Open Eyes Opinion
Lithuania – Crimea
Tuesday, April 12, Vilnius – President Dalia Grybauskaitė met with Crimean Tatar leaders Mustafa Dzhemilev and Refat Chubarov. Adas Jakubauskas, Chairman of the Lithuanian Tatar Union, also took part in the meeting. The President and the Tatar leaders discussed the very difficult situation of Tatars in Russian-occupied Crimea as well as severe violations and restrictions of human rights and democratic freedoms that are taking place there.
“Lithuania strongly condemns the illegal occupation and annexation of Crimea. We firmly support Crimean Tatars and all Ukrainian people who are facing serious challenges today. We take a consistent position that sanctions against Russia cannot be lifted until the Minsk agreements are fully implemented and the illegal occupation of Crimea continues,” the President said.
After Russia occupied Crimea, the rights of Tatars and Ukrainians who live there have been continuously violated. Their freedom of expression is restricted – the ongoing persecutions have forced the local Tatar television to move to Kiev, their publications have been closed down and searches are carried out in libraries.
Tatars are banned from organizing meetings and rallies. Their freedom of religion is violated. Tatars are accused of extremism; searches are carried out at their mosques. The leaders of the Tatar community are banned from entering Crimea; restrictions are emerging for children to learn in their native language.
Judicial proceedings, initiated by the occupying power, began at a court in Simferopol in March with the aim of banning the activities of the Mejlis – the national parliament of Crimean Tatars – on charges of extremism.
Since the beginning of the Crimean occupation, around 22 thousand people, most of them Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians, fled to mainland Ukraine due to critical human rights situation in Crimea.
According to the President, the intensive militarization of Crimea, which has turned the peninsula into Russia’s military base, is also deeply concerning. Following the occupation, 24.5 thousand troops have been deployed there, along with weaponry covering almost the entire Black Sea region. Dalia Grybauskaitė pointed out that Crimea could become a hotbed of inciting instability and expansion in the region.
In Vilnius, the Tatar leaders are attending the conference “Massive human rights violations in occupied Crimea” and a meeting of the Executive Committee of the World Congress of Crimean Tatars.
In 2015, Mustafa Dzhemilev, a former long-serving head of the Mejlis of Crimean Tatars and human rights activist, was presented with a state award of Lithuania – the Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. For his active engagement in defending the rights of Crimean Tatars, he has received the UN Fridtjof Nansen Medal, the Order of the Republic of Turkey and the Lech Wałęsa Solidarity Prize. In 2009, Refat Chubarov was elected President of the World Congress of Crimean Tatars, and since 2013 he has served as Chairman of the Mejlis of Crimean Tatars.
The Tatar community has deep-rooted traditions in Lithuania which go back to the 13–14th centuries. Lithuanian Grand Dukes Gediminas, Algirdas, Kęstutis, and Vytautas made military alliances with Tatars. Tatars served in the army of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Currently, four thousand Tatars live in Lithuania, mostly in the Vilnius, Kaunas and Alytus counties.
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