. If no measures are taken they could soon, of course, constitute a threat. People in the post-Soviet world, cut off from real religion, succumb to various forms of influence. However, thank God, for now we are succeeding in neutralizing such influence.  There were such times when the so-called Hizb-ul-Takhrir community changed the Imam in those mosques where they could. Mustafa Dzhemiliev says that the Mejlis was forced to intervene and state that all mosques were under the control of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People. He says that there was a lot of noise and assertions that the Mejlis was interfering in the religious life of the Crimea. (a much abbreviated version of what Mustafa Dzhemiliev says in the absence of the other side’s point of view – translator).

On the relations between the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people and the new regime

“… We have ended up alone, without the support of either Kyiv, or the local authorities formed after the presidential elections. The only thing that will save us is the consolidation of the Crimean Tatars. Despite incredible efforts to weaken the Mejlis, the authorities are nonetheless forced to build dialogue with us. “

He notes that the President’s Administration is in a different position because they issued a decree naming specific people who were supposed to be representing the Crimean Tatar people (not only the Mejlis) and now need, he says, to revoke it, admit that it was a mistake. “The fact that there are steps towards finding resolution on many problematical issues for the Crimean Tatars, that’s a positive thing. How events will develop remains to be seen”.

Abridged from the original at

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