Turkey denounces Russia on banning Tatar assembly in Crimea

Turkish foreign ministry strongly condemns the ruling of the Russian-annexed peninsula’s top court to ban Crimean Tatars’ assembly.

Photo by: AA
Photo by: AA

Placard on the National Assembly of Crimean Tatars in Simferepol.

Turkey has condemned the Russian-occupied Crimean Supreme Court’s decision to ban Crimean Tatars' highest ruling body Mejlis on Tuesday, calling it part of a Kremlin drive to oppress the minority ethnic group with a continued campaign of “intimidation” and “suppression.”

The Turkish foreign ministry issued a statement on Wednesday declaring that the Mejlis, which is officially called as the National Assembly of Crimean Tatars (KTMM), was “the democratically elected and a legitimate representative and decision-making body” of Crimean Tatars.

Russia’s Crimean Prosecutor General, Natalia Poklonskaya, claimed that the court, which described the Mejlis as an “extremist” organisation, had banned the Tatars' assembly because its leaders had sought to destabilise Crimea since the takeover.

The court decision follows the silencing of a Tatar-language TV station in Crimea in April 2015 and recent reports of police intimidation and brutality towards opponents of annexation.

“Prohibition of the Mejlis’ activities is the latest step taken by Russia that targets the unity and integrity of the Crimean Tatars in the aftermath of the [2014] annexation of the peninsula,” said the Turkish statement.

“We regret and condemn this decision, which is a new manifestation of both the systematic and collective pressure on the Crimean Tatar community, as well as the blows being struck at the fundamental rights and freedoms of the inhabitants of the Peninsula,” the statement added. 

The Council of Europe Commissioner, Nils Muiznieks, also urged the court to reverse the ban.

"Equating [the assembly] with extremism paves the way for stigmatisation and discrimination of a significant part of the Crimean Tatar community and sends a negative message to that community as a whole," he said in a statement.

A Russian local court in Crimea’s Simferopol (Akmescit) also issued an arrest warrant for a prominent Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Abdulcemil Kirimoglu, the former chairman of the KTMM in the Russian-annexed peninsula, in late January.

Kirimoglu, along with the latest KTMM chairman Refat Chubarov, and other leading members have previously been banned from entering Crimea for five years by the Putin administration.

Chubarov, who now lives in mainland Ukraine said that the court's decision was unjustifiable.

"The occupiers in Crimea are doing everything to crush Crimean Tatars and force everyone to be silent," he told journalists in Kiev.

The peninsula was annexed by the Russian Federation from Ukraine on March 21, 2014, following a referendum that was held on March 17, against the wishes of Western powers, including Turkey and Crimea’s native Tatar population, led by Kirimoglu and Chubarov.

Crimea became part of independent Ukraine, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Crimean Tatar leadership found an assembly (Kurultai in Turkish) in 1991.

The Crimean Tatar population of 240,000 people were exiled in May 1944 to Central Asia, mainly to Uzbekistan. The order was given by Joseph Stalin, the communist leader of the Soviet Union that was established following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917.

The exile brought further tragedy to Tatars, who were already hurt by the previous forced mass migrations from Crimea. Half of the Tatar population reportedly died of cold, hunger, exhaustion and disease when the group was deported to Central Asia.

More than 250,000 Tatars have gradually returned to the peninsula and now constitute approximately 13 percent of Crimea’s population after the period of Perestroika [“Restructuring”] launched by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in the mid-1980s.

A recent report prepared by an unofficial delegation of Turkish academics determined, in mid-June 2015, that Crimea’s unrecognised Russian government has purposely and persistently violated the rights and freedoms of the Crimean Tatars following the Russian annexation of the peninsula in March 2014.

TRTWorld and agencies