Recently, I tried to touch on the shortage of coverage on the unfolding troubles surrounding the Crimean Tatars. The near-silence from English-language media was, at the least, surprising.
Looks like I spoke a week too soon.
The past few days have seen a significant spike in coverage of the Tatars’ plight, simultaneous edifying and admirable. And varied, too – not only are we looking at a blanket run-down of all the issues Russian occupation has brought, but from various angles alongside.
Before getting to a meta-analysis of the recent looks, though, I thought it might be worth sharing a brief anecdote that, in addition to the sudden surge of coverage, may yet help the Tatars’ situation that much more.
Late last week, the secretary-general of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Lamberto Zannier, came to Columbia, speaking at the behest of the Harriman Institute. Running through a coterie of issues in Ukraine – and giving a situational analysis as broad as you’d hope to find – Zannier details the myriad methods and madnesses he and his organization have experienced since the early days of EuroMaidan. Attempting a formidable balance of European concern, Ukrainian outrage, and Russian deaf-mute pleadings, Zannier managed to thread a narrative that tossed a bit of gray on the situation – on the war – still smoldering in the east.
When questions arose, I managed to include one pertaining to the threats unfurling around the Crimean Tatar population – leadership exiled; the main library shuttered; scholars beaten and prevented from leaving the peninsula. He’d touched upon the Tatars in his speech. Post-occupation, what services could the OSCE offer to help aid Europe’s newest discriminated minority?
Briefly – not much. Ukraine, according to Zannier, had closed OSCE’s Simferopol office in 1999. No need for it, they said. Ethnic issues will take care of themselves. And they did, to an extent. Status quo ante wasn’t perfect, but it was improving.
Still, the office closed. And so, when the little green men began to corner-hop, the OSCE’s reach was neutered. Relying on person-to-person contact, the OSCE’s best line to Crimea – and to the Tatars – was cut.
Six months later, the situation remains the same.
That may be changing, though. According to Zannier, the OSCE is currently in negotiations with Moscow for representatives to touch base with contacts in Crimea. (What happens after, he didn’t say.) The decision may not be imminent – and certainly isn’t guaranteed – but the fact that Zannier felt confident enough to share the ongoing negotiations may say something.
Anyway, the behind-the-scenes conversations may now be augmented by the rush of coverage detailing the Tatars’ step-by-step dismantle. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has still stood as the steadiest stream of Russia’s latest infringement of Tatar rights, but a handful of articles and analyses have helped craft a wide-lens look of the troubles Tatars currently know.
Freelancer Leonid Ragozin and BuzzFeed’s Max Seddon come with the closest thing we have to an English-language biography of Mustafa Dzhemilev – something that’s been missing for the past six months, and long before. The man deserves a book (or more) comprising his tale, but Ragozin and Seddon deserve more than a bit of credit for tackling his post-occupation career.
And what a tale it is:
“The atmosphere [in Crimea] is completely lawless, it’s more dire than under Soviet power,” Mustafa Dzhemilev, the wry, diminutive, chain-smoking Ukrainian lawmaker who led the Mejlis from 1991 until last year and is still the Crimean Tatars’ unofficial leader, told BuzzFeed News in a Georgian restaurant in Kiev on Thursday. “Soviet power was predictable, in a way, because you knew there’d be the investigation, the court, the arrest, and then they sent you to the camp. Now that’s all vanishing.” …
When Russia’s lightning-quick annexation of the peninsula shortly afterward made it clear what Putin wanted, Dzhemilev received another invitation to meet him, this time from Mintimer Shaimiev, the former longtime head of the Tatar minority in Russia. (The Tatars in Russia are related to the Crimean Tatars, but are far less independent-minded politically.) This was the first request for contact made by Russia at any level to a Ukrainian official since the invasion. Dzhemilev agreed, only to back out again after his wife asked him, “Why are you going to meet that bastard?” …
Later, Dzhemilev said, Russia tried to exploit his efforts to free his imprisoned son, Khaiser, who was arrested last year for shooting one of the family’s bodyguards, Fevzi Edemov. Though two Ukrainian courts and the European Court of Human Rights have ruled to reclassify the crime as involuntary manslaughter and ordered Khaiser Dzhemilev’s release, Russia is holding him in custody while it conducts a new investigation, used as a pretext for searching his father’s house in July.
Not much worth adding, other than the hope that it spurs an interest in a fuller-length, longform write-up. For a man who led the longest hunger strike in Soviet history, this is the least he deserves.
Relative to BuzzFeed's cat-lists and GIF-bombs, the piece received a (relatively) tepid audience – but, as ever, props to those allowing it the light of the Internet. One Tatar-related offering that may see a bit more play in the policy circles came from Carnegie – with its headline, “Russia is (Again) Persecuting the Crimean Tatars”, saying it all. Circling a bit more tangentially on Dzhemilev’s history, Judy Dempsey gets Carnegie’s wonkier audience up to speed on the Tatars’ post-occupation issues.
Dempsey also dips into the response from populations standing against the Tatars – and from the reaction of Crimea's new local government:
Over recent months, swastikas have been daubed on some Tatar houses, reflecting how Russian propaganda demonizes those who oppose the Kremlin’s policies as Nazis or fascists. Other houses have been marked indicating that their inhabitants are Tatars. Anybody caught speaking the group’s Turkic language also risks persecution. …
On September 16, Russian security service agents and police raided the Mejlis and confiscated documents, computers, and books. Sergey Aksyonov, Crimea’s pro-Russian prime minister, said the authorities had received “signals about banned literature.” The Crimean Tatars were given twelve hours to clear the building or face eviction by force.
Aksyonov told the Russian daily newspaper Kommersant that the Mejlis did not exist. “From a juridical perspective, there is no such organization for me. What Mejlis? The organization was not registered properly. It does not exist.”
The Economist built upon the current oppression, burrowing it into the historic narrative of Moscow’s chauvinism on the peninsula:
Russia’s history of political suppression of the Tatars actually dates back farther than Stalin. “Now in the Crimea there are three hundred thousand bourgeois,” Vladimir Lenin wrote in 1920, referring mainly to the Tatar population. “We will take them, divide them, subjugate them, digest them.” That recipe recalls the moves Russian authorities have made since seizing Crimea. Authorities have banned the Tatar community’s two main leaders, Mustapha Dzhemilev and Refat Chubarov, both now in Kiev, from entering the peninsula for the next five years. Mr Dzhemilev, a member of the Ukrainian parliament, tried to return to Crimea on May 3rd; police fined a hundred members of the crowd that gathered to greet him for “public disorder”. Mr Chubarov, the current head of the Mejlis, now chairs its meetings via Skype.
Other suspicious incidents have gradually piled up. A Tatar who protested against the Russian takeover in March was found dead with signs of torture, and two others have disappeared. Heavily armed special police have carried out repeated searches of restaurants, madrassas and mosques. In early September the Mejlis building, which still flies the Ukrainian flag, was defaced with vulgar graffiti.
These three stories, as welcome as any media developments out of Ukraine since the occupation began, approached the Tatars with a top-down approach, using leadership and history as the lens with which to view situations continuing on the ground. Vocativ, however, took a bit different look. With its deep-web background, Vocativ leaned toward its strength, mining online commentary for a look at Tatar pushback. Centering upon the #StopCrimeanTatarGenocide hashtag, Vocativ pulled the veil back on the world boiling under Russian pressure:
Now—in the wake of the “Peace March” in Moscow over the weekend in which thousands of people protested the Kremlin’s military action in Ukraine—fearful Tatars are striving to make their plight heard. Ukrainian and Russian activists united against Crimean Tatar persecution launched a virtual campaign last week on Twitter. The hashtag #StopCrimeanTatarsGenocide has been tweeted hundreds of times.
Photos, Tweets, threads – all those drips of frustration, piling into another narrative of pressure, persecution, and patience. How long the latter will last remains a question well worth monitoring. If the OSCE’s there, all the better. If not, the coverage of the Tatars’ situation may become far more prevalent, for reasons none want.
 We've officially hit the six-month mark following the UN's vote on recognizing Crimea's occupation as "annexation." A grand total of 12 nations, in addition to Russia, have recognized the forced administration as such. Among those dozen collaborators are: North Korea, Sudan, Venezuela, Belarus, Armenia, Zimbabwe, Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan.
 The BuzzFeed bit shares the highest estimate of Crimean Tatars who've left the peninsula since the Russian occupation began, at 10,000. The lowest veritable estimate comes in at 3,000.