In early April, the Crimean Tatar Mejlis continued to hold heated discussions. After the Kurultai which decided to start working for achieving self-determination in the form of ethnic territorial autonomy, but could not specify in which state the people saw its autonomy implemented, activists at different levels, and first of all members of the Mejlis itself, have continued an uncompromising dispute on the direction of further actions, as some agitate for Russian option, implying the possibility of cooperation with the Crimean authorities, while others prefer Ukrainian option, which is unlikely to be compatible with such cooperation. This is not a theoretical dilemma under the current conditions of military occupation in Crimea.
“DISSIDENTS” AND “LOYALISTS”
On April 1, the Mejlis, probably for the first time in its 23-year-long history, had the Marakand hotel where it held its session picketed by two rival Crimean Tatar demonstrations. One of them, being a few dozen people strong, was said to have been organized by Lenur Islyamov for the sake of realizing his dream to get into power, as he had been offered the first deputy premier’s portfolio. He brought to the hotel employees of his company Sim-City-Trans and ATR TV channel. Various departments of these businesses had been ordered to send at least two employees each to the Marakand, and, when already in place, handed out national flags and slogans that read as follows: “Survival Is Not a Betrayal,” “Who Will Protect Us?”, “We Need to Live and Work,” and “The Entire People Cannot Be Dissidents!” The latter thesis was stated by Islyamov himself a few times from the Kurultai’s podium as he urged his co-ethnics to have faith in his ability to take the second senior most portfolio in the government. Another group, being much smaller, but, as we were assured, having come there out of conscious choice, held posters calling on the Mejlis to refuse to cooperate with the occupiers.
As a result of the April 1 discussions, the Mejlis adopted resolution ‘On the Solution of Practical Problems Associated with the Crimean Tatar People’s Needs under De-Facto Conditions in the Crimea,’ with which it determined that the members of the Mejlis could not enter power structures, but “thought it possible to give consent” to the appointment of businessman Islyamov as the first deputy premier, and Zaur Smirnov, who had already applied for the suspension of his membership in the Mejlis, as the head of the Republican Committee on Nationalities. Refat Chubarov took special care to explain that these people were not politicians, that their activities in power structures would not be political in nature, that they would report weekly to the Mejlis on their activities in the government, and that the Mejlis would consider in two weeks’ time whether they could keep their offices. The decision emphasizes separately that “this decision does not mean that the Mejlis has recognized political, legal, economic and other changes that have taken place in Crimea without the consent and desire of the Crimean Tatar people – the indigenous people of Crimea.”
In fact, as noted by journalist Enver Abibula, the Mejlis, the majority of which is, for the sake of the people, willing to some extent to take a conciliatory approach and to work with the new government of the Russian Crimea, has had an opposition group formed within it, which bitterly opposes cooperation with the self-proclaimed ‘State Council’ and ‘Council of Ministers’ of the so-called Republic of Crimea. Analysts see 9 people as members of this group out of over 30 members of the Mejlis. Eskender Bariev, Shevket Kaybullaev, Enver Kurtiyev, Mustafa Maushev, Kadir Osmanov, Abmedzhit Suleymanov, Ibrahim Chegertma Risa Shevkiyev, and Egiz Abduraman all voted against cooperation with the authorities.
According to the Crimean political scientist Serhii Kostynsky, the incredibly complex political environment of the occupied Crimea forced “the Crimean Tatar political elite to divide again into ‘dissidents’ and ‘loyalists.’” Political scientist believes, and quite rightly so, it seems, that “some will keep working on the mission of the Crimean Tatar people, which would take on a new sense now, that of reunion with the Ukrainian people. Others will work to provide the Crimean Tatars with access to the region’s resources and decision-making process. Of course, they will do so at the level and to the extent which will be allowed by the new partners. Most importantly, the two groups should maintain a constructive dialog. Everyone should understand that the division is forced and not ideological. Conflict will only weaken the organs of Crimean Tatar national self-government and significantly reduce the level of support for it among voters...”
RUSSIA IS READY “TO FLIRT WITH THE CRIMEAN TATARS,” BUT NOTHING MORE
The authorities, with whom the Mejlis intends to cooperate, initially said that the Crimean Tatars “will have unprecedented powers.” However, they backtracked fast even before getting a response from the Crimean Tatars. As it has turned out, the draft constitution, which is being developed for Crimea by Russian advisors, does not provide for any compensations for the deportees. The promised 20 percent quota in the parliament has been forgotten, too, because “Russia has no such practices.” When Kurultai put forward the demand for ethnic territorial autonomy, the constitution-makers first tried to turn it into an ethnic-cultural one (supposedly in line with Russia’s rules), and now are trying to prove its impossibility altogether.
Thus, according to the Crimean political scientists cited by local media, even ethnic cultural autonomy for the Crimean Tatars is impossible in Crimea. For example, political scientist Lenora Dulber said that the Kremlin’s ‘benevolence’ extended only to giving the Crimean Tatars a limited representation in power. “Let us deal with the real signals. They are as follows: two days after the Kurultai of Crimean Tatar people, with its demands calling for a reaction of at least two participants in the dialog – Ukraine and Russia, none of these states has said anything on the matter so far...”
Political analyst Volodymyr Yehorov also believes that the prospects for ethnic autonomy are rather illusory. “Now, considering ascendance of pro-Russian forces and sentiments, such an initiative will meet resistance from the Slavs [read ‘Russians.’ – Author]. Unfortunately, Crimeans could not be reconstructed since Ukraine’s independence and continue to see the Crimean Tatars like guests rather than neighbors or masters of Crimea.” On the other hand, he noted that “Russia is ready to flirt with the Crimean Tatars and already does so, but it is done to demonstrate the support it has from the population of Crimea, so as to justify their actions in the territory of Ukraine on the international arena. However, I doubt that Russia will agree to change its ideological message about the annexation of Crimea as part of the Russian world to one about incorporating the Crimean Tatar autonomy. It is especially so as Russian public is not that easy with Muslims. For many Russians, ‘Muslim’ and ‘terrorist’ are synonymous,” Yehorov emphasized.
Even the Crimean Tatars themselves noted in the Mejlis’s decision that the political, legal, economic and other changes being implemented in Crimea were made without the consent and desire of the Crimean Tatar people. The authorities that have assumed responsibility for the situation in Crimea declare conflicting intentions, calling into question their commitment to the rights and interests of the Crimean Tatar people.