The West does not get the full truth about the lives and aspirations of the Crimean Tatars, a Turkic ethnic group traditionally living in Crimea. There are a lot of myths about their history and destiny, created by interested foreign parties.

With the “incorporation” of Crimea, Russia inherited a broad range of inter-ethic problems facing the peninsula. Among these challenges is the problem of establishing harmonious relations with the Crimean Tatars, which account for about 12-13 percent of Crimea’s entire population. If one talks about the current challenges of the Crimean Tatars, one should keep in mind that their Mejlis, one of the most prominent and influential organizations on the peninsula, is not the only one that can convey the interests of the entire ethnic group of Crimean Tatars. In short, they do not have a monopoly on power.  

The Mejlis leaders were very much against the change in the peninsula’s status. In fact, they supported Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Yet, some Crimean Tatar campaigners,  supported Moscow. Moreover, the preparation to the Crimean referendum revealed that the Mejlis was divided in its attitude toward Russia, with some its representatives having expressed their readiness to cooperate with Moscow. Paradoxically, the Mejlis, which was the key outpost of Kiev on the peninsula, was not officially registered in Ukraine’s Ministry of Justice. The Ukrainian parliament recognized  the Mejlis as an official executive body of Crimean Tatars on March 20, 2014, only after Russia retook the peninsula. 

Still, the question of the Crimean Tatars’ integration into Russian society became one of the key priorities of the Kremlin ever since the "incorporation" of Crimea. The Constitutional Commission on the Crimea Republic’s Fundamental Law included political campaigner Lentun Bezaziev. He was a member of the Autonomy’s highest representative body and chaired the Crimean Tatar’s Representative Council under the Ukrainian President. The Crimean Constitution signed on April 11, 2014 coined the term “multinational people of the Crimean Republic” and declared the Crimean Tatar language as an “official language” alongside Ukrainian and Russian. This constitutional norm allows for introduction of legislative acts that will develop the concept further and ensure linguistic equality.

On April 21, 2014 Putin signed a decree, “On measures to rehabilitate Armenian, Bulgarian, Greek, Crimean Tatar and German peoples and provide state support for their revival and development.” According to this document, the plan was to come up with a separate program for Crimean economic development up to the year 2020, taking into account measures to promote national, cultural and spiritual revival of these people. At the same time, as Vice Speaker of Crimea’s State Council Remzi Ilyasov claims, “Ukraine unfortunately did not adopt any laws aimed to revive the Crimean Tatar people and create necessary conditions for its revival and preservation on their homeland.”

Yet, political declarations and their implementation in practice do not always coincide. Unfortunately, Putin and the prominent leader of Crimean Tatar National Movement Mustafa Dzhemilev were not able to establish good personal ties. After their talks on March 12, 2014, Dzhemilev did not stop his efforts to move the “Crimean question” to the international agenda. On the contrary, he reinvigorated his efforts. Later he repeatedly called on American and European politicians to launch a UN peacekeeping mission in Crimea and ignore the results of the March 16 referendum. Besides, he repeatedly met with Turkish President Recap Tayyip Erdogan to persuade Ankara to help Ukraine to protect its territorial integrity and contain Russia.

An irreconcilable confrontation between Dzhemilev and Mejlis had an impact on the further dynamic of Russia’s official relationship with the Crimean Tatar movement. Almost from the very beginning, Russia placed its stakes on marginalizing Dzhemilev, Chubarov and their supporters and creating alternative structures that will be loyal to the new leadership.

Moscow made several steps: Putin met with the delegation of Crimean Tatars in Sochi on May 16, 2014, on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the deportation. A number of prominent Crimean Tatars came to power. Ilyasov became the vice speaker of the Crimean State Council, with Zaur Smirnov appointed as the chairman of the State Committee for International Relations and Deported Citizens. Edip Gafarov became head of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, while Ruslan Balbek was appointed as the deputy chairman of Republican Ministerial Committee (2014-2016) and a member of the Russian State Duma since 2016.

However, the confrontation with the Mejlis still remains a complicated problem for the Kremlin. And the key question here is not who heads it. The key question is whether or not the population supports the Mejlis.

This question is quite ambiguous. The regional government focuses on restrictive measures. On May 16, 2014, on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the Crimean Tatar deportation, Sergey Aksenov, as acting head of the Republic’s government at that time (then he became a Head of the Republic), prohibited mass rallies in Crimea to avoid any incidents against the backdrop of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine.

Yet, one cannot ignore the confrontational logic on the other side as well. This was most evident during the campaign to boycott the elections to Russian government bodies or the so-called “energy” and “civil” blockade of Crimea in 2015. Dzhemilev many times publicly called on others to boycott a conscription campaign among Crimean Tatar youth to join the Russian army. At the same time, the Spiritual Board of Crimean Muslims - headed by Crimean Tatar Emirali Ablaev since 1999 – fiercely criticized the Mejlis-led blockade of the peninsula.

To sum up, in 2014 Crimea became a key factor that determined Russia’s position on the global scene. Maintaining these achievements over the short term and long term depends on how efficiently the authorities resolve the problems facing the peninsula. The promotion of Russian civic identity among the Crimean population, harmonization of inter-ethnic relations and integration of Crimean Tatars into Russian society are among the top challenges to be addressed. While this process cannot be easy, it also cannot be seen from merely a “black or white” perspective.


In the run-up to the Crimean status referendum held on March 16, 2014, the Mejlis leaders were spreading rumours among the Crimean Tatars that they would be threatened with deportation if Crimea became part of Russia. These rumours turned out to be a lie, however, as did lurid predictions of a forced relocation of Crimean Tatars to Ukraine. Many of those who left the peninsula had something to fear as they were members of Hizbut Tahrir, a radical organization seeking establishment of a global Caliphate. This organisation, together with the Mejlis and Ukrainian ultra-nationalist Right Sector, were preparing a large-scale bloody conflict in Crimea between the Russians and the Crimean Tatars. The Mejlis failed to present the world with a picture of the ‘mass exodus’ of Crimean Tatars from Crimea so its provocative agenda  ultimately failed.

During the 23 years of Crimea’s stay in Ukraine, there was not a single law passed in favour of the rehabilitation of previously deported Crimean Tatars in 1944, nor was there a single programme for their resettlement. Yet on 21 April 2014, just one month after the law was signed making Crimea part of Russia, President Vladimir Putin signed a decree on the rehabilitation of Crimean Tatars and other repressed minorities in the peninsula.

On 21 April 2019, exactly five years after the decree on the rehabilitation of the repressed peoples of Crimea, a cathedral mosque will be opened in Simferopol. Crimean Muslims have been waiting more than 17 years for it. Part of the mosque complex will be a Museum of the Islamic Culture of Crimea, as well as classes where anyone who wishes  can study Islam. There are around 1,000 mosques on the Crimean peninsula and they are often located next to Orthodox churches. This is not a false claim, it is the new reality in which Crimean Tatars live today.

The Crimean Tatar language has been given official status alongside Russian and Ukrainian. The children of Crimean Tatars can now get education in national schools and classes. They know that their language is protected in Russia by its legal status.

According to polling data from Russia’s Federal Agency for Ethnic Affairs, three years after Crimea joined Russia, 65 per cent of Crimean Tatars have a positive view of the situation in Crimea and around 70 per cent have successfully integrated themselves into Russian life. Only 13 per cent of those surveyed support Kiev’s policies. Even Ukrainian human rights defenders acknowledge that the majority of Crimean Tatars have no plans to move away from Crimea.

Meanwhile, Ukraine and the Western propaganda machine keep creating myths and false news about the status of Crimean Tatars in Russia. Following the March 2014 Crimea referendum, Ukraine closed the North Crimean Canal and allowed the destruction of power lines leading from Ukraine, depriving Crimeans (including hundreds and thousands of Crimean Tatars) of water and electricity. That same state is now tirelessly thinking up ‘laws’ to support the Crimean Tatar people – with the proviso that Crimea be ‘returned’ to Ukraine.

The people of Crimea are confident that in March 2014 they made the right historical choice to be with Russia. RemziIlyasov, a former functionary of the Mejlis and currently vice-speaker of the State Council of Crimea, has expressed his willingness to convey “the voice of the Crimean Tatars” to the world from the rostrum of the United Nations. He speaks convincingly of the fact that the peninsula’s reunification with Russia was based on the legitimate will of the Crimean people and any attempts to present the Crimean Tatars as opposed to this reunification are simple speculation and have absolutely nothing to do with reality. He says, “Only the Crimean Tatars who live in Crimea have the right to decide about their future.”


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