Ankara pledges to support Ukraine and defend the rights of Crimean Tatars

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Turkey pledged on Monday to continue its support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and the rights of Crimean Tatars.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said on Twitter that he had met Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev and Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Emine Dzhaparova.

“We will continue to support the territorial integrity of Ukraine and the rights of the Crimean Tatars,” Çavuşoğlu added.

Russian forces entered the Crimean Peninsula in February 2014, with Russian President Vladimir Putin officially dividing the region into two separate federal subjects of the Russian Federation the following month.

Crimean Tatars have been persecuted since Russia took control of the peninsula in 2014, a situation denounced by Türkiye.

Turkey and the United States, as well as the United Nations General Assembly, consider the annexation illegal.

Dzhemilev and the chairman of the Crimean Tatar National Assembly, Refat Chubarov, were banned from entering the peninsula after the annexation.

The Crimean Tatar National Assembly was labeled an “extremist organization” and its activities were banned.

Some 2,500 Crimean Tatars who had direct ties to the assembly and all those who had connections with it became members of the “extremist organization”.

Under pressure from the Russian administration, thousands of Crimean Tatars had to leave the peninsula.

Arrests of Crimean Tatars in their homes and mosques continue on charges of belonging to a “terrorist organisation”.

In the past, the Stalin-led Soviet Union expelled all Crimean Tatars from the peninsula, accusing the entire nation of collaborating with the Nazis. During this period of unrest, recognized by Ukraine as a genocide, up to 46% of the population died during transport or exile in Central Asia.

Usually presented as a collective punishment, the deportation is also linked to the Turkish Straits crisis between the USSR and Turkey after the Second World War. After the war, Moscow planned to pressure Ankara into giving it a free pass through the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus. If a conflict were to break out with Türkiye in the Black Sea, the Crimean Tatars, who have ethnic ties to the Turks and share a common history with them from the Ottoman Empire, would pose a threat as an enemy within.

When the Soviet Union collapsed at the end of the 20th century, the Crimean Tatars began to return to their homeland. Since then, people commemorate the victims of the deportation with mass gatherings and prayers.

The 70th anniversary of the national tragedy, however, was marked by the Russian occupation of Crimea – strongly opposed by Crimean Tatars who remained almost entirely loyal to Ukraine.

Although not so large in numbers – there are currently some 300,000 Crimean Tatars in Crimea who make up around 13% of the peninsula’s total population of 2 million – the nation’s cohesion on most issues makes it a formidable political force.

After the expulsion of the Crimean Tatars from the peninsula, systematic efforts were made to erase the traces of Turkish culture and other communities.

Under an order from the Soviet Union at the end of 1944, the names of all places that were in Turkish were changed to Russian.

Since Russia’s annexation, the United Nations, many international rights observers and activists have documented the growing persecution of Crimean Tatars because of their alignment with Ukraine, including frequent searches of their homes and enterprises, detentions and interrogations. The Crimean Tatar Mejlis – the country’s highest executive-representative body – has been banned by Russia as an extremist organization and its leaders have been banned from entering the country.

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