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.

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Russia uses collaborators for its plans to ‘nationalize’ property of the persecuted Crimean Tatar Mejlis

Halya Coynash

The occupation authorities in Crimea appear to be planning to steal the property of the Mejlis, or self-governing body of the Crimean Tatar people, while describing this as ‘nationalization’.  Russia is refusing to comply with a direct order from the UN’s International Court of Justice to withdraw its ban of the Mejlis, Instead it claims that a fake Qurultay, or national congress organized on 27 October by the Muftiate, which has chosen to collaborate with the Russian occupiers, speaks for the Crimean Tatar people. 

On 27 October, a congress was held in Simferopol of Crimean Muslims, with the organizers claiming this to be the VI Qurultay or National Congress of Crimean Muslims.  The aim was clearly to usurp the legitimacy of the Crimean Tatar Qurultay which has been unable to meet since Russia’s annexation of the peninsula.  

The Mufti of Crimea, Emirali Ablaev, was initially united with other Crimean Tatar leaders in opposing any change in Crimea’s status.  He soon decided, however, to side with Russia and there is evidence that he and the Spiritual Directorate under his charge have helped Russia’s FSB to persecute Crimean Muslims whose form of Islam he objects to. 

In 2016, a Spiritual Directorate of Muslims of Crimea was created in Kyiv, with this headed by Aider Rustamov.  This is supported by the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people and the Deputy Head of the Mejlis, Akhtem Chiygoz, is adamant that those present in Simferopol on 27 October were not delegates, and the even was without legitimacy.

The ‘congress’ held on 27 October was, in part, to re-elect Ablaev, although the term ‘election’ is misleading, as he was the only candidate.  At least one other person, Risa Ganiev had announced his intention to put himself forward as candidate for the Qurultay, but was simply not admitted into the building where the ‘voting’ was taking place.  Ganiev has accused the Spiritual Directorate of fraud and theft on a particularly large scale. 

As well as members of rather marginal Crimean Tatar groups which were in conflict with the Mejlis even before annexation, those present on 27 October included Sergei Aksyonov.  The latter in early 2014 was an obscure pro-Russian politician with a criminal background and a party that had only four seats in the Crimean Parliament.  He was, however, installed as ‘Crimean leader’ by armed Russian soldiers on 27 February 2014 and has remained in that post ever since.

During the proceedings, the participants appealed to the occupation ‘authorities’ to hand the building in Simferopol and other property that the Mejlis was forced out into the hands of the Crimean ‘Muftiat’.  This was purportedly in order to later create a Crimean Tatar Heritage Museum.

Aksyonov responded by saying that they were not planning ‘nationalisation’, but that he could envisage a special mechanism being developed to achieve such a scenario.

It has long been feared that Russia would try to create a fake ‘Mejlis’ or Qurultay, and Eskender Bariev, one of the Mejlis leaders forced from Crimea back in 2014, believes that Russia may be trying this on now with the emergency of this supposed ‘Qurultay’.

Although the formal ruling banning the Mejlis was passed on April 26, 2016, and then upheld by Russia’s Supreme Court in September that year, repressive measures began shortly after Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea.  The Mejlis had called on all Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians to boycott the pseudo-referendum with which Russia attempted to give legitimacy to its land-grab.  Veteran Crimean Tatar leader and former Mejlis leader Mustafa Dzhemiliev was banned from his homeland in April 2014, with a ban on the current Mejlis Head Refat Chubarov following in July that year. 

The offensive against the Mejlis itself intensified in September 2014, after the Mejlis again called for a boycott of equally fraudulent ‘elections’. It was at this point that the Mejlis was thrown out of their headquarters in Simferopol, with this and other property now likely to be fully appropriated.

Then in January 2015, Akhtem Chiygoz, the highest-ranking Mejlis leader who had not been banished from his homeland, was arrested on legally nihilistic charges.  He was imprisoned and finally sentenced to eight years before being exchanged on 25 October, 2017, together with Ilmi Umerov, Mejlis leader and another victim of political persecution, probably for two Russian state-sponsored killers arrested in Turkey. 

On November 23, 2017, a gratuitously violent operation was carried out resulting in the death of 83-year-old Vedzhie Kashka, a world-renowned veteran of the Crimean Tatar national movement and the arrest and imprisonment of four respected members of the Crimean Tatar community.  This was an overt attempt, backed by lies from Russian state-controlled media, to discredit the Mejlis (details here).

Russia has, in the meantime, wooed certain Crimean Tatars and organizations willing to collaborate with the occupation regime. Like in Soviet times, they are pulled out for formal occasions as ‘proof’ that all is well in the occupied peninsula. As attempted proof, that fortunately convinces nobody.

Russia had promised to comply with the ruling of the International Court of Justice until that body on 19 April 2019 ordered Russia to stop its extraordinary criminalization of the Mejlis, and other forms of discrimination against Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians in occupied Crimea (details here).  

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