Russian Clamp on Crimean Tatar Remembrance
The limited force of words, even those from western leaders expressing full solidarity with the Crimean Tatars has become poignantly clear on this – seventieth – anniversary of their forced deportation from their homeland. On May 16 Crimea’s self-proclaimed head, Sergei Aksenov, issued a decree effectively banning all remembrance ceremonies. Had it not been for Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, EU, US and other countries’ representatives would have been among the many guests joining Crimean Tatars in remembering the victims of a terrible crime. Their presence could have averted this extraordinary ban, or at least served to restrain the authorities from enforcing it. Although the Mejlis decided on Saturday to not hold the traditional mass meeting in the centre of Simferopol, Mejlis head, Refat Chubarov said on Friday that many Crimean Tatars had told him that they would not heed the ban. Mustafa Jemiliev, veteran champion of Crimean Tatar rights, also believes that people will still come to the central square “and they will be right – we need to uphold our rights. There were plenty of things they banned in Soviet times as well”.
The dilemma for the Mejlis was terrible. Chubarov pointed out that Simferopol had been filled with spetsnaz [specially trained units] and in a clearly threatening move Russian OMON riot police held ‘training exercises’ in the middle of the city on Saturday. The risk of bloodshed was enormous, as was the blow the ban constituted, as Chubarov explained.
Can you imagine – there are 22 regions and in each region there are places where people come to honour the dead, places with memorial stones, and Crimean Tatars on May 17-18 don’t have the right to go there together to pay their respects, to honour those people! I don’t know what kind of person you have to be to not think of the consequences! I don’t know how to stop people so that they don’t go there. It’s like telling everybody “Don’t go to your holy places, don’t visit your dead” If they prohibited you, how would you act? Force can stop everything, or not everything – it won’t stop the human spirit.”