Thursday, June 12, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Crimean Muftiate Speaks Out as Russian Occupiers Ignore Crimean Tatars

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 12 – As the Russian occupation authorities in Crimea continue to force out Crimean Tatars from positions of responsibility and exclude them from policy discussions, the Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) there is playing a more prominent role in speaking out about Crimean Tatar concerns, especially in the area of “disappearances.”

            In an appeal sent to the occupation government, the Crimean MSD called on the new powers that be to take “all necessary measures to investigate the disappearance of people on the territory of the peninsula,” investigate crimes and bring those responsible to justice, and prevent more criminal activity (

            Beginning in mid-March, the appeal says, there have been a number of “disappearances” which remain unsolved.  That there appears to be no progress in that direction, it adds, threatens to undermine “the inter-ethnic and inter-confessional concord” which had been carefully develop “over the course of the 23 years” between the end of the USSR and the Russian Anschluss.

            The Crimean MSD talks about problems that affect far more than just the Crimean Tatar or Muslim communities of the Ukrainian peninsula, but this appeal also reflects a disturbing new reality: the forcing out of Crimean Tatar officials from positions of responsibility and the exclusion of Crimean Tatars from policy discussions.

            Last week, the Crimean Tatar deputy prime minister was forced out as were a number of other Crimean Tatars at a lower level, and this week, the occupation regime held a meeting with representatives of virtually all the region’s ethnic minorities, with the conspicuous exception of the Crimean Tatars (

            At least in part, this pattern reflects the fact that the Crimean Tatars overwhelmingly reject the legitimacy of Russia’s occupation of their homeland, seeing it as a possible prelude to “a new deportation.”  But it also appears to reflect a decision by the new authorities to exclude and undermine anyone with connections to the Milli Mejlis and Mustafa Cemilev.

            Among the consequences of that approach are likely to be both growing radicalism among the Crimean Tatars, something the occupation authorities may hope for in order to exploit any such trend among them, and an expanded role for the Crimean MSD as one of the last effective channels of communication between the Crimean Tatars and the Russian occupiers.

            This in turn has two additional consequences which bear watching.  On the one hand, it means that at least some of the Crimean Tatar appeals are going to take on a Muslim shading because of who is making them, although yesterday’s appeal is striking in its non-denominational and non-ethnic approach.

            And on the other, the Russian occupation authorities are likely to use this development, one that they have in effect created, to portray the Crimean Tatar national movement as an Islamic or even Islamist, something Sebastopol and Moscow undoubtedly believe would be an effective means of reducing Western support for the Crimean Tatars.

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