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ICC News Digest No. 6 (Summer 2006)


A Quarterly Report

Political Appointments

Mister Crimea: Viktor Plakida, the new Crimean PM, is a political unknown
Lenur Yunusov and Aleksandr Sviridenko
Kommersant Ukraina, #88, 29 May

President Viktor Yushchenko appointed Viktor Plakida, Director of the Crimean branch of the Ukrainian state energy company UkrEnergo, as Prime Minister (PM) of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. Anatoliy Gritsenko, Speaker of the Crimean Parliament, commented that Plakida is a candidate "acceptable to both the President and the Deputies". However, the Deputies of the Crimean Parliament were in disagreement about the new appointee.

Remarkably, a full biography of Plakida, born in 1956, was not published until his appointment. Available sources indicate that Plakida by 1999 had 16 years of management experience as chief engineer of Feodosia (Kefe) Electric Networks. From 1999 to 2004, he served as its director. The Crimean press mostly ignored Plakida, only mentioning him as a target of public complaints about electricity blackouts. In June 2001, Plakida received a PhD degree in energy distribution from the Kharkiv Polytechnic Institute and the following year he was elected a deputy of the Feodosia City Council. In 2004, Plakida became deputy technical director of KrymEnergo, a state energy distribution company, and in October 2004, Director of the Crimean Energy Systems.

According to the Kommersant article, Anatoliy Gritsenko, who is also the head of the Crimean branch of the Party of the Regions, submitted to President Yushchenko several candidates for the Prime Minister's position. By law, the President has to approve the appointment and dismissal of the Crimean PM. Anatolii Burdiugov from the Nasha Ukraina thinks that the President made his choice in an effort to preserve political stability in Crimea. Similar comments came from Gennadiy Moskal, Permanent Representative of Ukraine to Crimea. Moskal commented that "the future PM will not be a highly politicized figure because he is not a member of any single party." Other MPs think that Plakida may be non-politicized, but he is nevertheless a person loyal to Gritsenko, who was closely cooperating with Plakida when he headed the Leninskii District State Administration (from 2001 to 2002).

The Deputy Chairman of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis Refat Chubarov was unable to comment on Plakida: "It is entirely impossible to say anything about Plakida. In the past, I only heard his name in the context of energy issues." Chubarov doubted Plakida's ability to form the government independently because of his lack of political experience. "I guess the Party of the Regions will staff the government with its own people, after which decision making there will become extremely difficult."

Vladimir Kazarin from the Kunitsin Bloc told Kommersant that Viktor Plakida as Prime Minister is part of a plot to allow the President to strengthen his power on the peninsula. "When they will fail with all their work, Kiev will get a free hand to repeal the Constitution of Crimea and the Crimean Autonomy." According to Kazarin, in 1994, when "Yurii Meshkov destroyed the Crimean Autonomy, Kiev abolished the first Constitution of Crimea and all our power attributes."

Sobytiya (Simferopol), 21 July

Leonid Hrach, a member of the Ukrainian Parliament and the Crimean communist leader, has been appointed as head of the Committee on Human Rights, National Minorities and Interethnic Relations. His controversial appointment has been met with skepticism, as his anti-Tatar attitude is well known. He is also notorious for raising alarms about the alleged links between Crimean Tatars and Islamic radicals. With the appointment of Hrach, there will be little chance of solving the Crimean Tatar resettlement problem legally by passing a law on the rights of deported people. (Source: World News Connection)

Vestnik Tavridy (Simferopol), 21 July

Genadiy Moskal, Presidential Representative in Crimea, dismissed the current Crimean government as a "bunch of amateurs who need a speech therapist". He noted that members of organized criminal gangs who were elected to the Crimean parliament are trying to gain power in Crimea and if nothing is done the peninsula will become a "real mafia centre." He recommends that the leadership of the Crimean law-enforcement agencies should be replaced as soon as possible since they have close links with organized crime. Moskal also denied the charges that he favors Crimean Tatars. On the problem of the land distribution, he stated that there are 330,000 hectares of vacant land in Crimea that could be used for solving the land problem, but local officials are selling this land illegally and creating grounds for ethnic conflicts. (Source: World News Connection)

Dialog (Simferopol), 18 August

In an interview with the Crimean Tatar weekly newspaper, Refat Chubarov, Deputy Chairman of the Mejlis and Ukrainian MP, commented on the controversial appointment of Viktor Yanukovych as Prime Minister of Ukraine and the decision of the Crimean Tatar deputies to vote for Yanukovych. According to Chubarov, Yushchenko appointed Yanukovych in an effort to stop the deepening political crisis, which would not be resolved by calling new elections. Chubarov defended his and Mustafa Jemilev's voting for Yanukovych's government because Yushchenko, according to an agreement between the two Ukrainian leaders, got the right to appoint his own men to many crucial ministerial positions. Support for Yushchenko would be essential if the new configuration of the Cabinet were to work.

Chubarov also commented on the appointment of Leonid Hrach, Communist leader and archenemy of Crimean Tatars, to the chairmanship of the Ukrainian Committee on Human Rights, National Minorities and Interethnic Relations. Mustafa Jemilev and several other prominent dissidents also serve on this Committee. This appointment was ironic, Chubarov noted, but it would not prevent the Committee's majority from having an impact on new laws relating to the rights of minorities.

Milli Firka

Pervaya Krymskaya (Simferopol), 23 June

Milli Firka, a new Crimean Tatar political group, was organized in Crimea with the purpose of opposing the Mejlis, the Crimean Tatar assembly. The leader of the new group, Rishat Ablayev, a long-time critic of the Mejlis, has already headed several anti-Mejlis groups, namely, the Party of Muslims of Ukraine and Millet. However, the newspaper report predicts that Milli Firka, just like any other anti-Mejlis movement, is doomed to failure, as it will gain little support among the Crimean Tatars. (Source: World News Connection)

Poluostrov (Simferopol), 4 August

The Crimean Tatar weekly newspaper published a list of the organizing committee of the Milli Firka party, recently formed as an opposition to the Mejlis. Among the members are Crimean Tatar radical leader Nadir Bekirov, Timur Dagci, Ayder Emirov (the owner and editor of Poluostrov), Vasvi Abduraimov, and members of the Yalta-based Crimean Tatar liberation movement Kemal Kuku, Emir Medzhitov and Ali Yayachik. The founder of Milli Firka is Rishat Ablayev. A Crimean Tatar Liberation Movement veteran, he was also behind the Party of Ukrainian Muslims, linked to the Donetsk tycoon Rinat Akhmetov. (Source: World News Connection)

Resettlement Issues

Crimean Parliament adopts development program for resettlers
Interfax-Ukraine (Kyiv) 22 June 2006

On June 21st, the Crimean Parliament adopted a program to improve the living conditions of people resettling in Crimea. The program aims to build 10,450,000 sq. meters of housing, two schools, and additional services for electricity, water, gas, sewage and roads by 2010. There are 255,000 people who resettled in Crimea, among which 250,000 are Tatars, with more than 2,000 additional immigrants coming each year. Of the 300 compact settlements built for repatriated people, 25% lack water, 7% lack of electricity, and more than 80% lack natural gas. Currently 6,000 families are homeless, and more than 18,000 housing constructions are incomplete due to lack of funds. (Source: World News Connection)

Golos Kryma (Simferopol), 4 August

The Crimean Tatars have started demanding the restitution of property seized following their deportation from their homeland in 1944. A conference was organized on 16 July in Simferopol on the restitution of Crimean Tatar property and the restoration of their constitutional rights. Nadir Bekirov, a prominent activist and a member of the Mejlis, presided at the conference, attended by 225 delegates. Conference participants adopted an appeal to international organizations, demanding that full rights of the Crimean Tatars be restored. A campaign was also launched to collect 100,000 signatures for a petition, demanding the return of Crimean Tatar property, despite objections of many Mejlis members.

Golos Kryma also published the full text of the appeal to the United Nations Supreme Commissioner on Human Rights, Council of Europe, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the EU, adopted at this conference. The appeal criticizes Ukraine for openly ignoring recommendations of the Council of Europe on repatriation of Crimean Tatars in their homeland. The appeal further accuses Ukraine of what it describes as land apartheid and racial discrimination against Crimean Tatars, as well as failing to adopt laws giving Crimean Tatars equal rights alongside other ethnic groups. The conference delegates claimed that the value of property seized from the Crimean Tatars during the deportation amounts to 7.2 billion dollars and that the Ukrainian government uses Crimean Tatar property as well as Crimean Tatar heritage and holy sites for creating material wealth for non-Tatar residents of Crimea. (Source: World News Connection)

Religious Tensions

Krymskoye Vremya (Simferopol), 1 July

A monument honoring St. Andrew was unveiled on Constitution Day (28 June) in Feodosia. The ceremony was attended by Russian and Ukrainian Cossacks (pro-Russian paramilitary groups), representatives of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, Christian religious leaders, local authorities and city residents. The monument was moved to a new location after it became the subject of a bitter controversy between Crimean Tatar Muslims and Russian Orthodox Christians. On 11 May, a group of Crimean Tatars dismantled the monument, claiming that it was erected over Muslim graves. The Russian Cossacks, attending a military training session in Feodosia, reinstalled the monument the next day. In an effort to ease the mounting tension, a special task force was deployed in the city and the city authorities decided to relocate the controversial monument. (Source: World News Connection)

Golos Kryma (Simferopol), 4 August

Anatoliy Gritsenko, Speaker of the Crimean Parliament, and Lazar, head of the Crimean branch of the Orthodox Christian church of the Moscow Patriarchate recently visited the Crimean Tatar holy site in the village of Fotisala in the Bakhchisaray District. The site has been the subject of a dispute between local Christian and Muslim communities. Local Christians started building a church right over the Crimean Tatar burial complex. After the visit, Lazar and Gritsenko stated that as some of the graves in the complex had Christian crosses on them, it was the perfect place for a Christian church.

Idris Asanin, head of the Crimean Tatar group that campaigns for the return of the Crimean Tatar religious heritage sites, urged Gritsenko to relocate the disputed Christian church in Fotisala in order to prevent further confrontation between ethnic Russians and Crimean Tatars. He said that Gritsenko should stop promoting ethnic strife in the area and the Crimean Tatars living at Fotisala were descendants of Catholic Genoese who had adopted Islam. (Source: World News Connection)

Ethnic Conflict in Bakhchisaray

Clashes over the issue of a market built on a holy place
Idil P. Izmirli
QHA (Crimean News Agency), Simferopol, 8 July

On July 8, Crimean Tatars clashed with a group of ultra nationalist Russians, members of the Russian Community and Cossacks of unknown origin, when they gathered to protest the continuing use of a market in Bakhchisaray. The Market, occupying the grounds of a Muslim burial ground (Azizler or the Saints), has been a subject of controversy for about ten years, and Bakhchisaray regional Mejlis tried to resolve the issue by legal means. The area is already considered a historic landmark, protected by the laws of Ukraine, and under the jurisdiction of the Palace of the Khans (Han Saray) administration. When the Crimean Tatars gathered to picket a recent court decision, the protesters were met with physical violence. Pro-Russian groups closed the roads leading to other cities and started attacking Crimean Tatar demonstrators. As a result of this provocative attack, ten Crimean Tatars were hospitalized. The attackers were also carrying signs: Luggage, Train station, Baku and Uzbekistan. The message was clear: they wanted Crimean Tatars to pick up their luggage and leave — a new deportation.

[On July 11, the authorities announced that the Market will be moved to another area, as it is occupying the land illegally and operating without a license.]

What happened in Bakhchisaray on 12 August 2006?
Bizim Qirim Website

On 11 August, about a thousand Crimean Tatars gathered near the market that occupies the grounds of a Muslim cemetery called Azizler. They were waiting for the results of a meeting between Mustafa Jemilev and Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, attended by the representatives of the local government. After the meeting, Jemilev announced that the market will be dismantled in a month, funds from the Ukrainian budget will be provided for a memorial to be build on the Azizler grounds, and those who attacked Crimean Tatars during the July 8 conflict at the market place will be prosecuted according to law. The agreement signed by Jemilev, head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis and representatives of Bakhchisaray government, however, was not acceptable to Speaker of the Crimean Parliament Gritsenko and Crimean Prime Minister Plakida.

On 12th of August, fighting broke out between the pro-Russian groups and Crimean Tatars near the site, a holy place for Muslims. Mainly young and middle-aged people with sticks and stones suddenly started fighting their way through police officers, who were between the aggressors and Crimean Tatars. The Crimean Tatar Mejlis appealed to everybody not to react to the provocation, but stones kept flying for about 30 minutes, until more police arrived. As a result, 16 people were injured and some of them were sent to hospital. At 9 p.m. Speaker Grytsenko and Prime Minister Plakida signed the protocol of 11 August 2006. Both parties of the ethnic clash must leave the Azizler territory, which will remain under the control of the police, and the market will be closed by September 11.

Reactions to the Bakhchisaray Conflict

Mass Fighting in Crimea - Authorities Concerned over Racist Remarks
Ukrainian News (Kyiv), 18 August 2006

On 12 August, Crimean Tatars and Ukrainian traders in the Bakhchisaray central market engaged in mass fighting, with approximately 300 people on each side. The prosecutor's office started an investigation on August 14th.

The State Ethnic Committee expressed concern about the anti-Crimean-Tatar slogans shouted during the conflict. The statement issued by the Committee reads: "In Bakhchisaray, there were controversial steps of some political forces who used these events, with exclusively economic coloring, for inciting interethnic hatred....[The Committee] calls on all participants of the confrontation, all Ukrainian politicians irrespective of their place of work and residence to reach accord and be tolerant and responsible for their words and actions." (Source: World News Connection)

Dialogue (Simferopol), 4 August

According to the Crimean Tatar weekly newspaper, the owner of the disputed market located on the Crimean Tatar holy site in Bakhchisaray is trying to evade the responsibility by attributing the conflict to an interethnic strife. The illegally occupied land plot, the former burial complex, belongs to the Bakhchisaray state historical reserve. The market owner grabbed the land several years ago and set up a market while the local council provided cover up for his illegal activities. Local authorities often exacerbate interethnic conflicts in order to cover up their land fraud. (Source: World News Connection)

Gennadiy Moskal on the Crimean Tatar situation in Crimea
Kievskii Telegraph, # 328

In an interview with the Kievskii Telegraph, Gennadiy Moskal, Presidential Representative in Crimea, commented on the recent conflict in Bakhchisaray and on the situation of Crimean Tatars in general. Regarding Bakhichisaray events, Moskal blamed the local government for delaying the decision on the market's relocation that led to the violent breakout. In Moskal's opinion, restoring the shrine in the city center would bring lots of Muslim visitors. While the President and the Prime Minister made correct statements regarding the relocation of the market as soon as possible, the local political forces supporting the Party of Regions decided to play a political game. The most important factor, in Moskal's opinion, was that the city council responsible for the final decision to relocate the market yielded to the interests of a certain Medvedev, the market's owner.

Asked about the status of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, and whether it did not represent a "parallel state" in Crimea, Moskal commented that Mejlis had to assume political functions because the legislature on the status and rights of the Crimean Tatar people was stalled for years in the Ukrainian Parliament. If the laws were passed, Moskal would see the Mejlis assuming a leadership in non-political areas, such as national cultural development.

Finally, Moskal commented on the wide-spread notion in the Russian circles that the Mejlis is an instrument of the Turkish foreign policy in Crimea. Dismissing the premise of the Turkish influence, Moskal said that Turkey unfortunately had many problems of its own: European Union, Kurdish question, etc., but he would welcome much more active Turkish help in Crimea with the Crimean Tatar situation.

Yanukovych and Crimea's Pro-Russian Factions

Yanukovych distances himself from Crimea's Radical Slavs
By Oleg Varfolomeyev
Eurasia Daily Monitor, 16 August 2006

In an interview with journalists on August 11, Viktor Yanukovych stated that Russian will not become an official language; Ukraine will not be federalized; and the state will protect Crimea's indigenous population, Crimean Tatars. While he disapproved the illegal land grabs by Crimean Tatars, he sided with them in a land dispute that resulted in violent clashes between radical Slavs and Tatar activists over a market built on the site of an ancient Tatar cemetery. Yanukovych supported the Tatar demands after meeting with their leader Mustafa Jemilev on August 11 and promised to investigate the July 8 clash and to allocate funds to build a Crimean Tatar memorial in place of the market.

This was Yanukovych's first visit to Crimea after his appointment as Ukrainian Prime Minister early in August, and this visit may signal the end of close cooperation between the local, anti-Western and anti-Tatar forces on the peninsula and Yanukovych's Party of Regions. The Party of Regions received the majority of the votes in during the March 2006 elections, as it backed the move to make the Russian language an official language and the federalization of Ukraine. The Party now sees itself as a force respected across Ukraine, and as Prime Minister of Ukraine, Yanukovych made it clear that now he sees things differently.

Sobytiya (Simferopol), 1 September

It appears that members of the Crimean branch of the Party of Regions and the Russian Bloc are in disagreement over the Crimean Tatar issue. The two parties had formed a coalition in the Crimean parliament named Bloc for Viktor Yanukovych but now seem to be drifting apart after Yanukovych proposed to appoint Jemilev as his advisor. Oleh Rodivilov, the leader of the Russian Bloc, recently stated that his party could quit the coalition because of the pro-Tatar stance of Yanukovych and the Party of Regions as a whole. The fact that Speaker Anatoliy Gritsenko, also the Crimean leader of the Party of Regions, went to Turkey together with Jemilev further increased the tensions. (Source: World News Connection)

Golos Kryma (Simferopol), 1 September

The leaders of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis and Crimean Speaker Anatoliy Gritsenko were in Turkey on a joint official visit. The Crimean Tatar delegation, headed by Mustafa Jemilev, met with the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other Turkish officials. Jemilev appealed for financial aid for the resettlement of the Crimean Tatars as well as for the construction of mosques and Crimean Tatar museums. Erdogan expressed concern over the increased pro-Russian activity on the peninsula. Gritsenko, who also took part in the meetings, urged Erdogan to invest in the construction of a cargo terminal at Crimea's Donuzlav Lake. (Source: World News Connection)

Kyiv-Mohyla Academy plans to open branch offices in Crimea

Maidan-Krym, 31 August

Viacheslav Briukhovetskii, President of the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy announced plans to open two branch offices of the Academy in Crimea - in Bakhchisaray and Simferopol. According to Briukhovetskii, the Academy has experience with opening such branch offices that served as a basis for building independent universities in two other cities of Ukraine. Briukhovetskii stated that for Bakhchisaray they plan to rebuild the Crimean Tatar institution of higher learning, Zincirli Medrese, which was founded in 1500, with two buildings still extant. "This will become a unique Ukrainian state Crimean Tatar university," Briukhovetskii emphasized. Courses might start as early as next year, and teaching will be offered in four languages: Russian, English, Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian. He also added that the Academy is encountering resistance from the local administrators who object to the idea of founding branches of the Academy in Crimea. At the same time, more than 80 branch offices of Russian universities seem to work without a problem, he noted, even though most of them do not even have a license from the Ukrainian Ministry of Education.

First Crimean Tatar TV Goes on Air

First Crimean Tatar TV channel started broadcasting in Crimea
Leonid Ivanov
Obkom (Simferopol), 1 September

The first independent Crimean Tatar TV channel, ATR, started broadcasting on September 1, with the primary aim of reviving the Crimean Tatar language and culture. According to the Internet news agency Obkom, the channel will broadcast news, cultural programs, movies and cartoons in Crimean Tatar or Turkish, or with Crimean Tatar subtitles. The ATR team plans to produce programs about the deportations, the history of the Crimean Tatar national movement, interviews about social issues, including the role of religion and morals. At first, the broadcast will cover Simferopol (Ak-Mescit), Saki, Evpatoria (Kezlev), Razdol'noye (Aq Sheikh), Krasnogvardeiskii (Kurman), parts of Chernomorskii (Aqmechet), Dzhankoiskii (Cankoy) and Belogorskii (Qarasubazar) districts of Crimea. The ATR plans to cover more than 80% of the peninsula in the future. Most members of the ATR team come from the Crimean Tatar radio Maidan, which started broadcasting last year.

The following individuals assisted with the preparation of this issue of News Digest: Kemal Seitveliev (Bakhchisaray), Kaan Öztürk (Istanbul) and Idil P. Izmirli (Simferopol). Edited by Inci Bowman (Washington, DC).

Issued: 12 September 2006

For other issues of the News Digest, see: ICC News Digest Series

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