17 January 1999
TENSE SITUATION IN CRIMEA, UKRAINE
The new constitution of Crimea and the bombing of the Crimean Tatar National Mejlis (Assembly) building in Simferopol
We, as members of the International Committee for Crimea (ICC), are extremely concerned with the recent developments in Crimea and Ukraine. A proposed constitution for the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, which was approved by the Ukrainian Parliament in December 1998, has been signed into effect by the Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma. In the early hours of 15 January 1999, the Crimean Tatar National Mejlis was bombed and the building sustained severe damage.
We deplore this act of violence against the Crimean Tatar people. We are further concerned because the new constitution fails to protect adequately political and cultural rights of about 275,000 Crimean Tatars, who make up over 10% of Crimea's population of 2,700,000. Crimean Tatars are the native people who inhabited the Crimean peninsula for over five centuries. In 1944, they were wrongly accused of collaboration with the Nazis and deported en masse to the distant lands of the Soviet Union. Most of the Russians and Ukrainians in Crimea today settled there in the last 50 years. The Tatars who returned to Crimea under difficult conditions, without any outside assistance for deported people, now face discrimination and hostility in their own ancestral homeland.
Today Crimean Tatars have no representation in the Crimean Parliament, and the new constitution does not allow for their political participation. It will not be possible, for example, to elect delegates to the Crimean Parliament because they do not constitute a majority in any given voting district. Their own democratically elected body, Crimean Tatar National Mejlis, is not recognized by the Crimean Parliament or the Ukrainian government.
Most of the Tatars who have returned to Crimea live in substandard housing, with no plumbing, electricity, or adequate roads. Their attempts to establish Tatar-language schools have met with strong opposition from the local people. The new Crimean constitution does not allow for funding of Tatar schools. Approximately half of the Tatars in Crimea are yet to be given Ukrainian citizenship, and they remain ineligible to use available health-care and social services.
As members of the International Committee for Crimea, we are deeply concerned that the current political and social conditions in Crimea are not conducive to the survival of Crimean Tatars as an ethnic minority. They have the right to live in their ancestral homeland with constitutional guarantees, and free of social and economic prejudices against them. With the approval of the new constitution, however, the situation is likely to get worse, the recent bombing of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis building being a prime example.
We strongly urge the Ukrainian authorities to protect and respect the rights of Crimean Tatars. We ask the Kuchma government to rebuild the Crimean Tatar Mejlis building and provide full protection for the Mejlis. The first step towards full protection will start with the recognition of the Crimean Tatar National Mejlis as the sole representative body of the Crimean Tatar people. We call on the international community to be aware of the multitude of problems Crimean Tatars are experiencing in their homeland and help prevent further attacks on the long suffering Crimean Tatars, who have not resorted to violence in their efforts to resettle in Crimea.
Mubeyyin Batu Altan, Boston, MA, USA
Inci Bowman, Washington, DC, USA
Mehmet Tutuncu, Haarlem, The Netherlands
ICC, P.O.Box 15078, Washington, DC 20003