Since the Anschluss, Russia’s occupation authorities have tried a variety of means to shut down the Crimea Tatar Mejlis, the most important organization of the group that has most consistently opposed Moscow’s illegal annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula.
The authorities have banned Mejlis leaders like Mustafa Dzemilev and Refat Chubarov from returning to their homeland. They have harassed its members, raided its headquarters, and waged a vicious propaganda war against the organization. And they have created an alternative pocket group, the “Kyrym,” in order to confuse people about who speaks for the Crimean Tatars.
Now, they have come up with a new strategy, one superficially legitimate but clearly intended to destroy the Mejlis and thus geld the Crimean Tatar nation. It was announced yesterday by Kyrym whose leaders said they intend to register the Mejlis as a NGO as defined by Russian law.*
Refat Derdarov, deputy head of Kyrym and chairman of the Bakchisarai district council, said that with such registration, the Mejlis will work in a legal framework because a social organization which declares itself as such and which represents the interests of the people … must be registered” if it is to deal with the authorities.
What is needed, he continued, is for the delegates of the Kurultay – the assembly of Crimean Tatars which chooses the Mejlis – to “assemble and evaluate the work of the Mejlis which at present is practically frozen. Certain members of the Mejlis today are responsible for this and try to conduct meetings “from the mainland via Skype.”
“For us,” Derdarov said, “this is unacceptable. We consider that a leader must be with his own people.” He added that he was confident he had the numbers to assemble a Kurultay and thus preserve it and the Mejlis but under new leadership. And he said he sees as the new leader Remzi Ilyasov who is willing to work with the Russian authorities in Crimea.
It is unlikely that Kyrym does, at least if it accurately reflects the views of most Crimean Tatars for whom the Mejlis is not an NGO but rather the expression of their desire to organize the life of their nation on the peninsula and within the boundaries of Ukraine. But Kyrym clearly doesn’t care about that and like the occupiers wants to destroy the Mejlis by registering it.