Mustafa Dzhemiliev on attempts to ban remembrance gatherings, fears of provocation
On the eve of the 71st anniversary of the Deportation of the Crimean Tatar People, veteran Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilievto Radio Svoboda about the occupiers’ attempts for the second year running to prevent Crimean Tatars from honouring their own parents, grandparents and other victims of the Deportation. Mustafa Dzhemiliev was speaking from Kyiv since he was banned from his homeland soon after Russia’s invasion and annexation.
“Last year the occupation regime cancelled all mass events in Simferopol, claiming that they had information about some ‘Ukrainian nationalists’, who together with ‘Crimean Tatar nationalists’ were going to carry out some kind of terrorist acts. Nonsense, of course. And, to be on the safe side, they cordoned off the central square in Simferopol with armed vehicle carriers and soldiers, and didn’t let anybody in.
Then the Mejlis [the Crimean Tatar representative assembly] decided to mark the anniversary on the outskirts of the city. Around 15-20 thousand people gathered there. But to obstruct the meeting, helicopters flew overhead, drowning out the speakers. And FSB [Security Service] people in plain clothes closely watched, walked around, listening to who was saying what. They particularly homed in where they noticed Ukrainian flags. They had somehow come to terms with Crimean Tatar flags, but the Ukrainian flag arouses extremely sharp seizures. The minor clashes were over Ukrainian flags.”
He notes that this year the occupation regime spread information several days in advance of the anniversary, claiming that yet again some ‘Ukrainian terrorists’, together with ‘Crimean terrorists’, “according to information received”, want to carry out some acts because of the number of people.
As reported here, the claims of a ‘mass provocation’ came just hours after threats from the prosecutor Natalya Poklonskaya that Ukrainian ‘nationalists and radicals’ could expect to be jailed in Russian-occupied Crimea. The ‘provocation’ was supposedly being planned by Ukrainian politicians and the leaders of the Mejlis. It was also reported, without any detail, that a “group of Ukrainian nationalists” had been arrested and were in custody.
The occupation authorities both in 2014 and this year have shown total inability to coordinate their excuses for bans. The head of the Simferopol city administrationat the same time that they would not be allowing the traditional remembrance gathering, but claimed that the square was not suited, and that repair work was planned.
Two members of the Mejlis have received formal warnings that meetings are unacceptable.
Asked whether this constitutes a ban on all meetings, Mustafa Dzhemiliev answered that, effectively, yes it does. He has just had a call from Sudak, he adds, where the authorities are trying to get Crimean Tatars to lay flowers together with them at the Deportation memorial. He believes that Crimean Tatars, certainly the Mejlis, will refuse to take part in any commemorate acts together with the occupation authorities, though adds that the latter have a few collaborators they can turn to.
“In fact it would be possible, not taking into account bans or restrictions to just come out, and that probably is what will happen. However I’m afraid of any provocation. Because if they, say, send a person with a Russian flag into a place where a lot of people are gathered, it will be impossible to avoid confrontation. In short the situation is pretty worrying. I don’t know how it will develop. “
Asked about people forced to leave Crimea, Mustafa Dzhemiliev explained that of the 35 thousand Crimeans which the civic organization Crimea SOS says left, just over 20 thousand are Crimean Tatars. Although they have settled throughout Ukraine, the majority went to western oblasts – Lviv and Vinnytsa – because they were more warmly greeted there.
He adds that the Mejlis regularly asks fellow Crimean Tatars to be patient and not leave Crimea since this is precisely what the occupying regime wants. However, when there are mass searches and arrests and when, most worryingly, people are disappearing, then you can hardly tell people that they should stay. A woman who has left answered him with one stark question: where is the guarantee that they won’t abduct and kill my child?
Mustafa Dzhemiliev is scathing about Vladimir Putin’s decree ‘On the rehabilitation of the peoples of Crimea, calling it an illiterate document put together hastily and without any real content. The idea was, he suggests, to produce such a document to prove that Russia had done what Ukraine failed to do.
He notes that the situation in all areas has worsened significantly. Although in theory there are three official languages, only Russian effectively remains with Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian pushed out.
It was all just promises, he says, with the reality being that even the only Crimean Tatar channel – ATR – was closed (or forced off air through the refusal to re-register it). Dzhemiliev mentions that ATR was also the only channel which broadcast information in Ukrainian which riled the occupiers. The State Crimea channel has a few minutes a week in Crimean Tatar, he says, with the authorities dictating what goes on and those Crimean Tatars who have chosen to collaborate with the authorities given the main roles.
With respect to Ukrainian flags, the first thing that Mustafa Dzhemiliev noticed on April 18 last year when he arrived in Simferopol for the first time since Russia’s invasion was that the Ukrainian flag over the Mejlis building had been removed. He ordered it reinstated.
There were various measures taken by the occupation government to get the flag down. A week later, Risa Shevkiev, the head of the Crimea Foundation which owned the Mejlis building (and himself a member of the Mejlis) even received a warning over such allegedly ‘extremist’ behaviour. By September, the authorities had unleashed an open offensive against the Mejlis and eventually forced them out of the building.
On leaving Crimea on April 22, Dzhemiliev was handed a document informing him that he had been banned from entering his homeland. Mustafa Dzhemiliev had been briefly courted until Putin understood that neither he, nor the Mejlis, would be taken in by empty promises, and that they remained firmly opposed to Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The Ukrainian flag was doubtless only one of the factors, but a telling one, prompting the ex-KGB officer now in charge of the Kremlin to treat Mustafa Dzhemiliev, the Mejlis, and eventually most Crimean Tatars as enemies in their homeland.