Crimea’s Tatar Factor…

Who Will Protect the Crimean Tatars?


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by ALEXEY MALASHENKO – The “Islamic factor” in the Crimean crisis has received relatively little attention so far. It is inconspicuous, especially in light of the fact that the peninsula looks free of interethnic strife and religious conflicts during these troubled times.

However, the complexities of Crimean ethnoreligious realities should not be ignored. While the statistics are quite muddled, 300,000 Muslims, 12-13 percent of the total population, do live in Crimea. We should not forget that political uncertainty may translate into ethnic and religious tensions in no time. The Tatar views on the future of Crimea should also be taken into account. Incidentally, the Tatars are not planning to secede from Crimea and join Russia as of yet.

In fact, the Crimean Muslim community is rather diverse in its views. Most Tatars are moderate, preserving the memory of Ismail Gaspirali, a renowned 20th-century reformer. At the same time, a significant segment of Muslim youth is quite radical. These people share Salafi attitudes; they sympathize and communicate with their ideological companions in the North Caucasus. These connections date back to the time of the Chechen wars. We know that dozens (quite possibly even hundreds) of wounded militants received medical treatment in Crimea under the watchful eye of their Tatar allies.

Radical ideas continue to spread around Crimea. Several Islamic cells have recently sprung up. Evidently, these are the local branches of Muslim Brotherhood and Hizb ut-Tahrir. The latter has already gained a foothold in Russia and is now trying to do the same in Crimea. Hizb-ut Tahrir, which is outlawed in Russia and Central Asian countries, has already tried to organize its conference in Simferopol, receiving some support from the local Tatars. Full analysis.


Walking a Tightrope over Crimea


Dorian Jones – The Russian-Ukrainian crisis over Crimea is forcing Turkey into a delicate balancing act: Ankara feels a need to be seen as a protector of the peninsula’s Tatar minority, yet it does not want to vex Russia’s paramount leader Vladimir Putin in a way that complicates Turkish-Russian economic arrangements.

There are abundant reasons why Turkey is taking a close interest in Crimean developments. Crimea operated as a vassal khanate of Ottoman Empire from the 1470s until 1783. In addition, Turks are bound by a strong cultural connection to Crimean Tatars, an ethnic minority group that comprises roughly 15 percent of Crimea’s population. The number of ethnic Tatars now living in Turkey — most of them descendants of those who left Crimea following its 1783 annexation by the Russian Empire — is estimated in the hundreds of thousands.

For all the historical and cultural factors in play, though, it may be domestic political considerations that are the primary factor in shaping the government’s posture on the Tatar-Crimea issue. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been seriously wounded politically in recent weeks by allegations of large-scale corruption within his inner circle and family. He is now scrambling to reinforce his political base as he prepares for his first electoral test since the corruption scandal broke, local elections slated for March 30. Full analysis.


Who Will Protect the Crimean Tatars?


Natalia Antelava – There are about three hundred thousand Crimean Tatars on the peninsula, and although they constitute only fifteen per cent of its population they have great political significance. If they do not back the upcoming referendum, it will be far more difficult for the pro-Moscow government in Crimea to legitimize what is in effect a Russian annexation of the peninsula.

At first, Rustem Kadyrov could barely make out the mark outside his house, in the Crimean town of Bakhchysarai, but it filled him with terror. It was an X, cut deep into the gray metal of the gate, and its significance cut even deeper, evoking a memory Kadyrov shares with all Crimean Tatars. Kadyrov, who is thirty-one, grew up hearing stories about marks on doors. In May of 1944, Stalin ordered his police to tag the houses of Crimean Tatars, the native Muslim residents of the peninsula. Within a matter of days, all of them—almost two hundred thousand people—were evicted from their homes, loaded onto trains, and sent to Central Asia, on the pretext that the community had collaborated with the Nazi occupation of Crimea.

Kadyrov’s grandmother, Sedeka Memetova, who was eight at the time, was among those deported. “The soldiers gave us five minutes to pack up,” she told me, when I visited the family on Thursday. “We left everything behind.” Memetova still has vivid memories of her journey into exile: the stench of the overcrowded train carriage, the wailing of a pregnant woman who sat next to her, and the solemn faces of the men who had to lower the bodies of their children off of the moving train—the only way, she said, to dispose of the dead. Four of her siblings were among the thousands of Crimean Tatars who never even made it to their final destination, Uzbekistan.

Starting in the nineteen-sixties, the Soviet Union began to allow survivors of the deportation to return. Memetova and her family came back to Crimea almost three decades ago, in 1987. This weekend, at around 3 P.M. on Saturday, Memetova’s forty-four-year-old daughter, Ava, looked out the window and saw four young men, strangers to the neighborhood, walking down the street, armed with batons. The men were also carrying pieces of paper, Ava told me—which she believes were lists of homes belonging to Crimean Tatars. Seventy years after Memetova’s deportation, her house had been marked once again. “Just as we thought we finally had a future,” she said. “How could anyone do this in the twenty-first century?” Full story.


Putin Triumphs in Ukraine


By Andranik MIGRANYAN – As concerns Eastern Ukraine, here the situation is more serious. The East will want, at a minimum, federalization. What level of autonomy these regions will gain can only be determined after a legitimate government is formed in Kiev.
This will be a true exit from the crisis without civil war and without violence, but should there all of a sudden be mad attempts from the West or from Kiev to impose their own views and order on the pro-Russian territories with force, they will receive a very strong rebuff. In such a scenario Russia will not remain in the sidelines, because it will be exactly the scenario for which Putin asked the Federation Council to authorize military force in Ukraine—to check a threat to the lives and security of the Russian citizens and Russian-speaking population in Ukraine.

Who Won, Who Lost

We can say that the Ukrainian West and the West as a whole lost in Ukraine. After the Orange Revolution in 2005, I was the only Russian analyst who, to the bafflement of many in Russia, Ukraine and in the West, said unequivocally that while presidents win elections with the support of the East and the South, this prevents the mobilization of those regions to their own ends. Leonid Kuchma and Leonid Kravchuk understood how dangerous it is to make quick moves while (…) Full analysis.


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