Mustafa Dzhemilev pose for a photo after a press briefing in Jakarta. (JG Photo/Sheany)

Ukraine's Muslim Minority Calls for Indonesian Support


AUGUST 21, 2018

Jakarta. Mustafa Dzhemilev, a prominent leader of the Crimean Tatars, has called on Indonesia and other Muslim countries to support Ukraine's resolution at the United Nations, which seeks to end Russia's occupation of Crimea and abuse against its indigenous population.

The Crimean Tatars are a Muslim minority group, living in the Crimean Peninsula, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.

Dzhemilev warned that if the occupation does not stop, it would mean an end to the Tatars there.

"If the occupation continues, it will mean the extermination of the indigenous population, Crimean Tatars, in the Crimean Peninsula," Dzhemilev told reporters at a press briefing in Jakarta this month.

Ukraine plans to propose the resolution at the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly in September.

In a meeting with Vice President Jusuf Kalla last week, Dzhemilev expressed his hope that Indonesia will support it.

"We want Indonesia, as the largest Muslim-majority country, to be part of this resolution and to ask other countries in the region to support it," he said, adding that Indonesia has been supportive of the struggle of Crimean Tatars and the unity of Ukraine, and expressed hope that it will consider co-authoring the new resolution.

Indonesia was among the 100 countries that supported a 2014 resolution on Ukraine's territorial integrity. Dzhemilev said that not many Muslim countries have shown solidarity.

"We were expecting Muslim countries, or countries with predominantly Muslim populations, to support us, because the hardest situation is happening to the Muslims in Crimea. But unfortunately we [did] not get this support," he said.

Mustafa Dzhemilev attends a press briefing in Jakarta. (JG Photo/Sheany)

He added that more than half of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) members abstained from voting when the 2014 UN resolution was proposed, for fears it would impact their bilateral relations Russia. Indonesia is also a member of OIC.

In spite of this, Dzhemilev, who served as the chairman of Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People in 1991-2013, said he will continue to work on raising awareness and support for his people in the Muslim world.

"No matter what, we treat them as our brothers. We still consider that we are brothers and we have to work to explain the situation [in Crimea]," he said.

Crimean Tatars

The Crimean Tatars are an ethnic minority group that makes up around 12 percent of the Crimean Peninsula's population.

Dzhemilev said that in the 18th century Crimean Tatars comprised 90 percent of the population. But at the end of that century, Russia conquered the region and began forcing the Muslim minority out.

He added that throughout history, Russia's policy in the peninsula was to decimate and push out its indigenous people.

The Soviet Union expelled nearly 200,000 Tatars from Crimea in 1944, an act which Ukraine declared as genocide in 2015. Significant groups of the region's Tatars now reside in other countries, including Uzbekistan and Turkey.

Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 amid a conflict with Ukraine that year. Nearly 10,000 people have died in eastern Ukraine and 1.6 million people have been displaced, according to data from the United Nations.

Dzhemilev said Russian President Vladimir Putin is responsible for war crimes and that his bloody regime should end.

"But to make it happen, no one should be silenced. If we are silenced today for [speaking up against] such criminality and war crimes, then tomorrow it might happen to your country," Dzhemilev said.

Many Crimean Tatars still refuse to submit to the Russian occupation, for which they have subject to surveillance and repression, Dzhemilev said.

In a statement issued last November, Human Rights Watch said Russian authorities have intensified persecution against Crimean Tatars, including physical attacks and enforced disappearances.

"That is why we are raising our voice. We are natives of this land, being oppressed. We are trying to voice out what is happening on our homeland."