MINELRES: RFE/RL: How to Right the Injustices Inflicted on Crimean Tatars?

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RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report Vol. 5, No. 21, 3 June 2003



The Crimean Tatars are a Turkic people who inhabited the Crimean
Peninsula, now part of Ukraine, for more than seven centuries. They
established their own khanate in the 1440s and remained an important
power in Eastern Europe until 1783, when Crimea was annexed to Russia.
In 1944, Soviet leader Josef Stalin ordered the Crimean Tatars deported
en masse to Central Asia on suspicion of having collaborated with the

Mustafa Dzhemilev is chairman of the Mejlis (parliament) of the Tatar
People of the Crimean Autonomous Republic and a member of the Verkhovna
Rada. Since 1961, he has spearheaded the Crimean Tatars' campaign to be
allowed to return to Crimea. Dzhemilev was arrested several times in the
1960s and 1970s and sentenced to labor camps for anti-Soviet propaganda.

Although the Soviet leadership acknowledged in 1967 that the
collaboration charges brought against the Tatars were unfounded, little
was done to enable them to return to Crimea. The repatriation process
began spontaneously during Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's
"perestroika" in the late 1980s. Today, some 250,000 Crimean Tatars who
have managed to return to Crimea are engaged in a new struggle with the
Ukrainian authorities to obtain housing and preserve their language and

RFE/RL spoke with Dzhemilev on the sidelines of a recent conference in
Berlin that focused on the plight of deported peoples from the former
Soviet Union.

RFE/RL: May marked the 59th anniversary of the deportation of the
Crimean Tatars. What memorial events took place this year?

Dzhemilev: Every year we commemorate the day of the deportation of the
Crimean Tatars [on 18 May]. This day is not only a day of recollection
of those who died during the Soviet regime but also a day of unity for
our people. We are now summing up the situation we are in now, and how
we can right the injustices inflicted on our people and also discuss
what else we have to do further, and to set out our main demands in the
form of a resolutionadopted by the participants at the meeting. The same
things happened this year. Our demonstrations and meetings always take
place peacefully and in a well-organized manner. 

RFE/RL: Have all the Crimean Tatars returned from exile? And what are
the Ukrainian and Crimean governments doing to rehabilitate them?

Dzhemilev: It's a pity that not all of our people could come back.
According to our data, 150,000 to 200,000 Crimean Tatars still live in
other countries of the former Soviet Union. They have not yet been able
to return. Most of them live in Central Asia, especially in Uzbekistan.
They have not yet been able to return, mostly because of social reasons.
But also there are some legal obstacles to giving up the right to
residence in Uzbekistan and to obtaining Crimean residence permits. But
the main thing is that there are financial possibilities [for returning
to Crimea]. And there is no doubt that nearly 90 percent of Crimean
Tatars living in Uzbekistan want to come back. Apart from the problem of
coming back, there is a problem of [reuniting] with their families. Most
Crimean Tatars living in Central Asia have relatives in Crimea. That's
why the question of their returning is only a question of time.

As for the government of Ukraine, it's a pity Ukraine is the only
country which gives some money from its budget to solve some of our
social problems. We have of course some complaints about how much they
deliver, but nevertheless Ukraine takes some measures. And every year a
certain amount of [financial] means [for our problem] is planned and put
in their budget. We have also some demands in deciding our rights, on
defining the [legal] status of the Crimean Tatars.

RFE/RL: What demands are the Crimean Tatars making to broaden their
civil rights?

Dzhemilev: The problems of the Crimean Tatars can be divided into two
parts: legal problems - this means consolidation of all legal rights -
and social problems. The most important of our legal demands is for us
not to be considered as a national minority in the territory of Ukraine,
when there are some 150,000 to 160,000 Crimean Tatars in Ukraine. We
want Crimean Tatars to be recognized as indigenous to our land with all
ensuing consequences.

Firstly, the recognition of the Crimean Tatar language as the official
language on the territory of the autonomous republic. And we want
adequate representation in the structure of representative and executive
power in the Crimean Autonomous Republic. This can be achieved by
introducing a quota at least proportional to our numbers, or giving
Crimean Tatar representatives a veto on questions that relate directly
to urgent problems of the Crimean Tatars.

It's a pity that during the 12 years since it became independent,
Ukraine has not yet passed a law on the elected parliament of the
Crimean Tatars.

RFE/RL: You mentioned legal issues. What social issues are involved? 

Dzhemilev: There is also a social aspect. In any law-based state, if
something was taken from a person, it should be given back. We
understand the situation. We are not saying that the authorities should
give us back all our houses, all our belongings. That is impossible
because other people are now living in our houses, or our houses are
destroyed. What the state gives is very little, but again we understand
the position of the state. It cannot give enough. But the state should
pay more attention to the question of land. There is a law according to
which only people who were kolkhoz members before privatization may own
land. But Crimean Tatars couldn't be kolkhoz members in Ukraine. They
are only just returning there. It's a pity the Ukrainian law didn't
consider these peculiarities, that Crimean Tatars coming back to their
own land couldn't get the land of their ancestors and have to be hired
laborers on their own land.

RFE/RL: What is the present status of the Crimean Tatar language?

Dzhemilev: There are a lot of other problems, including restoring
education in our language. At present, only about 10 percent of Crimean
Tatar schoolchildren can study at schools in their native language. But
90 percent of schoolchildren have to go to Russian schools. A total
[linguistic] Russification is going on. Russification is even faster
than in the places of deportation. If we are doomed to lose our identity
on our land and to become Russians, why did we come back and become
victims of our struggle?

RFE/RL: Is Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma favorably inclined toward
the Crimean Tatars?

Dzhemilev: Kuchma is a person who considers the distribution of
political forces in the country. If he sees that there are more
supporters of not resolving a given problem, he tries to distance
himself from that problem. But we should give him credit for his
positive attitude. He visits Crimea regularly, meets the Mejlis of the
Crimean Tatars, listens to our problems and gives corresponding orders.
But as a rule, these orders are not implemented; they are sabotaged. 

RFE/RL: What is the situation in the villages? Do they have
adequate funding and representation?

Dzhemilev: The situation here is like this. When we started coming back
to our native land, we didn't ask for our former houses back. We only
asked them to give us some land for us to build houses there. But the
authorities rejected that request for different reasons, either because
the land belonged to collective farms or that something else is planned
to be done there. But at the same time, they began mass propaganda among
Crimea's Russian inhabitants, encouraging them to lay claim to land for
dachas or orchards, and there was an open propaganda to take possession
of the land as soon as possible or the Crimean Tatars will return and if
you don't take the land, the Tatars will take it, and Crimea will belong
to the Tatars. There were even appeals to invite relatives, friends from
Russia, in order to occupy this land quickly.

As a result, we had serious collisions with the state. Sometimes there
was violence and even bloodshed, but nevertheless Crimean Tatars took
possession of 90 percent of the land allocated for them because the
state hadn't enough strength to throw us out. Eventually, the
authorities started to allocate land to the Tatars, but much of it was
in places where it is difficult to build. And by then inflation had
started, and many Crimean Tatars had lost their savings. That's why many
Crimean Tatars did not have enough money to build, even though they
received land plots. That's why today approximately 100,000 Crimean
Tatars have very bad housing conditions.

The budget the state gives for construction is very small. Many of
these settlements are without roads, water, heating. In some places,
there is even no electricity. It looks like the Middle Ages. In the last
few years, Ukraine has allocated more funds to improve conditions, but
the money is only enough for 10 percent of what is needed.

RFE/RL: Have any other countries contributed help?

Dzhemilev: An international fund for the integration and development of
Crimea was established under the auspices of the UN. We hoped that this
meant that other states would participate in the discussion of this
problem, but our expectations didn't come true. This fund was created in
1994, but nearly 10 years have passed and only $7.5 million was
collected, most of it contributed by Turkey. It's a pity that we didn't
get what had been expected.

(This interview was conducted by RFE/RL correspondent Charles