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The following paper prepared for the ESRC funded Project "Fuzzy Statehood" and European Integration in Central and Eastern Europe (ref. L213252001), the University of Birmingham, UK. Reproduced here with permission. We are grateful to Dr. Natalya Belitser for making this very important paper available to a wider audience on the Web. Her e-mail is:natbel@orlyk.kiev.us


"Indigenous Status" for the Crimean Tatars in Ukraine:
A History of a Political Debate

Part I

...Crimean Tatars are returning to Crimea not to pursue an improvement of their socio/economic position. They are returning to their historic Motherland - the only place where we have any chances of saving our national identity, and hope for the rebirth of our nation and all those cultural values that were crushed by the Bolshevik regime.

Mustafa Dzhemilev, MP of Ukraine, Chair of the Mejlis of Crimean Tatar people,
speaking at a roundtable, Kyiv, 28 September 2000. [3]

Currently, ...there is a dangerous confrontation and growing ethno-political tension in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, first of all, between the illegitimate Mejlis of Crimean Tatar people and local representative and executive authorities. The leadership of the Mejlis... resorts to destructive methods like one-sided demands, and threats of conducting civil disobedience actions....

Leonid Hrach, Speaker of the Crimean parliament, Head of the Crimean branch of
the Communist Party of Ukraine. Statement at the session of the PACE Committee
on Migration, Refugees and Demography, Strasbourg, 5 April 2000. [4]

Preface

Today, Ukraine remains the only post-Soviet country that has developed and implemented, with some support from the international community, successive state programmes [5] aimed at the repatriation and reintegration of former deportees from Crimea - first and foremost, the Crimean Tatars. [6] These programmes have focused mainly on the most urgent socio-economic needs of repatriates. Legal-political issues, though less costly, were for some time not tackled at all because of numerous controversies, fears of ensuing political and inter-ethnic tensions and other difficulties of an objective and subjective nature. Although the legislative process in Ukraine as a whole is often criticized for its numerous incongruities, gaps, inconsistencies and other deficiencies, the most controversial, hotly contested and confusing part concerns the notion of "indigenous peoples." According to the Ukrainian Constitution of 1996, indigenous peoples, together with the titular ethnos and national minorities, constitute the people of Ukraine, or Ukrainian political nation. At the same time, no legislation has yet been adopted defining which exactly ethnic groups would fall into this category, or what rights and obligations indigenous peoples possess, or specifying their relations with both central and local authorities.

The Emergence of the Issue of the Crimean Tatars as Indigenous People of Crimea

The topic of special rights for the Crimean Tatars, who were returning to Crimea after their forcible mass deportation of 1944 and the almost half a century of living in exile, first surfaced as an important political issue during the debates in the national legislature of Ukraine on 12 February 1991. That whole day the Supreme Council (SC) of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic discussed the then hottest issue of raising the status of the Crimean oblast (then an ordinary oblast of Ukraine) to the level of Crimean Autonomous Republic. In this way, the SC responded to the demand of the Crimean oblast Council to adopt a law implementing the results of the referendum carried out in the separatist, pro-Russian region on 20 January 1991. 81,3 % of eligible voters participated in that referendum, and 93,3 % of them supported the restoration of the Crimean ASSR "as a subject of the USSR and as a party to the new USSR treaty." Almost all of the Crimean Tatars whose spontaneous mass repatriation began in 1989, [7] boycotted the referendum because of recommendations issued by the Organization of Crimean Tatar National Movement (OKND), then the most influential among several nascent political movements within the Crimean Tatar community. According to the OKND, that referendum did not take into account rights and interests of Crimean Tatar returnees, and besides, its outcome might have a dangerous impact on regional stability.

None of the members of the Crimean Tatar delegation who came to Kyiv to present their view on the restoration of Crimean autonomy was allowed to participate in either the parliamentary sittings of 12 February, or in preceding discussions organized jointly by several permanent Committees, though their appeal for admission was supported by some MPs. During the two sittings, a total of 33 MPs took part in the discussion, and almost every speaker referred to the Crimean Tatar factor in the context of Crimean autonomy. But although the Crimean Tatar aspect was constantly addressed, and the solution to be reached would, inevitably, strongly affect the future of their community, this was not perceived at the time as a strong enough argument for allowing the Crimean Tatars' representatives to participate in the discussion.

The SC was at that time very poorly politically structured and could be seen as consisting of two opposed groups - a strong left majority (the so-called Group of 238) and the national-democrats (the People's Rada, later the Congress of National-Democratic forces). There were also a few "independents" who moved between the groups depending on circumstances. It was therefore no surprise that the very rhetoric, even the specific terms and expressions used, displayed totally different, incompatible views and approaches. In fact, these original differences and the arguments presented by the two opposing sides persisted over the next eleven years and can be recognized, with some modifications, in current political debates.

The stenographic report of the debates of 12 February 1991 already contains the argument that formerly deported Crimean Tatars, returning to their homeland, are indigenous people of Crimea. They should, it was stated by the representatives of the national-democrats, therefore have a voice in such discussions, and any decision on the legal status of the disputed territory must be postponed until all of those wishing to return had actually done so. [8] Their opponents, including the Chairman of the Committee on Legislation and Rule of Law, Oleksandr Kotzuba, and the deputy Chair of the Committee on State Sovereignty, Inter-Republic and Inter-Ethnic Relations, Albert Korneyev, avoided, as a rule, naming the Crimean Tatars "a people" (as a subject of self-determination). They instead used the term "Crimean Tatar population," or referred to the will of "all of the peoples of Crimea," expressed in the referendum, as providing a firm basis for granting Crimean autonomy.

The essence of the autonomy - in this instance, defined by the draft law as a "territorial-administrative" arrangement - also caused heated debate concerning the status and the rights to be provided (or not) by this autonomy for the Crimean Tatars. Some deputies, for example, Mr. Volkovets'ky, ("Narodna Rada" faction) and Mr. Shcarban, ("Agrarians" group), proposed to solve this issue by establishing a national territorial autonomy for Crimean Tatars to be named "The Crimean Tatar Autonomous Republic." This proposal was rejected by the left majority as completely unacceptable. Mr. Korneyev, for example, argued that "Russians and Russian-speakers constitute a majority of the population of Crimea" while Nikolai Bagrov, the then Chair of the Crimean regional council, and the First Secretary of the Crimean regional committee of Communist party, stressed that "the Crimean Autonomous SSR, that has to be restored now, was formed in 1921 as a territorial, not a national autonomous unit." Mr. Bagrov also declared that for him and his allies, the very idea of Crimean Tatars as an indigenous people of Crimea made no sense in historically multinational Crimea. [9]

The issue of the Crimean Tatars was repeatedly raised not just by those MPs who seemed genuinely concerned by a fate that would clearly depend on any solution reached. It was also heavily exploited by the proponents of restoring Crimean autonomy according to the proposed draft; they pleaded that this move would also reverse the "historical injustice" of their deportation. But in fact, the Crimean Tatar aspect of the debates was not the main issue at stake. During the final vote, those cast by 253 MPs - more then the established left majority of 238 - signified the emergence of a Crimean Autonomous Republic within Ukrainian SSR. It was obvious that the main stimulus behind this decision, though not so explicitly expressed, was a fear of fueling, through a rejection of demands for autonomy, further separatist passions in Crimea, and the hope of appeasing local pro-Russian and pro-Soviet separatists, thereby weakening their positions. This benevolence of national authorities was meant to demonstrate their respect for "the voice of the people" in Crimea. In this sense, ignoring the voice of Crimean Tatar people was evidently perceived by the decision-makers as being much less dangerous for Ukraine's future, as well as for their own political prospects should violent conflict erupt in Crimea.

The Next Stage: 1991-1996 [10]

Today, it can only be speculated how much the events of February 1991 affected general mood of the Crimean Tatar returnees and in particular, stimulated their political mobilization under the guidance of the OKND. But it seemed plausible that the traumatic experience of not being allowed, in any capacity, to have a voice in a political decision-making process that would have been of paramount importance to their future, as well as quite unfavourable outcome of this process, had an impact on further developments. The law of 12 February 1991 "On the Restoration of the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic" was condemned by the OKND statement of 8 March, because "the determination of the statehood of national territories could not be done by a simple majority of a population that had been resettled from other territories" [i.e., the Russian community]. The OKND appeal to the International Helsinki Committee on human rights stated that one more "Russian-speaking republic" has been created in the ancient Crimean Tatar land, thus violating the rights of the indigenous Crimean Tatar people. Such an assessment of the reanimated Crimean ASSR was fully shared by Rukh - the then most popular Ukrainian movement for independence and democracy. In March 1991, Rukh's Council of Nationalities issued a special Statement on the Situation in Crimea declaring, inter alia, that the Ukrainian state must guarantee strict observance in Crimea of the rights of all nationalities, but first and foremost, of the Crimean Tatars "as the indigenous people having no other Motherland." [11]

One of the most far-reaching reactions to the restoration of the Crimean ASSR was the decision by OKND to convene, in June 1991, the Second Kurultay (National Assembly) of the Crimean Tatar people. [12] The Kurultay lasted for five days (June 26-30) and adopted a number of resolutions, statements and other documents. [13] Perhaps, the most significant of these was the "Declaration on the National Sovereignty of the Crimean Tatar People." It announced the establishment of the Mejlis of Crimean Tatar people - the principal representative body of the whole people between the sessions of Kurultay. It also stated that the only subject of self-determination within the territory of Crimea is the Crimean Tatar people, whose "political, economic, spiritual, and cultural rebirth is possible only in its national sovereign state" and that it would be based on "mutual respect between Crimean Tatars and all other national and ethnic groups" and a strict observance of the rights of "all people irrespective of their ethnic origin." Such a state was defined as the main aim of the Crimean Tatar people to be pursued "using all means provided by the international law." In this and other documents, the hurried restoration of the Crimean ASSR without consulting with the Crimean Tatars was recognized as an attempt to affix by legal means the consequences of the deportation. In the appeals directed to the highest authorities of the USSR and Ukrainian SSR, the United Nations Organization (UNO) and other international organizations, all of them were asked for understanding and support of the Crimean Tatars' peaceful, non-violent struggle for national self-determination by democratic means.

Of course, - as was easily predictable - there was no positive reaction from any of the entities addressed. At the same time, these points of the Declaration have been widely quoted by all of the opponents and adversaries who have rejected any negotiations on special rights for Crimean Tatars relating to their "indigenous status." Since then, the provisions of the Declaration, deliberately taken out of their historical context, [14] have been effectively used by anti-Crimean Tatar propaganda as confirmation of their sinister intentions to establish an ethno-centric Crimean Tatar state, threatening the Slavic population of the peninsula.

Therefore, in retrospect, it could be assumed that not only the actual situation in the Crimea during the late 80s and early 90s, but also the insensitive attitude of the then highest Ukraine's authorities who had neglected the appeals and demands of the Crimean Tatars, provoked a quick and effective mobilization and self-organization of the community, and promoted a certain radicalization of the Crimean Tatar political agenda.

Meanwhile, on 24 August 1991 the Verkhovna Rada (VR) proclaimed Ukraine's independence. This was later confirmed by the convincing results of the all-national referendum of 1 December. [15] This time, the Crimean Tatars, in contrast to their boycotting the Crimean referendum of 20 January 1991 and the USSR referendum of 17 March 1991, did participate, and it appears to be true that it was exactly their votes that ensured the approval, if only by a slight majority, of Ukrainian independence on the territory of Crimea. [16] The Crimean Tatar political elite's position, evidently shared by the Crimean Tatar electorate, can be explained in several ways. First, they firmly believed that any attempt to re-draw the borders of newly independent states would provoke a bloody conflict like those already incited in other post-Soviet regions, and therefore dash any hopes for a peaceful resettlement in Crimea. Second, the Crimean Tatars, as victims of the totalitarian Soviet Empire, naturally welcomed its collapse and hoped that an independent Ukraine would prove to be much more democratic than its Soviet predecessor. The personal contacts and ties of friendship established between the leaders of the Ukrainian movement for independence and leaders of the OKND - who were often imprisoned in the same Soviet GULAGs - might also have contributed to the Crimean Tatars support for Ukrainian independence.

It should be noted that from the very beginning, the fledgling Ukrainian state has shared the concerns of the Crimean Tatars about avoiding violent inter-ethnic conflict in Crimea. Consequently, legal commitments securing minority rights seemed a pivotal issue. Nevertheless, special attention to the plight of the Crimean Tatar returnees was not among the newly independent Ukraine's priorities, nor was their situation recognized by the authorities as a factor crucial to enduring inter-ethnic peace in Crimea, where the main problem remained rising Russian separatism. [17] (The sad evidence of this neglect was made clear, for example, in an incident that occurred in March 1992, when a delegation of Crimean Tatars arrived in Kyiv to organize a protest meeting near the building of the Verkhovna Rada but was dispersed by the militia.) [18] It was therefore no wonder that the peculiarity of the Crimean Tatar situation was ignored by the law "On National Minorities in Ukraine" [19] that was quickly prepared and adopted on 25 June, 1992 - much earlier than in most other post-Soviet republics and countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Nor, at the time, did the political demands of the Crimean Tatars attract any attention from the international community that swiftly appraised the law on national minorities as consistent with the traditions of European liberal democracy, and as one of the best in the region.

Indeed, the definition of national minorities provided by Art. 3 states that national minorities are any groups of Ukrainian citizens who are not ethnically Ukrainian, share a national self-identity, and (voluntarily) associate on this basis. This definition is broader than that usually used in the legislation of other countries because it does not take into consideration the length of time the ethnic groups lived in the lands now under Ukraine's jurisdiction. It follows that no distinction can be made between, for example, Afghani communities comprised mostly of refugees or people recently graduated from the local institutions of higher education, and those Hungarians, Romanians, Poles, Jews etc., who have traditionally inhabited the same lands where they are found today. The Crimean Tatars were not mentioned separately in this law, with the exception of an indirect reference to "representatives of the deported peoples whose return would be decided in accordance with the relevant legislative acts of Ukraine and treaties with other countries" (Art. 10). From the perspective of this law, the Crimean Tatars, whose only homeland is Crimea, can therefore be considered as disadvantaged compared to other "classical" national minorities that have kin-states. For example, according to Art. 7, the state should promote, through (bilateral) international treaties, education in ethnically related countries for members of national minorities.

An important innovation introduced by this law was the creation of the Ministry on Nationalities that would play the leading role in implementing state policy on inter-ethnic relations. This Ministry initiated the drafting of a Concept of Ethno-Politics in Ukraine. The process began in 1993 as a joint venture of MPs, governmental bodies, academics and NGOs, including those representing minorities. This document was meant to lay a foundation for adopting other legislative acts and bills concerning minority rights and inter-ethnic relations in Ukraine.

In contrast to the smoothly passed law on national minorities, this draft drew a distinction between national minorities and indigenous peoples or, more explicitly, the Crimean Tatar people, whose representatives actively participated in the discussions on this matter during regular meetings of an informal and expanded working group. Existing international legal standards were taken into account, particularly, those provisions and definitions found in the Convention Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries (International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 169, 1989, that came into force on 05.09.1991). At the same time, the Ukrainian version of "indigenousness" proceeded from the notion that indigenous peoples are a kind of minority that differ from ordinary national minorities because they have neither a kin-state nor another territory on which they had formed and developed as an ethnos.

Regrettably, these encouraging developments were halted in 1994 after the first President, Leonid Kravchuk, failed to be re-elected, and his successor Leonid Kuchma replaced most of the high-ranking ministerial staff with loyalists. For the Crimean Tatars, the dismissal of Oleksandr Yemets, [20] Minister of Nationalities and Migration, and the subsequent appointment of Mykola Shulga, [21] had rather negative implications. All kinds of formal activities focused on settling general Crimean and specifically Crimean Tatar issues (including further discussions on the Draft Concept of Ethno-Politics in Ukraine), were soon slowed down or stopped completely. As a result, the Concept has still not been submitted for the VR's consideration, and its consecutive continual redrafting by governmental officials appears not to have contributed much to the general quality of the document. [22]

However, notwithstanding the lack of enthusiasm on the part of the officials responsible for developing of the appropriate legal solutions, public interest in the issue did not wane, and public debates on the possibility to provide some specific "indigenous rights" for Crimean Tatars persisted. The matter acquired a new impetus during vigorous discussions on various drafts of the Constitution of Ukraine which proceeded with the active involvement of Ukraine's emergent civil society. It is worth mentioning that a number of NGOs, including those without a single Crimean Tatar member, proposed to supplement the Constitution with clauses concerning the right to self-determination (within the borders of Ukraine) for "indigenous ethnoses" in general, and for securing the rights of the Crimean Tatar people in particular. For this, a quota in the parliament of Ukraine was to be provided for the Crimean Tatars, whereas in the Crimea, its administrative autonomy should have been transformed into a kind of a national-territorial unit with a two-chamber legislature. [23]

Proceedings Following the Adoption of 1996 Constitution

The events described above, particularly the continued, insistent demands of the Crimean Tatars, and the public debates surrounding the different drafts of the Constitution of Ukraine, did have some impact on the attitude of legislators. As a result of a compromise reached by the left and right-centrist wings of the parliament, the notion of "indigenous peoples" was, for the first time, introduced into the Ukrainian legal terminology with the actual adoption of the Constitution in the turbulent night session of 28 June, 1996. Though the term was used in three of the articles, no specific ethnic groups eligible for this status were named, nor were the rights to which they were entitled defined, leaving these issues to be further addressed by separate legislative acts. [24] Only in this manner was it possible to reconcile those MPs who were struggling to satisfy the insistent demands of the Crimean Tatars for indigenous status, and those who bitterly opposed such a move, or any similar move singling out the Crimean Tatar people.

Very soon after the adoption of the Constitution, in compliance with Art. 92 par. 3, [25] the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine formed a Working Group responsible for preparing a Draft Concept of National Policy of Ukraine Concerning Indigenous Peoples, and a Draft Law on the Status of the Crimean Tatar People. In a few months the Working Group accomplished the task [26], and by the end of 1996 both drafts were ready for further processing.

The Draft Concept listed the following objective criteria for the determination of those ethnic groups in Ukraine that could be regarded as indigenous peoples: (a) descent from ancestors who had traditionally inhabited certain geographical regions of Ukraine in its current state borders; (b) the preservation of a cultural, linguistic, and/or religious group identity which differs from that of the titular ethnos and the identities of national minorities of Ukraine, and a desire to further maintain and develop this identity; (c) the existence of distinct historical traditions, social institutions, a system and organs of self-governance and other traditional institutions; and (d) the absence of an ethnically related national state or motherland beyond Ukraine's borders. It can be seen that apart from those criteria usually used by international law, [27] the last point reflects an important addition justified by the existing realities and differences in the situations of the various ethnic groups in Ukraine. [28]

Reckoning also with the subjective criterion, namely, the expressed wish of a given ethnic group to identify with the community of indigenous peoples, [29] the draft made it clear that in Ukraine today only the Crimean Tatars satisfy all of the appropriate criteria. Concerning the two other problematic groups, the Krymchaks and Karaits, it was suggested that for them, the necessary pre-condition would be to develop the mechanisms for expressing their desire for such a status, and to establish bodies of self-governance authorized to speak on behalf of the whole group. The draft also addressed the issue of the Crimean Tatars as not only indigenous, but also formerly deported people, with the ensuing need for a number of special measures aimed at promoting their return, resettlement and the full restoration of their individual and national rights. The last part of the draft contains a set of recommendations (sixteen altogether) proposing certain steps and measures to implement the national policy of Ukraine with regard to indigenous peoples. In particular, it states that a law on the status of the Crimean Tatar people should be prepared "which would address the issues of the status of the Mejlis, the representation of the Crimean Tatars in local legislative and executive organs, in the Parliament of Ukraine, and other urgent matters." It also recommends that Ukraine join the International Labour Organization Convention 169 (ILO Convention Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries).

The same Working Group (WG) prepared also a draft law which, "in recognition of the Crimean Tatar people's aspirations to preserve and further their ethnic identity, traditional institutions, way of life, language, and creed within the boundaries of the Ukrainian State where this people lives," embraced practically all of the most urgent and topical issues raised repeatedly by the Crimean Tatars throughout the history of their repatriation. It stated unequivocally that "under this Law, the legal status of the Crimean Tatar people shall be determined as that of an indigenous people of Ukraine," and that "The Crimean Tatar people shall be an inalienable component of the Ukrainian nation" (Art. 1). The draft proclaimed a new type of a relationship between the State and the indigenous people that would be based, inter alia, on the State's guarantees their participation in the decision-making process where it concerns their affairs (Art. 3). As an additional guarantee to keep intact the Crimean Tatars' identity, registration on a voluntary basis in the State Register of the Crimean Tatar People (to be adopted by the Cabinet of Ministers), was also proposed (Art. 5). Article 6 addressed the issue of securing representation of the Crimean Tatar people in all elective bodies, including the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine and that of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea (ARC), and organs of local self-administration at all levels. Representative bodies of the Crimean Tatars - the Kurultay, Mejlis, regional and local Mejlises - were to be officially recognized under Art. 9. Moreover, the "Mejlis representatives shall take part in drafting and implementing legislative acts, national and republican programmes, and measures affecting issues vital for the Crimean Tatar people, its repatriation and the restoration of rights violated by the coercive deportation" (Art. 9, par. 5). According to Art 11, the Crimean Tatar language can be used in all spheres of public life in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea alongside with the state language. However, while providing a rather wide spectrum of rights for the Crimean Tatars, thus recognized as an indigenous "people" and not just a national or ethnic minority group, the draft noted (in line with the ILO Convention 169) [30] that the use of the term "indigenous people" in this law shall not signify the acquisition of rights identical to those of peoples qualified as bodies politic under international law (Art. 12, par. 3).

Had these drafts been immediately submitted to the VR Permanent Committees, considered in a timely manner and, according to the optimistic scenario, approved at a parliamentary session (as the Crimean Tatars and their supporters had hoped), many subsequent developments and events would, perhaps, have proceeded in a less confrontational manner. In particular, the problem of political participation and representation in all branches of government might have been legally resolved before the elections of March 1998, which were marred by large-scale acts of protest undertaken by the Crimean Tatars, and reports of clashes between groups of protesters and the local militia. [31] Since this did not happen, most of the current sources of seething antagonism in Crimea have persisted.

At the official level, the only serious discussion addressing the legal and political aspects of providing the formal status of "indigenous people" to the Crimean Tatars, occurred at a roundtable organized by the State Committee on Nationalities and Migration on 2 October, 1998 (at the initiative of the then Vice-Prime Minister Volodymyr Smoliy). [32] It is interesting to note that despite the differences in views and approaches, the general balance of the presentations favoured such a solution. This opinion was further strengthened by a conclusion to be found in a formal review, provided by the Institute of Political Science and Ethno-national Research. In this review presented by the Academician Ivan Kuras, Director of the Institute, it was emphasized that "If the Crimean Tatars will continue to insist on being recognized as indigenous people, this demand should be satisfied, because... it is quite legitimate, and justified beyond any doubts..." Mr. Kuras also stressed the need to ensure guaranteed proportional representation for the Crimean Tatars in the state administration and elective bodies, and to recognize officially both the Kurultay and Mejlis." [33] Regrettably, this initiative on the part of the executive body responsible, in particular, for solving the problems of former deportees, did not, in any way, impress the legislators, and the VR did not take the draft "status law" even for consideration by the permanent Committee.

Moreover, the situation of the Crimean Tatars deteriorated even further after 23 December 1998, when the Constitution of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, seemingly ending heated debates and power struggling between Kyiv and Simferopol that raged for almost a decade, was eventually adopted. [34] This remarkable event was pushed forward not only by the Crimean power holders, but also by international organizations, in particular, by the OSCE, and was anticipated as an ultimate solution to a long-lasted crisis. However, as was predicted during the parliamentary debates on the issue and confirmed by later developments, this Constitution did not solve any major problems existing in the relationship between the Crimean autonomy and the central authorities, as well as between the Crimean legislature and the government of the ARC. [35] At the same time, it definitely aggravated the plight and dissatisfaction on the part of the Crimean Tatars whose aspirations were totally ignored. In terms of general ethno-politics in Ukraine, this Constitution can also be regarded as a backward step, and as adding controversy to the national legislation in force. Unlike the Constitution of Ukraine, not only were "indigenous peoples" not referred to, but even "national minorities" were not mentioned, in stark contradiction to the law of Ukraine of June 1992. [36] In fact, the Constitution of the ARC is based on a totally different system of political and ideological approaches (denying, inter alia, the applicability of the status of a national minority to Russians of Crimea). In the terminology used only such categories as "citizens, foreigners, stateless persons, persons belonging to formerly deported groups" etc. can be found, thus emphasizing the exclusively individual dimension of human rights, and thoroughly avoiding even a hint of the possibility of providing for group rights. Whereas earlier adopted national legislative acts assume that, alongside with individual rights, those pertaining to (national) groups' rights shall be protected as well.

Although the detailed analysis of explicit and implicit reasons underlying the failure to develop a legislative framework dealing with the Crimean Tatars (and other minorities) is beyond the scope of the given paper, one should note the lack of consistency or any definite strategy in state policy relating to integration of the Crimean Tatars, as many political analysts and experts have pointed out. [37] The regrettable absence of continuity between those activities that had been performed by successive governments and deputies of the VR was also identified as a cause of the unsatisfactory implementation of the decisions once reached. [38] Characteristically, when the position of the same Ministry of Justice that had initiated the endeavours of the Working Group was evidently reversed, the aforementioned drafts were left without the kind of lobbying support needed to ensure their submission to the VR. Since the VR itself turned out rather reluctant to regard these issues as a priority, or rather, to examine them at all, the work done by the WG seemed futile, and Crimean Tatars' optimistic expectations of 1996-1997 were dashed.

In defiance of the sad fact that the Crimean Tatar issues had virtually disappeared from the VR agenda for several years following the adoption of the Basic Law of Ukraine, at the level of civil society the efforts to reanimate public and officials' interest in the unsolved Crimean Tatars problems continued. Some of these activities have been rather successful, in particular, those of the Ukrainian Centre for Independent Political Research that carried out in 1998-1999 a series of roundtables and seminars addressing, step by step, all particular aspects of the Crimean Tatar situation. To ensure a comprehensive discussion covering all of the existing views and approaches, executives, MPs, NGOs, scholars and, of course, representatives of the Crimean Tatar community were brought together. [39] In this way, positions of opponents and proponents with regard to the indigenous status for the Crimean Tatars were reaffirmed but more clearly formulated. And while the arguments of the supporters were mostly focused on the international standards and experiences of other countries, and repeated those stipulated by the draft documents mentioned above, the reasoning of the contenders adhered to several quite diverse notions and stereotypes, hardly exhibiting any internal coherence. [40] Their most widespread and frequently used arguments can be grouped as follows:

  • Some of them consider the recognition of any ethnic group as an indigenous people the same as establishing some kind of "ethnic privileges," with the inevitably ensuing inter-group rivalries and conflicts. Therefore, the whole issue should be abandoned as incompatible with the democratic principle of "equal rights for all, without any preferences or privileges." (This standpoint is usually displayed by the most orthodox leftists, who under certain circumstances are easily "convertable" to the dedicated believers in the supremacy of individual human rights).
  • Another line of thinking concerns a duration of a given ethnic group's living on a territory of today's Ukraine, claiming that if its presence here has lasted through ages, it provides enough reason for being recognized as an "indigenous people," too. (These ideas are often articulated by some leaders of "classical" national minorities, for example, by the MP Popescu, representing Romanian community, MP Kovazc, speaking on behalf of the Hungarians of Transcarpathia, and Mr. Levitas, heading a Jewish NGO.)
  • Denial to regard the Crimean Tatar people as the most likely candidate for the indigenous status is often based on a pseudo-historical, erroneous conception that the Crimean Tatars - as was stated by the Tsarist Russia's and then Soviet historiography - had arrived in the Crimea only in XIII century. In other words, it means that they are the descendants of the Golden Horde invaders that took over Crimea during the so-called "Tatar-Mongol invasion." (This argument can often be heard from the representatives of various Russian organizations of Crimea, but such a perception is also widely shared by many ordinary people who are not very keen on delving in the research data on the ethnogenesis of the Crimean Tatars). [41]
  • Rather popular objection refers to the Crimean Tatars' high level of education and other signs of "modernity" which, presumably, do not go in line with the perception of "indigenous peoples" as somewhat marginalized groups unable to cope with modern civilization, and needing some additional state support because of this disadvantage. (This argument is often put forward by those Crimean officials who feel not inclined to demonstrate overtly confrontational position when facing the Crimean Tatar demands. The same pertains to some of the experts who, presumably, (or deliberately?) confuse the ILO Convention 169 for its previous version, namely, Convention 107 of 1957, the one that has later been recognized as drastically out of date and therefore, revised considerably. At times, such a perception seems also be shared by some representatives of a younger generation of the Crimean Tatars, usually those socially ambitious and well educated, though not in law or politics).

Besides these points, representatives of executive and legislative bodies often state that in Ukraine, sufficient legal basis has already existed to secure political rights of every citizen, including Crimean Tatars. [42] Sometimes, fears are expressed that the next step of the Crimean Tatars would be to assert a people's right to the external (political) self-determination that would entail, in all probability, similar demands from other ethnic groups. [43] More sophisticated and less frequently used argument points out that those countries recognizing the existence of indigenous peoples on their territories are usually signatories to the ILO Convention 169, and since Ukraine does not join this legal instrument, adoption of the relevant law would be premature. [44] Serious concerns have also been expressed about the preferential land rights for indigenous peoples, the issue gradually becoming the crucial point of the international discourse on indigenous rights. Indeed, the developing standards (though not yet practically implemented) hardly cope with the realities of Soviet legacy in post-Soviet states. [45] Absence of the relevant legal provisions in other Central and East European countries and the former USSR republics (except the Russian Federation) has also being used as a valid argument. [46]

From this brief account it can be seen that apart from the decisively negative political standpoint blankly rejecting any positive solution, a public unawareness on the issue is also an essential element contributing to the resistance to such an outcome. Poor understanding of the essence of the existing legal norms and provisions is further aggravated by the evident gap between the legal criteria and definitions of "indigenous peoples," and spontaneous perception of the term by people who are far away from juridical theories and practices. It follows that raising public awareness through wider informational campaigns would be a substantial component of a strategy aimed to ensure, eventually, the success of a sluggish legislative process concerning indigenous peoples and their rights. Up to now, the publications addressing the issue, as well as public discussions during seminars, conferences, roundtables etc. were engaging a rather limited circle of the participants, and included only a few of MPs whose ranks are entitled to pass a competent decision. A low level of understanding of the very concept of "indigenous peoples," demonstrated sometimes by civil servants, MPs, and ordinary public alike, can also be illustrated by a curious fact that many advocates of such a status to apply for the Crimean Tatars believe, at the same time, that "in Ukraine, there are two indigenous peoples, namely, Ukrainians and the Crimean Tatars." [47]

Be it as it may be, those vigorous and comprehensive public discussions of 1998-1999 perhaps contributed to the re-surfacing of the issue at the level of the national legislature. Indeed, when MP Roman Bezsmertny (People's Democratic Party) produced the second, less assertive version of the "status law," that one was officially registered on 10 September 1999 and soon transferred for the consideration of the Committee on Human Rights, National Minorities and Interethnic Relations (headed by Hennady Udovenko, People's Rukh of Ukraine). After a year of considering the draft by the Committee, on 31 October 2000 it was recommended to be included into the agenda of the VR plenary sessions, though up to date, this is not yet realized. [48]

It should be acknowledged, however, that not so much public discussions and parliamentary debates but, rather, protest actions of the Crimean Tatars resulted in certain moves towards satisfying their demands. Let us recall that, for example, an acceptance of providing for the Crimean Tatars a quota to the parliament of Crimea in 1994 became possible only after the civic unrest of the autumn 1993. Turbulent events of the summer 1995 entailed the Resolution # 636 of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine that contained, among many other important proposals, the recommendation on considering juridical measures in order to "include the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people into the legal space of Ukraine." [49] Realization of this recommendation was, however, delayed until 18 May 1999. On this day the President of Ukraine, in the wake of a large-scale protest march of the Crimean Tatars, issued a Decree "On the Council of Representatives of Crimean Tatar People," thus establishing it as an advisory/consultative body under the President. The preamble to the Decree says that this step has been undertaken in order to ensure "more effective solving of the political-legal, cultural and other issues relating to the adaptation and integration of the formerly deported Crimean Tatar people into Ukrainian society," and to address "the uncertainty of a legal status of the Mejlis elected by Kurultay of the Crimean Tatar people."

After almost a year of delays resulting from misinterpretations and discontent between the Mejlis and the Administration of President on some points of the regulations on the Council's activities, an agreement was eventually reached and approved by the next Presidential Decree dated 7 April 2000. [50] On 11 May 2000, the first meeting of the Council of Representatives of the Crimean Tatar People was held, followed by the President's instructions concerning realization of the recommendations developed during the meeting. Since then, the meetings have been convened regularly (approximately once a quarter), and quite a number of most vital issues have been addressed and discussed, usually with the engagement of central Ukrainian and Crimean authorities. And although implementation of the decisions reached during the meetings is often lagging behind the actual needs, it can be acknowledged that as a device aimed at maintaining a permanent dialogue between the Crimean Tatars and the State, this legal solution has proved to be rather successful.

It should be noted, however, that the establishment of the Council, though usually regarded as a de-facto recognition of the Mejlis, [51] can in fact be viewed as only a palliative, still far from securing a genuine legal recognition of the plenipotentiary representative bodies of the Crimean Tatar people. Nor has this step prevented further severe attacks on the Mejlis on the part of Crimean leadership and local Russian nationalists' organizations. These continue to condemn it as an "illegal power structure," representing "not the Crimean Tatars community but Crimean Tatar extremists only." A pre-election period that is characterized by, alas, already traditional aggravation of the inter-ethnic tensions, brought even stronger charges, like the "organized criminal group which calls itself "Mejlis." [52]

Despite the continued manifestations of the overt malice and resentment, general attention to and the respect for the self-governing bodies of the Crimean Tatars seem to be on the rise. Convincing evidence for this is the Fourth Kurultay that has been convened in Simferopol on 9-11 November 2001. This time, the National Congress of the Crimean Tatar people (that was not tackled directly by the Decree on the Council of Representatives) was warmly greeted, as usual, by leaders of the democratic political parties and NGOs of Ukraine. But not only by them: the letters of welcome appeared also from the President of Ukraine, from the Prime Minister of the Crimean government and some other official agencies. [53] Formal greetings were also sent by the Ambassadors to Ukraine of several countries, including Turkey, Sweden, Great Britain and, for the first time, the USA. [54] This rather odd situation, reflecting the growing de-facto recognition of the de-jure non-existing entity, suggests that to end this pending absurdity, a more assertive legal solution is needed than that so far implemented.

One more important event, addressing Crimean Tatars needs and demands at the national level, occurred on 5 April 2000. This day, parliamentary hearing on "The legislative regulation and realization of a State policy on providing the rights for the Crimean Tatar people and national minorities who were deported and have voluntarily returned to Ukraine" was at last carried out. [55] (The decision on holding the hearing was reached on 17 May 1999 during the joint meeting of the President, the Speaker of the VR, and the leadership of the Mejlis, but it was postponed several times due to the resistance of the then overtly Left leadership of the VR).

Apart from the VR deputies, representatives of the Crimean authorities, Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar NGOs, as well as scholars and journalists interested in the problem, were invited to participate. The main speaker to cover the issue was the then Deputy Prime Minister Mycola Julinsky, while MP Refat Chubarov, Deputy Chair of the Mejlis, was appointed as a co-rapporteur. Altogether, 16 speakers took part in the debates, addressing different aspects of the problems faced by the returnees, and displaying already long-standing, politically motivated differences in the opposing perceptions with regard to the legal-political rights to be provided for the Crimean Tatars. In fact, no particularly new points or approaches were raised by the speakers except, perhaps, a rather harsh presentation by the member of the Communist faction, MP Petro Baulin. [56] This deputy recalled what he named "the genocide perpetrated by Crimean Tatars in the past centuries against the Orthodox South-West Rus," as well as "bloody offensive by the Crimean Tatar allies of Germans during the Great Patriotic War." [57] A trend to avoid dealing with complicated legal-political issues by focusing instead on the less controversial socio-economic needs of the repatriates was easily observable, as well as the attempts to regard the Crimean Tatars as the "(formerly) deported people" rather than "indigenous people." [58] These trends were exaggerated by the regrettably low turnout of the MPs [59] among whom the Communists, as the most disciplined, prevailed. It is also noteworthy that the general level of comprehension of such an abstruse legal notion as indigenous peoples and their rights on the part of the MPs' ranks seemed even poorer than that reached by the participants of the roundtables mentioned above. [60]

Over the two weeks following the hearing, draft Recommendations were debated and eventually agreed upon by the representatives of the different VR factions. On April 20, this draft did not pass, and only after an additional concession made to the leftists the Recommendations were finally approved by the vote of 291 deputies. [61] The deputies turnout, higher than that during the hearing, presumably helped to pass the Recommendations that admitted, inter alia, a "dissatisfactory legal regulation of the process [of return and integration], and low effectiveness of the practical measures applied by bodies of the executive power for the solution of issues relating to the return and resettlement of [former] deportees in Ukraine." The recommendations per se have been addressed to the Parliament of Ukraine, the President, and the Cabinet of Ministers. The first two points read as follows:

  1. Take measures for the development and adoption of laws for the implementation of the Articles 11, 92 (item 3) of the Constitution of Ukraine, also for securing the rights of the Crimean Tatar people and national minorities who were deported and have voluntarily returned to Ukraine.
  2. Solve the legal issue on simplified procedure of obtaining citizenship of Ukraine for the repatriates.

In retrospect, it should be noted that while the first issue is still far from being realized, the second one has indeed been resolved, in particular, by the adoption on 18 January 2001 of the new version of the Law on Citizenship of Ukraine. [62] Article 8 of this law defines the conditions for the acquisition of Ukrainian citizenship on the ground of a territorial origin. This applies to persons whose parents or grandparents (or at least one of them), or brother/sister had been born on the current territory of Ukraine, or on lands once belonging to a state - predecessor to Ukraine. According to the same article, to be registered as a citizen of Ukraine, it is enough now (for citizens of other countries) to submit a statement on the renunciation of a previous citizenship, and application for that of Ukraine. This allows to escape those hard, prolonged, and sometimes expensive procedures that have earlier been needed to prove the absence of citizenship of another state. Although this law has not directly referred to the Crimean Tatars and other former deportees, these are certainly the main beneficiaries, because for them this particular amendment, that was absent in all previous versions of a citizenship legislation, turned out a great relief. In particular, many especially difficult cases have been duly solved during a relatively short period after the law has come into force. (The law provides that alhough the document on the renunciation of a previous citizenship has still to be submitted over a year following registration, if a person could not obtain such a document because of reasons beyond his/her control, a personal declaration on the renunciation of a previous citizenship can be submitted instead of it.) By passage of this law and its efficient implementation, previous concerted activities of the VR, executives and NGOs, combined with a generous organizational, financial and informational input from the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) Mission to Ukraine, have been aptly finalized. Up to date, according to the official data, about 98 % of the Crimean Tatar returnees acquired Ukrainian citizenship. [63] Therefore, the whole campaign of the successful settlement of a rather difficult legal and political issue - providing Ukrainian citizenship for former deportees - should indeed be assessed as a kind of internationally recognized "best practices" in this area. In a broader framework, Ukrainian "wide experience in repatriation" and integration of the formerly deported Crimean Tatar people was recently examined by the NGOs of Meskhetian repatriates. A special seminar addressing this particular issue was carried out, with the support of the Council of Europe, in Bakuriani (Georgia) on 22-24 January 2002. [64]

Indigenous Status for the Crimean Tatars: An International Perspective

Many Crimean Tatars, especially those engaged in active public life, firmly believe that "the whole world recognizes us as the indigenous people of Crimea, and only Ukraine denies this, and refuses to provide for us such a status." [65] The reality is, however, much more complicated than it can be assumed proceeding from this widespread perception.

There are several international agencies involved in problems of the resettlement and integration of former deportees in Crimea. By the end of 1994, the first to appear on the scene was the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE), soon followed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the UNHCR that have established their offices not only in Kyiv but in Simferopol, too. Since 1997, the International Renaissance Foundation (Soros branch in Ukraine) has run, quite successfully, a Programme on "Integration into Ukrainian Society of Former Deportees from Crimea - the Crimean Tatar People, Bulgarians, Armenians, Greeks, and Germans" that renders essential financial and organizational support for cultural revival and educational needs of returnees. Recently, Crimean Tatar issues appeared also on the agenda of the Council of Europe (CoE).

Not surprisingly, while the urgency of easing socio-economic plight of returnees, and the necessity to satisfy their cultural and educational needs have been easily recognized and shared by all of these entities, the political demands put forward by the Crimean Tatars have usually encountered much cooler response. Therefore, the activities and programmes of the UNDP, with some contribution from the International Organization on Migration (IOM), were mostly focused on assisting the government of Ukraine to improve socio-economic conditions of the repatriates, also on some inter-ethnic conflict prevention projects. As was mentioned above, the UNHCR tackled, quite successfully, citizenship issues, while the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM) was the first to become deeply engaged in looking for solutions to legal and political issues, and developed a number of recommendations and proposals concerning a wide range of them. [66] (It should be mentioned in particular that in the letter of 14 February 1997, Max van der Stoel commented also on the Draft Concept of the National Policy of Ukraine in Relation to Indigenous Peoples). [67] Rolf Ekeus, successor of Mr. van der Stoel in the office, seemed to adhere to the same line. In his recent letter, the HCNM congratulated the Government of Ukraine on the creation in 1999 of the Council of Representatives of Crimean Tatar People under the President of Ukraine, but expressed his concerns about political representation of the Crimean Tatars in the context of the forthcoming elections in March 2002. Like his predecessor, Rolf Ekeus has been convinced that "a form of guaranteed representation for the Crimean Tatars can best ensure the long-term political stability of the peninsula." He also offered the services of his office to assist Ukrainian authorities in amending the current legislation on elections to the Parliament of the ARC. [68]

Regrettably, since Rolf Ekeus' visit to Ukraine was postponed until February 4, 2002, the opportunity to benefit from his valuable assistance in order to amend timely the law on elections in the ARC has been missed. Surprisingly, according to the information that appeared in Ukrainian electronic and printed media, during his two-days stay in Ukraine and meetings with the President, the Speaker of the VR, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the HCNM seemed not pedaling the issue further - at least, in terms of public record. [69] He expressed instead his deep appreciation of the Ukraine's policy on minority rights and interethnic relations, and said that the OSCE is seriously considering the projects that would provide for Ukraine financial aid for the Crimean Tatar repatriates. [70] At the same time, Hennady Udovenko, Head of the VR Committee on Human Rights, National Minorities and Interethnic Relations, who also met with the OSCE HCNM, did admit that Crimean Tatar issues remain to be a major concern of Ukrainian ethno-politics. In particular, Mr. Udovenko referred to the failure of solving legally a long-lasted dispute on the status of the Crimean Tatars, of adopting a law on their political rehabilitation, and of developing an appropriate legislation securing guaranteed representation of the Crimean Tatars in the elective bodies of Ukraine and the ARC.[71]

As for the CoE, its interest in the Crimean Tatars, alerted by the continued plight of the community and the appeals sent by the Mejlis, was first expressed by organizing in 1999 a roundtable dedicated specifically to the return and reintegration of the Crimean Tatars. That roundtable, initiated by the CoE Directorate General for Social Affairs, included also visits to local communities. [72] It is interesting to note that the problems identified as those of major concern for returnees were then presented in the following order:

  • citizenship
  • employment
  • housing
  • social protection
  • cultural revival

This, characteristically, set aside many of the legal-political issues claimed as crucial by the Crimean Tatar community.

The next step to address the issue of the Crimean Tatars was taken by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). Before including it into the agenda of the PACE regular session, its Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography was instructed to prepare a report on the current situation, and to draft appropriate recommendations. The rapporteur appointed by the Committee was Lord Ponsonby (United Kingdom, Socialist Group), who visited Kyiv and Crimea in the autumn of 1999, and prepared a draft report, upon which the subsequent debates were supposed to rely. The rapporteur, in contrast to the established practice usually used by virtually all of the international missions to Crimea, chose not to meet with any representatives of the Mejlis, and contacted instead only the officials from both central and ARC governments. To some extent, this approach might have conditioned Lord Ponsonby's opinion on the subject, as well as his general perception of the situation in Crimea. This can be illustrated by a particularly amazing passage of his Explanatory Memorandum that addressed exactly the issue under consideration of the given paper. It reads as follows: "Unlike other ethnic groups deported from Crimea... they lay claim to the status of indigenous people. Although this Rapporteur could not get an answer as to what that status implied in legal terms he was led to believe that this is a euphemism for titular nation. (N.B.!) As such, it could be viewed by Crimean Tatar extremists as a first step to national autonomy. Many Crimean Tatars, while making a decision to return to Crimea, were guided by unrealistic expectations fostered by some of their political leaders." [73]

This particular point reveals that the Rapporteur, unlike Crimean Tatar [74] and some of the Ukrainian experts, has not performed as somebody sufficiently knowledgeable about this sensitive issue. No wonder, his report has aroused strong criticisms on the part of the Mejlis leaders [75] and, sometimes, rather sarcastic responses from the Crimean Tatar community. [76] Regrettably, Lord Ponsonby's position can also be regarded as undermining the justified attempts to implement provisions of the Ukrainian Constitution. Nevertheless, concluding the debates in Strasbourg, [77] run by a sheer coincidence on 5 April 2000, - the day of a parliamentary hearing in Kyiv - an impressive Recommendation 1455, [78] containing a number of concrete points shaping a strategy for further actions, was adopted. Inter alia, it calls on international community and its particular agencies like the Development Bank, also the European Union and the CoE member states "to contribute generously, at bilateral and multilateral levels, to assistance projects targeting returnee Crimean Tatars." Moreover, the key words "indigenous peoples," though used rather implicitly, can be found in paragraph VIII of the Recommendation that says: "invite the Government of Ukraine and the regional authorities of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea to study the experience of other member states of the Council of Europe concerning the representation of minorities and indigenous peoples, with a view to securing the effective representation of the Crimean Tatars in national, Crimean and local public affairs."

As further developments have shown, the attention paid by the CoE to the Crimean Tatar issues is not withering, which is an encouraging sign. The PACE debates were followed by the next study visit to Crimea on 20-29 September 2000, the results of which were discussed by the roundtable in Kyiv organized jointly by the CoE, the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice, the State Department for Nationalities and Migration, and the International Renaissance Foundation. The report on a mission, and its conclusions and recommendations have been presented by Marcel Zwamborn from the European Committee on Migration (one more of the CoE structural units, dealing with social and legal aspects of the integration process). This time, it was admitted that "the return and integration of the formerly deported peoples of the Crimea is a complex process with difficult political (N.B.!), economic, social and cultural features," and the most pressing problems that needed to be addressed and solved, were listed as follows:

  • political participation and representation
  • citizenship
  • income: job and businesses
  • housing
  • land rights
  • education
  • [79]

Compared with the first CoE round table, the shift of the attention towards legal-political issues, and growing recognition of their importance, are evident. This change could also be assumed proceeding from the CoE Committee of Ministers response to the Recommendation 1455, [80] and the presentations at the third CoE roundtable held in Yalta on 5-6 October 2001. [81]

In general, the CoE, like the OSCE, tends to regard the Crimean Tatars as a national minority. Therefore, from this perspective the only legally binding instrument to provide for their rights is the CoE Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM), entered into force on 01.02.1998, of which Ukraine is a signatory. Currently, the CoE Advisory Committee for the FCNM is developing its opinion on the official State Report on the implementation of the provisions of the Convention, submitted by Ukraine (received on 2 November 1999) and supplemented by a shadow report on the situation in Crimea, prepared by Crimean Tatars. [82] Subsuquent conclusions and recommendations of the CoE Committee of Ministers will, by all means, be of great interest and importance for further shaping of Ukrainian national policy in this area.

In contrast to the CoE, the UNO is traditionally engaged in issues of indigenous peoples' rights, and the governmental experts of the Working Group, established by the UN Commission on Human Rights in March 1995, continue to work on a draft UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. (The draft had in fact been prepared by the independent experts, representing mostly the indigenous communities themselves, a few years before the WG was commissioned to such a task). Since 1994, Nadir Bekirov, a member of the Mejlis, has actively participated in all sessions of the Working Group, including the last one taking place in Geneva on 28 January - 8 February 2002. [83] Although this very fact might be considered as a covert admission by this UNO specialized structure of the Crimean Tatars belonging to the category of indigenous peoples, this did not entail any legal consequences, nor was it perceived as a valid argument during the domestic discourse on the issue.

In conclusion, it is important to emphasize that although political participation and representation in both elective and executive governmental bodies, a formal status of the Mejlis and Kurultay, land issues and other matters of legal-political nature have eventually been recognized by international community as urgent and topical, it has never been proposed to solve them all together in a package. Accordingly, the initiative to address these issues by a bill on indigenous status was never encouraged. [84] Indeed, apart from some of the leaders of the Crimean Tatar diaspora, and a few independent experts from abroad favouring this idea [85], no support has so far been provided for its implementation. Nor was the Ukrainian legislature ever recommended by any international intergovernmental organization to at least consider the "status law" drafts. Moreover, it should be heeded that within Ukraine, in defiance of strong resistance from leftists, such terminology as "the Crimean Tatar people" - thus distinguishing it from national minorities - has already become firmly rooted in public and legal discourse, and regarded as politically correct. (See, for example, the title for the parliamentary hearing in Kyiv on 5 April 2000, the exact name of the Council of Representatives, the full name of the Integration Programme run by the International Renaissance Foundation etc.). Whereas in the relevant documents produced, for instance, by the Council of Europe, the word "people" is thoroughly omitted, and the target group is being named simply "the Crimean Tatars," or "the Crimean Tatar population" or, even less correctly, [86] "the Tatars of Crimea." 87 Sometimes, different ethnic groups formerly deported from the Crimea are referred to, indiscriminately, as the "peoples of Crimea." [88]

© 2002 Natalya Belitser

End of  Part ISee  Part II

Posted: 25 May 2002
Revised: 12 June 2002


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