Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 97

A mass rally by Crimean Tatars in Simferopol yesterday capped the commemoration of the fifty-five years since the deportation of Tatars by the Soviet authorities. An estimated 40,000 Tatars converged from seven directions on the peninsula’s capital, many of them having marched on foot for several days. Participants in the rally in Simferopol and gatherings in other Crimean towns voiced several demands: (1) adequate housing and employment programs for Crimean Tatar returnees and for those who have not yet succeeded in returning, (2) simplification of procedures for the acquisition of Ukrainian citizenship, (3) facilitation of receipt of land plots by Tatar returnees who had been evicted from their own land, (4) legal recognition of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis and Kurultai as representative bodies endowed with certain functions of self-government, (5) official status for the Tatar language on a par with Russian and Ukrainian in the Crimea, (6) -restoration of Crimea’s historic toponymy, and (7) numerical quotas to ensure Tatar representation in the Crimean parliament and government at various levels, as well as in the Ukrainian parliament in Kyiv.

Leading figures in Ukraine’s national-democratic and nationalist organizations–the Rukh, the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists, Prosvita and other parties and organizations–attended the Simferopol rally as a token of support for the Tatars and their grievances. In Simferopol, the Tatars unveiled a monument to the late General Petro Hryhorenko, the Ukrainian patriot who embraced the Tatar cause during the Soviet era. Tatar speakers at the rally described the current, communist-dominated Crimean Supreme Soviet as the spiritual heir to the Soviet perpetrators of the deportation.

An estimated 270,000 Tatar deportees and descendants have returned to their native Crimea from other parts of the former Soviet Union, many of them from Uzbekistan. Approximately one-third of these are said to have been unable to obtain Ukrainian citizenship due to bureaucratic obstacles in Uzbekistan and Ukraine. Up to 200,000 seek to return from the former places of deportation and obtain citizenship. Most of the returnees live in squalid conditions. The Ukrainian government has displayed a benevolent attitude to their plight, but it lacks the funds required for housing and employment programs. International assistance has been modest.

In Kyiv, President Leonid Kuchma met with the Mejlis leadership on May 17 and signed a decree which creates a Crimean Tatar advisory body, chaired by Mejlis chairman Mustafa Jemilev and attached to the presidential institution. Most Moji’s members are included in that advisory body, which is mandated to promote the integration of Crimean Tatars in Ukrainian society. Jemilev described the decree as amounting to unofficial recognition of the Mejlis. Kuchma and Parliament Chairman Oleksandr Tkachenko made noncommittal promises to act on some of the other demands in the near future (UNIAN, Ukrainian TV, May 17-18).–VS