Agitations against Muslim Crimean Tatars and Ukrainian Jews leads to first refugee movements

Crimea crisis: Minorities fear for their safety!

In Crimea, anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish agitation has led to first refugee movements. About 5,000 members of the population group of the Muslim Crimean Tatars – mainly women and children – have already left the peninsula in recent days and weeks, as reported by the Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) on Monday. In addition, Crimea's well-known reformist Jewish rabbi, Mihail Kapustin, fled from Simferopol to Kiev for fear of anti-Jewish riots – and representatives of Simferopol's Chabad organization, Jitzchak, Meir-Lifshitz, and his wife Leja, left Crimea with their community's Torah scrolls in order to bring the sacred writings to safety.

According to the STP, the members of the minority groups are becoming more and more anxious. "The Crimean Tatars have reported first signs of agitation against their ethnic group," reported the STP's CIS-consultant, Sarah Reinke, in Berlin. For example, the Russian-language media have started to agitate against Lenur Isljamow, a Crimean Tatar businessman and owner of the independent television station ATR, accusing him of being "russophobic" and an "extremist", based on his efforts to promote the language and culture of the Crimean Tatars. Also, he is supposed to have discredited the Red Army by funding an award-winning film about the deportation of the Crimean Tatars in 1944, during which 46 percent of the 190,000 deportees got killed.

"The fact that Mustafa Dschmilew, a Crimean Tatar member of the Ukrainian Parliament in Kiev, was not allowed to visit Crimea, is outrageous," said Reinke. "Many Crimean Tatars fear that they will soon be treated as badly as devout Muslims in the Russian Federation: When they are checked by the police, they are often subsequently accused of extremism – leading to criminal proceedings in which they are under a general suspicion of supporting extremists or being "terrorists" themselves. For example, a Crimean Tatar who distributed Russian-language issues of the Korans in Simferopol was arrested and questioned why he was wearing a beard or whether he is an extremist. He is still detained for "violations of public order" without any official charges.

According to Anatoly Genin, Chairman of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Crimea, unknown persons painted the Russian words for "Death to the Jews!" and swastikas on the walls of the Reform Jewish synagogue "Ner Tamid" in Simferopol during the night of February 28. Genin emphasized hat this was the first such anti-Semitic activity since the Ukraine became independent in 1991.

Sarah Reinke - head of the Berlin office and STP's expert on Eastern Europe - is available for further questions: Tel. 030 428 048 91 or berlin@gfbv.de.