A Letter to President Yanukovych in support of the Crimean Tatars
A letter from Tilman Tsyulykh, General Secretary of the Society in Support of Threatened Peoples (Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker, Berlin, especially prompted by a worrying campaign being waged against the Crimean Tatar people
Berlin, 19 April 2010
Dear President Yanukovych,
Ukraine, like many European countries, is a multicultural State with representatives of various different religions. This is reflected in Ukraine’s Constitution where the rights of ethnic and religious minorities are enshrined and under its protection. However practical enforcement of this unfortunately often leads a great deal to be desired.
The Society in Support of Threatened Peoples has for more than 40 years been standing up for the rights of national minorities under threat throughout the world. In 2006 the Society had the honour of bestowing up Mustafa Dzhemilyev, rightly described as the Gandhi of the Crimean Tatar People their International Human Rights Award.
Given the historical background where in 1944 the Crimean Tatars were victims of an act of genocide, we were stunned to hear that in recent times there have been attacks on their democratic structures, specifically the Mejlis and Kurultai. At the beginning of April a “Russian Bloc” activist in the Crimean Parliament, Oleg Rodivilov initiated a campaign against the Crimean Tatars, claiming that the Mejlis was a criminal organization and violated the Constitution. The Russian diaspora in the Crimea and the Tavria Union [Tavrichesky soyuz] have also written you an open letter calling for the Mejlis to be banned. These sorts of initiatives are an open slap in the face to all of those who for decades in the hardest conditions have been struggling for democracy and freedom. The Crimean Tatars need your personal attention and support.
On behalf of the Society in Support of Threatened Peoples, I would ask you to decisively condemn attacks against the Crimean Tatars and take urgent measures to improve their situation. This will help to strengthen social harmony in the Crimea.
We have in mind the following specific issues.
Since the middle of 1980 when the Crimean Tatars began returning to the Crimea, some 300 inhabited areas have emerged with populations of between 300 and 6,000 people. The infrastructure in these settlements is inadequate; there are not enough roads and supplies of water and gas. Unemployment among the Crimean Tatars is double that for the rest of the population. Despite the fact that the Crimean Tatars make up 13% of the Crimea’s population, they make up only 1-4% of the numbers in government structures and in the police. Around 100-150 thousand Crimean Tatars are still living in the places of their exile, mainly Uzbekistan. They also wish to return, however the socio-economic situation in the Crimea is preventing their return. They are also stopped by still unresolved issues around the entire process of repatriation, i.e. the issue of citizenship.
The issue of their right to land also remains unresolved. This is leading to Crimean Tatars being accused of settling on land illegally which in turn leads to further court cases and discrimination.
A major difficulty arises in connection with the preservation and development of their native language, culture and ethnic identity. After the completion of the Deportation, all traces of their culture were destroyed, with the names of the places they lived in being renamed. In their places of exile they were prohibited from speaking or teaching their native language. Today there is not enough money for schools. For more than 50 years not one school textbook was published, not one teacher of their native language was trained. At the present time there are 15 schools in which less than 10% of the children of Crimean Tatars are taught in their native language.
Constant discrimination, especially with regard to freedom of religion, is a heavy burden on the everyday life of the Crimean Tatars. For six years already there has been argument about whether to build a central Mosque for the Crimea in Simferopol [see http://www.khpg.org.ua/en/index.php?id=1230676352 and the links below]. Despite permission to build, obstructions are still being presented. At the same time the building of five Orthodox Churches has been permitted.
We would ask you, Mr President, to take these concerns and solution to the above-mentioned issues upon yourself. The former regime constantly put it to the back and in this way exacerbated the situation. To maintain social harmony, positive economic development in the Crimea it is important that discrimination of Crimean Tatars be stopped. On this issue it would be advised to have a talk with Oleg Rodivilov.
We Europeans are united by principles of freeom-loving democracy, law-based governance and protection of minorities. Guided by these principles, we can and will call for Ukraine’s entry as soon as possible to the European Union.
Tilman Tsyulykh, General Secretary of the Society in Support of Threatened Peoples (Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker, GfbV)