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Interview: Mustafa Dzhemilev -- 'There Is A Certain Tension In The Air'

"The last time I saw my wife we had to meet in a neutral zone," says Crimean leader Mustafa Dzhemilev (pictured) "I couldn't see my family and was isolated during the Soviet era as well, and now history is repeating itself to an extent."

Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev has been banned from his homeland by the de facto authorities on the peninsula. As Crimean Tatars prepare to mark the 70th anniversary of their deportation, Natalya Golitsyna of RFE/RL's Russian Service spoke to Dzhemilev from Kyiv about the anniversary and Russia's recent annexation of Crimea.

RFE/RL: Do you expect any special events in Crimea to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the deportation of the Crimean Tatars?

Mustafa Dzhemilev: The deportation anniversary is always a prominent day for the entire Crimean Tatar nation and it is commemorated around the world, wherever Tatars live. The occupational authorities [in Crimea] do not seem to be in a mood to ban the commemorations.

Instead, they are telling us they intend to attend the commemoration. Apparently, they are going to express their sympathies for the Crimean Tatars this way. However, the Crimean Tatar Mejlis that they want to ban is against the participation of those who are not in support of Crimean Tatars. Thus there is a certain tension in the air.

RFE/RL: What is the attitude of Crimean Tatars to the Russian annexation of Crimea? Is there any chance that the Mejlis can work with the de facto authorities there?

Dzhemilev: Russian authorities want to impose Russian citizenship on everyone [in Crimea]. Crimean Tatars do not want to accept Russian citizenship. However, those who refuse Russian citizenship and Russian passports are being treated as foreigners.

RFE/RL: How real is the threat of the Mejlis ending up banned by the de facto authorities in Crimea?

Dzhemilev: Soviet authorities did not recognize our national movement and used to refer to it as anti-Soviet or extremist. The same thing is unfolding today. Nevertheless, the Mejlis will continue to exist, whether they ban it or not, however complicated that may be.

Crimean television ran an opinion poll recently asking people whether they think a ban of the Mejlis would weaken our national movement. Only 12 percent of respondents said they thought it would.

RFE/RL: Pro-Russian separatists in the east of Ukraine have just held an unrecognized referendum on independence from Ukraine. Would Crimean Tatars also like to establish their own autonomy in Crimea?

Dzhemilev: Initially, we called for a restoration of our territorial autonomy, and not just in some limited part of Crimea but on its entirety as there are Tatars all over the place. Neither the Ukrainian nor the Russian governments responded to our calls, telling us that it is Russians who make up the majority of population in Crimea now. Naturally, after [Stalin's] deportations and the genocide of the Crimean Tatars there are only 14 percent of us in Crimea left. But this is no excuse to deny us equal rights to our own national territory. Unfortunately, this issue is not being considered and I don't think it will be resolved under the current occupation either.

RFE/RL: You own a house in Crimea and your family lives there. By denying you entrance into Crimea the authorities are, in essence, preventing your family from reuniting. Can you comment on this?

Dzhemilev: The last time I saw my wife we had to meet in a neutral zone [between Ukraine and Russian occupied Crimea]. She was there to meet some of our compatriots and we have not seen each other since. I couldn't see my family and was isolated during the Soviet era as well, and now history is repeating itself to an extent.