The Tatars are the Palestinians Of Europe

Exclusive interview by Ukrainian social activist Ilmi Umerov with Deputy Chairman of the Mejlis (Tatar self-governing councils) Ilmi Umerov told about a new phase of Russian repressions against the Crimean Tatars: dozens of people are missing, some of them were found dead.

Tatars hold an commemoration of the mass deportations in 1944
18 May – thousands of Tatars held events to mark the anniversary of the deportation of the entire indigenous Tatar population from Crimea, over 100,000, died as a result.  Those who returned after Ukraine became independent are now suffering new oppressions since the Russian occupation of Crimea

May 18 is Day of Remembrance for the victims of Crimean Tatar genocide. And while on the mainland Ukraine people prepare actions and rallies, the repressions and arrests of the Crimean Tatars in the occupied Crimea continue.

May 12 Bakhchisaray city was restless. A large number of Russian security forces came early in the morning. The raids took place in five houses of the Crimean Tatars, four people were detained: Zevri Abseitov, Remzi Memetov, Rustem Abeltarov, and Enver Mamutov. And in the afternoon, the FSB people came to the deputy chairman of the Mejlis Ilmi Umerov and opened against him a criminal case under article 280.1 of the Criminal Code of Russia. “Public calls for action, aimed at the violation of the territorial integrity of Russia.” This article is only one year old, but it is very convenient to apply to all those who publicly disagree with the statement that the Crimea is Russia.

See also: Kremlin crackdown gains momentum as Crimean Tatars prepare to mark anniversary of Stalin’s 1944 deportations


“Yes, they [Russia’s FSB] opened a criminal case, indicted that I threaten the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation, and took on my own recognizance beyond Crimea. Probably some kind of investigative activities will begin this week, – said  Ilmi Umerov. – During the interrogation, the investigator said that on April 19, I have appeared in one of the ATR shows [Crimean Tatars’ TV channel – Ed.] , and voiced something against Russia. I never said anything against the Russian Federation, I replied. But we do not recognize that Crimea is Russian – it’s a fact.”

Since 2015, Ilmi Umerov has been a Deputy Chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people. Before it, nine years he has been serving as the head of Bakhchisaray regional state administration, and in 2002-2005 he has been deputy chairman of the Supreme Council of Crimea. Known for his uncompromising stance with respect to the occupation of Crimea, he says he would not not give up, even if pressure and repressions continue.

05/17/2016 Kyiv. Ukrainian House.
Photo exhibition “Deportation of Crimean Tartars. The voice of witnesses,” dedicated to the anniversary of the 1944 deportation.

You are known for your pro-Ukrainian position in Crimea and this is a good reason for the Russian special services to institute criminal proceedings against you. But why now? Does it have something to do with Remembrance Day, May 18?

I am of the view that it’s all done on the eve of May 18 not to let the Crimean Tatars gather for the rallies.  They provoke a strong state of fear. They could hold searches and arrests few days sooner or later. But they came exactly on the eve of May 18 to intimidate the Crimean Tatars.

See also: Crimean Tatar activist died in annexed Crimea

Why exactly this article of the criminal code? Probably because the vast majority of the Crimean Tatars did not recognize the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation in Crimea. And they would not recognize is even if the pressure continues. Russia and the so-called Crimean authorities just cannot cut the ground from the Mejlis, banning its activities and recognizing it as an extremist organization.

And now, on the eve of the anniversary of the deportation, the Russian Federation escalates the situation. A few days ago, more than a hundred people were arrested after Friday prayers in a mosque in the village of Molodizhne. 25 people were detained at the same time on the market in Yevpatoriya, ostensibly the law enforcers tried to catch some illegal immigrants. But they detained only the Crimean Tatars. Then on May 12 in Bakhchisarai six searches in one day happened.

That is one big act of intimidation.

What moos can we see among the Crimean Tatars in connection with the situation?

All these acts of intimidation, in fact, lead to unification. And now we are more than ever united in our thoughts and feelings situation. The Kremlin began to provoke the Crimean Tatars to some active steps very clearly in order to have a more complete “criminal” background.

For example, let us remember the “February 26” case. Ahtem Chiygoz and two other persons are prosecuted. The rest of the detainees are on bail officials are at home, but they are called to the court hearings. Actually, the meeting that took place February 26, 2014, even by Russian standards, was dedicated to the so-called referendum and joining of Crimea.

Now let us remember the so-called case of ,. Three groups are already accused. One group is Crimean Tatars from Sevastopol; this group is in prison for already more than a year. Another group is from Alushta, i.e. the Southern coast – four men that have been in jail for two months already. May 12 arrested four more Crimean Tatars were detained.

All these things are far-fetched, it is obvious. Detainees are ordinary people who believe in Allah, follow all the canons of Islam. Speaking about the last four detainees, they have large families: one has six children, while the other two has four in each family. These are the people who hold a certain inconspicuous position in society, I would not say that they are active. They are decent, observant people of religion, but they are not terrorists or extremists. They just cannot represented any threat to such a large state as Russia – it’s just a misunderstanding.

May 14, one more house of the Crimean Tatar was searched. This person has been in business, and the police allegedly came to him for some offense. However, they later said that it was a mistake. But they did not even apologize! May 13, a mosque in Belogorsk region of Crimea was searched. Why do so many events take place many days in a raw? Is it a new round of repression?

See also: How Soviet authorities deported entire ethnic Crimean Tatar population from their homeland

Is there any detrimental pattern of the detaining?

We face not only detentions in criminal cases. We have people missing. Already dozens of people are missing. Some of them were later found dead, some were not found at all, their fate is unknown, we do not know whether they are alive or not… These are ordinary people who are caught in this situation by accident.

When it comes to acts of intimidation, this random principle is the most effective. Ordinary people see that only the national movement activists, only members of the Mejlis, are repressed. But here a random principle works. Because no one knows what will happen tomorrow, whether it affects him personally or his family. And it can happen to anyone.

See also: ‘Kremlin annexed Crimea and now will destroy national identity’: Ukraine’s Defense Secretary

Do you know which of your phrases has become a pretext for initiating criminal proceedings against you?

Not yet. This is a Crimean Tatar language TV show from March 19, ATR TV channel. I have watched this video few times and found no calls for violation of the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation. I said a few words with criticism of Putin and of course, I said that Crimea is not Russia, Crimea should be returned to Ukraine, it is an occupied territory. I think that if the court will cite all these points, I will not abandon them. I will say that I have no claims to the integrity of the Russian Federation, let it remain within its borders. But these were not us who violated the territorial integrity, they did it. They invaded the neighboring territory, and that territory must return to restore the border between Russia and Ukraine. This is true not only of Crimea, but for Luhansk to Donetsk as well. And I am not going to change my position under no circumstances.

Tatars Putin will never have crimea