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Kyiv urged to defend indigenous peoples in occupied Crimea and in Russian Federation

Protest against the shutdown of ATR Crimean Tartar TV channel in Crimea by the Russian occupation authorities (Image:
Protest against the shutdown of ATR Crimean Tartar TV channel in Crimea by the Russian occupation authorities (Image:
Kyiv urged to defend indigenous peoples in occupied Crimea and in Russian Federation
Edited by: A. N.

Kyiv must use all international mechanisms defend the indigenous peoples of the Russian Federation, not only to protect the Crimean Tatars and other in Crimea, where Russia as an occupying power bears responsibility, but elsewhere as well because “the revival of Russian imperialism” threatens many such peoples, according to Boryz Babin.

In an original new article translated in Anthropology and Archaeology of Eurasia, the professor of international relations at Odesa State University presents a detailed legal analysis of the situation of these peoples are outlines what Kyiv should do and why an active approach in this area will help not only these nations but the Ukrainian cause.

Babin’s article, “Rights and Dignity of Indigenous Peoples of Ukraine in Revolutionary Conditions and Foreign Occupation,” is the concluding article in the latest issue of this journal edited by Marjorie Mandelstam Balzer and published by Routledge which is entirely devoted to “Crimean Tatars, Islam and Repression.”

He argues that to begin this process, Ukraine should build on what it has already done and recognizing the Krymchaks and Karaites as indigenous peoples under Russian occupation and “adopt a law on the status of indigenous peoples in accord with the UN Declaration of Indigenous People’s Rights.”

That will give Kyiv enormous advantages over Moscow not only in Crimea but elsewhere, the specialist says. The Russian occupation authorities “do not recognize the legal status of Crimean indigenous peoples,” and consequently the “protection, restoration and realization” of their rights must be a matter of concern for the entire international community.

Babin devotes most of his article to a detailed discussion of Russian and earlier Soviet laws in this area and how Moscow has violated them and of the emergence of international doctrines on indigenous peoples, doctrines which the Russian authorities seek to exploit but have not signed onto in a legally binding way.

He points to the fact that Russian legislation does not allow any ethnic community with more than 50,000 people and especially one whose members have shifted from traditional ways of life to modern ones to be included on its list of “numerically small peoples” who can claim certain protections under Russian law.

There are too many Crimean Tatars for them to qualify, although it is clear, Babin points out, that “the right of a state in general is ambiguous, since it borders on violating the right to self-determination.” But despite that, he continues, the occupation authorities have followed this provision to extend protections to the Karaites and Krymchaks but not the Crimean Tatars.

The ability of non-Russians in Crimea under Russian occupation is further “complicated by the anti-humane Russian propaganda,” Babin argues, “and by quasi-historic ‘scientific theories … used by the authorities to prove ‘non-indigenousness’ and ‘inferiority’ of indigenous peoples and to distort their history.”

“Unfortunately,” the specialist says, Moscow used similar efforts in the past with regard to minorities under its control, “but they were rarely so frequent or rigid.” Ukraine should take note of this and call it to the world’s attention in order to gain support for its own minorities now under Russian occupation and more generally.

Babin makes three other major contributions to the analysis of what Moscow has done in Crimea and why Kyiv is in a good position to exploit it against Russian propagandists and diplomats.

  • First, he points out that the April 21, 2014, Russian decree “on the rehabilitation of Armenian, Bulgarian, Greek, Crimean Tatar and German Peoples,” does not “rehabilitate” these peoples as Moscow routinely claims. Instead, it focused only “on the illegality of their deportation.”
  • Second, Babin calls attention to the fact that the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues on May 11, 2014, denounced the Russian decree for “ignor[ing] the recognition of Crimean Tatars as an indigenous people and equat[ing] them with settlers from Europe located in Crimea in the XIX century.”
  • And third, and most provocatively, he says, Russian occupation of Crimea has the effect of restoring as far as Moscow is concerned and as international law governing the responsibilities of occupying powers requires the April 26, 1991 Russian law “on the rehabilitation of repressed peoples.”

“Traditionally,” that is before the Russian occupation, “Russian and Ukrainian legal doctrines suggested that this act did not apply to Crimean Tatars because their historical motherland since 1954 had come under the jurisdiction of the Ukrainian SSR and [then, under independent] Ukraine.”

But in fact, Babin points out, “a repressive act against the Crimean Tatar people occurred in 1944 when Crimea and the Crimean Tatars were under the jurisdiction of the Russian SFSR.” As an occupying power, Russia thus must “fulfill its own law …or cancel or change it officially,” something it hasn’t done.

Among the key provisions of the 1991 law, the Odesa scholar points out, is one that calls for the “restoration of national-state entities” that were suppressed when the people were deported. “This suggests,” Babin continues, that the Crimean ASSR “in the form it existed before 1945” is required by Russian law.

Pointing that out could win Ukraine friends not only in Ukraine but inside the Russian Federation as well, the Odesa scholar suggests, as it give all of those peoples now living under Moscow’s occupation hope that they have an ally in Ukraine in their pursuit of the recovery of what Moscow took from them.

Edited by: A. N.
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