Crimean Tatars met and demanded autonomy in Crimea since Russia annexed the peninsula from Ukraine. They openly supported the new government in Kyiv and boycotted the March 16 referendum to join Russia.
The Tatars used to be the majority in Crimea, but after World War II, Soviet Union leader Josef Stalin deported them to Central Asia. They only started to migrate back to their homeland in the 1980s and make up 15% of the population. Now they live in fear they will face the same retaliation from Moscow.
Crimean Tatars’ assembly leader Refat Chubarov told more than 200 delegates: “In the life of every nation there comes a time when it must make decisions that will determine its future.”
“I ask you to approve … the start of political and legal procedures aimed at creating ethnic and territorial autonomy of the Crimean Tatars of their historic territory of Crimea.”
The assembly subsequently voted in favor of his proposal, made in the Crimean Tatars historic capital of Bakhchisaray. Chubarov said he expected both Kiev and Moscow to react to the decision to seek autonomy.
Two Russia Muslims attended the meeting and tried to convince the Tatars to work with Moscow. However, on March 19, Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported the Crimea government asked the Tatars to vacate their land and move to assigned lands.
Before the March 16 referendum, Tatars told the Washington Post how pro-Russian forces confiscated their Ukraine passports and promised they would receive Russian passports. Another woman put a cross on her door so the forces would think she was Christian and not a Tatar.
Many Tatars already left Crimea for Ukraine’s mainland.