Chase down and chase out:

How the pol­icy of quiet ex­pul­sion of Crimean Tatars from the penin­sula works

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Stanislav Ko­zliuk

The pseudo-referendum to sep­a­rate Crimea from Ukraine was not even over when ac­tivists were al­ready wor­ried about the hu­man rights sit­u­a­tion be­gin­ning to de­te­ri­o­rate on the penin­sula. This was es­pe­cially true of the Crimean Tatars, who had ac­tively lob­bied against the an­nex­a­tion of the au­tonomous repub­lic. On Fe­bru­ary 26, 2014, a large demon­stra­tion in sup­port of Ukraine had taken place out­side the Crimean leg­is­la­ture in Sim­fer­opol, or­ga­nized by Re­fat Chubarov, a Ukrainian MP and head of the Me­jlis, the Crimean Tatar self-gov­ern­ing coun­cil. Next to this rally was a pro-Rus­sian demon­stra­tion by the “Rus­sian Unity,” or­ga­nized by none other than Sergei Ak­sionov, who would shortly de­clare him­self head of the Crimean Coun­cil of Min­is­ters.

Fights broke out be­tween the two camps that were to be the ba­sis for a crim­i­nal case known as the “Fe­bru­ary 26 case.” On the night of Fe­bru­ary 27, Rus­sian sol­diers ap­peared on the streets of Sim­fer­opol. By early March, Ukraine’s bor­der ser­vice re­ported that sev­eral hun­dred Crimean Tatars had moved to main­land Ukraine, os­ten­si­bly for se­cu­rity rea­sons, ac­cord­ing pri­vate con­ver­sa­tions with mem­bers of Crimea’s in­dige­nous peo­ples. It quickly be­came clear that they were right.

Even be­fore the pseudo-referendum, Crimean Tatars were al­ready be­ing per­se­cuted: in early March, Re­shat Ame­tov was kid­napped. From what has been re­con­structed of those events, Ame­tov had left home on March 3 to join a peace­ful rally out­side the Crimean leg­is­la­ture in Sim­fer­opol. There, three men in un­marked uni­forms de­tained him and he never came home that evening. Some two weeks later, his body was found with ev­i­dence of tor­ture about 45 kilo­me­ters out­side Sim­fer­opol. Hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tions de­manded that those guilty of Ame­tov’s mur­der be found, yet in­for­ma­tion about this in­ci­dent is still not widely known in Crimea. In ad­di­tion to this, at­tacks on in­di­vid­u­als speak­ing the Crimean Tatar lan­guage in­creased, as did ab­duc­tions and cases of Tatars be­ing driven out of the penin­sula.

In April 2014, the sit­u­a­tion sharply de­te­ri­o­rated. The lo­cal “mili­tia” at­tacked the Me­jlis build­ing and tore down the Ukrainian flag hang­ing on it. And when peo­ple tried to raise the flag again a few days later, the self-pro­claimed Crimean prose­cu­tor Natalia Pok­lon­skaya is­sued an of­fi­cial warn­ing for this kind of “vi­o­la­tion.” In the run-up to May 18, the Day Hon­or­ing the Vic­tims of De­por­ta­tion, Crimean Tatars were is­sued a com­plete ban on any kind of pub­lic event. In ad­di­tion, as a way to “clean the place up,” lo­cal “po­lice” or­ga­nized a se­ries of mass de­ten­tions.

For in­stance, on May 7, at least 20 Crimean Tatars were de­tained in Yev­pa­to­ria and fin­ger­printed. The Rus­sian oc­cu­piers claimed that this op­er­a­tion was a search for crim­i­nals who had sup­pos­edly killed a fam­ily in Krasnodar. The day prior to this in­ci­dent, May 6, around 50 armed men broke into a mosque in the vil­lage of Mol- odizhne in Sim­fer­opol County and tried to de­tain more than 100 Mus­lims. Even­tu­ally they re­leased every­body, but de­manded that Tatars show up at the po­lice sta­tion on their own. A month ear­lier, in the vil­lage of Pion­erske in that same county, men in masks had de­tained 35 Crimean Tatars. Rights ac­tivists talked about wide­spread “anti-Tatar raids.” By the end of 2014, nearly two dozen Crimeans had been ab­ducted by the oc­cu­py­ing forces and some of them were never found alive.

Nor did the oc­cu­py­ing forces limit them­selves to at­tacks and ab­duc­tions. In the mean­time, it launched a cam­paign against the Me­jlis it­self. The renowned Tatar leader, Mustafa Djemilev, was banned from the ter­ri­tory of Crimea. Soon, Re­fat Chubarov, head of the Me­jlis, was also banned. In Septem­ber 2014, the Me­jlis was moved out of its build­ing in Sim­fer­opol. Crimean Tatar me­dia were shut down across the penin­sula, in­clud­ing the highly pop­u­lar tele­vi­sion chan­nel ATR, which later re­newed its broad­casts from Kyiv.

“The Crimean Tatars were the main or­ga­nized op­po­si­tion to the oc­cu­pa­tion of Crimea,” ex­plains HR ac­tivist Olek­san­dra Matviy­chuk, co­or­di­na­tor of the LetMyPeo­pleGo cam­paign, which mon­i­tors hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions on the penin­sula and the sit­u­a­tion with Ukraini­ans im­pris­oned by the Krem­lin. “This au­to­mat­i­cally made them the per­sonal en­e­mies of the au­thor­i­tar­ian regime in Rus­sia. In the last three years, they have faced an en­tire ar­se­nal of per­se­cu­tions. We’ve seen vi­o­lent ab­duc­tions, fab­ri­cated crim­i­nal cases, the clo­sure of the Me­jlis, the shut­down of the ATR TV chan­nel. There have been con­stant searches of Tatar schools and mosques. You might even say that there’s an un­der­cover de­por­ta­tion in process. The oc­cu­py­ing regime has been send­ing a very clear sig­nal to the Crimean Tatars: clear out or shut your mouths.”

In 2015, the sec­ond wave of per­se­cu­tions be­gan. For this pur­pose, Rus­sia ap­plied its in­fa­mous “an­titer­ror­ist leg­is­la­tion,” which pro­vides law en­force­ment agen­cies with very broad pow­ers. One year af­ter the oc­cu­pa­tion started, Crimeans be­gan to be ar­rested in what came to be known as the Fe­bru­ary 26 case. First was Me­jlis Deputy Chair Akhtem Chiy­goz, who was ar­rested on Jan­uary 29, 2015. The of­fi­cial rea­son was that he was sus­pected of “or­ga­niz­ing and par­tic­i­pat­ing in mas­sive un­rest.” On April 15 in the evening, Crimean Tatar farmer Ali Asanov was ar­rested as the sup­posed sec­ond sus­pect in the case. In May, a third Crimean Tatar, Mustafa Degermendji, was ab­ducted in his way to work. Both were also ac­cused of “par­tic­i­pat­ing in mass un­rest.”

In ad­di­tion to the Fe­bru­ary 26 case, the Hizb ut-Tahrir case has been mak­ing head­lines, named af­ter an in­ter­na­tional is­lamic po­lit­i­cal party that was de­clared a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion by Rus­sia in 2003 and banned in the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion. This trumped-up case in­volved the most de­fen­dants, 19 in­di­vid­u­als who were ar­rested at dif­fer­ent times. The process is be­ing han­dled by one Vik­tor Pala­gin, who used to work in Bashkiria, also known as Bashko­r­tostan, a Rus­sian ter­ri­tory be­tween the Volga and the Urals.

“Af­ter Pala­gin was as­signed to head the Crimean di­vi­sion of the FSB, the witch hunt among Crimean mus­lims be­gan in earnest,” re­calls Matviy­chuk. “At least 19 Crimean Tatars are be­hind bars to­day, not be­cause they com­mit­ted or in­tended to com­mit a vi­o­lent crime, but be­cause of an un­proven claim that they be­long to Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is ac­tu­ally al­lowed to freely op­er­ate in Ukraine. This tac­tic was one that Pala­gin ap­plied back in Bashkiria, where he or­ga­nized sweeps against Hizb utTahrir for more than five years.”

The lat­est phase of Crimean Tatar per­se­cu­tions be­gan more re­cently. This time, they went af­ter the lawyers and sup­port­ers of those who were al­ready be­ing pros­e­cuted. The story of Emil Kurbe­di­nov is well known: he was sen­tenced to 10 days of ad­min­is­tra­tive de­ten­tion for sim­ply re­post­ing com­ments from the Hizb ut-Tahrir Ukraine group in a so­cial network. In fact, Kurbe­di­nov is pos­si­bly the best lawyer work­ing for his fel­low Crimeans on the penin­sula. If we con­sider that Ukrainian lawyers are un­able to act as de­fense at­tor­neys in Crimean courts, while Rus­sian ones are not ex­actly keen to go to the penin­sula, this is clearly an at­tempt to scare off lo­cal lawyers.

Nor did the oc­cu­py­ing gov­ern­ment stop at this. It also be­gan to seize prop­erty be­long­ing to Crimean Tatars. On Fe­bru­ary 21, the home of Marlen Mustafayev was searched. He was ac­cused of post­ing the sym­bol of Hizb ut-Tahrir in a so­cial network in the sum­mer of 2014 and was placed un­der ad­min­is­tra­tive de­ten­tion for 11 days. Ten other Crimean Tatars were de­tained by the oc­cu­py­ing po­lice along with Mustafayev, for record­ing the in­ci­dent on their mo­bile phones and post­ing the event live on­line. They were ac­cused of “en­gag­ing in an un­sanc­tioned mass event.” Each of them was placed un­der ad­min­is­tra­tive de­ten­tion for five days.

Mean­while, the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion has, in ad­di­tion to us­ing force, en­gaged in more “sub­tle” work within the com­mu­nity, such as set­ting up par­al­lel rep­re­sen­ta­tive or­ga­ni­za­tions—in­clud­ing re­li­gious ones.

“Rus­sia has used the tac­tic of set­ting up par­al­lel com­mu­nity in­sti­tu­tions, in self-gov­ern­ment, in the re­li­gious sphere, and so on, for ages,” says Matviy­chuk. “What it can’t con­trol, it sim­ply re­places. Af­ter they shut down the ATR chan­nel, the oc­cu­piers hur­ried to an­nounce the es­tab­lish­ment of an al­ter­na­tive Crimean Tatar chan­nel called Mil­let. When they were search­ing Mustafayev’s home, they called re­porters from this chan­nel. But Mil­let doesn’t ac­tu­ally re­port on this kind of event, so, as an­tic­i­pated, they never showed up. And so peo­ple who were stand­ing out­side he build­ing were forced to record the po­lice ac­tiv­i­ties on their own phones.”

And of course there are the “pocket” com­mu­nity as­so­ci­a­tions. One of these is Yed­nost Kryma [Crimean Unity], headed by Sei­tumer Nime­tul­layev. Prior to the oc­cu­pa­tion of Crimea, Nime­tul­layev was a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial, ad­min­is­trat­ing Genich­esk County, and at one point even the head of the lo­cal branch of Party of the Re­gions. In the fall of 2014, he pub­licly crit­i­cized the Ku­rul­tai.

“I be­lieve that the Ku­rul­tai, as it now is, can­not rep­re­sent the will of the Crimean Tatar peo­ple,” Nime­tul­layev stated at the time. “To­day we have the best op­por­tu­nity to shut down this Ku­rul­tai, and to sched­ule and hold a new elec­tion.”

Nime­tul­layev also voiced his own plans to set up a Ku­rul­tai “in line with Rus­sian leg­is­la­tion.” He even gave an es­ti­mated dead­line of Oc­to­ber 2015. But those plans never came to be. By April 2016, the Crimean “Supreme Court” ruled that the Me­jlis was an ex­trem­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion and banned it. Mean­while, the “deputy speaker of the leg­is­la­ture” and si­mul­ta­ne­ously leader of the “Krym” move­ment, Remzi Iliasov, an­nounced plans to set up an “al­ter­na­tive Me­jlis.” It was stated that com­mu­nity and re­li­gious ac­tivists had agreed to set up a spe­cial na­tional com­mis­sion that would or­ga­nize a na­tional con­ven­tion for such an elec­tion. It turned out that this was sup­posed to take place in Novem­ber or De­cem­ber 2016. As with the pre­vi­ous “plans,” how­ever, noth­ing came of this, ei­ther.

“Ef­forts” with the Mufti of Crimea, Emi­rali Ablayev, proved more fruit­ful. The lead­ers of the Crimean Tatars more than once openly crit­i­cized Abayev’s col­lab­o­ra­tion with the oc­cu­piers. In fact, the Rus­sians got to him very sim­ply: by set­ting up an al­ter­na­tive in the form of a Tavrian muftiyat that was to be a coun­ter­bal­ance and ri­val to the Crimean one. Djemilev at one time had said that this or­ga­ni­za­tion was be­ing used for black­mail. For in­stance, threats were is­sued that if the mosques did not ac­cept the author­ity of the Crimean muftiyat, they would be shifted to the Tavrian one. More­over, mosques were be­ing set on fire on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. As a re­sult of these ac­tions, the re­li­gious life of the Crimean Tatars on the penin­sula was un­der nom­i­nal con­trol of the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion. Thus, the Crimean Mufti him­self was caught on a Rus­sian “hook.” Per­haps the Mufti could have rec­ti­fied this sit­u­a­tion in main­land Ukraine. Plans to this ef­fect were even dis­cussed, but never came to be. Al­to­gether, Mustafa Djemilev says that more than 20,000 Crimean Tatars have left the oc­cu­pied penin­sula. That does not mean they are en­tirely safe on main­land Ukraine, how­ever. Hu­man rights ac­tivists point out that most of those forcibly dis­placed in­di­vid­u­als left be­hind fam­i­lies and loved ones. This makes them ef­fec­tively hostages of the oc­cu­py­ing gov­ern­ment as vic­tims of an un­der­cover de­por­ta­tion. It’s hard to see this kind of state as be­ing “safe.”

Right to as­sem­ble, no more. The oc­cu­pa­tion au­thor­i­ties in Crimea harshly dis­perse most ral­lies or as­sem­blies by Crimean Tatars

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