Russian news agency RIA Novosti is reporting the Crimea government is asking Crimean Tatars, who only make up 15% of the population, to vacate their land and move to assigned lands. Crimean Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Temirgaliyev said the government wants to regulate the lands.
“We have asked the Crimean Tatars to vacate part of their land, which is required for social needs,” Temirgaliyev said. “But we are ready to allocate and legalize many other plots of land to ensure a normal life for the Crimean Tatars,” he said.
The Tatars lived in fear after Ukraine’s parliament deposed Russia-backed president Viktor Yanukovych and Russia occupied the peninsula. On March 16, Crimeans voted to receive more autonomy in Ukraine or join Russia. Exit polls on Sunday showed over 90% of Crimeans voted to join the Russian Federation. Tatar leaders encouraged the population to boycott the referendum amid anxiety that history would repeat itself. After World War II, Joseph Stalin deported the Tatars, who were the majority in the peninsula, to Central Asia. Most did not return until the late 1980s. The Tatars expressed fear in the days leading up to the March 16 referendum. Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev talked to Reuters on March 15.
“We Crimean Tatars believe that we are the ones who will suffer most,” Dzhemilev, former head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, its top body of representatives, told Reuters in a Kiev hotel next to parliament.
“Opinions are being expressed among Crimean Tatars that a new deportation is possible. There is a feeling that we have fought to return to our homeland for 50 years and it would be better to die here rather than undergo a new deportation.”
“This cannot be ruled out. We are getting information that bandit groups known as self-defense units are behaving in a very brazen fashion…They are so far not hurting Crimean Tatars, but if clashes do take place it will be difficult to stop this later.”
Temirgaliyev said over 30% Tatars voted to join Russia, but in the Reuters interview, Dzhemilev said the group was in favor of the new Kyiv government. Many Tatars already left Crimea and sought shelter in western Ukraine.
Other Tatars told The Washington Post that pro-Russian forces confiscated their Ukrainian passports and promised Russian passports after the referendum. One women even put a cross on her gate so the forces would think she is not a Tatar. Men took turns guarding mosques in fear of vandalism.
Concern escalated on March 17 when the body of 38-year-old Reshat Ametov was found two weeks after he disappeared. His family said he took part in a protest in Simferopol. There were signs of torture on his body.
Ayder Ismailov, a member of the Crimean human rights nongovernmental organization Arkadash, said “this wasn’t an ordinary death, it was a kind of genocide, an inhuman crime, and we understand that we have to come together and consolidate and be very wary, because I’m convinced this is only the beginning.”
Temirgaliyev promised Tatars will be treated with respect and placed in high positions of the new government.