Crimean Tatars Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Russia Deportation
May 18, 2014 is the 70th anniversary of Josef Stalin deporting over 200,000 Crimean Tatars to Central Asia on suspicion of corroborating with Hitler and the Nazis. The majority died on the way, including women and children, and most did not even begin the journey home until the 1980s.
The Tatars are again under Russian rule and oppressive attitudes towards them by Moscow are slowly creeping in. On Friday, just two days before ceremonies to observe the anniversary, Crimean Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov banned all gatherings in the peninsula until June 6. Despite the ban, Crimean Tatars commemorated the anniversary in at a mosque in the Crimean capital Simferopol.
"People, homeland, Crimea!" the crowd chanted. One banner read: "Eternal remembrance for the victims of genocide - the Crimean Tatars."
Tatar community leaders, including the head of the Mejlis assembly, Refat Chubarov, and Crimea's chief mufti made an appeal to the crowd for unity from a stage in the Ak Mechet district.
"We didn't think we'd be marking the anniversary under these circumstances," Chubarov said, "I don't have a solution to our problems, but I know that we will only be respected if we are united."
Mufti Emirali Ablaev led prayers for the deceased ancestors of those present and called for dialogue with the region's new leadership.
Looking up at the helicopters, Ablaev told the crowd: "They are watching us, they are afraid of us."
Journalists in Crimea took pictures and video of rallies not only in Crimea, but also in Kyiv. Crimean government will not allow Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev to return to the peninsula. He attended a rally in Kyiv.
A report from the United Nations noted many human rights violations towards the Tatars in Crimea. Homes have been raided on trumped up charges and the Crimean government threatened the Tatars with a crackdown if their “extremist activities” continue. No one could or would clarify the specifics of the activities.