Ukraine crisis: Muslim Tatars are under threat from ethnic violence under new separatist administration in Crimea

 

Bakhchisarai

For one who is likely to be among the first to be taken away at gunpoint if the new men in power here have their way, Fazil Amazayev, was being remarkably calm. Such actions, he insisted “will unite all the Muslims here; they will make enemies of us all”.

Mr Amazayev is a senior member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Islamic political organisation which is legal in Ukraine. However, among the first pronouncements made by the new separatist Prime Minister of Crimea and the security chief he has appointed is that it is a “ dangerous terrorist organisation” which will have to be dealt with.

Hizb ut-Tahrir has been blamed in many countries for promoting radicalism; but violent militancy caused by it is hard to find in Ukraine. And the fear of becoming sectarian targets is not just confined to activists among the Tatars: many in the community are staying away from city centres where Russian-speaking vigilantes hold sway, and some are leaving for other parts of the country.

 

Mr Amazayev says he is confident that the Tatars of Crimea will not let him and others from his group be picked off by the new head of security, Petr Zima, who was promoted from his previous post in Sevastopol, the home of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. “Zima built up a reputation in Sevastopol for carrying out raids, accusing people of being involved in extremism. But, if he starts doing that now, he will make a big mistake. The people in the [Tatar] establishment, the Mufti and the Mejlis [representative council] criticised us in the past, but now we are all facing the common enemy. And, if they do start persecuting us, we know how to survive, we have done it in Syria, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia.”

Nevertheless, Mr Amazayev has started to be very cautious, not straying outside his home town, Bakhchisarai, a historic place of mosques where Muslims form a sizeable portion of the population. “I don’t think it will be safe for me to travel, not at this time,” he said.

The larger Tatar community is in friction with the Russian nationalist population over the issue of secession from Ukraine. The new Crimean administration of Sergei Aksenov is organising a referendum on the issue, clearing the way to rule by Moscow – anathema to the Tatars who were deported from here, en masse, to Siberia and the central Asian steppes by Stalin at the end of the Second World War.

Today the head of the Russian republic of Tatarstan arrived in Crimea. Many, however, view Rustam Minnikhanov as an emissary of the Kremlin sent to persuade the Mejlis to change its policy of refusing to recognise the new separatist Crimean administration. “ He is not someone we see as our protector,” said one of its officials.

The sense of being under threat has led to the formation of self-defence groups in Tatar neighbourhoods: the growing prevalence of fear in a people who have lived, on the whole, amicably with those of Russian and Ukrainian extraction since they returned from exile in the 1990s.

The current tensions emerged quickly. A demonstration against secession drew 10,000 from Ukraine’s largest Muslim community to the streets of the Crimean capital, Simferopol, last week. There were chants of “Allah hu Akhbar” from a small band of Tatars which some among an opposing protest by Russian speakers complained they found intimidating.

There were no serious acts of violence by either side or the police; but two people were reported to have died in the crush as the crowd converged outside the state parliament. 

Read more: Urgent talks, angry words, but still no coherent plan to end Crimea’s stand-off
Pentagon sends jets to patrol the Baltics
Telephone networks are first casualty of conflict
Comment: One person’s saviour is another person’s conqueror
Sketch: Domestic matters forgotten in consensus over Ukraine

That night the parliament buildings were taken over by Russian-speaking gunmen in balaclavas. The following morning Vladimir Putin’s forces had begun taking over strategic locations. Soon the actual numbers of those killed in the rally rose to four or six. All the victims were, it was claimed, Russians who had been murdered by Tatars using iron bars, knives and  noxious sprays.

Street collections were soon under way for the bereaved families, and passing Tatars often found themselves subjected to abuse. Adem Suleymanov was hurrying home in the evening through Simferopol’s Lenin Square when he was accosted by three young men wearing orange and black ribbons of the Russian military order of St George.

“They were quite drunk. They demanded that I should give money for the families of those who died. I did,” he recalled. “Then one of them swung me around and started shouting ‘Why do you want to destroy that?’ And then he started kicking at me.” Mr Suleymanov was being pointed by his attackers at the statue of Lenin which the Mejlis had demanded should be pulled down and replaced by a park reflecting peace and unity among the different nationalities of Crimea.

A “march for peace” was held at Bakhchisarai by the League of Crimean Tatar Women. It walked past Russian nationalist vigilantes who had formed a cordon in front of a Ukrainian base surrounded by Moscow’s forces. “I do not like foreign soldiers occupying our country,” said 25-year-old Aliya. “I also do not agree with the policies of Hizb ut-Tahrir. If the Russians start pressuring the Tatars then it is natural that people will close in and, who knows, people like Hizb ut-Tahrir may start picking up support.”

Sitting on his balcony, watching the march and the Russian soldiers, 75-year-old Rifat Ibrahimov’s one wish was that the past not return: “I was so very young when we were moved from here that time. I have learnt to forget most of the terrible things that happened, especially after we came back home. No, I do not want to see days like those again.”

News
In 2006, Pluto was reclassified as a 'dwarf planet'
scienceBut will it be reinstated?
News
Jennifer Lawrence at the Vanity Fair Academy Awards party in February 2014
people12 undisclosed female victims are seeking $100m in damages
Arts and Entertainment
Adam Levine plays a butcher who obsessively stalks a woman in Maroon 5's 'Animals' music video
music'Animals' video 'promotes sexual violence against women'
News
people Biographer says cinema’s enduring sex symbol led a secret troubled life
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
voicesI like surprises - that's why I'm bringing them back to politics, writes Nigel Farage
News
Bear and hare woodland scene from John Lewis Christmas advert
newsRetailer breaks with tradition, selling real festive fir trees online for the first time
Arts and Entertainment
Anthony Horowitz will write the next 007 novel
booksAnthony Horowitz to write new instalment in spy series for 2015
News
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
people
News
people

Kirstie Allsopp has waded into the female fertility debate again

Sport
Kicking on: Nathaniel Clyne is relishing the challenge of the Premier League after moving from Crystal Palace
footballSurprises include a first ever call-up for one Southampton star
Voices
4 May 2013: The sun rises over Tower Bridge in London. Temperatures across the UK could be higher than several European holiday destinations by Monday, including parts of Italy and France (Andy Hepburn/PA)
voices
News
The moon observed in visible light, topography and the GRAIL gravity gradients
science

...and it wasn't caused by an asteroid crash, as first thought

News
Researchers say a diet of fatty foods could impede smell abilities
scienceMeasuring the sense may predict a person's lifespan
News
newsGlobal index has ranked the quality of life for OAPs - but the UK didn't even make it into the top 10
Extras
indybest
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

HR Advisor - East Anglia - Field-based

£35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: To be considered for this position you will n...

General Cover Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: We have opportunities for Cov...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Maths Teacher required to tea...

Digital Fundraising Analyst/Web Analyst - West Sussex - Permanent - £30k DOE

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?