Beyond Geopolitics: Why Does the Crimean Tatars Case Matter?

On 9 October 2018, the Office attended a conference at the European Parliament on the topic „Beyond Geopolitics: Why Does the Crimean Tatars Case Matter?“. The event was organised by Promote Ukraine and the Unrepresented Nations & Peoples Organisation (UNPO), Brussels, and hosted by MEP Corazza-Bildt, MEP Kelam, and MEP Demesmaecker. The conference consisted of two panels: Panel I was on the topic „Illegal Occupation 4 Years Later – Crimea and the Crimean Tatar Struggle“. Panel II talked about „Children and Women in Crimea“. The report focuses on the main outcomes of Panel I.

Opening the conference, Lucia Parrucci, Advocacy Officer at UNPO and moderator of the event welcomed the participants of the conference, which was also live streamed. Furthermore, she welcomed the speakers of the two panels and quickly introduced them.

Parrucci: „In the name of UNPO Brussels, I would like to welcome all the participants and speakers“.

MEP Tunne Kelam pointed out that it is important for the EU to understand the topic and to understand what the problems and the options are. Mr. Kelam made the audience aware of the fact that deportations of Crimean Tatars started in 1921 already. Around 100.000 Crimean Tatars had to flee to Romania or died of starvation. The scenario of being forced to leave or to suffer starvation has continued throughout history. MEP Kelam hoped that the message of the conference will be of significance and that we can learn something that is also important for the EU – we belong together.

Kelam: „It is important that the EU understands the topic“.

Refat Chubarov, Chairman of the Crimean Tatars Milli Mejlis, expressed his gratefulness to the organisers of the event and the participants. He was of the opinion that we are in a huge geopolitical crisis, which started with the aggression of Russia in March 2014. The speaker pointed out that Russia has already been aggressive towards other countries in the past (e.g. Georgia). Mr. Chubarov drew the attention of the audience to the fact that when people talk about the geopolitical crisis they often tend not to consider concrete nations that suffer. The occupation of Crimea and its illegal annexation is a tragedy for Crimean Tatars. On events like this, people expect to have solutions. According to the speaker, the solutions are known but a lack of political will is the problem. Mr. Chubarov was of the opinion that as long as Russia occupies Crimea the human rights situation cannot be improved and Crimean Tatars cannot feel safe. He expressed its hope that institutions, like the EU, take measures to stop the aggression of the Russian Federation.

Chubarov: „Unstopped aggression of Russia remains the source of threats and challenges around the world“.

Co-founder of the International Association of Ukrainian Women, Alina Skomorokhova, told the audience that the current time is very painful for women and children of Crimean Tatars in occupied Crimea. She pointed out that Crimean Tatar women defended the peace and integrity of Ukraine during the annexation. This time changed the position of women in Ukrainian society. They defended the rights of their children and became initiators of societal reconciliation.

Skomorokhova: „2014 became a turning point of consciousness of Ukrainian society“.

Alim Aliev, Program Director of Crimean House, made the audience aware of the fact that several hundreds of human rights violations have been taken place in Crimea. Furthermore, he suggested that the military should be moved to military camps outside cities to reduce an atmosphere of fear among society, the russification of Crimean Tatar identity and cultural heritage needs to stop, and „brain drain“ needs to be prevented. Young professionals, students, businessmen and journalists leave the country. The speaker also had positive news: over the past year, a few independent media initiatives have been created.

Aliev: „The Crimean Tata language is at the list of endangered languages by UNESCO“.

Programme Director of the International Partnership for Human Rights,  Simon Papuashvili, pointed out that there is no international presence in Crimea that could collect evidence for human rights violations. Mr. Papuashvili has gathered almost 2.000 testimonies on human rights violations in Crimea since 2014. He can see a continuing trend (e.g. detentions without legal basis). The speaker suggested to use criminal justice mechanisms of EU member states to improve the situation.

Papuashvili: „Human rights violations will not stop in the near future if we don’t start acting together“.

Emine Dzhaparova, First Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Information Policy of Ukraine, started her speech by talking about information warfare. She pointed out that information warfare is about pushing the narrative of brutal violation of the international law and that Ukraine is a failed and corrupt state. Furthermore, after the Russian occupation Ukrainian TV and radio signals were removed and Russian signals were installed. The second topic Ms. Dzhaparova talked about was hybrid warfare. According to her, hybrid warfare takes place when democratic tools are used against democracies. She was of the opinion that hybrid warfare does not only take place in Ukraine but also at the very core of the EU. Last but not least she answered the question „Why this is crucial for Crimean Tatars?“ Crimean Tatars identity is related to Crimea. For them, it is about physical existence and not geopolitics.

Dzhaparova: „The Ukrainian news space was cleansed after the Russian occupation“.

Foreign and Security Policy Analyst at the European Policy Center, Amanda Paul, pointed out that we cannot ignore that fact that human rights violations happen on a daily basis. Therefore, meaningful steps need to be taken. Moreover, the EU needs to understand that Crimea should not be seen as a separate issue.

Paul: „Crimea is not a separate issue“.

MEP Mark Demesmaeker was one of the organisers of the conference. He was of the opinion that a conference on this topic is a good start and more should take place in the future. According to MEP Demesmaeker, human rights should be universal and international law should be respected. If we turn a blind eye on the breach of international law, like the illegal annexation of Russia, we undermine the security construct of the EU. Moreover, he was of the opinion that we have to go even further if sanctions that are already in place do not show any results.

Demesmaeker: „Human rights should be universal“.

The Ukrainian Ambassador to the EU, Mr. Mykola Tochytskyi, and Mr. Chubarov made the closing remarks of the conference, highlighting the importance of keeping this issue high on the international and European agenda.