Three Years Later: 5 Stories of Crimean Tatars

The Crimean Tatars are the native population of Crimea. In total they number around 280,000 people (the total population of the peninsula is 2.2 million).

Мечеть на трассе из Симферополя в Бахчисарай. Фото Еврорадио
Мечеть на трассе из Симферополя в Бахчисарай. Фото Еврорадио

This article was originally published in Russian on




The Crimean Tatars are the native population of Crimea. In total they number around 280,000 people (the total population of the peninsula is 2.2 million).

Aside from Crimea, there are populations of Crimean Tatars in Romania (24,000), Uzbekistan (90,000), and Turkey (as many as 6 million). In May of 1944, the Soviet government resettled around 200,000 Crimean Tatars from the peninsula, deporting them primarily to Uzbekistan. Until 1991, there was a ban on Crimean Tatars resettling in Crimea.

In independent Ukraine the activities of the Mejlis, the traditional elected organ of government of the Crimean Tatars, were revived, although Kyiv did not officially recognize the Mejlis as a political unit. In the end of February and beginning of March, 2014, the Crimean Tatars came out in support of the territorial integrity of Ukraine. In 2015, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation barred the Mejlis’s activities, equating it with an extremist organization.

Сулеймана Кадырова будут судить за комментарий в фейсбуке.
Suleyman Kadirov will be tried for his comments on Facebook

Suleyman Kadyrov is the former head of the Feodosia criminal militsiya (police). He worked in Crimea’s law-enforcement agencies for more than 25 years. The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation launched a criminal case against Kadyrov for his comments on Facebook that “Crimea is Ukrainian”. He is charged with calls to violate the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.

“When the ‘green men’ appeared, I was already no longer working in the law-enforcement agencies. In 2011, I resigned for health reasons. Everyone knew that this was the Russian army. And I am a lawyer. I understood that all norms of international law and the legislation of Ukraine had been violated. We began to organize self-defense detachments in places densely settled with Crimean Tatars. It was generally unclear what was taking place. We defended the mosques, the approaches to our villages, schools, and kindergartens. I directed this…

I was greatly concerned when it became clear that Crimea was taken. I was elected to the Feodosia regional mejlis. Then I began to coordinate the self-defense activity in the region, I was elected to this position. We helped with processing documentation for Ukrainian passports, provided consulting for people. I was constantly travelling away to Ukraine, and clearly this was of interest to the FSB, though I wasn’t doing anything of a criminal nature. I am a lawyer, I know all the nuances. The first search was on November 30, 2015. I was traveling to Ukraine with young people, helping them with the documentation to enter there. I returned home late at night, around three o’clock. At half-past-six they came wearing masks and armed with automatic weapons and entered my home. They grabbed the phone, wouldn’t allow me to call a lawyer…

Not long ago children here gathered to play football. They organized teams. The school director found out and forbade them to gather. She said that this was an unsanctioned gathering. What else can one say, if children are not allowed to play football? There were children of all nationalities that gathered there, by the way, not only Tatars. There were Ukrainian and Russian children as well. They played village versus village…

You know, the euphoria has already come to an end. I am acquainted with many people, I talk with them. And also with those who were very happy about the Russians coming. Those who went to the referendum. Everyone here made money two months a year during the tourist season. And for two years now there hasn’t been a tourist season. Only the government sector is functioning normally. Taxes, the militsiya, the administration, FSB… There is no work. People are going to Ukraine, to Russia, and to Far East Russia.”

Ilmi Umerov is deputy head of the Mejlis, former Vice Prime Minister of the Crimean government and former Vice Speaker of the Crimean parliament. Before the annexation he worked as manager of the Bakhchysarai administration. He left his post after the Russian administration came to Crimea.

“We aren’t loyal to the occupying government. We consider the annexation an annexation, we do not recognize the jurisdiction of the Russian administration in Crimea… On March 19 last year I went to Kyiv and took part in recording a TV program on the channel ATR. For forty minutes we debated the sanctions, the actions of the UN and EU. We considered what to do so that the Russian Federation would give up Crimea and leave the Donetsk and Lugansk Oblasts. Now they’re fabricating a case against me for publicly calling for the violation of the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation. I don’t believe I’m guilty. There were searches, interrogations. The day before yesterday the investigation was officially concluded. The materials for the case are being handed over to the prosecutor’s office, then there will be a trial. I don’t have any illusions. Everything will be as the FSB orders it to be.

They still haven’t really gone after people for membership in the Mejlis. There have only been administrative cases. For participation in the proceedings of a banned community organization. We’ve gathered in my house, talked via Skype with other members of the Mejlis who are now in mainland Ukraine. They declared us a community organization. An elected political organ created one hundred years ago… We aren’t holding sessions for the moment. The Mejlis is officially banned by decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation.

A lot of new things have come up since the coming of the Russian government. Essentially, everything is forbidden for us. They forbid us to commemorate the Day of the Deportation of the Crimean Tatar People, the Day of Crimean Tatar Symbols, and other, lesser events. Our leaders, Mustafa Jemilev and Refata Chubarov are not permitted on the territory of the peninsula. They cannot return to their own homes.

We aren’t holding large events now. We don’t want to put people in the crosshairs. This is objectively dangerous. Arrests, fines. The people are taking a pommeling. We gave up such activities so that this wouldn’t be the case.

Do all Tatars oppose the Russian government? No. Even among my relatives there are those who agreed to cooperate. One of my relatives works as a neighborhood police officer.

There are various attitudes towards such people. One person understands that one has to feed their family. Others consider them collaborators and traitors. I, to be honest, have maintained relations… even if you believe that a person has acted incorrectly, you find ways to maintain relations with them”.

Emir-Husein Kuku, former inspector of the Yalta city executive committee, has been behind bars in the Simferopol pre-trial detention center for more than a year. He is accused of terrorism and attempting to seize power. Investigators assert that he belonged to the organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, declared a terrorist organization in Russia. We spoke with Emir-Husein’s wife Merem in their still-unfinished cottage in the village of Koreiz. Their children, a nine year-old boy and six year-old girl, stared at their guests with curiosity while Merem told of their family tragedy.

Служебные удостоверения Эмира-Усени.
Service certificates of Emir-Husein Kuku

“We knew more or less what is happening with Muslims in Russia. But that this would take place with such a cultured person, who knows only home and work… We didn’t think that they could seize him and accuse him of terrorism. They arrest four or five people. There is already a “Sevastopol group”, a “Bakhchysarai group”, a “Yalta group”, and a Simferapol group”. The “Yalta Group” includes four people: my husband (an economist), a school custodian, a fruit vendor from the market, and a master detailer. We didn’t know any of them previous to this, we only became acquainted in court, where we can only see those close to us: we’re not allowed to have any other meetings.

Now it’s like this: if you’re an adherent of Islam, you can be charged as a terrorist. And if you are a layperson, you are somehow connected with the Mejlis, and that means charged as an extremist.

People are tried according to Russian law for events which took place on the territory of Ukraine.

In the Simferopol courts, for two years now they have been trying to convict a number of people, based on Russian law, who participated in the “For a United Ukraine” protests, which took place on February 26, 2014. This was before the referendum took place in Crimea, when… Ukrainian laws still applied. Near the court we met the father of one of the accused. We met some of these people.

Бекир Дегерменджи, отец обвиняемого в экстремизме.
Bekir Degermenji – father of a Crimean Tatar accused of ‘extremism’

“My name is Bekir Degermenji. I am the father of an extremist who they say has broken a Russian law. Though my son didn’t break them. Today we will have yet another court proceeding, they will examine his case for February 26, 2014: events which took place in Ukraine. According to Russian law, he faces from three to eight years in prison, though he didn’t take place in any acts of mass unrest in Russia! I was together with my son at that protest. There will be some sort of unrest at any protest not guarded by the militsiya. Especially if there are two, opposed protests side-by-side: supporters of Ukraine and supporters of Russia. And indeed, at that protest things got to the point where people were pushing, maybe someone got hit, but you can’t say that there was mass unrest. There were around 15,000 people. And yes, there are shots of him pushing, along with others, with these Russia supporters, but when I asked the investigator why none of them had been arrested, he simply replied, “You don’t try the winners”.

The deputy of the Mejlis, Akhtem Chiigoz, is being tried in this same case. He is charged according to the article on “Organizing Mass Unrest”. Akhtem Chiigoz is being tried according to Russian law for events which took place on the territory of Ukraine at a time when Ukrainian law was in force in Crimea. And it is precisely this fact which vexes Akhtem’s wife Elmira Ablelimova most of all.

“And now he is being tried for the fact that he expressed his civic stance, a normal position for the citizen of a state: he supported retaining the territorial integrity of Ukraine!”

We sat in a small café not far from the Supreme Court of Crimea, where Akhtem Chiigoz is being tried. Elmira got lucky: she was allowed to be her husband’s civil defender. It’s only thanks to this that she is able to meet with him not just in the court, but also in the pre-trial detention center, and can know all the details of the case and investigation. True, it is for this very reason that the woman has no illusions regarding the coming court decision.

We already examined all the photos and video that were presented by the public prosecution, we listed and cross-examined their witnesses and victims. If you ask me, there is not yet any proof of my husband’s guilt. This is an ordered, political case, sewed up with white threads. But with these sorts of issues, you don’t get miracles, and we understand that there will be a guilty verdict. Another question is how much he’ll get. They could give him up to ten years, but how much he’ll be sentenced with depends on outside factors, on outside pressure, not on us, the defense. It’s hard to understand this. It’s hard both morally and psychologically. I personally took the following attitude towards all this: you cannot live through this, you simply have to learn to live with it. And here we are, living in this sort of a reality, where we see one another only in the detention center.”

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