Restoring justice: Recognizing genocide of Crimean Tatars on global agenda

08:53, 07 August 2015
8 min. 429

The Crimean Tatars called on the world to recognize Russia’s policy for the destruction of the Crimean Tatar people as genocide. UNIAN has asked the experts, which mechanisms can be used, and whether the aggressor will be held responsible.

The participants of the recent II World Congress of Crimean Tatars, held in the Turkish capital Ankara, urged the world community to recognize the policy of Russia for the destruction of the Crimean Tatar people as genocide. Their appeal reads that, since 1783, after the elimination of the original state of the Crimean Tatars - Crimean Khanate, and until today, the Russian government has been exerting systematic pressure on the representatives of the Crimean Tatar community, to drive them from the peninsula and replace them with the Russians. "As a result, during the 19th and 20th centuries, more than 1.5 million of the Crimean Tatars were forced to leave their homeland," the document says.

And it is not only about the three-hundred-years old events, but also about the tragedies not too distant in global perspective. The authors of the appeal remind the deportation on May 18, 1944, initiated by the leaders of the Soviet Union, and also Russia’s annexation of Crimea on February 28, 2014. "Russia has been implementing a policy of systematically ignoring the fundamental freedoms of the Crimean Tatars, forcing their emigration from Crimea, rapid assimilation, exerting pressure, murder, imprisonment, deportation of those who try to resist and oppose its actions," reads the appeal of the Congress.

The participants of the World Congress of Crimean Tatars say that this is the perpetrators’ impunity for crimes against humanity which resulted in such tragedies repeating for centuries. In this regard, the Crimean Tatars have turned to the international community for assistance in carrying out the investigation, judicial review of all committed crimes aimed at destroying the Crimean Tatar population – since 1783 until today – by the Russian Empire and its successors – the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation. The Congress has also called to recognize these atrocities as genocide.

According to the Crimean Tatar leader, Ukrainian presidential envoy for Crimean Tatar People's affairs, and Ukrainian Member of Parliament from the Bloc of Petro Poroshenko Mustafa Dzhemilev, the recognition of the genocide is not an easy job, as it requires years to be implemented. He recalled that even during the presidency of Viktor Yushchenko, the commission was created at the Security Service of Ukraine to investigate into the genocide of the Crimean Tatars in 1944. "But Yanukovych has dissimilated this commission," Dzhemilev said.

Today the Commission is working again, quite actively. "We have not yet met with head of the SBU [Vasyl] Hrytsak, but we will have a conversation, to speed up the process. On our side, we have been collecting data, and now we have quite a lot of material," said the leader of the Crimean Tatar people.

Historical injustice

Director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Ihor Semivolos believes that, if looking at the history of the Crimean Tatar people during the Russian occupation, starting from the moment when Russia seized Crimea in the 18th century, the signs of squeezing the Crimean Tatar people from their land can really be traced. "This is Russia’s long-lasting colonization policy. The Crimean Tatars consider Russia’s oppression today, as a continuation of a process which never stopped. That is, it began with the seizure of Crimea in 1783 and it [still] continues today. And, in this sense, the oppression of Crimean Tatars, the infringement of their interests [today] is a continuation of the colonial policy of Russia," says the expert.

According to Semivolos, the events back in 1944, when the Crimean Tatars were forcibly evicted from their homes and deported from Crimea, could be considered as crimes against humanity, even from a legal perspective. "Deportation gives grounds to consider genocide," the expert believes.

Photo from UNIAN

Today, a huge number of Crimean Tatars is forced to flee Crimea / Photo from UNIAN

A Ukrainian diplomat, expert at the "Maidan of Foreign Affairs," Aleksandr Khara echoes this opinion. However, he notes that the global recognition of this fact is quite difficult to achieve. "I think that a lot of European countries and also the United States and Canada may support such a decision being the most consistent in protecting human rights and historical justice, but it is very difficult to achieve worldwide recognition. Of course, the Crimean Tatars have the right to raise this issue. The deportation in the times of the Stalin’s rule and tortures of so many totally innocent people certainly give grounds to consider genocide in relation to people of specific nationality," he said.

Former MP and political scientist Taras Chornovil said that the appeal of the Congress was logical, appropriate and rightful, because what is happening in Crimea today, though not in such a straightforward and dramatic way as under Stalin, still reminisces of that times. "Genocide is a broader concept, it is about creating conditions, under which it is impossible to live a normal life and develop, resulting, ultimately, in the population reducing, fleeing and the like," he said.

According to him, the parallels can be drawn between the 1944 and the 2014. During the World War II, Crimean Tatars have been forcibly deported en masse, and people were dying, and now a huge number of people are being under pressure, forced to flee Crimea and become refugees. "There are some signs that can be qualified as genocide. People have lost the opportunity for living a normal full life. Also worth noting are murders, harassment, terrorizing of the Crimean Tatars, depriving them of their linguistic and cultural rights by the occupying Russian authorities ... All of these are signs that can be clearly called ethnocide, that is, the destruction of the Crimean Tatars as a nation. So, the logical appeal of the Congress of the Crimean Tatars is absolutely justified," says the analyst.

Word on Ukraine

The seriousness of the Crimean Tatars’ intention to hold Russia responsible is also evidenced by the fact that the Congress was held in Turkey, which, in addition to being a consistent advocate, a political and historical partner of the Crimean Tatars, is also a NATO member state and an official candidate for the EU membership (albeit with dubious prospects). In this regard, according to Chornovil, it is obvious that the consequences of this appeal will be dealt with seriously, and Turkey's position in relations with Russia will be tougher.

However, following the appeal of the World Congress, Ukraine should be the first to recognize genocide of the Crimean Tatars, because this is Ukraine’s indigenous people. According to Ihor Semivolos, other countries will either follow or not follow the official Kyiv’s move. "The whole process of recognition of genocide can only be started after Ukraine, itself, recognizes this fact, thus putting it into the legal framework," he said.

Semivolos reminds that the mechanism of international recognition of Holodomor as genocide of the Ukrainian people has been launched after the relevant decision adopted by the Verkhovna Rada. In general, he believes that the recognition of the 1944 deportation of the Crimean Tatars as genocide is realistic: "I know that the work continues in this direction. Just as in the case of Holodomor, there will be results, the perpetrators will be prosecuted."

Taras Chornovil shares this opinion: "I think that the recognition of the events in 1944 as genocide - is an obvious solution to the issue. The Crimean Tatars are residents of Ukraine who don’t have another historical homeland than the territory of Ukraine, and I think that the Ukrainian state authorities should be the ones to initiate the process."

Moreover, the political scientist is sure that if Ukraine initiates the recognition, that "under the current circumstances, there is a high probability that the number of countries to recognize this genocide in the next few years can be quite significant."

In turn, the leader of the Crimean Tatar people Mustafa Dzhemilev said that, unfortunately, this issue does not find global support, as some countries still either avoid recognizing the Russian occupation of Crimea, or fail imposing sanctions, driven by own economic and political reasons. "It's one thing to prove the truth. But it’s another thing when, even if you prove something, some country will still make its decision based on its own interests and geopolitical position, regardless whether it is correct or not," he stated.

Photo from UNIAN

Dzhemilev said that today it is important to fix the very fact of genocide / Photo from UNIAN

According to Dzhemilev, given that the specific perpetrators of genocide of the Crimean Tatars "have long been in hell," today it is important to fix the very fact of genocide. "We expect that, following the recognition by Ukraine of genocide of the Crimean Tatars, the EU, the US, Canada, Turkey will also join," he said.

Ways to recognize genocide

Today, there are three mechanisms of implementing the recognition of genocide. The first is when the State, where the event has occurred, recognizes it first, and then the other countries join in gradually. After a large number of countries (there is no clear definition of the needed number, so we are talking about dozens of countries) recognize the fact of genocide, then the fact is starting to be branded as “genocide” in in international documents.

The second way is the UN resolution. However, experts doubt this would happen. "We understand that Russia will block it at the UN Security Council immediately. Churkin [Russia’s permanent representative to the UN Security Council] will tell why this decision is not timely, or say some other nonsense," said Chornovil.


Besides, Aleksandr Khara believes that the “Ukrainian diplomatic corps is able to push the decision on the genocide of the Crimean Tatars through the UN".

As an example, the expert calls the recent vote in the UN General Assembly on a resolution in support of the territorial integrity of Ukraine, when four-five states, including Russia, were "against" the resolution, 100 countries supported it, and the rest abstained. "Even considering that the resolution recognizing the Ukrainian authority over Crimea was in our favor, but, unfortunately, the fact that, for example, China and some other rather large states were among the abstaining countries means that the vote cannot be considered a diplomatic victory," says Khara.

Tribunal, yet again

The third option to recognize the actions of Russia in Crimea as genocide of the Crimean Tatars may become the rulings of international courts. Such precedents were in the cases of Cambodia and Rwanda. Thus, the facts of genocide were identified by several states individually, and then the international courts ruled there were crime against humanity, which was followed by a confirmation, to some extent, by the United Nations.

Actually, to create such a tribunal, five-six countries should make a decision. Having established that there was, in fact, genocide, the tribunal would be able to offer the UN this definition. "That is, the UN recorded this information, which resulted in further referring to the events mentioned, as genocide, but it was not the UN which established the very fact of genocide,” said Chornovil, “a special tribunal should be established for such things. For example, certain events during the First Balkan War against Serbia were recognized as genocide, and these facts have been confirmed by the results of the Hague Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia."

At the same time, Mustafa Dzhemilev believes that genocide may be considered by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, the European Union, and then by the United Nations. "Although, such a fact being recognized at the United Nations is a rarity. For example, Holocaust was recognized because there had been an international tribunal, evidence had been presented and specific perpetrators had been convicted ... For global recognition, there must be an international trial," he said.

In his opinion, it will be difficult to establish an international tribunal regarding the events in 1944, but it is still possible in theory.

In turn, political analyst at the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation Volodymyr Horbach believes that "it is a fair and politically correct decision of the Congress of the Crimean Tatars". "Still, in terms of realistic realization of this idea, particularly at a legal level, it looks unlikely ... But it will be an additional political argument, an additional reason, quite important for the Crimean Tatar people to appeal to the world community for their return to their homeland and the related de-occupation of Crimea," the expert believes.

"The recognition of genocide will not, of course, be a decisive factor in the de-occupation of Crimea, but, nevertheless, it will be a step in this direction," said Mustafa Dzhemilev.

Despite the fact that individual countries recognizing genocide would not have any legal repercussions for the country, responsible for such genocide, Ukraine should recognize the fact of the deportation in 1944 as genocide against the Crimean Tatar people and thus, try to bring its foreign policy on the level of human values, human rights and historical justice. In this case, the probability of international support for Ukraine would be much higher, as the policies in the in the civilized world are based exactly on such values.

Kostyantyn Honcharov

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