Russian annexation 'violated rights of Crimean Tatars'

An unofficial delegation from Turkey discovers serious human rights breaches against Crimean Tatars since Russia annexed peninsula

Russian annexation 'violated rights of Crimean Tatars'

World Bulletin / News Desk

 Crimean Tatars have been subjected to serious human rights violations ever since Russia’s annexation of the peninsula began in March 2014, an unofficial delegation from Turkey that visited Crimea told Anadolu Agency. 

“We have found out that the Crimean Tatars have been subjected to serious human rights violations, including being forced to become Russian citizens,” head of the delegation, Prof. Zafer Uskul, told Anadolu Agency in an interview.

Uskul, who is a former Justice and Development (AK) Party deputy, and professor of constitutional law, said that the delegation went to Crimea on April 27, and spent four days in the country inspecting the human rights violations committed against the Crimean Tatars during and in the aftermath of the peninsula’s annexation by Russia.

He said that the delegation interviewed around 100 people, including representatives of the Crimean Tatar National Assembly, media professionals, members of clergy, and non-governmental organizations, officials of the de facto regime established after the annexation, as well as people it met on the streets of the peninsula.

He said that their activities were under constant supervision of the de facto regime, which he said: “Obviously it didn’t want us to talk to anyone who might be considered an opponent”.

“They (the regime authorities) never left our side, always leaving one person to accompany us,” he said, adding that the delegates were not even allowed to travel in the car they had rented, but only in a vehicle provided by the regime.

“So, we were forced to split into two. This way, some of us had an opportunity to travel around without any regime people going with them, and gather information themselves,” he said, adding that even then, some people they contacted spoke in a hushed voice, and declined to give their names, which indicated the “pressure” they lived under.

"If people are really that hesitant and scared, it means they must be under pressure, he said.

 'Forced to be Russians'

Uskul said that the Crimean Tatars had been forced to take Russian citizenship following the annexation.

Crimean Tatars had no choice but become Russian citizens since only a limited number of foreigners were allowed to stay in the peninsula, and non-citizens were deprived of all public services, including health and education, he noted.

He said that the Crimean Tatars had also lingering issues about getting their properties back.

Having experienced repeated deportations to remote areas of the Soviet Union in the last century, the Crimean Tatars suffered their biggest tragedy on May 18, 1944, when the entire population was expelled to Central Asia by Joseph Stalin’s Soviet government, which accused Tatars of having collaborated with occupying Nazi forces.

Over the next three days, some 180,000 people were deported to various regions within the Soviet territory, in particular Siberia and Uzbekistan. Almost half of the exiles, who endured long months of dire living conditions, are thought to have died of starvation and disease.

This 30-year exile continued until 1987, when the Soviet government allowed 2,300 Crimean Tatars to return to their homeland. This was followed by 19,300 people in 1988.

“When they returned, they saw that their houses had already been occupied,” Uskul said, adding that although the Ukrainian government gave them new land, the problems still remained since there was not a serious settlement policy in place.

"They have not been able to get their title deeds. Although the new regime established in the wake of the annexation has announced that everything would be re-arranged, the Crimean Tatars are still concerned about their houses being taken away from them,” Uskul said.

The regime authorities said that a draft law had been prepared in this regard, and the problem would be solved pending its approval by the parliament; however the delegation’s request to see the bill was declined, he added.

- 'Tatar language not used'

“Following the annexation, Tatar was recognized as an official language along with Russian and Ukrainian, but we have not seen it being used other than the signs put up in the three languages in the parliament building in Simferopol,” Uskul said.

Asked why streets were not given Tatar names, or people were not allowed to write petitions in Tatar, the authorities said it was “because everyone speaks Russian”, he added.

The language issue was also reflected in the education system, and Tatar lessons were now only offered at 15 schools, which was “far from meeting the needs”, Uskul noted.

“We have been told that they need 200 schools more,” he said, adding that Tatar lessons had been cut or totally dropped in some classrooms, and the new regime did not permit the use of Tatar books published under the former Ukrainian rule, or issue new ones.

Shut down of National Assembly

Uskul said that the Crimean Tatar National Assembly was shut down, engendering many serious problems.

Many members of the Crimean Tatar National Assembly, including chairman, Rifat Chubarov, have been banned from entering Crimea. Uskul added that the assembly building itself had been confiscated.

The Crimean Foundation properties were also confiscated, Uskul said, adding that the confiscation was completely in violation of international law.

Also, many people from the opposition front, including the Crimea Assembly heads, have been arrested, he said.

Media crackdown

Uskul said that many Crimean media organizations had been oppressed since the Russian occupation and annexation of the peninsula. The Crimean media now needs to get permission from the new government.

The ATR Channel -- the only Crimean Tatar channel in the world -- was forced off the air after Russian media watchdog Roskomnadzor refused to accept the channel's registration on March 31, a day before an April 1 deadline.

Moreover, Uskul said: “Houses, madrasas, mosques were frequently raided and were searched for any banned publications. We learned that people, especially women, were also abused during the raids,” he said.

Uskul also said that the new Crimean authorities had failed to investigate and answer a series of abduction and torture allegations. There were also many serious concerns about the issue of fair trials in the region.

When the Crimean Institute of Human Rights staff was approached, they could not say anything concrete about the controversial issues.

Report conveyed to Putin

Meanwhile, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who was invited by Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev to the European Games opening ceremony in Baku, held a closed-to-press meeting with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. Erdogan said he delivered to Putin a Russian version of the Turkish delegation’s report on Crimean Tatars and their problems.

Ukraine's Crimean Tatars make up roughly 13 percent of the Crimean population. The peninsula opted for annexation with Russia in a referendum on March 16, 2014, a vote not recognized by Kiev and Western powers.

Turkey does not recognize Crimea's annexation.

Turkey’s plan to send an unofficial delegation to inspect the situation of Crimean Tatars in the Russian-annexed peninsula was announced by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Nov. 10, 2014.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 15 Haziran 2015, 14:42