Mustafa Jemiloglu, three times nominated to the Nobel Peace Prize.

Interviews The Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Jemiloglu: “I myself is an optimist.”

Today there is a new reign of terror against the Crimean Tatars, as well as against the Ukrainian population in Crimea. Mustafa Jemiloglu has once again been forced out from Crimea. He was after a meeting in Ankara in March refused to enter Crimea and come back to his home in Bakhchisaray.

Published on on November 2, 2014

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* The article contains statements that reflect the views of the author and the interviewed, not necessary the view of Baltic Worlds’.

Kiev November 2014.

“Those who are pessimists, says that ‘Vladimir Putin will fall after three or four years’. I myself is an optimist.”.

That says Mustafa Jemiloglu  – better known under his Russified name Dzhemilev – the legendary leader of the Crimean Tatars, when I meet him in his flat in one of the dwellings on the left side of Dnipro in Kiev, some days after the elections to the Ukrainian parliament.

He himself has been a member of the Ukrainian parliament since 1998 and on the 26th of October he was again voted into the parliament, this time as the fifth name on the list of the party of President Petro Poroshenko (Blok Poroshenka).

The first time I met Mustafa Jemiloglu  was in the beginning of the 90th. After being released from prison by Gorbachev in 1986 he had then returned to Crimea, from where he was expelled the 18th of May 1944 together with his family and near 200.000 Crimean Tatars.

The decision to ruthlessly move the whole Crimean Tatar nation from Crimea was signed by Josef Stalin on the 11th of March that year. The action which was led  by Ivan Serov, the First Deputy People´s Commissar of the Ministry for Internal Affairs of Soviet Union. Under his command he had more than 30.000 NKVD-soldiers. The whole action was concluded within less than 24 hours.

Ayshe Seythuratova, one of those who as a small child was taken away together with her mother, sisters and brothers recalled in a written witness later:

Is it possible for one woman to wake, dress and put shoes on a sleeping seven-year-old child in fifteen to twenty minutes, not to mention doing other things? This is what my mother had to do. Her oldest son was seventeen, and the youngest was two. I was seven.

They packed us barefoot and cold, dressed only in pajamas, into railcars and sent us off to central Asia, along with the entire Crimean Tatar people. We Crimean Tatar call these Soviet railcars ”crematoria on wheels”.

So we were transported for weeks without proper food or medical attention. There was not even any fresh air, for the doors and windows were bolted shut. For days on end, corpses lay alongside the living.

And only out in the sands of Kazakstan did the transport guards open the doors, so to toss out the corpses alongside the railway. They did not give us time to bury the dead. Many people went insane.

Mustafa Jemiloglu was only seven months old when he was deported. Too young to remember. The dialogue between him and the judge at his second process during the Soviet time is however classical:

Judge: Have you been sentenced for any crime?

Jemiloglu: Yes, Twice. On May 1966 for my active role in the national movement of Crimean Tatars. I was sentenced by the Tashkent court to one and a half years of imprisonment upon trumped-up charges of infringing article 70, section I of the Criminal Code of the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic. I was released after the conclusion of my sentence on 12th of November 1967.

Judge: And the second time? You said you were sentenced twice?

Jemiloglu: That was the second time. The first time was on 18 May 1944, when I was sentenced to exile from my homeland for ”treason against the motherland” at the age of seven months. True, the sentence was carried out by the government, without trial.

This process took place in Tashkent in January 1970; i.e two years and two months after he  in November 1967 had been released from  his first prison sentence. And there should be even more of them. In 1970 he was sentenced to 3 years in prison. In 1974 to one years in prison. In 1976 to two and half years in prison. In 1979 to 4 years in hard labor camp and in 1983 to 3 years in labor camp, also this time under ”hard conditions”. All in all Mustafa Jemiloglu spent 15 years in prison and labor camps during the Soviet time. He was released last time 1986.

The life of Mustafa Jemiloglu is the story of the partly incredible story of the peaceful struggle of the Crimean Tatars for their right to return to their motherland on the Crimean Peninsula.

This year he was, by the Polish Government, rewarded with the newly established Solidarity Price.

When Mustafa Jemiloglu for the last time was released from a Soviet prison there were not even 10.000 Crimean Tatars living in Crimea. According to the Soviet census of 1979 they were only 5.400. Even if being formally lifted in 1967, the decision of the soviet government from 1948 that none  of the exiled Crimean Tatars would ever be allowed to return to Crimea, was still  in effect until only a few years before the fall of Soviet Union in 1991.

When I first met Mustafa Jemiloglu, some years into to 1990s, 250.000 ( a quarter of a million!) Crimean Tatars had returned to the country from which they (or their parents) had been expelled the 18th of May 1944. This was of course not the result only of the political work done by Mustafa Jemiloglu since the mid 1960s. The fact speaks for itself, telling us that the whole nation of the Crimean Tatars has won the fight against Russian and Soviet reprisals. However, in this fight against the cruelty of History, no one can today be compared to Mustafa Jemiloglu. He is the indisputable living hero of the Crimean Tatar Nation.

Mustafa Jemiloglu, had himself, as many others of the Tatars, chosen to settle down in the former capital of the  Crimean Tatar Khanate; the legendary town Bakhchisaray. His home was built up on the sloop of one of the hills surrounding this beautiful historical city, where rests of the palace of the Khan is still to be visited.

He was also then, in the 1990s, I remember an optimist, although the peninsula during the last year had been drawn into a sharp conflict with Russian separatists under the leadership of the radical populist politician Jurij Meshkov, who tried to tear away Crimea from Ukraine. The dispute ended  that time, instead with Meshkov defecting to Russia.

“You know”, he says, when we now meets in Kiev, “if I had not been an optimist, if I had not believed in the possibility of our return to Crimea, I would never had been able to withstand the terror.”.

“In 1985 the commander of the labor camp came to me with a paper and said: if you sign this, admitting, that you have broken the laws, you will be free immediately.

I refused and I told him: ‘I will wait in prison. The Soviet power will fall.’

I had not said this if I had not been convinced that the Soviet system will not last forever.

It took only a year and I was free, and another five years until the Soviet system fell apart. Today I am sure: Vladimir Putin´s Russia will not survive long and Crimea will return to Ukraine.

If the West will be consistent in its policy with harder sanctions it will not even take three years. The power of Putin, the regime of Putin is weaker than was Soviet Union in 1985.”

When Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea he promised in a speak that the Crimean Tatars would receive state help and be treated according to international human rights standards as a recognized historical native minority in Crimea. He also called Mustafa Jemiloglu. The intention of Putin was to try to convince the most well known leader of the Crimean Tatars that he should co-operate with the new Russian power.

“Putin said to me that he was afraid of war and he asked me to secure that we should not begin with violent resistance against the Russian soldiers. I told him that we have no intention of that. How should we be able to stand up against the Russian army? But I also told him that we do not accept the Russian annexation and that we will continue our long history of peaceful struggle for the rights of Crimean Tatars and against his violations of international law. I told him I am supporting democratic methods. Not his methods, “, says Mustafa Jemiloglu

Today there is a new reign of terror against the Crimean Tatars, as well as against the Ukrainian population in Crimea.

“18 Crimean Tatar activists have disappeared. Eigth of them have been found dead. The chance that the other ten are still living is unfortunately not too big. The Russian internal security force – FSB – has its agents all over the Peninsula. As in the            old communist time, people are even afraid to talk freely with each other.”

Mustafa Jemiloglu has once again been forced out from Crimea. During the day of the faked referendum in March he was in Ankara to meet the Prime Minister of Turkey. He was then refused to enter Crimea and come back to his home in Bakhchisaray.

“When I was in Warsaw for receiving the Solidarity Price I met the Prime Minister of Austria. He promised me to speak with Putin whom he was to meet the day after – Putin told him, that he cannot do anything about that. Mustafa Jemiloglu is an Ukrainian citizen and Crimea is Russian territory.”

“The referendum was naturally a farce. We know from the secret bulletin send by FSB in the night after the referendum from Simferopol to Moscow that according to the counting of the votes  only 34.2% of the voters took part in the referendum.

Our estimation is that between 900 and 1.100 Crimean Tatar voted.  That is 0,5 percent of the Crimean Tatar electorate. It is of course not said that they who take part in the referendum voted for Russia.”

During this 14 days long visit to Ukraine I first arrived to Lviv in the West Ukraine. The first day in Lviv I met accidentally with three persons – one Russian, one Ukrainian and one Crimean Tatar – who had fled Crimea after the Russian annexation. I soon found out, when visiting a newly established Crimean Tatar restaurant, at the Furmanska Street, close to the Opera House, that there is already a numerous exile group of Crimean Tatars in Lviv.

According to Mustafa Jemiloglu all in all more than 8.000 Tatars have left Crimea since the Russian annexation. One and a half thousand of them have taken their refuge in Lviv, far from Crimea. The history is repeating itself. Each russian or Soviet occupation of Crimea, beginning with the annexation by the end of the 18th Century has been followed by repressions against the Crimean Tatars and hence also an exodus from the Peninsula. After the first Russian annexation in 1783 an estimated number of 20.000, perhaps even 100.000 Crimean Tatars left Crimea before the end of that century. The Bolshevik annexation after the first world war was followed by new massive, forced, emigration.

By the end of the 18th Century the Russian population was estimated to only 8.000 people out of a total population of 200.000. Today the Russians are in a majority in Crimea. The only part of Ukraine where the Russians are in majority is Crimea and the reason is the more than two hundred years of a repressive policy against the Crimean Tatars combined with a Russian state-supported colonization of Crimean lands. According to the census from 2001 (the last one) they made out 58,4 percent of the total population of 3,5 million;  24,2 percent being of Ukrainian nationality and 12 percent Crimean Tatars.

“Even if I do not, out of historical reasons and consequences, support this I  do of course understand why people today are leaving Crimea,” says Mustafa Jemiloglu.

” We have now a plan to try to secure that those who have to leave can settle down  close to the boarder to Crimea.

We will also invite Crimean Tatars who are still living in Uzbekistan to come back to Ukraine. Its more than 100.000 people.”

Mustafa Jemiloglu was born in small village in central Crimea 1943. Seventy-one year old he is once again,  with seemingly with undiminished personal believe that he will succeed, taking up the struggle for his nation to live in peace in Crimea. Three times has been nominated for the Noble Price for Peace. I might still one day  receive it.

  • by Peter Johnsson

    Peter Johnsson is a foreign correspondent. Working for Nordic media and based in Warsaw he has covered the countries in East-Central Europe since 1980. He is the author of several books on Poland and polish history.

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