On June 2, 2020, Free Russia Foundation hosted a congressional discussion on the Fate of Crimean Tatars in the Aftermath of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine.
By Spencer Royal
On June 2, 2020, Free Russia Foundation hosted a congressional discussion on the Fate of Crimean Tatars in the Aftermath of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine featuring Polina Sadovskaya, Program Director, Eurasia, PEN America; Alim Aliev, Program Director of Crimean House; Olexandra Matviichuk, Ukraine Center for Civil Liberties; and Scott Martin, Global Rights Compliance. Michael Weiss, Free Russia Foundation Director for Special Investigations, served as the session’s moderator.
During the session, the presenters discussed the current situation of Russian persecution of the Crimean Tatar community; the projects conducted by their respective to provide legal support, humanitarian relief and international advocacy initiatives; and practical recommendations for ways in which the international community can help alleviate the crisis.
Since the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, over 1500 violent acts perpetrated by the Russian authorities against the Crimean Tatars have been documented. They have included displacement of the community members from their homes and property, detention and imprisonment, and suppression of Tatar culture, language and free speech. While the repressive acts by the Kremlin in the immediate aftermath of the Crimean invasion had garnered great attention from the international media and policy community, the global focus on the problem has waned since. Olexandra Matviichuk noted that the arrest of 24 Crimean Tatars in 2019 failed to evoke a strong response from the international policy-maker community. Today, 70 of the 93 Ukrainian political prisoners held by Russia are Crimean Tatars. The community is continusouly terrorized by searches and raids. Accoridng to Alim Aliev, there have been over 300 documented house raids conducted by Russian Federal Security Services.
Polina Sadovskaya provided indicators of a deteriorating situation. There has been a 90% decrease in the number of independent Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian media outlets in the area since 2014. 10 Crimean Tatar citizen journalists and bloggers are currently being prosecuted for political reasons. In January, Ukrainian journalist, Taras Ibragimov, was banned by the Russian Federal Security Service from entering the peninsula until 2054. Deliberate changes to the demographics of the peninsula are also occurring. Scott Martin, citing a recent interview with the Ukrainian Deputy Prosecutor General, Gyunduz Mamedov, said that as of May 19, 2020, 48,000 citizens were forced to leave the peninsula and that around 73,000 Russians have resettled in this area.
Mr. Aliev chimed in with concerns over the diminishing number of schools teaching Crimean Tatar language and suppression of the Crimean Tatar culture. Mr. Aliev described attempts by the Russian authorities to establish alternative media outlets in Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar languages advancing pro-Kremlin narratives.
The panelists stressed the critical role played by the US policy makers and legislators via official and personal resolutions and statements in keeping the spotlight on the crisis, deterring further human rights abuses and attempting to alleviate the suffering of the Crimean Tatar community (S.Res.100, S.Res.571, H.Res. 474.)
In order to encourage international attention, panelists suggested the United States could host a delegation of Crimean Tatar representatives in Washington, DC to meet with government officials, encourage celebrities and other prominent voices to speak out about this issue, and voice support for the passage of new legislation, similar to the Magnitsky Act, in Australia and the European Union. The Magnitsky Act could be used to sanction officials who persecute civil rights activists, bloggers, and journalists on the peninsula. Panelists called for direct aid to families of political prisoners; backing of various civil society organizations and independent media outlets within Crimea; and financial support to the Crimean Tatar language programs and schools.