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Interview: Crimean Tatar Leader Expects Tensions To Rise

Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev at a news conference in Kyiv on May 5
Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev at a news conference in Kyiv on May 5
Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev was denied entry into Crimea on May 3, after first being turned back at a Moscow airport on his way from Kyiv to Simferopol on May 2.

Thousands of Crimean Tatars who had gone to a border-crossing point near Armyansk to meet Dzhemilev on May 3 broke through lines of Russian troops to reach their leader. They say they will return to Crimea only if Dzhemilev is with them.

On May 4, Crimean prosecutor Natalya Poklonskaya warned the Crimean Tatars that their main self-government body, the Mejlis, will be liquidated if it engages in "extremist" activities, and accused Mejlis head Refat Chubarov of organizing illegal demonstrations in support of Dzhemilev.

Dzhemilev spoke on May 5 with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service Director Kenan Aliyev by phone from Kyiv.

RFE/RL: What is the latest situation? We know that you wanted to go to the Crimea on May 3, but you were prevented from doing so again.

Mustafa Dzhemilev:
The situation in Crimea is very tense. I tried to go to there via Moscow, but I was banned from entering [Crimea]. I had to go back to Kyiv and I tried to travel by car but again I was stopped at the border. [The authorities] brought military, police, and OMON [special forces]. Crimean Tatars, around 3,000-4,000 people also came to the border, even crossed it. To avoid clashes I decided to return to Kyiv.

But now the FSB [Russian Federal Security Service] is putting pressure on those who came to meet me at the border. [Crimea's chief] prosecutor Natalya Poklonskaya has threatened to ban the Mejlis of the Crimean People, and they are imposing financial fines on those who came to greet me, something around 20,000 rubles under Russian law.
Mustafa Dzhemilev is denied access to Crimea at a border checkpoint on May 3.
Mustafa Dzhemilev is denied access to Crimea at a border checkpoint on May 3.
​I do expect tensions to grow ahead of May 18, the day of the anniversary of the forcible deportation of Crimean Tatars. We don't know how this day will pass. If Russians try to control the events on that day, it may lead to tensions -- and even if they don't. If Crimean Tatars go out to the streets with Crimean and Ukrainian flags, it may still lead to tensions, clashes. So, we don't have positive expectations.

So, I can't enter Crimea by air or by ground. I never thought [Russian President Vladimir] Putin was such a coward.

RFE/RL: What options do the Crimean Tatars have under the current conditions -- side with Russia or Ukraine, or do they have to accept the status quo?

There is no choice. There is no way people could accept Russian citizenship. But some may be forced to do it, like they did under the German occupation. Many will be forced to take Russian passports. They have to live there, run their lives and businesses. But many will also keep Ukrainian citizenship.

RFE/RL: Are the Crimean Tatars facing another tragedy?

Yes. Of course, it is a tragedy when your lands are occupied by others. Russians must leave Crimea. There is no other choice. I don't see any other solution to the problem.

The situation is developing and we will act accordingly. Now we have a regime in Crimea that reminds us of the Soviet regime, and we will continue our struggle in similar way we did under the Soviet regime. But we will try to make our struggle peaceful and democratic and without clashes.

RFE/RL: What are your expectations from the Ukrainian government?

We already have a normal and democratic government. If the presidential election on May 25 is successful, then we will have even a better government. But ,of course Russia will try everything to prevent this election from taking place.

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