Staunton, 3 June – A group of scholars from around the world who study nationality issues in Eurasia are circulating an online petition calling on “all states, agencies, organizations and individuals” to speak out in defense of the rights of the Crimean Tatars and hold “the Russian authorities in illegal occupation of Crimea accountable for the violation of these rights.”
Written by Idil Imirli of George Mason University, Victor Ostapchuk of the University of Toronto, Andras Riedlmayer of Harvard University and Maria Sonevytsky of Bard College and first posted online on May 29, the petition has already garnered more than 200 signatures from scholars who constitute a who’s who of specialists in this area.
The petition points out that “the Crimean Tatars are a nation with a long and rich history going back many centuries” and that “unlike Russians and Ukrainians, the Crimean Tatars have no homeland other than Crimea. Ever since the Crimean Khanate was invaded and abolished by Russia in 1783, in violation of the Treaty of Kuchuk Kajnardja of 1774.”
Moreover, it notes that “on 18 May 1944 the entire Crimean Tatar nation was deported to Central Asia, the Urals, and Siberia. The mass deportation constituted an act of genocide as during and after it about half of the deportees perished from hunger, dehydration, and disease.”
“It was only after the breakup of the USSR and attainment of Ukrainian independence in 1991 that the majority of the surviving Crimean Tatars and their descendants were able, with great effort and hardship, to return to their homeland. Today their population there is about 300,000.”
Because of the Crimean Tatars’ “catastrophic history under the rule of St. Petersburg and Moscow, which has resulted in massive national trauma,” the petition continues, “the vast majority of Crimean Tatars [is] loyal to Ukraine and remain adamant in their opposition to the Russian annexation of Crimea.
With regard to recent events, it underscores that “the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 was achieved through a covert military operation under cover of which a coup occurred on 27 February, installing a new local government in Simferopol and declaring a referendum that was at first concerned with increased autonomy, and a few days later, secession of Crimea from Ukraine and accession to Russia.”
“This was done contrary to the Constitution of Ukraine and that of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, and without even a clear option to vote for the status quo, as one option was to join Russia and the other virtual independence from Ukraine. The referendum was held contrary to all norms for referenda of this importance—such as the possibility for free public discussion of the ramifications of a vote to secede. Moreover, instead of monitoring certified by internationally recognized agencies, it was carried out under the watchful eyes of masked Russian troops and armed local ‘self-defense’ vigilantes.”
“The result, an official 83% turnout and 97% vote to join Russia, was clearly falsified, as virtually the entire Tatar population and much of the Ukrainian and Russian population boycotted the vote. There is considerable evidence that the turnout was no more than 30-50% and that only half of those who actually turned out voted for secession.”
The petition continues: “The Crimean Tatar national assembly, the Qurultay, and its representative-executive body, the Mejlis, have reaffirmed the will of their people to remain in Ukraine and categorically condemn the Russian takeover. The Crimean Tatar population is currently under huge pressure to accept Russian citizenship—refusal can mean loss of work, pension, access to schooling, and other social benefits.”
“The international community has condemned the seizure of Crimea and does not recognize the legality of its annexation (United Nations General Assembly Resolution 68/262, 27 March 2014 and Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Resolution 1988, 9 April 2014),” the petition points out.
And both “the Qurultay, the elected assembly of the Crimean Tatars, and its representative-executive body, the Mejlis, have voted to condemn the illegal occupation and annexation of Crimea and refuse recognition of Crimea as part of the Russian Federation, to demand recognition of the indigenous status of the Crimean Tatars, to demand the establishment of Crimean Tatar national and territorial autonomy, and self-government in Ukrainian Crimea [and] the full rehabilitation and restoration of the rights of the Crimean Tatars.”
At a time when international attention has shifted away from the illegal Russian annexation of Crimea and the equally illegal actions of the Russian authorities there, the petition calls for everyone to join its authors in supporting “the national and human rights of the Crimean Tatars” and in holding “the Russian authorities … accountable for the violation of these rights.”
One can only add that simple human decency requires no less.