In childhood, he dreamt about the sword and even tried to make it on his own. As a teenager, he couldn’t find the strength to save a person from death. After that, the father’s words about responsibility became a lesson for him. About the principles and the childhood years of the Crimean-Tatar leader, the resistance to the system, hunger strike, return to Crimea and the release of the Ukrainian captives – the way Mustafa Dzhemilev himself sees it in the section “Who is…” from Opinion.
About childhood, parents and personal principles
I was born and thought: “Where am I? Christmas trees, shooting everywhere… What kind of world is it?
Since childhood, I adored weapons, wanted to have a sword but nobody gave it to me. I even tried to make it on my own. And now I have plenty of them, but there’s a lack of space on the walls.
It’s important to bring the principles up in a child: something is allowed to a certain border and something is strictly forbidden. Here is my understanding of honour and dignity.
I was 14 years old. I went home from the Pioneer House having rubber boots on. There’s a man ahead. Suddenly, under his feet, something sparkled and he fell down. A stranger stepped on the wire and the current struck him. Everyone started panicking, screaming, no one could help him. A man died. When I came home and told this story to my father he asked, “What did you do to save this person? You wore rubber boots, you could throw the wire away with your foot”. I started explaining that there’re other people nearby in rubber boots but the father wasn’s satisfied with this answer, “I don’t ask about the others. I ask you, what did you do to save this man?”. This lesson I will remember forever. No matter what other people say, think or do. Everyone is responsible for what happens around.
At school, the parents suffered from my activity. I did what the conscience told me, I just couldn’t otherwise but it wasn’t only me who paid for these decisions. It hurt my mother and father but I couldn’t stop.
Once, I was asked in Turkey where I drew the power. And I was joking, “There, in Crimea, is a village, Ay-Serez, I was born there. And in this village live the most stubborn people. Maybe it’s the reason”.
I spent 15 years in prison, often in solitary confinement. And now I live in a big city and there’s no such a day when somebody doesn’t come to me and ask for an autograph or a picture.
It long seemed to me that I’d forgotten how to cry. Until 1992, when in the building next to the mosque the gas cylinder exploded. In the fire, two children died. We came from Mejlis, I wandered on the ashes. The children were already taken away but I stumbled upon the school notebook. I don’t remember this but the friends said: “You only got this notebook in the hands, and started crying”.
Young people must know that if they don’t value, defend and develop their democratic rights, they will return to the sombre past. And starting from the very beginning is much more difficult.
I will be never forced to reject my duties entrusted with honor, conscience and national dignity.
About the faith
Religious holidays are always bright days for us. However, in the Soviet times, they were limited: those who went to the mosque were scolded. Nevertheless, Uraza-Bayram remained the brightest day. In childhood, we’re looking forward to it: dressed in clean clothes, the mother bought us canvas shoes, the cheapest but new. We wore them only on holidays.
The faith has always helped me. In tough days, the only hope is for The Almighty. Of course, I’m a believer but I don’t visit the mosque five times a day.
I remember when I first came to Kaaba, our spokesman said, “Mustafa, when a person sees Kaaba, he must tell Allah his inmost wishes, and they will surely come true.” After a while, he asked me what was my wish to The Almighty. I answered, “Asked Allah for national-territorial autonomy within Ukraine”. “Mustafa Ağa, what did you do!!!”, he cried.
About the prison, hunger strike and wife
I prepared myself for the first day in jail. I saw how the others were arrested, those who opposed the system, demanding the returning of the Crimean-Tatars to Crimea, I knew that my turn would be soon. When my friends were convicted of the anti-Soviet agitation, I understood that the long battle is ahead and it would touch me. The regime needed enemies of the state, and we weren’t going to surrender.
A long-lasting and suffering starvation was the hardest part of the prison in Omsk. I worried a lot… To tell the truth, I was afraid to break down. And that I could surrender. I hid a blade with me, hoping that in any case, I would have enough power to cut the veins.
I got acquainted with my wife in prison through lettering. She found out about the man who had been starving for 303 days. And thought: “This one is OK without eating, he must be taken”. And then it turned out that everything is far more serious. It turned out that I should be fed.
We’re the freest people in the Soviet Union. That’s why we weren’t afraid, didn’t hide our thoughts. We talked about the things that even a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union couldn’t say. But this freedom cost a lot. And not everyone could afford it.
I felt my people with me. The Crimean-Tatars supported me, believed in me. I couldn’t disappoint them. I had a firm conviction that if you started something, bring it to the end, the surrender isn’t listed in my code of honour.
About Crimea and Ukraine
When we (the Crimean Tatars) were finally allowed to return to our historic homeland, I was on a plane with a girl. When we landed she asked me whether I like Simferopol. And I answered with a question: “And you, do you like our Crimea?”. She froze, didn’t know how to react. I added: “It’s our land”.
The occupation of Crimea has become a tragedy for hundreds of thousands of people, including those who fluttered the flags, supporting the invaders.
I was robbed of the motherland. And I’m not the only one who suffers. The whole Crimean-Tatar land suffers. The methods of Russian special services are more horrible than I saw in the last century. Then there was a procedure. Now, they do whatever they want.
I think Crimea will be back and venal people will leave earlier than the Russian soldiers. Crimea has everything to be not worse than Switzerland, it should be the place for the most attractive people, where they can rest, without any conflict.
I promised not to die until Crimea will be ours again. I tell the friends that it’s a desertion to die before the Crimea is liberated, so stay strong.
I know that Ukraine will be a democratic state, a member of the European family. A country integrated into the North Atlantic block. As life showed, it’s very difficult for us to guarantee our security, territorial integrity, having such a neighbor.
About the Crimean-Tatars
We aren’t a Crimean-Tatar community, but the Crimean-Tatar people living in our land. We aren’t even a national minority, but the indigenous people of Crimea.
The Crimean Tatars returned to their homeland not because of the Black Sea, but because of their historic homeland, and when another person comes, a soldier, they’re ready to sacrifice a lot.
The main merit of the Crimean-Tatar national movement is that we’re able to escape the bloodshed in our struggle. We’ve demonstrated that human life is in the first place, speaking about our rights and the rights of others, we can get out of difficult situations without blood.
98-99% of the Crimean-Tatars don’t accept the occupation of the Crimea and dream about the Russian authorities leaving the territory, but Russia wants to force all to make its citizens.
We know what Russia is because we are battling with Russia since 1783. We’ve experienced less effect of russification, and then we had a well-formed national movement for a long time, with all the structures, almost all people were involved.
The Mejlis of the Crimean-Tatars is an elected body of the people. And when the Mejlis declared that it didn’t recognize occupation, required the withdrawal of the Russian troops – that was, in fact, the opinion of the whole nation.
About Ukrainian political prisoners in Russia
I consider the exchange of Ukrainian political prisoners for Russian prisoners irrational and incorrect. One thing when the captives are exchanged, the other – when innocent people arrested for non-recognition of occupation are exchanged for bloody killers who will continue to commit murders. It immoral, unfair.
To exchange Sentsov for somebody isn’t interesting for Putin. Because the lives of the Russian captives aren’t a big deal for him. They’re the worn out material. Although, I have to say that this method of exchange is not very moral. Who is Sentsov, Balukh? They’re absolutely innocent people. They’re the patriots of their own country. They didn’t commit the crime, more so against the Russian Federation… They stand for the territorial integrity of their country.
About Russia and Putin
When I was given a piece of paper on a ban on entering into Russia for five years at the Simferopol airport, it was both sad and funny. A bitter irony of fate. Once, I came from Russian Magadan to my native Crimea. Who knew that Russia would have burst into my life again. But I’ll come back home. Our people are used to troubles.
Totalitarian regimes are unpredictable. They behave as though they were eternal. And then the collapse comes unexpectedly. Russia can collapse tonight, maybe next week, and maybe God knows when. Therefore, it’s difficult to make any predictions.
When I spoke to Putin on the phone four days before the referendum, he told me how he would make the Crimean-Tatars happy, promised to solve social problems in a few months and said that Russia is a big country, it would do more in a few months than Ukraine had done for 23 years of independence.
I said to Putin: “Thank you for the offer, the Crimean-Tatars are in a difficult position, but mainly because Russia at the time committed genocide of the Crimean-Tatar people and deported the indigenous population. And, of course, Russia is responsible for the situation in which we now appeared.”
There’re such words in the Chechen song: “… and a man should be the one who can say that he was wrong.” Putin won’t say this.
When he realizes that his criminal policy is very costly for him and his immediate environment, then they will change their behaviour.
We have the only demand – go away from our territories.
Text by Dmytro Zhuravel
The publication was collected from numerous interviews, speeches, and appeals of the material’s protagonist.