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On the 10th Anniversary of Ukraine's Independence

As we closely approach the 10th anniversary of Ukraine's independence on August 24, 2001, those Crimean Tatars, who consider themselves lucky enough to reach Crimea, their ancestral homeland, continue to experience socio-political and economic oppression. Briefly, despite the fact that they constitute 12% of Crimea's population, the Crimean Tatars have no representation in the Crimean Parliament. They are excluded from the redistribution of land, and a large number of Crimean Tatars still lack proper housing. In addition, Crimean Tatar is still not recognized as one of the official languages in Crimea, and those who try to protest these problems continue to be prosecuted with propped up charges. We recently witnessed in Cankoy (Dzhankoy), where Crimean Tatar activists were put on trial for blocking the railroad traffic to protest the illegal distribution of land in that region.

As Ukraine gets ready to celebrate its longest period of independence in history, the Crimean Tatars who wholeheartedly voted for Ukraine's independence are faced with the possibility of losing their most sacred institution, Zincirli Medrese. This is an institution of higher learning built in 1500 during the reign of Mengli Giray Khan who himself physically participated in its construction; it is considered to be the "Harvard" of the Crimean Tatars. According to "Resolution # 131 of the Council of Ministers of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea," dated April 25, 2001, as Alim Memetov reported, "almost every (thing) on the grounds of Zincirli Medrese complex is transferred to the Svyato-Uspenski Monaster...." Yes, Zincirli Medrese in Bahçesaray, where most of the Crimean Tatar intelligentsia was educated, where Ismail Gaspirali taught briefly, is practically being transferred to the aforementioned monastery. Even though this resolution is temporarily put on hold after strong protest from the Crimean Tatars, which prompted President Kuchma to interfere, the problem remains unresolved. The Crimean Tatars, who have carried out their national struggle peacefully for the past fifty-seven years, will not remain silent on this particular issue. The Crimean Tatar leaders can not guarantee that they will be able to control the emotions of their people. This has the potential of breaking the rules of "peaceful struggle," which they have long adhered.

We realize that the Ukrainian authorities do not initiate these problems; the local Russian politicians in Crimea are responsible for encouraging and carrying out the anti-Crimean Tatar sentiments in the Crimea. However, we also recognize that the ultimate responsibility belongs to Kiev in resolving socio-political and economic problems of the Crimean Tatar people. As we approach the tenth anniversary of the independence of Ukraine we would like to reiterate the following legitimate demands of the Crimean Tatar people from the Kiev government:

  • Recognize Crimean Tatars as the indigenous people of Crimea
  • Recognize the Crimean Tatar National Mejlis as the de jure representative of the Crimean Tatar people
  • Include all Crimean Tatars in the legitimate distribution of land in Crimea
  • Recognize Crimean Tatar as one of the official languages in Crimea
  • Recognize the right of the Crimean Tatars to be represented in all aspects of Crimean government, including the Crimean Parliament
  • Make the Crimean authorities stop persecuting those Crimean Tatars who peacefully protest the illegal actions of the Crimean government
  • Withdraw all plans that threaten the integrity of Zincirli Medrese and assist Crimean Tatars to reestablish it as an institution of higher learning
  • Help those Crimean Tatars who still remain in exile in Central Asia and other former Soviet Republics to return and resettle in the their ancestral homeland, the Crimea

We have been following the significant progress Ukraine made towards building a democratic society in the past decade. We congratulate Ukraine for her strong effort to join the community of Nations. We congratulate Ukraine for her tenth anniversary of independence that she will celebrate on August 24, 2001, and hope that she succeeds in joining the community of Nations where the rights of indigenous people are fully recognized and respected. On the eve of this historic date, we sincerely hope that Ukraine will not only recognize the aforementioned legitimate demands of the Crimean Tatars, but also help resolve these issues as soon as possible.

As the Crimean Tatar slogan states, "Qirimtatarlarnin Qirimdan Baska Vatani yoktur!" Crimean Tatars have no other homeland but Crimea! They want to be welcomed in their only homeland and live there peacefully as people and a nation.

Mubeyyin Batu Altan
International Committee for Crimea
Washington, DC