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Ukraine: Crimean Tatar Leader Seeks Assistance For Resettlement

Washington, 13 November 1996 (RFE/RL) -- A top Crimean Tatar official says Ukraine is unable to finance the resettlement of ethnic Tatars to their Crimean homeland and has called on other countries to help fund the effort

Mustafa Jemilev, president of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis made the call today at the start of a week-long visit to Washington. He told RFE/RL that if other countries do not help, they risk an increase in ethnic tensions between thousands of Tatar returnees still living in temporary squatter camps in Crimea and the peninsula's majority ethnic Russian population.

Jemilev told our correspondent that budget problems in Kyiv have reduced available funds for resettling ethnic Tatars in Crimea almost yearly since the Tatars began returning there with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The Crimean Tatars were accused by Stalin of supporting the Nazis during the second world war and deported in 1944 en masse to Central Asia, principally Uzbekistan.

According to Jemilev, about half of Crimea's 250,000 Tatars remain in temporary encampments with no employment, no running water, and unsanitary conditions. But he says funds for resettling the Tatars this year are just 12 percent of what they were in 1992, and amount to just one percent of what he estimates is needed.

Jemilev said that to date no countries other than Ukraine have contributed to the resettlement. He called on Russia in particular to share the burden of rehousing returning Tatars because "Moscow bears the responsibility of having deported the Crimean Tatars from their historical homeland." The Tatars arrived in Crimea as part of the Mongol expansion across Central Asia in the 13th century and held it until it was incorporated into Imperial Russia in the 18th century.

The Crimean Tatar official also urged Uzbekistan to offer financial help to Tatars still living in that country and who want to return to Crimea. He estimated that a quarter of a million ethnic Crimean Tatars still live in Uzbekistan from among the descendants of the 200,000 to 250,000 people deported by Stalin. Analysts say that lack of statistical records make it difficult to know precisely how many Crimean Tatars were deported and remain scattered across Central Asia.

Jemilev warned that lack of progress in resettling Tatars returning to Crimea has made the peninsula "a flashpoint for conflict" by aggravating misunderstandings between them and the majority ethnic Russian population.

He notes that many Russians who were encouraged during the 1950's to move to Crimea, and who occupied houses once owned by deported Tatars, incorrectly fear the Tatars now want to reclaim their original homes.

"We are not asking for the return of confiscated houses because we understand people living in our houses have nowhere to go," Jemilev told RFE/RL. "But we do need money to build new homes for ourselves."

With no money to start new housing construction, patience is running out on all sides. Four years ago, Tatars living in squatter camps around the Crimean capital of Semferopol launched a series of street protests demanding better conditions. Last summer, a protest by Tatar merchants against what they called persistent extortion by Crimean criminal groups and lack of business opportunities set off a riot in which two people were killed and some 15 injured.

"It is a very dangerous situation," says Jemilev, because "if the basic problems are not solved no-one can guarantee civic peace."

Jemilev is due to meet later this week in Washington with U.S. State Department officials and human rights groups. He will also meet with Ukraine's ambassador to Washington before returning to Crimea next week.