Distinguished delegates of the World Congress of Crimean Tatars,
Today, we hold the Second World Congress of Crimean Tatars during very difficult and dramatic times for our people.
Crimean Tatars have survived mass deportation, genocide, years of humiliating curfew, and complete lawlessness in exile. They have struggled for their civil and national rights and for the right to return to their homeland, all the while fighting with one of the most brutal regimes of the 20th century. They returned to their land with great difficulty and began, albeit very slowly, to restore their rights to the land, only to have it occupied by authorities that resemble the very hostility and anti-democratic character of the Soviet regime’s worst years.
Few people in our country, and the greater world, expected that in the 21st century a state, especially a permanent UN Security Council member-state with the veto power, could so blatantly violate international law and trample its agreements and obligations. Few expected that it would bring its troops to another country, occupy part of that country, and even brutally attach the occupied areas to its own territory.
Nevertheless, the Russian attack on Georgia in August 2008, followed by the occupation of part of its territory and the establishment of the pro-Russian puppet “states” there, should have seriously shocked the international community and encouraged the governments of leading countries to take effective measures to curb the aggressor. Unfortunately, no serious action was taken. There is no doubt that such behavior has inspired the aggressor to new adventures.
Perhaps the Crimean Tatars were among those who felt the most in danger, being very familiar with the habits of the neighboring state. In those days, we urged Ukraine to take immediate steps to strengthen its national security, for the next target of Russia’s attack may probably be Crimea. Those measures included the immediate denunciation of the treaty concerning the stationing of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, the clampdown on the Russian consulate in Crimea’s illegal issuance of Russian passports to the Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine, the cleaning of Crimea authorities of pro-Russian agents, the suppression of Russian-sponsored political and paramilitary forces in the Crimea, the redeployment of Ukrainian military units in Crimea with the ability to withstand at least the 20,000-strong military contingent of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, etc.
However, as expected, almost no action has been taken. Both the administration and family of Yanukovych, who engaged mainly in the plundering of the country’s national resources, did exactly the opposite. The agreement on the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol was extended for another 25 years and no strengthening of the Ukrainian military presence in Crimea occurred. On the contrary, the whole of Ukraine’s army was totally disabled. In accordance with Kyiv’s instructions, military units stationed in Crimea considered Crimean Tatars the main threat of separatism. Crimea’s chauvinistic, pro-Russian organizations were strengthened. The Security Service of Ukraine in Crimea, filled to the core with Russian agents and – by the way – almost entirely sided with the invaders after the occupation , made great efforts to drive a wedge between the Crimean Tatars and to weaken the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars.
The overthrow of the Yanukovych regime in January of last year following the shooting of a hundred and the injuring of thousands of our patriots by Berkut, as well as the formation of a new democratic government in Kyiv, has given great hope to the Crimean Tatars. However, as you all know, in late February 2014, Russian troops began their invasion of Crimea.
First, gangs of so-called “self-defense groups” and “Cossacks” organized and armed by the Russian Black Sea Fleet captured state institutions in Crimea, starting with the Parliament, government bodies, the Crimean Security Service, the Prosecutor’s Office and police stations. After that, Russian troops openly invaded the peninsula. As expected, the vast majority of government agency employees, including the Ministry of the Interior, prosecutors, the Security Service, the courts, etc. surrendered to the invaders and sided with them. They quickly replaced Ukrainian flags on government buildings with Russian ones.
A few small groups of Crimean Tatars have also supported the invaders. These groups were constantly used by the previous authorities and the Russian security services against the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars in order to drive a wedge between them.
But in general, the Crimean Tatars, especially their representative body the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars people, alone provided organized, nonviolent and open resistance to the invaders. Mejlis appealed to international organizations, including the UN, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and other structures with the call to stop the aggression, send UN troops to Crimea, and take measures to curb the tyranny of occupation. Mejlis managed to secure an almost complete boycott by the Crimean Tatars of the so-called “referendum” on March 16 and the so-called “elections” in September of last year. Supervised by the Crimean Tatars, the only Crimean Tatar news station in the world, ATR Channel, provided objective information in three languages about the events taking place in Crimea and the invaders’ unlawful acts until they shut it down on April 1.
So-called “self-defense units” created by invaders on two separate occasions ripped the Ukrainian flag from the Mejlis building at night. Members of the Mejlis put it back every time. Thus, this was the only Ukrainian flag in the occupied territory that lasted half a year after the occupation, when in mid-September of last year the building and all property of the Mejlis was confiscated by the occupation authorities.
The first steps of Crimea’s occupants were designed to take control of all media, and neutralize and isolate those who could organize resistance. The democratic freedoms that Crimea’s residents have enjoyed for 23 years since Ukraine’s independence have been almost completely abolished.
In order to suppress the will of the people and intimidate them, the occupiers will stoop to any means necessary. Numerous unwarranted searches under the pretext of searching for weapons and “banned literature,” huge fines for trying to realize the democratic right to peaceful assembly, rallies and marches, arrests for ridiculous charges, plunder, or as they call it, the “nationalization” of businesses, kidnapping and killing people without investigation and trial, the deprivation of almost all civil rights, including even the right to treatment in hospitals for those who refuse to receive Russian passports – this is an incomplete arsenal of methods the occupation authorities use against the indigenous people of Crimea. For example, after the occupation of Crimea more than 150 searches were conducted in the homes, mosques and even schools of the Crimean Tatars. Moreover, the vast majority of searches are conducted with gross violations of due process and the humiliation of the human dignity of those being searched.
Sometimes, however, a number of political rallies are permitted, but it depends on the nationality of those carrying out these demonstrations. Only those completely loyal to the occupation authorities can exercise this right. For example, Armenians are allowed to hold rallies and marches dedicated to their historical events, but Crimean Tatars are prohibited from carrying out even the most traditional ceremonies on the anniversary of the deportation and genocide of the Crimean Tatar people. However, the Crimean Tatars, too, can be allowed to carry out rallies and demonstrations, but only if they are aimed at supporting the occupation authorities, under the Russian flag, and under the leadership of the occupation authorities and their few Crimean Tartar puppets. Everything is done as it was back in Soviet times.
The atmosphere that prevails in the occupied Crimea is described quite eloquently, though not quite completely, in a 20-page report by Turkish human rights defenders’ independent delegation that was investigating the situation on the peninsula in April of this year.
Harsh discrimination and lawlessness against the Crimean Tatars, especially the kidnapping and murder of young people, forced recruitment of young people in the Russian army with the prospect of sending them to war with their Ukrainians brothers, the complete absence of democratic freedoms and the lack of any prospects for the young people in the occupied Crimea, are forcing many of them to once again leave their homeland and move to mainland Ukraine. To date, despite Mejlis repeated calls to endure the occupation and not to leave home, to our knowledge, at least 10,000 Crimean Tatars have left the peninsula.
It appears that the aim of the lawlessness against Crimean Tatars is to drive them out of Crimea. At the same time, Russia has moved a large number of both Russians and refugees from the east of Ukraine to the peninsula. The Russian press actively discusses the resettlement of some 200,000 Greeks from Mariupol, Donetsk region, Armenians, and even Jews from the former USSR who are now citizens of Israel to Crimea. They are promised all sorts of benefits.
The occupation authorities’ media published several transmissions stating that those Crimean Tatars who were still in exile were very exited to learn about the annexation of Crimea by Russia, and began to move to the peninsula. In fact, this is an absolute lie, and everything is exactly the opposite. In recent years, an average of one and a half to two thousand Tatars from their places of exile managed to resettle in Crimea every year. Only 76 families came to Crimea there after the occupation. Moreover, not one of these families were allowed to stay, as it turned out that an annual “quota” had been reached, and all of them had to return back from whence they came.
In short, this is the same policy of ethnic cleansing that was practiced by the Russian Empire after the first occupation of the Crimea in 1783.
Special efforts were made by the occupation authorities to eliminate the representative body of the Crimean Tatars, the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, and to replace it with their own puppet Crimean Tatar structure. They plan to drive a wedge between the Crimean Tatars, to bring some of them to their side using bribery, threats and blackmail. As they are very unlikely to succeed, we have every reason to believe that the occupiers will try to completely eliminate the Crimean Tatar system of national self-government through the use of force.
Under these circumstances, the World Congress of the Crimean Tatar people and its structures in all the countries in which they operates is beginning to play an increasingly larger role. All the existing structures of the World Congress should fully focus on the protection of their fellow citizens’ rights and on providing them with comprehensive assistance.
I have made many trips abroad and visited dozens of countries around the world, meeting with numerous of government officials, diplomats, journalists and citizens. These talks have convinced me that very few people were aware of the real situation in Crimea, of what regime has been established in the occupied territory. A lot of people really think that almost all the inhabitants of the Crimea welcomed the occupation and annexation of Crimea, and that now all are happy and satisfied.
One of the major tasks of the World Congress and our diaspora of several million all over the world is facing is the painstaking work of exposing the bogus and multilingual Russian propaganda saturating all countries. We need to mobilize international public opinion against the Putin regime’s criminal actions in Ukraine in order to immediately liberate the occupied territories and bring those responsible for the thousands of deaths in both Ukraine and Russia to justice, to punish them for the enormous economic harm caused to both Ukraine and Russia and the broken lives of millions of refugees and people who have become disabled as a result of the conflict. For us, it is obvious that the Crimean Tatar people do not and will never enjoy further development while in Russia. Moreover, even the preservation of our national identity and the pursuit of a decent free life are now under threat.
There will be no prosperity for the other Crimean inhabitants, as the international community will never recognize the legitimacy of its accession to Russia. Therefore, Crimea will always be isolated from the civilized world. That being said, the liberation of Crimea should be undertaken without the use of military force and without bloodshed and the loss of thousands of lives.
The world community has the mechanisms necessary to force the aggressor to leave the occupied territories and to consider international norms of behavior. We believe that one of the most effective measures to curb the aggressor is to impose tough economic sanctions. The sanctions imposed on the Soviet Union after it invaded Afghanistan were one of the main reasons for its withdrawal from the country, which also triggered the fall of the communist empire. Considering that today’s Russian economic power is nowhere near that of the Soviet Union, and that Russia’s GDP is much lower than even that of Italy, which has a population of nearly two and a half times less than Russia, we can safely expect that very soon it will no longer be possible to conduct such an aggressive policy. Russia will have to leave the occupied territories of both Ukraine and Georgia, which even now are the huge economic burden. But of course it is very important that all civilized nations share the common sanctions policy.
For several years, Crimean Tatars waged a fierce struggle against the totalitarian Soviet regime. They fought not only for civil and national rights and the right to return to their homeland, but also for democracy in the country; a country which was rightly considered the “evil empire.” At the risk of their lives and freedom, they opposed the criminal policies of the USSR around the world, including the occupation of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan. They marched against the use of psychiatry for cracking down on dissidents, etc. And now that our land is occupied by the heir of the “evil empire” which has once again established a cruel totalitarian gangster regime there, forcing thousands of our fellow citizens to once again leave their homeland, we probably have the right to count on the full support of the democratic forces all over the world.
We may also count on the support of the whole Islamic world, as the existence and further development of one of the smallest Muslim nations in Europe is now at stake. For us it was not understandable when, at the voting of a resolution condemning the occupation and annexation of the Crimea by Russia at the UN General Assembly on March 27 of last year, only 22 of the 56 member-states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation voted in support of the resolution, while 21 countries abstained, 11 countries were deliberately absent, and two countries (Syria and Sudan) even voted in favor of the occupier and aggressor. For no obvious reason, many Islamic states happened to be to the fate of another Muslim nation under occupation.
We believe that this Islamic solidarity should be expressed neither in noisy demonstrations, nor in terrorist acts against some undistinguished anti-Islamic movies, books or cartoons as an assault on democratic freedoms and in fact damaging Islam. Instead, we believe that above all solidarity is about tendering real help to fellow Muslims and to all people in general who are in mortal danger. However, for Muslim countries to take some steps and even join the Western sanctions against the aggressor, the public in these countries should be well informed about current events in Crimea.
It is clear that in order to solve the Crimean Tatars problems more effectively, to assist in the liberation of Crimea from the occupation, our community should participate more actively in the political life of Ukraine. Ukraine, first and foremost, in the interest of national security does not recognize dual citizenship. Nevertheless, given the situation of the Crimean Tatars and their role in restoring the integrity of Ukraine, I do not rule out the possibility that the Crimean Tatar community, one of Ukraine’s indigenous peoples, may be granted such a right after Crimea is liberated from the occupation. In case the issue of dual citizenship isn’t resolved, our community could effectively and for the benefit of its people use the law of Ukraine for Ukrainians abroad that can be easily applied to the Crimean Tatars. People who have the status of foreign Ukrainians enjoy almost all the rights of Ukraine’s citizens, except for military service and the right to vote. Furthermore, the Ukrainian parliament is now considering a bill granting Ukrainian citizenship to people who sign a contract to serve in the Ukrainian army.
We decided on the establishment of the Muslim battalion, which will be subordinate to the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, and which will be mainly deployed on the border with Crimea, in Kherson oblast. A fairly large number of Chechens, Ingush, Azerbaijanis, Uzbeks and other nationalities that want to contribute to defending to the independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine have already expressed their desire to serve in this battalion.
The same battalion can be used to control the passage of people and goods in the border between occupied Crimea and the rest of Ukraine. After the liberation of Crimea, it can serve as law enforcement and for the prevention of all sorts of possible unrest in the peninsula.
Kherson oblast is the best option for all our fellow citizens who are now forced to leave their homeland and settle in other regions of Ukraine. Thus, we can achieve several objectives. First of all, living together in a linguistic and religious environment will help Crimean Tatars to avoid the risk of losing their national identity. Second, they will have an opportunity to open national schools and religious institutions. Third, this will strengthen the Ukrainian presence in what is otherwise a complicated region largely subjected to Russian propaganda. Last but not the least, this will facilitate the return of the Crimean Tatars to their homeland once it is liberated.
For this project to work, to provide people with housing and jobs, to ensure regional economic recovery which will in turn contribute to peace and harmony among people of different nationalities residing in the area, we, of course, need significant investment. I believe that our diaspora could significantly contribute to the solution of this problem.
After the decision-making bodies of the World Congress of Crimean Tatars will be elected, they will need to develop a set of measures aimed at the de-occupation of Crimea, on the security and development of their people, and then, in close coordination with the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, immediately begin to implement them.
And finally, there is one last thing I would like to address from this important rostrum.
There is a saying among all the peoples of the world, claiming that every cloud has silver lining. So I’d like to list some of the positive things that have arisen as a result of the dramatic events that took place on our soil.
One positive thing is the courage of the overwhelming majority of our people and their representative body that has arisen with regard to the occupation of the Crimea, and that Russia’s actions against Ukraine have won great sympathy and respect for all people, not only in Ukraine, but throughout the world.
In addition, the Ukrainian authorities also fully recognized, although somewhat belatedly, the role of Crimea’s indigenous people, and came to the unequivocal conclusion that after Crimea’s liberation nothing will be the same again. The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine has adopted a law on the restoration of rights for deportees; a resolution guaranteeing the rights of the Crimean Tatars as an indigenous people of Ukraine, the recognition of the Mejlis and Kurultai as the representative bodies of the Crimean Tatar people, on Ukraine’s accession to the UN Declaration on Indigenous Peoples several documents were adopted for the restoration of historical place names in Crimea. Two weeks ago, President Poroshenko, addressing the Parliament, said that in the new Constitution of Ukraine Crimean autonomy would be transformed into national-territorial autonomy, realizing the Crimean indigenous peoples’ rights to self-determination.
However, this will all be in the future, after Crimea is liberated from the occupation. Meanwhile, even today we need to be prepared for this future in which national-territorial autonomy will be restored, and where all people, regardless of nationality and religion are equal in all their rights and where no nationality, no matter how small, will not be restricted in their lawful rights.
We will accomplish this with your help.
Thank you for your attention.