The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 78/No. 21      June 2, 2014

(front page)
Tatars in Crimea take to streets,
defy Moscow’s ban on protests
Despite big police presence and protest ban by Moscow-installed Crimean government, thousands of Tatars join May 18 commemoration of their mass deportation by Stalin in 1944.

Defying a ban by Russian authorities, more than 20,000 Crimean Tatars rallied in Simferopol May 18 to commemorate the day 70 years ago when the Tatar community — some 200,000 people — was deported en masse to Uzbekistan, Siberia and the Urals by the government of Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin. In the arduous journey some 40 percent died from starvation, disease, cold and other causes.

“People, homeland, Crimea,” the crowd chanted. “We will only be respected if we are united,” said Refat Chubarov, head of the Tatars’ Mejlis assembly.

“They are watching us, they are afraid of us,” said chief Mufti Emirali Ablaev, pointing to Russian military helicopters circling overhead. The Crimean peninsula was seized by the Russian Federation from Ukraine in March.

Thousands more protested in other Crimean cities, as well as in the Ukrainian capital Kiev and in Turkey, home to many Tatars who came in waves fleeing czarist and Stalinist persecution.

On May 16, Moscow-appointed Crimean Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov announced a ban on all public meetings through June 6. The next day riot police began mass training exercises in the square where the Tatar rally was set to take place.

“The Crimean capital of Simferopol looked like a city prepared for mass riots on May 18,” the Kiev Post reported. Tatars and others from across Ukraine gathered outside a mosque in Akmechet, a suburb of Simferopol, that was built on wasteland by Tatars who returned to Crimea in the early 1990s. “Thousands carrying the Crimean Tatar flag marched past parked buses full of armed police,” the Post said.

“How could we not gather?” Elina Asanova, who runs a nursery school in Simferopol, told the paper. “We held this meeting every year for 23 years and nothing ever happened: no provocations, no clashes, nothing.”

More than 32,000 Russian intelligence forces descended on Crimea in 1944, giving Tatars 30 minutes to gather their belongings and then loading some 194,000 into cattle cars for summary deportation. Tatars in the Red Army fighting German troops were demobilized and sent to forced labor camps in Siberia and the Urals.

Tatars were barred from returning to Crimea until the late 1980s and those who went back found that their homes and farms had been seized.

The May 18 rally also protested the Russian government’s annexation of Crimea. Tatars, who now make up some 12 percent of the peninsula’s population, backed the massive mobilizations across Ukraine that overthrew the pro-Moscow regime of President Viktor Yanukovych.

Another chant at the rally was “Mustafa!” Mustafa Dzhemilev is the long-standing leader of the Crimean Tatar national struggle. He was jailed repeatedly in Russia in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. Dzhemilev, who was banned from Crimea by Russian authorities May 3, participated in the protest in Kiev.
Related article:
Separatists’ ‘takeover’ in east Ukraine unravels
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