Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Tomorrow marks the 61st anniversary of the deportations of the Crimean Tatars by Stalin.

Here're a few passages from a very good RFE/RL interview with Mustafa Cemilev (Jemilev), the Crimean Tatar leader (thanks for the link, Dan McMinn of Orange Ukraine):

[...] [As for Ukraine], we’re still waiting for a law that would restore to the Crimean Tatars all their rights. There is still no official document that says the Crimean Tatars have regained all their rights. The Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine’s parliament) last summer voted a bill called the "Law on the Rehabilitation Of Peoples Deported On Ethnic Grounds" that deals only with the Crimean Tatars’ social rights. However, former President [Leonid] Kuchma vetoed this bill. We’re now working with the new president, [Viktor Yushchenko], so that he lifts [Kuchma’s] veto and signs the bill into law. On top of that, there are a number of other legal issues that have still to be solved. Should Ukraine continue to consider the Crimean Tatars an ethnic minority group, there would never be an end to our problems. We believe that Crimean Tatars should be considered as an indigenous people of Ukraine. Unlike other ethnic minority groups, the Crimean Tatars have no historical motherland outside Ukraine. Unfortunately, this question remains in abeyance.


RFE/RL: Most of those Crimean Tatars who have returned home live in poor conditions. Statistics show that more than 60 percent of them are unemployed. Would you say this is the result of discrimination on the part of regional authorities?

Cemilev: Although [Crimean Tatars] account for around 13-14 percent of the peninsula’s population, they represent no more than 4 percent of those employed in self-government bodies. In some institutions -- such as the Security Ministry, the Customs Committee, or the Finance Ministry -- this percentage is equal to zero. Of course this is discrimination. The consequence is that the unemployment rate among Tatars is much higher than the average for Crimea, or even Ukraine. Concerning this 60 percent figure, this does not mean that people do not work. Some people have set up their own small businesses, buying and selling things. Of course this is not enough to allow for a stable source of income and, as a consequence, the Tatars' living standards are slightly below the average for Crimea.

RFE/RL: Did you receive firm assurances from Yushchenko that he will lift Kuchma’s ban on the draft rehabilitation bill passed by parliament last year?

Cemilev: We talked about this with him. He received us on 28 February, and our talks focused on this particular issue. He had asked the Justice Ministry to check whether he could, as Ukraine’s new president, lift the veto imposed by his predecessor and sign this bill into law. Our legislation is not clear on this point. Some legal provisions say he has the right to do so. But others say he doesn't. We will therefore probably come to the conclusion that he should lift the veto and that the Rada should re-examine the bill. We would like this to happen before 18 May, which will mark the anniversary of the deportation. However, the first session of the Rada will take place only on the 17th. So I don’t know whether we will have enough time.


Whenever clashes broke out between representatives of the Russian-speaking population and Crimean Tatars, only the latter were blamed. When, to draw the public’s attention to the illegal purchase of lands by the son-in-law of the former speaker of the Crimean Parliament and Communist Party leader [Leonid] Hrach, six young Tatars took these lands by force before clashing with the Russian Cossacks who had been sent against us, they were sentenced to up to nine years in jail -- although there was not a single casualty. By comparison, a few months earlier an entire Tatar family -- including three small children -- had been assassinated and their murderer was sentenced to eight years in jail. In another case, one Tatar had been beaten to death in a police precinct and his torturer had been sentenced to eight years in jail. This gives you an idea of how authorities treat us. A significant part of Crimea’s law enforcement agencies work hand in hand with local criminal rings. But we hope this will change under [Yushchenko].

I've actually found all of the interview quite quoteworthy - so do read the whole thing.


My translation of parts of an earlier Jemilev interview is here.

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