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Saturday, March 8, 2014

What is Russian Crimea's stand on the Right of Return?

“Ukrainians are also vulnerable, but at least they have Ukraine to go to. Where will we go? Crimea is our only home.”
                    - Eskandar Baiibov, a deputy in the Crimean Tatar Mejlis
Since Putin has seized Crimea from Ukraine with naked military aggression, now plans to use the device of a referendum on self-determination to complete its annexation to Russia, and it appears nobody is going to stop him, it is fair to ask: What does all this mean for Crimean Tatars and how does this Russian "right of self-determination" square with their rights?

The Palestinians weren't the only people forced off of their land in the last century. Crimea was once very different, for hundred of years the majority of the population was Crimea Tatar, in fact the word "Crimea" is the Crimean Tatar name for the capital of the peninsular during the time of the Golden Horde [1240-1502].

When Crimea was liberated from the Nazis in 1944, Joseph Stalin accused all Crimea Tatars of collaborating with the Nazis and ordered them removed. 200,000 Tatars were given 30 minutes to collect their belongings before they were put in cattle cars for the long trip to Siberia. Half of them never got there; they died along the way. They were not free to return to Crimea until after the fall of the Soviet Union.

After this indigenous Muslim population was subjected to mass deportation, Russians from other parts of the USSR were brought to Crimea to be settled in the newly emptied Tatar homes. That's how Crimea got its clear Russian majority. Stalin's policy of moving the Tatars out and Russians into Crimea wasn't an invention of communism; it had been Russian policy ever since it conquered Crimea in 1783.

Before Gorbachev's "perestroika", Crimean Tatars were banned from even crossing the border into Crimea. As soon as they could, many Tatar started repatriating back to Crimea. The Ukraine census of 2001 had them at 12% of the population, now they are estimated to be about 14% of the population of Crimea and the trend of Crimea Tatars returning to the only homeland they have ever had is continuing.

Needless to say, there are those among the now dominate Russian population that are not entirely happy with these changing demographics, especially when they come with disputes over property rights. Now, taking advantage of the turmoil created by the Ukrainian revolution, Russia has sent in its army to the cheers of this Russian population. Like the bandits they are, they don't identify themselves, but they are carrying out an armed occupation of the peninsular. And under these conditions they propose to hold a vote as to whether Crimea will stay in the Ukraine or become part of Russia. Its interesting to note that a third choice, complete independence, isn't even on the ballot.

Rim Gilfanov of Radio Free Europe's Tatar-Bashkir Service writes in Al Jazeera:
Moscow has long been working with local Russian organisations to ensure they remain pro-Moscow. It came as no big surprise that local authorities started to play the secession game immediately after the central government in Kiev was destabilised. There is a strong sense that the aspiration came from Moscow itself.
Needless to say, most Crimean Tatars are not happy with these recent developments. The head of the Ankara-based Crimean Turks Culture and Solidarity Association, Tuncer Kalkay told Today's Zaman, that annexation by Russia would be “the end of Crimean Tatars.” He continued:
“If the violence in Ukraine were to spread to Crimea, 300,000 Crimean Tatars would come face to face with approximately 2 million Russians living there. Soldiers in Russia's Black Sea Fleet in the port of Sevastopol are ready to invade Crimea. The parliament of the Autonomous Region of Crimea is under the control of Russia, is predominantly of Russian ethnicity and is against the Crimean Tatar National Assembly and Crimean Tatars,”
In May of 1944, when Joseph Stalin began his ethnic cleansing of the Crimea Tatars, he ordered the police to first tag each Tatar house with an "X", lately those marks have started showing up on Tatar houses in Crimea again.

There are many reasons why Russia's military occupation of Ukrainian territory is a violation of international law, and this planned referendum on the status of Crimea is both illegal and wrong.

Beyond that fact that even the reported choices are bogus. Katya Gorchinskaya, who has gotten a look at the ballots to be used in the Crimean referendum writes:
Voters in Ukraine’s Russian-occupied Crimea who vote in the March 16 referendum have two choices – join Russia immediately or declare independence and then join Russia.

So the choices are “yes, now” or “yes, later.”

Voting “no” is not an option.
It violates the Ukraine constitution to leave the rest of the nation out of the process. There is the fact that this "referendum" is to take place under conditions of military occupation. With Russia in control of all TV and media. With Ukrainian authorities and international observer denied entry.

Add this to all these other reasons: I believe all people who love justice must oppose this bogus referendum or any attempt by Russia to annex Crimea based on its current Russian majority because it will boost the interests of Russian chauvinism and harm those that have suffered far too long because of it.


This is also overlooked and very important:
The Russian occupation also violates the 1994 Budapest Memorandum agreement by US, UK, France & Russia to guarantee the territorial integrity of Ukraine in return for giving up the bomb. This may yet yield the darkest result of the world allowing Crimea to be taken from Ukraine by Russia without a fight. If all the countries of the world draw the appropriate conclusions about the value of international guarantees of territorial integrity, and decide, they too need a bomb to defend themselves, then there will be hell to pay for our tolerance now.

UPDATE 10 March 2014: a case in point -

UPDATE 11 March 2014: Reuters is reporting:
Russia 'will fix' Crimea referendum, says Tatar leader

10 Mar 2014
By Yvonne Bell
SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine (Reuters) - The Crimean Tatar leader promoting a boycott of Sunday's referendum on transferring the Ukrainian region to Russian rule is sure the Kremlin will rig the vote and appealed to the outside world to protect his once persecuted community.

"The result has already been decided by Moscow," Refat Chubarov told Reuters in an interview on Monday in the Crimean capital Simferopol, where he heads the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, a Ukrainian public body that represents some 12 percent of the Black Sea peninsula's two million people.

"There are troops in the streets. There are 30,000 armed men, armored vehicles, planes landing with foreign troops, and the administrative buildings have all been seized," he said of last week's takeover of Crimea by Russian forces following the overthrow of the pro-Moscow Ukrainian president in Kiev.

"It's a fake referendum, an attempt to provide cover for this aggression," Chubarov said, arguing that voting would mean betraying a Ukrainian state whose interim government says local leaders had no right to call the referendum. "The whole of Crimea is being asked to become collective collaborators."

For more reading on the Crimea Tatars I recommend:
7 Mar 2014Crimea Tatars: 'Homeland' at stake   Rim Gilfanov
6 Mar 2014Who Will Protect the Crimean Tatars?   Natalia Antelava
7 Mar 2014Don’t let Russia abuse Crimean history  Victor Ostapchuk
23 Feb 2014 Crimean Tatars deeply concerned over developments in Ukraine  Sinem Cengiz
1 Mar 2014Who are the Crimean Tatars, and why are they important?  Oxana Shevel

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