Crimean Tatar leader Umerov awarded Prize of Platform of European Memory and Conscience

Ilmi Umerov. Photo: RFE/RL

Ilmi Umerov. Photo: RFE/RL 

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Article by: Alya Shandra

Ilmi Umerov, Deputy head of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, was awarded the Prize of the Platform of European Memory and Conscience-2017. The ceremony took place on November 8, during the platform conference “100 Years of Communism. History and Memory” in Paris.

Ilmi Umerov is a dissident and political prisoner in the USSR and in Russia-occupied Crimea. Just recently, on 27 October, he was released from Russian custody and returned to Ukraine.

“The Platform member institutions and organizations voted to give the prize to Mr. Umerov in recognition of his struggle against totalitarianism, for the ideals of democracy, fundamental human rights and freedoms and the rule of law,” reads the official statement of the Platform of European Memory and Conscience.

Umerov’s candidacy was put forward at the initiative of Ukraine’s Crimean Tatar resource center and Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people. A video recording of his speech in Paris was shared by his daughter Ayshe Umerova.

Ilmi Umerov (fourth from the left) receiving the Prize. Photo: snapshot from video, fb.com/ayshe.umerova
Ilmi Umerov (fourth from the left) receiving the Prize. Photo: snapshot from video, fb.com/ayshe.umerova

Here is its full translation:

“I am grateful for this high appreciation of my activities. I am a representative of the Crimean Tatar national movement, and the deputy head of the representative body of the Crimean Tatar people, Mejlis. It is the second time that a Crimean Tatar receives this prize in the last four years. In 2014, the award was given to our national leader, Mustafa Dzhemilev.

In 1987, during the so-called ‘perestroika,’ and the beginning of the decline of the Soviet Union, the Crimean Tatars were the first to go out on the squares and organize mass rallies against the regime. Then we transformed our national movement and created elected representative bodies of the Crimean Tatar people. Since the end of 1987, the Crimean Tatars had begun to return from deportation [forced eviction of Crimean Tatars from their native Crimea to Central Asia carried out by Stalin in 1944 – Ed] back to Crimea. Many years later, in 2014 – here it should be noted that in 1991 the USSR collapsed, and 15 new states appeared on the world map, one of them being Ukraine, which includes my homeland Crimea. 23 years later, the Russian Federation committed an act of aggression against Ukraine. It did this by introducing a large number of military forces, seizing administrative buildings, holding a session of the Parliament under gunpoint and an illegal so-called referendum, and on March 18, despite international agreements about the border between Russia and Ukraine, unilaterally decided to attach Crimea to the Russian The Federation.

This act of aggression has been condemned worldwide. The world did not recognize this attachment, and the Crimean Tatar people living in Crimea consider Crimea as Ukrainian, I am simply one of those who speak about it. I can repeat now: Crimea is Ukraine, Russia is an aggressor country, an annexation is an annexation, occupation is occupation, and it was for this opinion that a criminal case was instituted against me.

In the days when the fate of this award was being decided, I was released due to international pressure, thanks to the international community, partners, to countries and leaders who support Ukraine. It so happened that I, having been released just a few days ago, have the opportunity to stand before you with this appeal.

I want to note that the Crimean Tatars, supporters of Ukraine in Crimea, defend the interests of the entire world community.

If the world suddenly recognizes the annexation of the Crimea, it will disrupt the entire global balance. I often appeal to the leaders of states to increase economic sanctions and diplomatic influence on the Russian Federation so that it leaves Ukraine alone.

The restoration of the territorial integrity of Ukraine will guarantee that there will be no precedent, and the world community will feel safe. I am not going to stop my activities.”

Ilmi Umerov, deputy head of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, was sentenced by a court occupied Crimea to two years of prison, with a ban on public activity and speaking in the media. Umerov was accused of public calls for separatism. He calls the criminal case initiated against him as politically motivated, explaining that he is being persecuted for upholding the non-recognition policy of Russia’s annexation of Crimea which is shared by most countries of the world:

“My words were taken out of context, I didn’t make any calls to violate the country’s territorial integrity. I was speaking about the necessity to increase sanctions, which would make Russia return Crimea to Ukraine. And actually, I want to restore the territorial integrity of both Russia and Ukraine. The majority of countries in the world didn’t recognize the ‘annexation’ of Crimea to Russia. Should we open up criminal cases against the leaders of the countries where Crimea’s ‘annexation’ to Russia is not considered legitimate? I don’t recognize a ‘referendum’ that was conducted in violation of all international norms. And all the decisions which were adopted based on the ‘referendum’: ‘elections,’ recruiting new people to the ‘authorities.’ I don’t have any complaints about Russia’s borders as of 2001. But the events of 2014 are in my opinion a violation of international, and most importantly, Ukrainian law, from whom the territory of Crimea was torn away,” Umerov said in court.

Ilmi Umerov and another Mejlis leader Akhtem Chiygoz who were sentenced in Crimea were released on 25 October, reportedly being pardoned by Russian President Vladimir Putin after an intervention by Turkish President Recep Erdogan, despite both of the prisoners refusing to apply for such a pardon. Both leaders called to keep fighting for the release of the remaining Ukrainian de facto political prisoners in Crimea. There are currently at least 56 such people.

Umerov announced his intention to go to Crimea after visiting trip to Germany, where he plans to undergo a medical examination and treatment on the invitation of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

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  • Ihor Dawydiak

    Ukraine never invaded Crimea nor did any Ukrainian Government force or coerce Crimean Tatars to take up Ukrainian citizenship. This was the overwhelming will of the Crimean Tatar people. In this regard, there have been many reasons with some of the most important factors being; a) The people of Ukraine have never mistreated their Tatar brothers and have always considered them as equals. b) Ukraine has always respected the customs, traditions, religion and language of the Crimean Tatars and has supported them in their endeavors. c) The Crimean Tatars share the same view as most people in Ukraine that their future lies within the European Family of Nations. d) The Crimean Tatars share the same principled view with most Ukrainian citizens that Russia has presented itself as an aggressor State that illegally occupied Crimea and that held a farcical referendum which the Tatars did not support. The Crimean Tatar people have also not forgotten their mass deportation conducted by Stalin and his Russian henchmen in 1944 which also saw the countless number of deaths of innocent Crimean Tatar civilians. As such, the Crimean Tatar people and the people of Ukraine stand as one single entity and regardless of the current Russian occupation of Crimea, this unity will never be altered.