Tatars Debate Own Crimean Referendum

Muslim community opposes annexation of Ukrainian territory by Russia
Crimean Tatars shout slogans during the pro-Ukraine rally in Simferopol, Crimea / AP

Crimean Tatars shout slogans during the pro-Ukraine rally in Simferopol, Crimea / AP

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Crimean Tatars may hold their own referendum on whether to join Russia or Ukraine.

Refat Chubarov, chairman of the Majlis of the Crimean Tatars, said that on March 29 the 250-member Majlis will discuss the future of Crimea’s Tatars, including the possibility of holding a referendum.

Crimean Tatars do not feel they belong with Russia, Chubarov told Reuters on March 25.

“No one asked us, not before the referendum, not before the stationing of [Russian] troops [into Crimea], how we want to live,” he said, adding that while Tatars are a minority in Crimea, they too consider it their land.

Chubarov is concerned that some Tatars may end up in a situation where they would have no choice but to accept Russian passports simply to avoid legal difficulties due to Ukraine’s refusal to recognize dual citizenship.

“People may be forced to become citizens of a country that forced this situation upon them or end up citizens of a country that was unable to protect them,” he said referring to Russia and Ukraine, respectively, according to Russian Deutsche Welle.

Earlier, Crimean Tatar activist Nedim Khalilov announced the intention of Crimean Tatars to revive their national liberation movement, Rosbalt reported on March 23.

“We are in the process of resuming the national liberation movement. We do not want to use weapons. At this stage, we primarily seek recognition of our rights and do not yet consider ourselves Russia’s property, “ he told Islamnews.ru. “Ukraine it seems did not agree to transfer Crimea to Russia’s protection, and Russia it seems has already taken this upon itself. But, it turns out, we are in limbo, and no one can defend us.”

Crimean Tatars boycotted the earlier referendum held in Crimea on March 16, where the voters were given a choice of independence or joining Russia, but not keeping the status quo. Russian troops were already stationed in Crimea at the time.

Gazeta.ru reported that while the new Crimean authorities promise to uphold the rights of Crimea’s Tatars, the parliament building in Simferopol, which used to have signs in Ukrainian and Tatar languages, now only has one—in Russian.

Crimean Tatars are beginning to leave the peninsula out of concern for their safety. According to Ukrainian parliament deputy and former Majlis chairman Mustafa Jamilev, 5,000 Crimean Tatars have already left for Western Ukraine, Rosbalt reported on March 25.

Tatars have also fled to other countries in the region. Poland has given temporary refuge to eight Crimean Tatar families who asked for refuge because they feared for their lives, while Latvia is also getting ready to accept Tatar refugees.

Crimean Tatars have reportedly spoken out before about pressure, threats, and blackmail from the new Crimean government.

Last week, the head of Tatars Union of Latvia, Adas Jakubauskas, discussed the situation of Crimean Tatars in an interview with NR Baltija.

“Tatars are given an ultimatum: either transfer to Russia’s authority, or we will take away all of your property,” he reportedly said.

According to Jamilev, those who have left Crimea are primarily women and children, while the men are returning to Crimea, as Crimean Tatars will not leave their land, Rosbalt reported.

Rosbalt also reported earlier that Crimean Tatars are beginning to join Ukraine’s National Guard and local militia, according to the National Guard of Ukraine’s chief of staff Vladimir Volkov.

“I just came from Crimea. It’s very bad there,” Volkov said. “Tatars there are our best allies. Now we have in Crimea 2,000 guards who are Crimean Tatars. Tatars are joining the militia very actively.”

Altogether, approximately 300,000 Tatars live in Crimea.