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Crimean Tatars Staging 'Self-Preservation' Patrols

Crimean Tatars with a "self-preservation" patrol warm themselves around a fire on a night shift on the outskirts of Simferopol.
Crimean Tatars with a "self-preservation" patrol warm themselves around a fire on a night shift on the outskirts of Simferopol.
For more than a month, Ruslan Dzhepparov has come home from work, rested, then headed back outside for a night patrolling the streets of Akhmechet, a neighborhood of Simferopol that is home to some 8,000 Crimean Tatars.

"We do this peacefully. We don't have any weapons," Dzhepparov tells RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service. "We simply do this to prevent provocations. If there is some kind of provocation, we communicate with our headquarters, and with the police, of course."

The headquarters, located inside the courtyard of the local mosque, stays brightly lit all night, as members of the Crimean Tatar community wait for news from the street patrols, which have operated since the first day the Russian military entered Crimea on February 27.

Dulyaver Reshitov, a representative of the local Ashmechet council, says the patrols' main strength is vigilance. "We're not a self-defense force," he says, referring to the informal vigilante units, often pro-Russian, who sometimes resort to violent tactics. "No one is attacking us. We're more of a self-preservation group. It's not the authorities we're fighting against, just hooligans trying to make trouble."

WATCH: Tatar Night Patrols In Simferopol (In Russian)
Tatar Night Patrols In Simferopol's Akhmechet Neighborhood
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Such "self-preservation" groups have sprung up in a number of Tatar communities throughout the Crimean peninsula. Despite being the territory's native inhabitants, Crimean Tatars are vastly outnumbered by ethnic Russians, a result of World War II-era deportations. Now they fear Russia's military takeover may mean a fresh round of ethnic repressions and rights violations.

The Crimean Tatar assembly, or Mejlis, serves as the main coordinator of the patrols. Nariman Dzhelyal, the deputy head of the Mejlis, said the night watch isn't aimed at monitoring the activities of professional troops.

"Primarily, this is meant to work against those who want to take advantage of the situation by consciously attempting to create a conflict or turn things into an open confrontation here in Crimea," he said.

-- Daisy Sindelar

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