war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Crimean Tatars Detained for Honouring the Victims of the Deportation

Halya Coynash
Repressive measures under Russian occupation on the anniversary of the Deportation of the Crimean Tatar people began early this year with the detention on the evening of 17 May of around 20 young people taking part in the traditional youth action ‘Light a flame in your heart’

For the fifth time since Russia invaded and annexed Crimea, traditional remembrance gatherings on the anniversary of the Deportation in 1944 of the entire Crimean Tatar people from their homeland have been banned in Crimea.  Repressive measures began early this year with the detention on the evening of 17 May of around 20 young people taking part in the traditional youth action ‘Light a flame in your heart’.  The young people, including at least two minors, were taken to different police stations in Simferopol, where ‘explanations’ were demanded of them, and fingerprints and DNA samples taken.  Asked in a Facebook comment what it was they were supposed to ‘explain’, lawyer Emil Kurbedinov replied: “about why they aren’t indifferent to their people”.   

According to the brother of one of the people detained, there was initially one vanload of police with a person, doubtless from the FSB in civilian clothes.  Using another typical form of intimidation, the officers proceeded to take photos of all car number plates and of the faces of the people present.  This provoked a verbal altercation between the young Crimean Tatars and the officers, and by the time people were beginning to leave, five vanloads turned up and took some of the young men away.  

Journalist Anton Naumlyuk reported that at least one young man had been kept in the police station overnight, charged under Article 19.3 of Russia’s ‘code of administrative offences’ with supposedly failing to obey the lawful demands of a police officer.

More detentions and / or arrests are likely on 18 May, the day 74 years ago when NKVD officers began forcing all Crimean Tatars onto goods trains.  Between 180 and 200 thousand Crimean Tatars were taken from their homeland during the next three days.  Almost half were to die during the journey in overcrowded trains to the far east of the Soviet Union, or during the first years of exile.  Those who survived or their children were generally only able to return after Ukraine’s Independence. 

23 years later Russia invaded and the repression and, for many, the exile, began again. 

Mustafa Dzhemilev, the veteran leader of the Crimean Tatar national movement and Ukrainian MP, was just 6 months old in May 1944.  He spent 15 years in Soviet labour camps for his defence of the Crimean Tatars’ right to their homeland and of human rights in general.  Seventy years later, he was banned from Crimea by the Russian occupiers. 

Akhtem Chiygoz says that Crimean Tatars are now repeating the fate of their parents and grandparents.  The Deputy Head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis spent nearly three years in detention on legally nihilistic charges.  He and Ilmi Umerov were unexpectedly released in October 2017 (probably as part of an exchange, by which two Russian state-commissioned killers were released by Turkey) with the road to his homeland closed for him as well.

There are quite literally no Crimean Tatar families who were not touched by the Deportation, making Russia’s first ban within a month of its illegal annexation so incomprehensibly brutal.

As Mejlis leader Refat Chubarov, said:  

Can you imagine – there are 22 regions and in each region there are places where people come to honour the dead, places with memorial stones, and Crimean Tatars on May 17-18 don’t have the right to go there together to pay their respects, to honour those people! I don’t know what kind of person you have to be to not think of the consequences! I don’t know how to stop people so that they don’t go there. It’s like telling everybody “Don’t go to your holy places, don’t visit your dead” If they prohibited you, how would you act?  Force can stop everything, or not everything – it won’t stop the human spirit.”

People did meet then in communal prayer, with the occupation authorities using military helicopters circling overhead, as well as detentions.  During subsequent anniversaries, even common prayer gatherings have become difficult, and each year there are a number of arrests.  Last year, for example, five Crimean Tatars from Bakhchysarai were detained and later fined, quite literally, for driving with Crimean Tatar flags on their cars.  According to lawyer Dzhemil Temishev, the police claimed that this constituted ‘unlawful picketing or procession’ and infringed ‘the established order for holding mass events’. 

On that most bitter anniversary for all Crimean Tatars, it was dangerous for anybody to be seen holding a Crimean Tatar flag (as it is on other Ukrainian anniversaries to hold a Ukrainian flag).

The most shameful detention, at least back on 18 May 2017, was the detention of Server Karametov.  The video here shows that the 76-year-old who suffers from a number of serious illnesses, was accosted by two police officers while standing alone, with photos of victims of the Deportation and a Crimean Tatar flag.  Even according to Russia’s repressive legislation, he was dealing nothing wrong.  He was, nonetheless, taken to a police station and held there for several hours, and not allowed to speak with a lawyer.

Worse was, in fact, to come, although this was not connected with the anniversary of the Deportation.  On August 8, Server Karametov was detained by police while holding a single-person picket outside the ‘trial’ of Akhtem Chiygoz, with a sign saying: “Putin, our children are not terrorists!”.  He was not only heavily fined, but also imprisoned for 10 days.

Ukraine (belatedly) recognized the Deportation of the Crimean Tatar people to be genocide in 2015.  Remembrance events, including a requiem gathering on St. Sophia Square on Friday evening, will be taking place throughout mainland Ukraine on 18 May.  Please join in lighting candles in remembrance of the victims, and in helping to circulate information about those new victims of repression under Russian occupation who need help and international attention now. 

Worth recalling once again the words spoken at the remembrance gathering in Kyiv on May 18, 2016 by Yaakov Dov Bleich, Chief Rabbi of Ukraine: “The main thing is that we must make sure that our voice is heard through the whole world.  What we felt during the Holocaust when all nations were silent is being repeated now.  They killed Jews and nobody got up, nobody said anything, nobody wanted to save them.  And today the main thing for me as a Jew living here in Ukraine and that I say everywhere is: “Where are you? Where are all the nations? Where is the United Nations? Where are other countries? They are all busy with their own problems.

The cry must come from here so that it is heard throughout the entire world, that we will not be silent, that we will not allow those things that had seemed in the past to be repeated.”

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