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Don't Cry for Us Ukraina! (Ukraine)

Mubeyyin B. Altan

Crimean Tatars are going through an extraordinary period in their decades-long national struggle as people and a nation. Since their deportation en masse by the Soviet government under Stalin on May 18, 1944, they had launched one of the most effective human rights movement in Russian history, which enabled 270,000 Crimean Tatars to return to their ancestral homeland. Then came the disintegration of the Soviet Empire in 1991, which gave birth to 15 independent republics. Ukraine was one of these newly declared democratic states.

The Altans at UN

The Altan brothers at UN

When Ukraine officially declared its independence on August 24, 1991, Crimean Tatars had already convened their historic Second National Kurultay (the first Crimean Tatar National Kurultay was held in 1917) and elected the 33-member National Mejlis with Mustafa Cemilev as the Chairman. They became newly independent Ukraine's strongest supporters, and at every national election overwhelmingly voted for the democratic candidates against the pro Russian ones. They had trusted the Kiev Government and did not anticipate any problems in having Kiev granting them the following demands:

  • Recognize the Crimean Tatar Mejlis as the de jure representative of the Crimean Tatar people
  • Recognize them as the indigenous people of Crimea
  • Recognize Crimean Tatar as one of the official languages of Crimea

We in the Crimean Tatar-American diaspora actively campaigned for the aforementioned demands among others. For many years we appealed to our ally Ukraine to grant those legitimate demands of our people. Unfortunately, the Ukrainian government never responded and left Crimean Tatars to continue to struggle for the restoration of their basic human and national rights. Oliver Loode, of Minority Rights Group and a member of UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, points out Ukraine's attitude towards Crimean Tatars and states:

However, convincing their [Crimean Tatars'] home government of Ukraine of their indigenous status has proved more challenging, all the way until Crimea's illegal annexation by Russia in March 2014. For a number of reasons, post-Soviet Ukraine did not acknowledge Crimean Tatars as Indigenous people, even during the relatively liberal and pro-European years.... Nor did Ukraine endorse UNDRIP, most likely in order to avoid imaginary trouble with Crimean Tatars. What exactly the Ukrainian establishment was afraid of remains unclear, but it is widely known that for the most part of its existence, post Soviet Ukraine viewed Crimean Tatars with suspicion and mistrust, as if they were a real public enemy. (Facebook / QHA - "A window to Europe for Crimean Tatars," February 14, 2016)

The illegal second annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation on February 27, 2014, forced Ukraine to reconsider the importance of Crimean Tatars, and develop a "Crimean Tatar Policy" that she did not previously have. Here are some examples of this extraordinary transformation in Ukraine's new Crimean Tatar Policy:

  • President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko in his historic address to joint session of United States Congress on September 18, 2014 declared himself a "Crimean Tatar" and briought up the Crimean Tatar issue, a first for a Ukrainian political leader.
  • On March 20, 2014 the Ukrainian parliament officially recognized Crimean Tatars as indigenous people of Crimea.
  • In May 2014 Ukraine officially endorsed the UN Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a document which defines and recognizes the basic human and national rights of the indigenous peoples throughout the world, which Ukraine had refused to endorse since its adoption by the United Nations in 2007.
  • On November 12, 2015 the Ukrainian Parliament recognized the Mass Deportation of Crimean Tatars by the Soviet Government on May 18, 1944 as Genocide, and declared May 18 as the "Day of Remembrance" in honor of the Crimean Tatar victims.
  • The Ukrainian establishment decided to hoist the Crimean Tatar National Flag, the Kök Bayrak, " the Center of Kyiv, not far from St Michael's Square, in front of the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs." (Facebook / QHA , February 12, 2016)
  • The Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Foreign Minister Pavel Klimkin both announced that they will bring up the recent mistreatment of Crimean Tatars by Russian/ Crimean Authorities in Crimea in their speeches during the international Munich Security Conference held in Munich, Germany in February 2016.

As a long-time Crimean Tatar Human Rights advocate fighting to draw attention to the Crimean Tatars national struggle for decades, I welcome these sudden changes in Ukraine's policy towards Crimean Tatars, and the extraordinary actions Ukraine has taken to lift the Crimean Tatars' decades-long grievances to a higher international platform. My only regret is that the Ukrainian establishment is a quarter of century too late in recognizing the importance of the Crimean Tatars. A full and early, as early as 1991, Ukrainian support of the courageous Crimean Tatar National Movement could have possibly prevented the illegal second annexation of our ancestral homeland Crimea by Russian Federation. Now, Ukraine and Crimean Tatars have extremely difficult and costly political and other obstacles to overcome!

During these tumultuous times of their new national movement to permanently return to their ancestral homeland, Crimean Tatars need and expect more than words from Ukraine. So, DON'T CRY FOR US UKRAINA (Ukraine), FIGHT FOR US! FIGHT HARDER NOW, AND FIGHT WITH CONVICTION TO REGAIN CRIMEA AND CRIMEAN TATARS' FULL TRUST!

Mubeyyin Batu Altan
February 17, 2016

Posted: February 25, 2016

Note: The title of Mr. Altan's statement was inspired by the famous song "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina," based on the life of Eva Peron (1919-1952), actress and first lady of Argentina. -- Ed.

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