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Crimean Tatars become target of ethnic hatred while tension is rising in Ukraine

13 March 2014

Minority Rights Group Europe (MRG) is gravely concerned about the serious threat to minorities and indigenous peoples in Crimea, in particular to the Crimean Tatars, ignited by the presence of Russian troops and the proposed referendum on the secession of Crimea.

The human rights organization calls for the Parliament in Crimea, the Russian Federation and the Ukrainian government to take immediate measures to protect the rights of all minorities and to ease ethnic tensions.

"Under no circumstances should any authorities employ ethnicity and the protection of one ethnic group over others as pretexts to justify unlawful activities or the violation of basic human rights and freedoms," says Neil Clarke, Managing Director of Minority Rights Group Europe. "Russia has, however, engaged in actions which have the potential to deepen ethnic tension and lead to ethnic conflicts."

The presence of Russian troops in Crimea, and the move by the Parliament in Crimea to secede from Ukraine threaten to escalate ethnic tensions in the region.

Minorities and indigenous peoples, in particular the Crimean Tatars, an indigenous community of approximately 300,000 in the peninsula, are becoming more and more exposed to intimidation and violence.

Recently, doors of Crimean Tatar residents were marked by X, a sign evoking memories of their 1944 deportation to Central Asia during the Stalin regime. Paramilitary groups have begun to mobilize in Crimea, such as Cossacks, as well as Crimean self-defence units.

"There is a tangible anti-Tatar sentiment now, which has also been fed by the media," says Nadir Bekirov, President of the Foundation for Research and Support of Indigenous People of Crimea. "The authorities tell us not to be afraid, but how can we overcome fear when we face such developments?"

In fear for their own safety, minority and indigenous communities, including Crimean Tatars, have started to organize themselves in Crimea. Non-armed community-watch patrols, sometimes of mixed ethnic composition, have been formed to safeguard sites in neighbourhoods vulnerable to provocation, in particular those with mosques or churches.

In addition, the referendum about whether or not Crimea should join with the Russian Federation has been advanced from 30 March to 16 March. Due to the intimidating atmosphere for minority and indigenous communities, the referendum cannot be free or fair says MRG.

In any further discussions on the future of Crimea, the interests of the Crimean Tatar people have to be respected and taken into account. It is the right of local communities, particularly indigenous peoples such as the Crimean Tatars, to be properly consulted and participate in decisions which affect them, including changes in political status, says the rights organization.

The escalating tensions in Crimea follow a more general worsening of the situation facing minorities in Ukraine. Ukraine's abolition of the legislation on minority languages on 23 February, a step taken even before the formation of the new government, has affected all linguistic minorities in Ukraine, including Russians in the south and east, the Crimean Tatars, the Krymchak, the Karaites, as well as the Bulgarian, Hungarian and Romanian minorities.

The repealed legislation on minority languages should be restored by the new government in Kiev in line with the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, to which Ukraine has been a party since 2006, says MRG.

Notes to editors:

  • The Crimean Tatars are indigenous people of Crimea who were deported by the Soviet government under Joseph Stalin in 1944. Many of them died from hunger and disease. With large numbers of Russians living on the peninsula, many of whom migrated following independence from the former Soviet Union, Crimea became the centre for pro-Russian and secessionist sentiments in Ukraine. The decimated Crimean Tatar people started to return to their homeland after 1991 and found that they were denied citizenship rights, access to education, employment and housing.
  • Minority Rights Group International is the leading international human rights organization working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples. We work with more than 150 partners in over 50 countries.

Interview opportunities:

Nadir Bekirov, Fund for Research and Support of Indigenous People of Crimea, Crimea, Ukraine (Russian, Ukrainian, English)
[email protected]
T: + 380 666 923 111

Neil Clarke, Managing Director of Minority Rights Group Europe (English)

Zsófia Farkas, Minority Rights Group Europe (Hungarian, English)

To arrange interviews, please contact MRG's Press Office:

Bernadett Sebály – M: +36 70 217 2601
E: [email protected]