Several months ago, Eskender Bariiev, the head of the Crimean Tatar Resource Centre, gave me a book My Father is a Hero. The essays, which were translated into English, are stories told by Crimean Tatar children about their fathers – political prisoners, missing or killed in Crimea by the Kremlin occupants. It hurts to read it and see photos of cute little boys and girls. It hurts more when you realize that there are more such children after the Russian repressions on March 27.
Accused of terrorism
On March 28, a flash mob to support Crimean Tatar activists took place near the Simferopol Kyivsky District Administration controlled by Russia. Family members and friends of the detained activists were holding papers which said “We are Crimean Solidarity” and “Return Parents to 166 Children”. Only after the last repressions, more than 50 children were left without their fathers. Some even never saw their fathers. On April 2, Lutfiye Zudiyeva, an activist, posted on her Facebook that Izzet Abdullayev who had been detained had his daughter born on that day. Zudiyeva asked people to congratulate the family on their daughter’s birthday in the comments. She promised to tell all the wishes to Izzet’s wife and to the arrested man through his lawyer. In some days, she wrote she had done it.
In the morning on March 27, FSB, Ministry of the Armed Forces of Russia and Federal National Guard Troops Service searched several houses of Crimean Tatar people who have allegedly been collaborated with the prohibited organization Hizb ut-Tahrir. Those people lived in the villages of Strohanivtsi, Volodymyryvtsi and Simferopol’s neighborhood Kamianka. According to Liudmyla Denisova, a Commissioner for Human Rights in Ukraine, most of the detained public activists visited Ukrainian political prisoners and attended court sessions in Rostov-on-Don.
Mass searches and arrests took place on the day of 5th Anniversary of United Nations General Assembly Resolution on Territorial Integrity of Ukraine. Eskender Bariiev, a member of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, called it a deliberate raid to intimidate people. He says it is connected with the Resolution mentioned above.
“The second reason is 5th Anniversary of “joining” Crimea to Russia,” Bariiev explained to Opinion. “They planned mass events to show the world that everybody on the peninsula is satisfied with Crimea being a part of Russia. On the other hand, in February-March, we were arranging events referred to the Crimean resistance to the Russian occupation. Protest acts took place in different capitals of western countries. International organizations – NATO, OSCE, European Parliament, the US Congress, and State Department, made clear statements towards it. The first thing is that they don’t admit the annexation of Crimea, the second is that sanctions used to influence Putin’s retinue, but now it concerns personally him. Sanctions against Russia have also been boosted.”
Searches were held in 26 houses at once. They broke open doors and windows, didn’t allow the presence of lawyers. They also searched those who came to support people. FSB was capturing almost everybody who was there on video. 23 people were detained and accused of terrorism. A location of one of the suspects– Edem Yayachikov – is unknown. During the search, he wasn’t at home. Later, his car was found in Simferopol. Lawyers say Yayachikov was also detained but occupants don’t say. On March 27-28, a so-called Simferopol Court sentenced all the arrested to be detained until May 15. With masks on their heads, they were taken by plane to the Rostov region, where they are kept in five remand prisons.
“Those weren’t searches but raids in several Crimean Tatar districts at once, with surrounding, combing-out, searching houses and detaining people in different parts of Crimea at once,” Lenur Isliamov, the president of the World Congress of Crimean Tatars, said to Opinion. “The strategic aim is not to detain exact people but to intimidate Crimean Tatars, make more people leave the peninsula. They detain mostly those who made reports from kangaroo courts. It is their tactics – to stop the information about national repressions coming from Crimea.
Intimidations will go on
“The March 27 case is principally new. First, because it is the biggest one. Second, it happened when there is a new head of FSB in Crimea (Leonid Mykhailiuk – ED.),” Olha Skrypnyk, a coordinator of the Crimean Human Rights Group, told Opinion. “Third, it is the first time when the detained were taken by plane from Crimea to Rostov-on-Don. It indicates that the operation was planned beforehand and well organized. Until that, investigation used to be conducted in Crimea by local investigators. Now, investigators from Krasnodar and other Russian regions are involved. It is a very unusual situation when it concerns Hizb ut-Tahrir charges. “
According to Skrypnyk, they might have sent the detained to Russia because the Russian authorities want to join Crimean cases with others. This way, the Crimean aspect will dissolve in a general Russian problem. However, Skrypnyk isn’t sure whether the raids are connected with the anniversary of the UN General Assembly Resolution. Russians must have wanted to conduct the operation before the first round of the Presidential Election in Ukraine. As the Russian authorities are very concerned about the Ukrainian new President.
“New detentions may occur. Perhaps, they will be connected with Muslims or other groups of people. For example, last year, Jehovah’s Witnesses were firstly prosecuted,” Olha Skrypnyk says. “A new FSB head might choose a new method of prosecuting religious groups which the Kremlin doesn’t control. New cases of so-called diversionists, spies, may also occur. Russia can use it to drop sanctions in exchange for releasing certain people or increasing the pressure on the EU by intimidating.”
“The occupants have moved to the next stage – they are trying to intimidate activists who support their compatriots, that’s why new searches or arrests may happen,” Eskender Bariiev thinks. We have to do our best to run supporting actions for these people. The world community has to react appropriately because this lawlessness won’t stop if the prime cause isn’t abolished. And the prime cause is the occupants.”
According to the Crimean Human Rights Group, at the beginning of April, remand prisons and penal establishments had at least 84 people (Crimean criminal cases), without taking into account 24 seafarers (POWs) imprisoned in Moscow. There are 106 persons from Crimea illegally prosecuted and kept in Russian prisons,” Eskender Bariiev says. Lenur Isliamov reports the same number of Crimean political prisoners.
Like Catherine the Great
The Kremlin repressions on the peninsula have become the toughest in the last years. Thus, Mustafa Dzemilev, the head of the Crimean Tatar people, said in an interview to a foreign newspaper that Russia acts in Crimea like Catherine the Great did, making Crimean Tatars flee, and inviting Russians to settle down on the peninsula. According to him, 10 % out of 300 thousand Crimean Tatars were forced to leave their native land.
“The occupation government is conducting the policy of making indigenous people of Crimean Tatars and pro-Ukrainian activists leave. They’re intimidating people by the mass raids,” Eskender Bariiev says. “The government is also making Crimean Tatars look like Muslims-terrorists to show the western world, our main international-level defender, that Crimean Tatars are dangerous because of belonging to the Muslim terrorists. The point is that before this case, FSB didn’t find any evidence against people who were accused of affiliation to Hizb ut-Tahrir, but this time, FSB planted terrorism-themed books.”
Reactions on Russian enforcers’ actions came immediately. On March 27, Ukraine addressed the EU towards searches of Crimean Tatar activists’ homes. The same day, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine stated that the searches can become the start of a new wave of prosecuting Crimean Tatars. The occupants’ actions were condemned by the EU, the UN, the USA, Great Britain, Turkey. The world called Russia for releasing all the illegally detained people.
Lenur Isliamov reckons repressions against Crimean Tatar will be getting more mass and severe. He reckons the only resistance to it can be the following, “We have to persuade the West to react on prosecution on the ethnic basis by boosting sanctions because it is a crime against humanity. Ukraine has to immediately admit legally Crimean Tatars an indigenous people of Ukraine and give them the rights on their land. Crimean Tatars have been discriminated for centuries! Our country has to make changes in the Constitution, turning the Autonomous Republic of Crimea into the Crimean Tatar Autonomy as part of Ukraine, that’ll be the full stop in this issue. Then, Ukraine has to put the question to the world community. We not just have to return the occupied territory, we have to save the people who are being repressed on the ethnic basis.”
The world has to know about it
Famous Ukrainians told Opinion whether it is possible to protect Crimean residents, Crimean Tatars in particular, from the occupational government acting outrageously.
Akhtem Seitablayev, actor, director:
“Unfortunately, we can’t protect Crimean residents physically. But we are obliged to make everything we can. I mean we have to speak about it on all the international platforms.”
Iryna Virtosu, a journalist at ZMINA Human Rights Information Center, an author of the book Crimean Album: Stories of Human Rights Defenders:
“If there is a political put-up job, I doubt that it is possible to protect Crimean Tatars and political Ukrainians (who express their pro-Ukrainian ideas or challenge decisions of so-called local authorities towards construction on a public beach or deforestation). I guess the only way to protect them is to make all these illegal searches, arrests, detentions public. We have to inform media, write about it in social networks, make foreign countries learn about it. If the occupational government knows that all its illegal actions are documented and watched by the world community, it might restrain them from doing all these brutal actions.”
Anvar Derkach, a journalist, Muslim:
“Ukraine can’t protect its citizens in Crimea from searches and arrests because Ukraine doesn’t control the territory of the peninsula. But we can and have to provide informational support via informing international institutions. One more possibility to support convicted Crimean Tatars who are imprisoned in Russia is through diplomatic missions, international and Russian human rights organizations. I mean visiting the prisoners, bringing all the needed, observing the conditions of imprisonment, payment for legal assistance to those who are illegally imprisoned there. We also should support those who are now in Crimea and are supporting the arrested. At first, we should create such conditions in Ukraine for them so they could have a rest here, mentally and physically, could feel Ukraine is their state which is protecting them as it can.”
Gayanna Yuksel, a Counsellor for the Minister of Sport and Youth of Ukraine on Crimea and Crimean Tatar issues, a member of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People:
“Unfortunately, there is no direct way to protect citizens of Ukraine in the temporarily occupied Crimea. Because de-facto, the territory of the peninsula isn’t controlled by Ukraine. Since it was occupied, Ukrainian diplomats, lawyers, human rights defenders, journalists haven’t had open access there. Besides, Russia refuses to exchange POWs and political prisoners. But anyway, we have to keep on supporting our citizens in Crimea: in different regards – diplomatic and political (inside the country and internationally with partner countries), in a legal (collecting information about cases), social and humanitarian (supporting our citizens and their families, children of political prisoners), informational (spreading the information, working with citizens). All these support our people in Crimea. If we don’t speak here in Ukraine, crimes and repressions in Crimea will be getting more severe.”
By Viktor Tsvilikhovsky