Pressure on Crimean Tatars from Russia continues to grow, as Russian security forces have raided the Tatars’ Mejlis (Parliament) in Simferopol, the home of one Mejlis member, and the offices of Crimean Tatar newspaper Avdet (Return), according to Mejlis leader Refat Chubarov.
"The occupiers behave rudely, demand to disperse, threaten with administrative penalties. Grave danger is hanging over Crimean Tatars and all freedom-loving people," wrote Chubarov on his Facebook page, according to Deutsche Welle.
Russian security forces (FSB) searched the home of Mejlis member Eskender Bariev, including his children’s toys, for "weapons and illegal literature," and seized his computer. The FSB also conducted searches in the homes of other Crimean Tatars according to Mejlis spokesman Ali Khamzin, whose own home was also recently searched.
"Right now, Crimean Tatars are in danger as never before," said Khamzin.
Tatars, Crimea’s largest ethnic minority, opposed Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in March. Many also peacefully boycotted the latest local elections on September 14, where only Russian political parties’ members had appeared on the ballot.
"What elections?" said one Crimean Tatar about the September 14 election, as reported by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. "Everything has long been decided for us."
The latest searches and seizures come after months of repression against Crimean Tatars.
In August, Russian authorities banned certain Islamic literature and labeled it "extremist," even through previous Ukrainian law deemed the same literature as legal. Crimea’s prosecutor also labeled Chubarov as "extremist" in July and banned him from entering Crimea for five years.
Earlier, in April, Russian authorities banned popular 70-year-old Tatar leader Mustafa Jemilev from entering Crimea until 2019. An outspoken critic of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Jemilev had played a critical role in Tatars’ boycott of the March referendum in Crimea.
Many believed that the referendum was rigged and that Russian authorities had used it to justify their annexation. Security forces later fined activists who participated in peaceful protests in support of Jemilev.
The Crimean Tatars are Turkic-speaking Sunni Muslims. Joseph Stalin had deported them under horrific conditions from their homeland during World War II under the false pretext of Nazi collaboration. Tatars returned to their homes in the late 1980s.
Ali Khamzin believes that security for Crimean Tatars should be guaranteed at the highest international level.
"Not only Russia carries the responsibility," he said, "but all guarantors of the Budapest Memorandum," referring to the December 1994 diplomatic memorandum signed by Ukraine, Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom.
All signatories had promised to guarantee Ukraine’s sovereignty and refrain from military and economic coercion of Ukraine in exchange for removal of nuclear weapons from its territory—an obligation Ukraine had upheld.