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Henry M. Robert

“Let Putin first withdraw his troops from Crimea, and only then we will speak to him”

Mustafa DZHEMILEV on the current situation in Crimea and the prospects of international support
23 April, 2014 - 18:04

Ukrainian Parliament Member Mustafa Dzhemilev has returned to Ukraine after a long foreign trip, where he made contacts with the governments of several influential countries of the world and some international organizations. As is known, the Crimean authorities cut a poor figure on Easter Eve, when they attempted to bar the Crimean Tatar leaders from entering the peninsula. The self-styled “self-defense” delayed for almost an hour at Perekop the motorcade which was carrying Mustafa Dzhemilev and Refat Chubarov and displaying flags of Ukraine and Crimean Tatars. Word has it that the Crimean bosses did not dare decide whether or not to let them in and kept calling Moscow for instructions. The Moscow officials chose not to forbid the Crimean Tatar leaders to enter Crimea, and they were allowed to proceed. The big motorcade with blue and yellow-blue flags solemnly drove across the entire Crimea, and these flags were hoisted on the Mejlis building in Simferopol’s Schmidt Street. But the “acting chief of Crimea,” Sergei Aksionov, said that Dzhemilev was staging a provocation. At the same time, the “self-defense” assaulted the Mejlis when there were only women there and removed the flags. This stirred up resentment among the Crimean Tatars who raised the flags again and posted the guard. Dzhemilev said on this occasion: “We’ve stepped into the zone of, so to speak, Russian democracy, I would say fascist-type democracy. This is what awaits the Crimean Tatar people if Crimea is to be –I don’t know how long – part of the Russian Federation. What is more, there were policemen there. I have inquired whether Moscow sanctioned this. I was told they did not know of this and it was the local authorities’ initiative. I don’t know what measures they are going to take, but this flag will be flying here. This flag was hung out not because Mustafa Dzhemilev had come but because the Crimean Tatar people oppose the occupation and see their future as being part of an independent and democratic Ukraine. Therefore, the Ukrainian and the Crimean Tatar flags will continue to fly on the Mejlis building.”

Our correspondent spoke to Mustafa Dzhemilev about the current situation in Ukraine and Crimea and the results of negotiations in Europe and America.

Mustafa Effendi, to begin with, I congratulate you on behalf of the Den/The Day staff on being awarded the highest order of the Turkish Republic.

“Thank you. I think that, by presenting this award, the Turkish Republic, one of the world’s most influential states, in the politics and the economy of which the Crimean Tatars are also playing a major role, has expressed a belief and a hope that the Crimean Tatars will adequately cope with the current situation and that Crimea and Ukraine have a rosy prospect of development in the European family of states and the world community will support them in this aspiration and in the struggle against the aggressor.”

Mustafa Effendi, you recently returned from a long foreign trip. You spoke at the UN and held negotiations in Brussels, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. I’d like to ask you in this connection: what is the world’s attitude to the events in Ukraine?

“First of all, I must note the overall support of international organizations, governments, and the world public for Ukraine and the Crimean Tatars. They are all saying they are ready to support Ukraine in the struggle against the aggressor and that the latter will be, sooner or later, stopped and the world will force Russia to withdraw from the occupied territories.”

Some reports say you had a meeting with the leadership of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. What are the results?

“Yes, after visiting the United States, I went to Saudi Arabia. My foremost goal was to meet the secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). When the UN General Assembly was discussing the Ukraine issue, in fact the entire Christian world came out against Russia’s aggression. The Muslim world also backed Ukraine. At the same time, only two Islamic states – Syria and Sudan – sided with the aggressor. The reason why is clear.

“But what really aroused my concern was the fact that only 22 out of the 56 OIC member states voted for the UN resolution that condemned Russia, while 21 abstained, and 11 were absent. When I met the OIC leadership, I asked why 21 Islamic states had shown such indifference about the destiny of Ukraine and its Muslim population. Having discussed this point, we arrived at a conclusion that, on the one hand, Islamic countries have insufficient information about the life in Ukraine and political and economic relations between the former Soviet republics. At the same time, the Russian propaganda machine and Russian diplomacy in Saudi Arabia are working very actively. So they suggested that I give a briefing at this organization’s Geneva and New York headquarters. I was also invited to a conference of OIC foreign ministers in June. And, what is more, we discussed the necessity of Ukraine joining the Organization of Islamic Cooperation as an associate member, all the more so that Russia has secured presence at the OIC as an observer on the grounds that it has more than 22 million Muslims.

“The OIC leadership does not object to Ukraine’s accession, but this requires active diplomatic steps on the part of Ukraine, including applications from the leadership of Ukraine and the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people. When I came back, I discussed this problem with Arsenii Yatseniuk, and he instructed the necessary documents to be drawn up. The Mejlis is also drawing up an application. This will give Ukraine a serious advantage not only because the entire Islamic world will be better informed of international relations and Ukraine’s internal affairs, but also because Ukraine will receive an opportunity to work with the powerful Islamic International Bank. I met its management and was told that this bank was prepared to help Ukraine but our country should have the status of at least an observer at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. I think this problem will be solved soon.”

What recent steps of the world public do you think have produced the best effect in order to stop the aggressor? In particular, what effect will the results of the quadrilateral Geneva conference have?

“I believe this conference will play its role, although its results may be rather limited because they are not complete or systemic. The most worrying fact is that the final document of the Geneva meeting is focused on how to stop the aggressor’s further advance but it has no demand for Russia to withdraw from Crimea. This runs counter to the sentiments and demands of the US, NATO, other international organizations, and the entire world public, which say that sanctions will continue to increase until the aggressor frees the last square meter of the seized territory. In the course of our meetings, the leaders of both the US and NATO assured me that under no circumstances would they forget about Crimea and that their sanctions would be effective.

“It was also advised that Ukraine should not raise the question of restoring its nuclear status. I said in reply: we are interested in the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons but ordinary people are already saying that if guarantor countries fail to meet their commitments to preserve our territorial integrity, we will have to rely on ourselves only. But I was reassured that the guarantor countries would see to it that Ukraine’s territorial integrity will be restored.”

When the Ukrainian delegation was visiting Turkey, it also included the Mejlis leader Refat Chubarov. Does this mean you begin to hand over all your international connections to him? Who else accompanied you?

“It would have been strange if the Mejlis head had not been present as I was given the highest order of the Turkish Republic, for this is of great importance to all Crimean Tatars. Besides, he should also expand his international ties, which will only be of benefit to Crimea and Ukraine. Our delegation also included Petro Poroshenko, one of the leading figures in the present-day Ukrainian politics. He personally met Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Erdogan. These negotiations dealt with Turkey’s likely mediation in the Ukraine-Russia talks to normalize the situation. This idea was approved – the president said the subject had already been discussed and Turkey was interested in peace and stability in the Black Sea region. It is totally unacceptable for Turkey if a country seizes a part of somebody else’s territory. The Turkish side assured us that it was prepared to take effective steps within the limits of its possibilities to restore the status quo in Ukraine because it views our country as a strategic partner.”

Mustafa Effendi, the Verkhovna Rada has at last passed the law on restoration of the Crimean Tatar people’s rights, which you drew up. What do you think of this step?

“This is an important step forward, although it should have been taken much earlier. Now the provisions of this law will be in force after our homeland has been freed from occupation. Still, it will help secure the rights of our compatriots who were forced to temporarily leave their territory for continental Ukraine as well as of those who have not yet managed to come back and settled in Kherson and Zaporizhia oblasts.”

What further steps should Ukraine take to restore the rights of the Crimean Tatar people?

“It is very important for our country now to adopt a concept of interethnic policy in order to clearly define terms and notions as well as for the state to take a progressive stand in the nationalities question. This law is being drawn up. Although it still has some defects, the main thing is that there is willingness to adopt it. The Verkhovna Rada has already passed a resolution which says clearly that Crimean Tatars enjoy the status of an indigenous people, but there should also be a special law that will clearly define the status of the representative bodies elected by Crimean Tatars. This law should rely on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which must be fully applicable in this country.”

The Kurultai has resolved to begin work to establish a national territorial autonomy of the Crimean Tatar people. What further steps should be taken to fulfill this decision?

“Of course, firstly, it will only be possible to speak about the establishment of a national territorial autonomy after the liberation of Crimea from occupation. Secondly, we are now focusing on raising the level of work in this direction. A department in charge of the occupied territories has been established now, but we want it to be a ministry that will work in close contact with the indigenous people of Crimea. A series of measures has already been outlined and will be taken to free our homeland from occupation.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has issued a decree on further rehabilitation of some peoples, including the Crimean Tatars. What do you think of this?

“It is good that Putin is aware of the necessity to fully rehabilitate all the repressed peoples, but we have a country of our own, in which all these problems must be tackled. I think all the questions of Crimean Tatars’ legal status must be looked into in Ukraine. But, as the decree’s text shows, Putin has rather a peculiar vision of this problem. He calls us a population, equates us with the diasporas that were deported together with us, and sees no difference, putting Crimean Tatars at the end of the list. He does not recognize even the international legal term ‘indigenous people.’ Russia is really to blame for the Crimean Tatars’ tragedy, and, of course, if it takes any rehabilitation steps, particularly in the solution of the deportees’ social problems, we will welcome this, as I told Putin during our phone talk. But this should be done within the framework of a Ukrainian-Russian agreement on this matter. Russia must carry out the old Bishkek Agreement which calls for other states implicated in the deportation of peoples to help them in the repatriation effort. Isn’t it high time Russia began to carry it out? What also raises concern is that Putin mostly speaks about legal rehabilitation, and his ideas do not envisage restoration of the Crimean Tatars’ statehood in some form or at least the restoration of a 1921-1944-type autonomy. But what we really need is not so much the autonomy as such as a concrete content of this notion – the status of an indigenous people, adequate representation of the people in administrative bodies, restoration of ethnic education and culture, the granting of all, including economic, rights to the deported. The newly-issued decree ignores all this.

“And the constitution they adopted in Crimea totally flouts the people’s will and the promises to vest people with the powers that they supposedly had ‘never had.’ The self-imposed Crimean authorities do not just know the history of our people. Further steps of the Crimean occupational authorities also show that they do not intend to restore the rights of the Crimean Tatar people. For example, we spoke very much about restoration of our people’s historical toponymy which occupiers had mutilated so savagely, but now they are talking about restoration of the historical Russian toponymy, so there is no question now of canceling the 1944-1945 renaming. Therefore, all these decrees and promises are new tricks aimed at winning over the Crimean Tatars and persuading them to stop demanding that Crimea be reunited with Ukraine. But this will not help them.”

What is your general opinion of the new Crimean constitution?

“After the first article which says that Crimea is a constituent part of Russia, you may not read on. All the rest is unacceptable for us. This would have been an absurd thing. They are saying it is a territorial gain, but we can see that it is an illegal aggression – so how can we recognize this? Fat chance, you know…”

Is it likely that Chubarov and you will meet President Putin in the future?

“I’ve heard about this suggestion, but I said to Chubarov: let Putin first withdraw his troops from Crimea and leave us the temporarily occupied lands, and only then it will be possible to meet and speak if he really wants to help solve the problems of Crimean Tatars. So, first of all, he must free the territory.”

Unfortunately, you could not take part in the latest extraordinary Kurultai of the Crimean Tatar people. The Mejlis said it wished to see you at the next Kurultai. When would you like it to be convened and what would you say to your colleagues?

“I don’t think we should hasten to convene the next Kurultai, even though the previous congress passed some not very well balanced resolutions. But I am not going to make any upheavals, and those decisions may be amended at the Mejlis level. The most important problem that we must solve now is a referendum among our people on the status of Crimea. It was originally planned that the Kurultai would be convened on March 29 on this question only. But, unfortunately, guaranteeing safety for our people became a more important question.

“But I must say that the Kurultai could not possibly make a clear decision on the referendum at the time because we want our referendum to differ from the Russian one, to be transparent, and to have international observers. But in the current situation, when [observers] are kept at bay, we will be unable to meet these demands. Therefore, it will take time to create favorable conditions.

“The truth is that all the decisions on a changed status of Crimea were made without taking into account the opinion of Crimea’s indigenous people and for this reason, according to international law, they cannot be considered legitimate. This means we must express our opinion, and our people’s referendum is the most convincing form for this. It will be held as soon as there are favorable conditions and guarantees of fairness.”

As Crimea was changing its status and the latest Kurultai was being held, the Russian Council of Muftis and the leadership of Tatarstan increased their activity. Do you think these ties and cooperation will be further developing?

“We are not against any contacts and cooperation, but if those who visited us in Crimea and participated in the Kurultai continue just to relay Putin’s will, we will hardly understand each other. But if they behave like Mintimer Shaimiev, we will appreciate their help. Shaimiev said: ‘I am not going to advise you, you know better what to do, I will not meddle in politics, but I am pondering over how we, Volga Tatars, can help you. As for political decisions, it is up to you to make any.’ This attitude is acceptable to us.”

P.S.: When this interview was going to press, we came to know that the Crimean regime had gone still farther. As Mustafa Dzhemilev was leaving Crimea for Kyiv, he was shown a deed that forbade him to enter Crimea for five years until 2019. “In his words, while representatives of many high-profile international organizations and diplomats have been barred from entering Crimea lately, this ‘decision’ about him is nothing but indication of what a ‘civilized’ state we deal with,” says his spokesperson Lilia Muslimova. Mustafa Dzhemilev also announced that, in spite of any ‘rulings,’ he would come to Crimea again and nobody was authorized to forbid him to visit his homeland.

Interviewed by Mykyta HORENKO, The Day
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