Crimean Tatar community leaders have reportedly been summoned for questioning by a Russian investigative committee ahead of a much-anticipated gathering of Crimean Tatar representatives from around the world in Turkey’s capital Ankara.
According to a Facebook post by Central Election Commission of the Crimean Tatar Assembly (Mejlis) Chairman Zair Smedlyaev, he and the first deputy of the Mejlis, Nariman Celal, were summoned to appear before the committee on Tuesday.
The approximately 300,000-strong Crimean Tatar community, a Turkic and mainly Muslim ethnic group who are indigenous to the northern Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and comprise 12 percent of its population, have largely opposed the Russian annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine last year.
Crimea was annexed by Russia in March 2014 following a referendum organised by the peninsula’s autonomous authorities, in which the majority ethnically Russian population voted to join Russia just weeks after the same authorities declared independence from Ukraine.
The referendum, which was organised almost immediately after Ukraine’s former pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych abandoned his post amid pro-EU protests in Kiev, was condemned by the international community as illegal, especially as it was held under the threatening presence of armed militiamen in unmarked uniforms - believed to be Russian soldiers - who occupied Crimea shortly after Yanukovych's demise.
The Crimean Tatars have since been under pressure from the peninsula’s new Russian authorities to accept the annexation, with those who have refused to adopt Russian citizenship, becoming foreigners in their homeland.
Crimean Tatar leaders Mustafa Jemilev and Refat Chubarov have been barred from entering Crimea for five years, while Crimean Tatar Mejlis deputy chairman Ahtem Ciygoz was arrested for allegedly organizing a “mass disorder” against the peninsula’s new Russian authorities.
According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), Smedlyaev said he and Celal may have been summoned over their roles in clashes that saw Crimean Tatars fight with pro-Russians outside the peninsula’s parliament building in Simferopol in February 2014.
Smedlyaev also stated his belief that the timing of the summons indicates that the Russian authorities may be trying to prevent Crimean Tatar leaders from attending the World Congress of Crimean Tatars, which is due to be held in Ankara this weekend.
According to Euromaidan Press, 180 Crimean Tatar NGOs from 12 different countries are expected to participate in the meeting.
In another meeting that took place in Ankara in early April, a bloc of 43 Crimean Tatar NGOs known as the “Platform of the Crimean Tatar Organisations” collectively declared the occupation of Crimea by Russia an “unlawful act” and called on the Russian Federation to “immediately put an end to the occupation of Crimea.”
“We, the Platform of the Crimean Tatar Organizations, reaffirm and declare that we will never recognise the unlawful and immoral Russian occupation,” the NGOs said in a joint statement.
“We will continue our struggle to end this occupation under the leadership of the real representatives of the Kurultay of Crimean Tatar People, the Mejlis of Crimean Tatar People, who were truly elected before the occupation under free and democratic conditions, according to the rule of law and human rights in a democratic manner.”
Crimean Tatars were forcibly exiled in their entirety from their homeland by Soviet Russian leader Josef Stalin in 1944 to various parts of central Asia and the Caucasus. A large community of Crimean Tatars also settled in Turkey to escape persecution at the hands of the Soviets.
However, following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Crimean Tatars began returning to their homeland in droves.