A world congress of Crimean Tatars has called for "all necessary measures" to be taken to return Crimea to Ukraine following Russia's takeover and annexation of the peninsula last year.
Participants in the second annual World Congress of Crimean Tatars said in a final declaration of its two-day gathering in Ankara on August 2 that the annexation must be "immediately ended" and that a new Ukrainian Constitution should grant autonomy to Crimean Tatars.
Some 200 Crimean Tatar groups from several countries attended the gathering. Participants said they were forced to hold the event outside Crimea due to pressure from Russian security services.
On July 28, Russian authorities blocked two local Crimean Tatar leaders from leaving Crimea, preventing them from attending the congress.
Mustafa Dzhemilev, a veteran leader of the Crimean Tatars, told the conference earlier on August 2 that some 10,000 members of the community have left Crimea since the Russian annexation in March 2014.
He said those who have fled were motivated by "discrimination and lawlessness" on the peninsula since the Russian takeover, as well as "forced conscription of young people to the Russian Army with the prospect of sending them to war with their Ukrainian brothers."
Dzhemilev said Crimean Tatars have also left because of the "complete absence of democratic freedoms and the lack of any prospects for young people." They are fleeing primarily to mainland Ukraine, he added.
The Kremlin's annexation of Crimea was followed by a bloody war between Russia-backed separatists and Kyiv's forces in eastern Ukraine that, according to the United Nations, has killed more than 6,500 people since April 2014.
The 300,000-strong Muslim Crimean Tatar minority makes up less than 15 percent of Crimea's population of 2 million.
Western governments have imposed several rounds of sanctions on Russian officials, companies, and businesspeople in response to the Crimea annexation and the fighting in eastern Ukraine, which has slowed under a shaky cease-fire deal reached in February.
U.S. and EU officials have both criticized what they call Russia's repression of the Crimean Tatar community since the Crimea annexation.
Speaking on August 1 at the conference in Ankara, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said the annexation "is temporary -- because it is illegal."
Klimkin, who attended the congress in a show of solidarity with the Crimean Tatar community, said Ukraine would not have normal relations with Russia until Crimea was returned to Ukraine and the Tatars who call it home.