Server Mustafaiev, Ruslan Mesutov, Ismet Ibrahimov, Osman Seitumerov
(from left to right), Crimean Tatar political prisoners who were wrongfully accused of terrorism as a part of Russia's systemic attack on the indigenous people of occupied Crimea. Photo: Sergei Okunev
Since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the Russian occupation authorities have established a highly repressive regime on the peninsula. The brunt of the repressions falls on the Crimean Tatars, the land’s indigenous people who put up the primary resistance against Russian occupation back in 2014.
Most often, the Crimean Tatars, who are ethnic Muslims, are accused of membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir, a self-described peaceful international Islamic movement that Russia outlawed as a terrorist, despite not a single member of the organization ever being convicted of a terrorist act. Despite the absence of proof of any wrongdoing and, often, even of membership in the perfectly legal organization in Ukraine and most of the world, Crimean Tatars are convicted en masse on fabricated charges in kangaroo courts to up to 19 years in jail.
The repressions that have befallen on the Crimean Tatars are all the more poignant given that this small indigenous nation had only started returning to their homeland from the steppes of Central Asia in the 1990s, having been completely deported from their homeland at the hands of Stalin in 1944, after centuries of being slowly driven out by the Russian empire.
Some of them write letters from captivity to cultivate a bond with those who support them outside prison. In them, they reflect on modern-day Russia and Islamophobia, propaganda and the Putin regime, and a longing to finally have a place called “home.” They also thank the Crimean Tatar community who have come together to help the persecuted men and their large families now left without fathers.
“A law without justice is nothing!
[…] A lot of words have been said, steps taken, chances lost, and mechanisms applied but the aggressor does not heed. Egregious injustice and libel devour and destroy the world order, principles, and treaties, like a virus.
Much more will be said and become clear in the foreseeable future, because the true and right, vigorously concealed today, distorted and forgotten, will not sink into oblivion nor remain a mystery.
In all times of human life there has been good and evil, truth and lies, heroes and antiheroes, rich and poor, honest and hypocrites…, but no one has ever escaped endless impunity, even if lies, tyranny, and dictatorship lasted for decades and centuries as in the empires of the past. What then to say about modern Russia, which with its political myopia, lack of principle in propaganda, bloodlust, corruption, and Islamophobia, kills itself as a state better and faster, discredits its people in the world more than anyone else from the outside or any sanctions, memoranda and resolutions…
[…]Russia is perhaps the most striking example in the modern world, where the post-Soviet syndrome of susceptibility to brainwashing and propaganda is actively cultivated and used by present-day “Stalin” of our time, Putin, and the successor to the “Soviets,” Russia.
[…]The events of 2014 have transformed the world and order of Ukraine and Crimea, in particular. Of course, they affected me and other defendants in our case and the Kremlin’s political prisoners in the contemporary history of Ukraine and Crimea.
I do not fear that my voice will not make a difference. I am convinced that changes are already happening. But many believe their voice is powerless and thus, comfort themselves. Many assume that wishing more for their country, people or themselves as citizens will make it only worse. And that fighting city hall will damage them. But we all make choices in life.
The Kremlin’s political prisoners and I chose to speak up about the situation and not to wait for others to fight for a better life and their rights. But following exemplary righteous predecessors and heroes of their time and their people, to clinch the fists decisively and stubbornly before the tyrant. And though not without fear but to stand for our right to desire changes, justice, and a better life in our home, following the culture and traditions passed with mother’s milk.
Each one of us is someone’s child. And we have our children and grandchildren, too. I am a father of four. I do not want my children, my people to live in a country of terror, humiliation and torture, abductions and arbitrary arrests, aggression, and oppression.
[…] Many view their opinion as unimportant and their actions and struggle as unsuccessful. But the truth is today, as always, every opinion, word and act of kindness matters. Because human dignity and the above-mentioned values are above all titles, putative comfort, and regalia.
It is easy to break a finger but not a fist.
When we are united, we are invincible.”
“ […] Our life is so constructed that it constitutes a treacherous path full of hardships and challenges. And the way we walk through this path will surely be estimated when Judgment Day comes. Every cloud has a silver lining and challenges are no exception. […]
Every Muslim should adhere to such an attitude. Today, we once again face injustice, lies, the anger of authorities expressed through arrests, defamation of Crimean Tatars under the pretext of a fight against terrorists. No, on the contrary, they are the terrorists, the seedbeds for evil striving to reach the goal their ancestors set centuries ago. Needless to say, what is happening in Crimea appears an attack against all the Crimean Tatar population. That is repressions and pressure.
Looking back at the days of our history, we see that every generation overcame hardships, repressions, and deportation carried out by tyrannical authorities. Today, a struggle against evil fell on our shoulders. And our weapon today, as always, is our religion of Islam, our unity, steadfastness, patience, and devotion to God Almighty.
Looking back at what our people went through in the past, I cannot help admiring and feeling proud of the power of solidarity and resilience in my people’s hearts. This is a genuinely enviable quality many would like to possess. God out of mercy graced us with them. All you do for us and our families, safeguarding the rights of all Crimean Muslims, are invaluable contributions. Your endeavors open the minds of many and encourage them to perform more deeds. You are the wings we would not be able to fly without.
Knowing that brothers and sisters who take care of our families are out there, we, the sons of the Crimean Tatar people confined in captivity, express our love, respect, and honor to you. We keep you in our prayers day and night. We always make a solemn commitment to God Almighty to give you health, good, peace.”
How many secrets you keep. There’s something mysterious about your rustling sounds. On the spur of the moment, I hark your changeling whisper and my suppressed melancholy is tenderly embraced and my reflections are snatched away. I am nostalgic for Crimea, woods and mountains, and bubbling streams. I am nostalgic for my home, villagers, and townspeople. And I feel worried for you. My brothers and sisters, my people, how are you over there? What awaits you ahead?
For the second year, Crimea is on the verge of a dry spell. Springs are ebbing, groundwater is going deeper down. The new “lords” of Crimea are searching for solutions: attempts to create artificial rain, seawater desalination, well drilling, hourly water distribution schedule, and so on. But will it do good? Won’t such water cost an arm and a leg? Is there any other cookie-cutter? My trains of thought took me back to my childhood days. To the boundless steppes of Uzbekistan where our elderly, women, and children [whose fathers fought in WWII on the side of the Red Army but were nevertheless tarnished as traitors – Ed] were deported. Within the family circle, we often heard stories about Crimea.
How our grandfathers looked for ground streams, listened to the earth breathe, evaporate, observed trees and rocks speak. How they made the water rise from the ground by planting greens that reached the depths of the earth and then grew into gardens that could not reach down to the water. How they brought underground sources of fresh water to the village or town center. And at the sources of water, they build marvelous structures of natural stone decorated with Arabic canvas ornament and deep meaning that “our life resembles water.” They planted tall dense trees around for the leisure and entertainment of the locals and their children.
[…] But unsettling for me, these stories would break. And tears would appear on the elderly’s cheeks. They would remember those whom they lost and how they were accused of treason. I would ask them, “Why did they expel us from our land?” And heard in reply, “Beware, son. This is an evil empire.”
[…] Years passed. The evil empire collapsed. An arduous time of coming home, settling, and finding ways to revive the people passed. […] But years of evil empire left their scars on the people.
- Until the guardians of this land return.
- While the Russian empire accuses the people, now also of terrorism.While the organism of [our] people is torn apart by fear, so that brother disowns brother.
- While villages and towns gather for prayers against those who imprison their sons.
- While wives, children, and mothers cry their hearts out.
- While evil and injustice creeps into our land.
“ […] Remembering you, my dear dzhama’at [community], tears my heart apart. Because for a month, since the onset of transit from native Crimea, I heard no news from my lawyer, like “how is it on the free side? how is the dzhama’at? has there been another arrest?” And finally, on 19 March, the day of the pointless appeal trial, I heard from my lawyer, “no new arrests…” And this was enough for me to feel a certain joy in these old peeling walls.
[…] The hardest part about the transits is not a trip in a patrol wagon or Stolypin car [a type of railroad carriage in the Russian Empire, Soviet Union, and modern Russia] but waiting. When you stay, for instance, in Krasnodar remand centre and think, tomorrow or the day after tomorrow – I cannot wait to reach the final destination, to at least unpack. Other times, when you want to get something out, you need to unpack the whole bag until you find it. On one of the days, after praying, I told my mate, “I was glad to stay with you but inshallah [if God wills], tomorrow I will be deported. My mate laughed in reply, we said dua [prayer] for our soon return to the nearest and dearest and punishment for the outlaws and went to sleep.
At 11 pm, my mate woke me up saying, “How did you do it? You will be deported in an hour!” I said, “Allah always responds to the dua of the oppressed. And I asked for hayir [mercy] and soon liberation for you. Know that Allah will definitely hear!”
We hugged and said goodbyes. The guards stood patiently with smiles on their faces. They were puzzled how my mate and I just met but say goodbyes like soulmates. And I set off to Rostov.
[…]In childhood, we heard stories about our ancestors’ deportation from grandparents who faced this event at a young age. We listened to them as an old page of history. Until recently, it seemed to us this will never repeat, but alas. There are the same gloomy grey walls both in Crimea and Rostov but my heart feels forcible deportation from my native land.
Indeed, this is far from what our ancestors had to go through but the point is — it is not just. We know we have never planned to commit any crime. And I want to cry, “You are crazy! What terrorism? You occupied us but accuse us!” But I know they realize it very well but keep putting us behind bars. They will not stop until Islam thrives in our hearts.
[…]All words said 1500 years ago accurately describe the current situation: “Lies will be clothed in truth, and the truth will be closed in lies. And now, in anticipation of Ramadan, anguish, and sorrow exacerbate not because of confinement but because we were deprived of a chance to experience the joy of this month together with our nearest and dearest, conduct iftars for the dzhama’at, and happily attend iftars with a family.
[…] Wise words say, “We appreciate when we lose.”
Remember the words of the Messenger of Allah, “Take benefit of five before five: Your youth before your old age, your health before your sickness, your wealth before your poverty, your free time before you are preoccupied, and your life before your death.”
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