Crimean Tatar protest against Russian occupation of the Crimea. The sign in Russian reads: "We are on our own land!"
Many people around the world are talking about the need to launch Russian-language television channels in order that Russian speakers have a real alternative to Moscow’s propaganda machine, and some are even taking steps to do so. But there is another threat the West needs to recognize, denounce and counter right now.
Unless something unexpected happens, the Russian occupiers in Crimea in four days will close or even worse gut while continuing to use the name ATR, the only Crimean Tatar television channel in the world. The station has been trying to gain official registration since last October, but Moscow has turned them down each time.
Even the Russian Presidential Council on Human Rights and the Development of Civil Society has issued an appeal for Russian media officials to reverse course and help ATR secure the registration it needs to continue to operate, pointing out that “many representatives of the Crimean Tatar people consider these media a matter of national dignity and connect with them their hopes for the rebirth and development of their language, culture, and unique traditions.”
But in the absence of international pressure, it seems unlikely that the occupation authorities and the Moscow officials behind them will stop short of closing the station or potentially continuing to operate it but with an entirely new staff and an entirely new and pro-Putin agenda.
In “Novoye vremya” today, Pavel Kazarin, a host for ICTV, underscores how much is at stake by pointing out that “what is happening in Crimea now is no more and no less than a speeded up repetition of what has taken place in the Russian media scene over the last decade.”
The occupation authorities have harassed and closed much of the Ukrainian peninsula’s media scene, and they have forced much of what remains to bend to the will of the Kremlin and put out only those stories that promote Putin’s version of reality. If they succeed in destroying ATR, the results will be truly tragic.
In that event, Kazarin says, “what will remain on the peninsula will be a government channel which each evening will put on séances of a patriotic striptease. There will be a couple of private TV channels will do the same thing but with the qualification that ‘someone somewhere doesn’t want to live honestly with us.’”
But after April 1, “the ATR television channel will not exist,” the ICTV host continues. Or “more precisely, it will exist; but the new ATR will be distinguished from the old in approximately the same way that the current NTV [channel in Moscow] is distinguished from what it was 15 years ago.”
And the occupiers of Crimea in the manner of the Putin regime are taking this step because they “need exactly the kind of Crimean Tatars” such propaganda outlets will help produce: “passive, loyal, and pro-Soviet … without their own opinion and ready to become part of ‘the family of peoples’ … so there will not be any troubles or any minority report.”
Last night, Mubeyyin B. Altan of the US-based Crimean Tatar Research and Information Center released the following statement about ATR:
DON’T LET THEM KILL ATR!
First they illegally occupied our ancestral homeland, and promised to restore our human and national rights (blatantly violated by the people who made these promises) if we accept their illegal act. Once they were convinced that Crimean Tatars could not be bought, they began kidnapping, torturing and murdering our innocent young people. We still don’t know whereabouts of these kidnap victims.
Our schools, libraries and mosques were forcibly entered, searched for illegal whatever literature they were looking for, for weapons etc. Then they prevented our political leaders from entering Crimea, their ancestral homeland, even it meant separation of families. The Crimean News Agency was their next target, they exerted and continue to exert great deal of pressure to silence the voice of the Crimean Tatar people.
The lights of the only Crimean Tatar language television station ATR may be turned off as of April 1, 2015. That means the “tongue of the indigenous Crimean Tatar in Crimea may be cut if the Russian and Crimean authorities have their way. Then they decided to unite all 330 mosques in Crimea under their own Muftiate in order to control our religion. Now they threaten the indigenous Crimean Tatar people with deportation to Far East as they sent the Soviet Jews to Far East by establishing Birobidzhan Autonomous Republic.
The simple question is “who is going to stop them?” Who has the political will to prevent these crimes perpetrated against a small, peaceful, but powerless people, the Crimean Tatars?
A group of extraordinarily courageous, dedicated young journalist has launched a tele-campaign to keep these lights of the only Crimean Tatar language television station, ATR, on. I called ATR TV in Crimea today and talked to a young, upbeat, and not at all discouraged ATR journalist named Gulsum to extend my full support as a Crimean Tatar-American.
I repeated their battle cry (“Don’t Kill ATR! ATR ni oldurmeniz!) and promised to help them in whatever way I can to stop this crime! I promised her that I will spread the word about their campaign to stay alive. The ATR staff, every single one of them, has a simple demand from world public, “Don’t let the Russian authorities close ATR TV! Let us continue to be the ‘tongue of our people!”
I am calling on the Crimean Tatar Diaspora as well as the world public to call this # +7 (978) 077 9595 to extend your support to these courageous TV journalists!
Time is running out, the deadline is 3/31/2015! Please call! Crimean Tatar journalists need your help now!
The Crimean Tatars have been the most consistent opponents of Russia’s illegal Anschluss of their homeland. At the very least, they deserve the support of all people of good will – in Crimea, in Ukraine, in the Russian Federation and in the West – as they struggle to save their television channel.