Interview with Member of Parliament of Ukraine Mustafa Dzhemilev for UA: Ukraine Analytica

What, in your opinion, brought about the occupation of the Crimea and allowed Russia to receive support from a part of local population?

Russia was preparing for that for a long time. Stating that it has no territorial claims to Ukraine and denying any aggressive intentions towards the Crimea as provocative, Moscow, nevertheless, has continuously supported pro-Russian forces in the Crimea during all years of the Ukrainian independence. Crimean Tatars and their representative institution – the Mejlis – have been a primary target of the Russian propaganda. They were pictured as a threat for the territorial integrity of Ukraine, as extremists and radicals, capable of creating “Ukrainian Chechnya” or “Ukrainian Kosovo”. The leadership of the Crimean autonomy, mainly comprised of pro-Russians and even agents of Russian special services, shared the approach. Even some officials in Kyiv still possess the same views on Crimean Tatars. Anyhow, there has never been a systemic Crimean policy in Kyiv, as there has never been a full understanding of a threat approaching. None of our warnings and worries were taken seriously by Kyiv. Under the rule of President Yanukovych, Kyiv attitude towards Crimean Tatars and the Mejlis was roughly the same as Moscow one.
I remember one “analytical report” from the Crimean office of the Security Services of Ukraine to its headquarters in Kyiv, dated Autumn 2011. It said that the Mejlis demands the denunciation of the Black Sea Fleet Treaty and aims at spoiling “fraternal ties” between Russia and Ukraine by stating Russian aggressive intentions towards the Crimea.
Pro-Russian stance among a considerable part of the Crimean population has been quite evident and understandable – about 60% of the population are ethnic Russians. Most of them are post-World War 2 immigrants from Russia and their descendants, who initially settled in the houses and lands of the deported Crimean Tatars. That is why most of them bought easily the Russian propaganda tales of the Crimean Tatars returning to their homeland to take back their houses and lands and willing to separate from Ukraine or to join Turkey – a country with the same religion.
Locals have also been terrified by mythical banderovites and ultranationalists, who were supposed to arrive from Western Ukraine to dispatch with Russians. However, it was the totally corrupted government of the autonomous republic that was terrified the most. They were afraid to be held responsible for sending trains (at local budget cost) with local bandits to fight those, who fought against the regime of Yanukovych in Kyiv.
About 23-25% of the local population were ethnic Ukrainians, but those Ukrainians who, to a considerable extent, have lost their national identity, culture, and native language, i.e. almost completely Russified. Officials in Kyiv took no steps to support or revive Ukrainian identity of those people. For example, among about 950 secondary schools in the Crimea, there were only seven with Ukrainian as a teaching language, i.e. less than 1%.
However, one cannot firmly state that the overwhelming majority of the Crimean population supported the occupation and the annexation of the peninsula. We know from very reliable sources that not even close to 83% of population participated in the so-called “referendum” of March 16, 2014. The level of participation was only at 32.4%, while the Crimean Tatars almost totally boycotted it.

Is it possible to reintegrate the Crimea? Or will it be necessary to look for its new status?

In my opinion, we should not speak so much about its integration or reintegration, but about its liberation from occupation. Later, certainly, it will be necessary to take all measures to correct the mistakes of the past. I suggest that after the liberation, the composition of the Crimean population will be different from what it is now. Active separatists, collaborationists, officials responsible for the violation of rights of our citizens, thousands of FSB officers and dozens of thousands of their aides will leave the Crimea. 7-8 thousand of Russian troops will be withdrawn. Several dozens of thousands of people, who were brought to the Crimea after the occupation, will have to leave without chances to get Ukrainian citizenship. Instead, thousands of people who were forced to leave the Crimea after the occupation will come back. In short, the climate in the Crimea will become much better and more favourable for rapid economic development, especially via the restoration of tourism.
Certainly, economic ties with Ukraine’s mainland will be quickly restored. Sanctions will be lifted and considerable investment expected, which will bring about a sharp increase in living standards.
The Crimean status will be defined in accordance with international norms regarding the rights of the indigenous people for self-determination. I am sure that Ukrainian society is mature enough for a smooth restoration of national-territorial autonomy in the Crimea.

What could be achieved through introducing national autonomy for the Crimean Tatars in the Crimea into Ukrainian Constitution?

Essentially, we are talking about restoring, however, in a more democratic form of a national-territorial autonomy, which existed in the Crimea before the deportation of the Crimean Tatars and other ethnic groups by Bolsheviks during the Second World War. We do not even insist that this autonomy be called “Crimean Tatar”. What is most important is not the title, but the essence of the autonomy. The Constitution of the autonomy should contain articles protecting basic rights of indigenous people. It should also guarantee the functioning of the native language as an official one over the territory of the Crimea, as well as provide mechanisms for adequate representation of the nation in all institutions of executive and representative power.
We are talking only about ways to protect rights of indigenous people on its soil, not about its dictate over others. There is absolutely no reason for occasional talks over somebody being first- or second-class in the autonomy.

The non-recognition of the Crimean annexation and sanctions against Russia are much talked about internationally. What is the international community reaction to violations of Crimean Tatars’ rights? What is being done about that?

Violations of human rights in the Crimea, especially against the Crimean Tatars, have recently become more frequent and more intense. Together with attempts to declare the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars – a representative body directly elected by indigenous people – “an extremist organization” by the new Crimean authorities, it has significantly urged the issue of liberation of the Crimea. For instance, the vast majority of 24 representatives speaking at the UN Security Council meeting in New York on March 18 this year expressed their disturbance with actions of the occupants and stressed the necessity to take measures to liberate the Crimea. Ukrainian diplomacy and the President are recently taking significant efforts to push forward the issue.
Certainly, there are those in the West who favour weakening or even lifting the sanctions against Russia. These voices are especially strong among those who conduct business in Russia. Fortunately, they are not decisive so far.
Huge informational efforts are necessary in many Asian and African states. Among 82 countries, which abstained or even were absent on purpose during a vote in the UN General Assembly on March 27, 2014, over resolution about the non-recognition of the Crimean “referendum” and requesting to liberate the occupied territory, the huge majority were Asian and African. Some followed the rule “it is better not to touch the gangster, least he attack you”, others took into account their economic, rather than legal or moral, considerations.
Moreover, there are many countries influenced by the Russian propaganda, saying that the “Crimean people” were very much willing to join Russia and that there was a danger that Ukrainian nationalists would start ethnic cleansing of the Russians in the Crimea, hence Russia had no other choice but to take that step (the annexation). If one has a look at what is published in those countries about Ukraine and the Crimea, it will be evident, that those are repeated clich?s of the Russian propaganda. One of our steps in that direction is the participation in different international forums, including Summit of 55 Muslim states in Ankara on 14-15 April, 2016.

What does the establishment of a World Congress of the Crimean Tatars mean?

We summoned World Congress of the Crimean Tatars for the first time in May 2009 in Simferopol, and it hosted more than 160 Crimean Tatar organizations from 12 countries. The main task was, of course, in consolidating the efforts of diasporas in solving problems of the people on its historical motherland, strengthening ties with compatriots, helping diasporas to preserve their national identity in their countries of residence.
The second Congress took place last summer in Ankara. It hosted 430 delegates from about 200 organizations from 14 countries. Occupation authorities in the Crimea took measures to not let several members of the Mejlis and the veterans of the National Movement to get to Ankara. However, about 30 delegates from the Crimea managed to take part in the Congress. Its key issue was, of course, the occupation of the Crimea and further actions of the diasporas given the current situation. The Head of the Mejlis, R. Chubarov, was elected the President of the Congress. That was necessary because of the need to coordinate the activities of the World Congress and the Mejlis, especially given the fact that Mejlis activities had already been significantly damaged by occupiers.

  1. Images are for demo purposes only and are properties of their respective owners. Published by NGO “Promotion of Intercultural Cooperation” (Ukraine), Centre of International Studies (Ukraine),  with the financial support of the Representation of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Ukraine, International Renaissance Foundation and RAND Corporation, and the U.S. Department of State

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