December 20, 2019

Exiled Crimean Tatar leaders announce march on occupied Crimea


The Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people has announced plans for a March of Dignity against Violence and Occupation from mainland Ukraine to Russian-occupied Crimea. According to Refat Chubarov, head of the Mejlis, or self-governing body of the main indigenous people of Crimea, they hope that this will help the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the European Union and other international structures in implementing the decisions taken with respect to Russia’s illegal occupation of the peninsula.

“We are going home,” Mr. Chubarov stresses, after almost six years in which Russia has exiled virtually all leaders of the Mejlis from their homeland, as well as banning the Mejlis itself.

It is probably deliberate that the announce­ment came on the eve of the Normandy format summit involving the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany (December 9). Mr. Chubarov has said that silence about Crimea at the summit is a “gift” to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Nor is the Mejlis alone in feeling frustration that Ukraine’s leaders have agreed to a meeting without occupied Crimea being on the agenda. Russia’s implacability does not change the fact that its occupation of Crimea has been condemned by the U.N. General Assembly, all international structures and democratic states, and that it was recognized by the International Criminal Court as an international armed conflict falling under its jurisdiction.

Any Western country or international structure seeking to improve relations with Russia by quietly accepting its invasion and annexation of Crimea should be reminded that it is acting in breach of the commitments it endorsed, and the principles it espouses.

Mr. Chubarov points out that Russia has not complied with even one of the international resolutions or orders, and that the Crimean Tatars’ international peaceful march is aimed at returning Russia to the path of law and ensuring that Western structures do not relinquish the position expressed in international documents.

In preparing for this March of Dignity, the Mejlis will turn to all permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, member states of the U.N. Human Rights Committee, the U.N.’s International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court, deputies of various international or European structures, Ukrainian national deputies and others.

Preparations for the march will take several months, so the exact date will be provided later.

The Crimean Tatars gained international respect during Soviet times for their unwavering commitment to non-violent protest, and this march is titled “The World Against Violence and Occupation. March of Dignity.”

It is, however, vital that the international community provides support as Russia has already demonstrated its willingness to use violent methods against peaceful citizens, including those legitimately seeking to return to their homeland. Less than two months after invading and annexing Crimea, it banned world-renowned Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev from Crimea and brought out armed riot police and soldiers against the 5,000 Crimean Tatars who came to meet him at the administrative border into Crimea on May 3, 2014.

Criminal charges over the peaceful gathering that day were the first warning of the machine of repression that Russia was launching on the occupied territory. Since then, Mr. Chubarov also has been exiled, and grotesque criminal proceedings have been initiated against most Mejlis leaders, including the deputy head of the Mejlis, Akhtem Chiygoz, who spent almost three years in prison before being released, but into exile.

Russia’s ban of the Mejlis as “extremist” in 2016 was internationally condemned, with all commentators noting that Russia was exacting revenge against the Crimean Tatars and their representative assembly for their opposition to Russian occupation of their homeland. The U.N.’s International Court of Justice ordered Russia to withdraw that ban on April 19, 2017, yet it has still not done so.

Russia has essentially flouted every single international court ruling and ignored all calls from U.N. and other bodies. It has instead carried out unrelenting repression against Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians who do not conceal their pro-Ukrainian position. In at least two cases, the political prosecutions, including one that caused the death of 83-year-old world-renowned veteran of the Crimean Tatar national movement, Vedzhie Kashka, have seemed to be aimed at trying to discredit the Mejlis and Crimean Tatar leaders.

The appalling human rights violations that Russia has committed on the occupied territory of Crimea made the willingness of leading countries in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to forget its own sanctions and allow Russia’s reinstatement in June of this year deeply shocking.

The Mejlis initiative of this March of Dignity against Violence and Occupation should highlight just how unacceptable any capitulation is, and it deserves widespread support.