Sunday, March 30, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Crimean Tatars Reaffirm Choice to Pursue Autonomy within Ukraine

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 30 – Refat Chubarov, the chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars, reaffirmed in comments to the BBC that the Crimean Tatar nation does not recognize Russia’s annexation of their homeland and that they are recommitting themselves to the establishment of a national-territorial autonomy in Crimea.

            In making these decisions, the Kurultay, which is the broader assembly of the Crimean Tatars, directed the Mejlis to develop relations with the United Nations, the OSCE, and others as well as with the governments of individual countries and to call on these bodies and countries to support “the right of the Crimean Tatar people to self-determination” (

            “Crimea is the historical territory on which the Crimean Tatar ethnos was formed and which had its own national statehood,” Chubarov said. In their actions now, he continued, they proceed from the fact that “in our days a change in the status of Crimea has been carried out without the agreement and clearly expressed will of the Crimean Tatar people.”

            Many, perhaps the overwhelming majority of Crimean Tatars did not take part in that Russian-organized measure, and when Moscow announced that the annexation of the peninsula had been approved, the Crimean Tatars announced their intention to renew the efforts of their own national liberation movement. This declaration appears to be a confirmation of that.

            Moscow is certain to be furious about this given that the Crimean Tatars do have allies outside their homeland, Turkey in the first instance but also the Turkic republics within the Russian Federation and in Central Asia. Moreover, it gives Kyiv additional leverage against Moscow which has insisted that the Anschluss of Crimea is an act of national self-determination.

            In responding to the principled position of the Crimean Tatars, the Kremlin continues to find itself confronted with a Hobson’s choice: if it fails to make concessions to the Crimean Tatars, it will enflame opinion among them and only spark more sympathy among these various allies.

            But if it does make concessions of any kind to the Crimean Tatars, Moscow will infuriate the ethnic Russian majority in Crimea which the Russian government had forced to offer more to the Crimean Tatars before the referendum in the hopes of attracting more of that nation to its “referendum.”

            More than that, if it makes such concessions, Vladimir Putin and his regime will simultaneously undercut the Russian nationalist rhetoric that they have been playing up  and trigger demands by Turkic groups within the Russian Federation for greater autonomy on the Crimean model.

            There are two places in particular where the latter is likely to occur: among the Chuvash, a Christian Turkic nation in the Middle Volga whose members have been increasingly angry about how Moscow has treated them, and the Balkars and Karachays in the North Caucasus, two Turkic nations currently locked in Stalin-created bi-national republics with Circassian groups.

            Given the position the Crimean Tatars have adopted, the crisis point with regard to them is likely to be reached very soon.  They, like other residents of Crimea, have been told that they have 30 days to take Russian citizenship or face the prospect that they will be treated as migrants (on their own land) with significantly reduced rights.

            Few Crimean Tatars are likely going to be willing to change their citizenship status especially after the Kurultay declaration and even though some of their Russian neighbors have sparked fears about what people are already calling “a soft deportation” to other parts of Ukraine by their question: “when are you going to leave because we like your house?”


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