One death, four political prisoners in Russia’s war against the Crimean Tatar Mejlis
Russia’s National Guard, involved, in the ‘special operation’ that caused the death of Vedzhie Kashka, 83-year-old veteran of the Crimean Tatar national movement, has refused to release any information, citing ‘the fight against terrorism’. The pretext is nonsensical, and, combined with the disappearance of all video footage of the attempted detention, can only strengthen the suspicion that she died because of excessive and disproportionate use of force by the officers carrying out the arrest.
On 23 November 2017, Russia’s FSB, OMON and National Guard officers took part in an operation which left the world-renowned veteran dead, and four respected members of the Crimean Tatar community – 65-year-old Asan Chapukh; 57-year-old Bekir Degermendzhy; Kazim Ametov (now 60); and Ruslan Trubach (52) arrested.
After consistent failure by the occupation regime to investigate the circumstances behind Vedzhie Kashka’s death, her family asked lawyer Nikolai Polozov to carry out an independent investigation. It took repeated efforts, and a court application to finally force them to show him the material of the ‘check’ carried out over Kashka’s death.
This states that Turkish national Yusuf Aitan had handed Kashka 60 thousand roubles (just over 900 USD), which the officers involved in the ‘operation’ tried to take from her. This was seemingly with a protocol recording the removal, though her signature is not on it, and the report states that she refused to hand the money over. It also says that the sharp deterioration in Kashka’s health happened at this point.
The forensic medical report found that Kashka had died of coronary artery disease. The doctors said that they could not determine whether there was a cause and effect link between the actions of the enforcement officers and her state of health as they had no information about the behaviour of the Rosgvardia and OMON officers during the attempted detention. There is, however, a statement from a doctor from the Belogorsk Hospital acknowledging that a sharp deterioration in health in such cases can be due to psychological or physical stress. The autopsy found several broken ribs and another injury which may (or may not) have been caused during efforts in the ambulance to revive her.
It is clearly imperative to understand what happened during the attempt to detain Kashka and take the money, but this has again come up against a brick wall. Rosgvardia have refused to provide the information, claiming it to be a ‘state secret’, linked with the ‘fight against terrorism’.
Polozov notes that the two members of Rosgvardia, an enforcement ‘army’ created by Russian President Vladimir Putin, are turncoats who were, until Russia’s invasion and annexation, members of the Ukrainian Berkut special forces. He believes it possible that they were also motivated by personal enmity towards Crimean Tatars.
It was clear from the outset that the operation on 23 November 2017 was aimed at discrediting the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people. Russia was ordered by the UN’s International Court of Justice to revoke its extraordinary ban on this self-governing body of the main indigenous people of Crimea back on 19 April 2017. It has refused to do so and is now making clumsy attempts to justify the ban, though any success can only be with an internal audience receiving its ‘information’ from Russian propaganda channels. These assiduously avoided mentioning the attempt to detain 83-year-old Kashka, and claimed that they had found ‘ammunition, drugs and material of an extremist nature” during the search “of Mejlis” members. It was even claimed that machine guns had been found, citing “a source in the enforcement agencies”. The level was extremely primitive, as always with Russia’s arrests of Ukrainians. The aim is clearly to come out with as many shocking headlines as possible, and then go silent when, later, none of the lurid details can be substantiated.
Not one of the men is, in fact, a member of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, yet they are constantly referred to as members in the indictment. All four are, however, Polozov explains, activists of the Crimean Tatar national movement, and took part, under a Crimean Tatar flag, in the march in memory of Boris Nemtsov in February 2017. They have all taken a clear civic stand, attending the court hearings of victims of persecution, etc. and Bekir Degermendzhy actually travelled to Strasbourg to inform about the persecution against his son Mustafa Degermendzhy, and others in Crimea.
All four men have been in detention since November, despite Degermendzhy and Chapukh having grave medical conditions and Ametov’s health also deteriorating rapidly.
Even if there were grounds for the charges against them, there would be no justification for their detention. In fact, there are none.
Yusuf Aitan, a Turkish citizen who had been friendly with Vedzhie Kashka’s granddaughter had taken seven thousand dollars and had long failed to return it. Vedzhie Kashka had asked Degermendzhy, Chapukh and Ametov to help her get her money back. This, the FSB decided to claim, was an attempt at ‘extortion’.
It is not clear whether Aitan seized on the idea of contacting the FSB in order to get to keep the Kashka family’s savings, or whether it was the FSB who approached him to manufacture a supposed ‘case’ involving an economic crime. The supposedly agreed return of the money in a restaurant proved to be part of an FSB ‘operation’ and the men were arrested, with Vedzhie Kashka claimed to have been a ‘go-between’.
This is not even a situation where there are two sides and the police must decide who is telling the truth. There is a signed acknowledgement from Aitan that he had taken the Kashka family’s money. The FSB are now trying to claim that this was given under pressure and that he was somehow ‘threatened’ - by an elderly woman and four men in their fifties and sixties.