Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 13.09.2017
In February of 2014 the world’s attention was drawn to the ‘EuroMaidan’ protests in Kyiv. But the movement – soon be called the Revolution of Dignity – went beyond the capital. It was stirring hearts and minds throughout Ukraine, from Zakarpatia to Luhansk and from Kyiv to Crimea. At the same time, the counter-revolution was brewing in the form of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In the last week of February 2014 it was all coming together: the Heavenly Hundred were being mourned in Kyiv; Yanukovych had fled Mezhyhirya and was on the run; and Russia was executing a long-planned seizure of Crimea.
On 26 February 2014, a rally of at least 10,000 Crimean Tatars took place in Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine which almost derailed Russia’s plans for invasion and conquest. Waving Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian flags, the crowd called for the same things their countrymen and women called for in Kyiv: unity of all Ukrainians; an end to corruption; a normal life for their children. The Crimean Tatars defended the regional parliament in Simferopol from a rent-a-mob sent by the Russians to try to seize it. This put a wrench in Putin’s plans. He wanted to make it appear that a popular uprising was taking placing, dedicated to handing Crimea over to him. The day after the Crimean Tatars thwarted Putin, Russian special forces soldiers seized the parliament building in Simferopol, and the armed phase of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had begun. Putin never got the ‘invitation’ for his army he desired. The Russian invaders removed their patches and took down their flags and pretended to be local, but no one was buying it. For causing Russia to expose its aggression openly, Putin vowed revenge on the Crimean Tatars when he got them in his power.
Crimean Tatars are the autochthonous people of Ukraine’s southern peninsula. Once a solid majority in the land, they were brutally repressed by foreign occupiers from Muscovy. In 1944, the Stalin dictatorship ethnically cleansed the Crimean Tatars by deporting over 191,000 of them to what is today Uzbekistan. Many were killed by Beria’s NKVD and died in the deportation. When all of Ukraine was free of Muscovy occupation in 1991, Crimean Tatars returned to their homeland in substantial numbers. Crimean Tatars found their true home and a special autonomy in Ukraine. Crimean Tatar language, culture, religion, community organizations and businesses were beginning to flourish in multicultural and democratic Ukraine.
After the invasion, Putin consolidated his occupation of Crimea with a so-called ‘annexation’ in March 2014. He felt he had to ‘steal a march’ on Ukraine, which was planning presidential and then parliamentary elections. Putin did succeed in preventing Ukrainian citizens in Crimea from voting: he stole their citizenship. He then set about his brutal revenge on the Crimean Tatars. Russian occupation forces proscribed the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, the political expression of Crimean Tatar autonomy. Russia shut down the ATR Crimean Tatar TV channel. And the foreigners from Moscow set about to kidnap, put on show trial, deport to Siberia and hold captive every Crimean Tatar leader and Ukrainian patriot they could lay their hands on.
Crimean Tatar Mejlis leader Akhtem Chiygoz is the latest and most outrageous example of Russia’s gross violation of human rights in illegally-occupied Ukraine. In a trial where no evidence was presented and no witness was produced, the Russians convicted him of “organizing a mass riot” – referring to the events of 26 February 2014. Putin is so enraged by this display of peaceful, popular, and effective resistance to his evil plans that he will persecute anyone who he thinks has anything to do with it. The fact that the Crimean Tatars have continued to be peaceful in their opposition to the illegal occupation of their homeland, never resorting to armed resistance, infuriates Putin even more. Putin can’t deport and kill the Crimean Tatars like his hero Stalin did, but he can and does carry out a slow-motion ethnic cleansing that is an outrage to civilized humanity.
Putin’s exercise of Chekist violence never does him any good, but it’s all he knows and it’s all he does. He has brought in Moscow outsiders to dominate Crimea. Even ethnic Russians born in Crimea are second-class citizens compared to these carpetbaggers, and Putin is losing what little support he had before the stupidity of his invasion and occupation. Putin’s show trials are farcical to the disinterested and they are cruel and vicious to the victims. Russia is a gross violator of human rights in Crimea (and in occupied Donbas, too). Putin’s viciousness has turned Akhtem Chiygoz and the Crimean Tatars into potent symbols of dignity and a growing force of peaceful resistance to Russia’s illegal occupation. Foreign occupation by Muscovy is temporary. Crimea is Ukraine.