Staunton, March 18 – The two most senior leaders of the Crimean Tatars, Mustafa Cemilev, the former leader of the Mejlis, and Refat Chubarov, the current head of that body, say that many in their nation fear that Moscow will try to deport them from their lands again and insist that they will resist any such effort.
Cemilev told Ukraine’s Fifth Channel that he and his fellow Crimean Tatars who were deported by Stalin in 1944 to Central Asia “struggled for 50 years to return to their Motherland, and [that most believe now that] it is better to die here than to be subjected again to deportation”.
Although he indicated that “a peaceful resolution of the crisis in Crimea is not very probable,” the longtime leader of the Crimean Tatars said that by themselves, “the Crimean Tatars do not represent a force capable of declaring war on Russia and successfully carrying it out.”
“We are few, and we don’t have weapons,” he said. Moreover, the Crimean Tatars are very worried about provocations against them. “But when your Motherland is occupied by foreign soldiers, it is difficult to expect that everything will be peaceful.”
Meanwhile, Chubarov acknowledged that many Crimean Tatars now fear that they will be subject to deportation. “Everyone knows that we do not support the Russians,” he said, and thus “if Crimea passes under [Moscow’s] control, pro-Russian forces may take such steps against our people”.
At the same time, the current Mejis leader clarified Cemilev’s remarks. His predecessor, Chubarov said, had not said that the Crimean Tatars would use violence or engage in jihad. “We are a minority” in Crimea, Chubarov said, and consequently, the Crimean Tatars hope to avoid violence but will defend themselves against provocations and deportation.
In other comments, Chubarov said that the Crimean Tatars had not participated in the Moscow-organized “referendum” because it was illegal, because it was held under Russian guns, and because it was orchestrated in a hurry-up manner that precluded any serious debate of the serious issues involved.
The Mejlis leader said that he and his fellow Crimean Tatars “do not know” what the future will bring, but they very much hope that the international community, the UN and the EU will adopt decisions against any “injustice” that the Russians may inflict. “We as Crimean Tatars do not intend to approve this injustice.”
Russian attitudes toward the Crimean Tatars and Moscow’s possible plans for them remain unclear. Relations between the Crimean Tatars and ethnic Russians on the peninsula have long been tense because Russians oppose allowing Crimean Tatars to return and demand back the property and land they were deported from.
But two comments this week are both indicative and worrisome. Vladimir Zorin, the deputy head of the Moscow Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology, says that the Mejlis had made “a big mistake” in not supporting the referendum on the future status of the peninsula.
The Moscow scholar says that the Crimean Tatar leadership has proven “incapable of assessing the new historical realities and understanding the attitudes of the majority of Crimean residents.” The Crimean Tatars must work to get along with the others and not “revive evil historical memory,” a reference to the wholesale deportation of 1944.
A second commentary, by Vladislav Gulyevich, an analyst at Moscow State University’s Center for Conservative Research, is more worrisome. He suggests that the Crimean Tatar movement, like the Circassian movement in the Caucasus, was a “failed” project of Western governments directed against Russia.