A Moscow-based propagandist says Crimean Tatar activists from Ukraine are promoting radical nationalist and Islamist ideas among the Crimean Tatar diaspora in Uzbekistan and thereby threatening the stability of this Central Asian republic. The Kremlin clearly hopes such an argument will ensure Tashkent does not support Ukraine or the rights of Crimean Tatars in the Russian-occupied Crimean peninsula. But such a narrative could easily backfire on Russia by sparking tensions between Crimean Tatars and Uzbeks, leading more of the former to seek to return to their ancestral homeland. Nevertheless, from Moscow’s perspective, that possibility—while potentially a problem in the longer term for the Russian occupation of Crimea—is far less important in the short term than the certainty that such suggestions will affect Uzbekistan’s policies and blacken the reputation of Crimean Tatar activists in Ukraine in the eyes of some in the West.
On the Rhythm of Eurasia web portal, which routinely puts out stories with a Russian imperial spin, journalist Olga Derkul, who has written many such articles in the past, makes the above argument. She claims that “the self-proclaimed Mejlis of the Crimean-Tatar people, an illegal and unregistered organization, banned in the Russian Federation, has not for a minute stopped its subversive activities […] not only in Crimea and in the Middle East [but also] in Uzbekistan” (Rhythm of Eurasia, September 12). Her words are especially noteworthy because she makes three distinct arguments that characterize the current thinking in the Russian capital and may presage policies that could seriously harm the Crimean Tatars and Ukraine as well.
First of all, Derkul says that “at the present moment” the Tatar community of Uzbekistan numbers 300,000, “of whom 80,000 to 100,000 belong to the Crimean Tatars, chiefly the descendants of the forced resettlement of the population from Crimea during the years of the Great Fatherland War.” She justifies that Stalinist action of 1944 by saying that “from the position of today, the decision looks severe, but such were the laws of military times.” Moreover, she thus argues that the Crimean Tatars are part of the Tatars rather than being a separate and distinct nation. That matters because if that view is accepted, the Crimean Tatars in occupied Crimea would have no right under Russian law to have their own republic since they would, in this view, already have one in the form of the Republic of Tatarstan. And it may mean that in the upcoming 2020 Russian Census, the Crimean Tatars will not be counted as a separate nationality but instead grouped together with the Tatars of the Middle Volga, as many Siberian Tatars already are.
Second, the Moscow writer suggests that the Crimean Tatars deported to Central Asia during World War Two had an almost idyllic life there thanks to the “hospitable” Uzbek people. The evidence for this, Derkul continues, is of two kinds. On the one hand, the Crimean Tatars rapidly increased in number over the period they were living in Uzbekistan; and on the other, the Crimean Tatars, being culturally and religiously similar to the Uzbeks, found it easy to rise to the top of various segments of Uzbek life. This shows, she says, that the Crimean Tatars have no reason to bemoan their fate or to leave Central Asia and return to the Ukrainian peninsula—as many Crimean Tatar activists and their supporters in Kyiv and the West would like to see. The appearance of her article may even signal that Moscow has no intention of allowing any more of the deported to return to their homeland.
And third, Derkul states that instead of respecting this situation, radicals among the Crimean Tatars, like Mustafa Cemilev, have been stirring up trouble in Uzbekistan both on nationalist and religious grounds. She cites another site close to the Russian government, Antiterrortoday.com, to make this point (Antiterrortoday.com, June 19, 2014). The Moscow writer adds that Cemilev’s claims—that the Uzbeks did not treat the Crimean Tatars well in 1944 and continue to mistreat them since that time—have been accepted by some young people in Uzbekistan, which has made them hostile to the titular nationality of this Central Asian republic. Once again, she cites a Moscow-controlled website to make her point (Politika-crimea.ru, August 19, 2017).
Cemilev’s statements are bad enough, the Moscow journalist asserts; but two months ago, at a meeting in Kyiv, the World Congress of Crimean Tatars decided to send a delegation to Tashkent to determine what the actual conditions of their co-ethnics there look like (Crimea-news.info, July 27, 2018). But the real purpose of the delegation, Derkul says, is in fact to gather information to bring cases against Tashkent in international courts and thus put pressure on the Uzbekistani government to support the Crimean Tatars and oppose Russian control of their homeland.
Meanwhile, however, there is something even worse Tashkent should be focusing on, the Moscow journalist contends: the “self-described [sic]” Crimean Tatar Mejlis, she falsely claims, is closely connected with Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, and the Islamic State. And this delegation and other visits by Crimean Tatars are promoting the Islamist agendas of these groups, she asserts (Islamio.ru, June 8, 2014). Uzbekistan’s government has made it clear that it is totally opposed to the spread of the influence of such groups, in no small part because “the penetration into Uzbekistan of terrorists exerts a negative influence on the development of bilateral relations with the countries of the region.” Unfortunately, Derkul implies, the Uzbekistani authorities have not fully recognized the ways in which these Islamist groups are coming into the country under the cover of Crimean Tatar nationalists. They need to do so now before it is too late.
In fact, Derkul’s article is something the Crimean Tatars, the Ukrainian government and the West should all attend to because it highlights the ways in which Moscow conducts its propaganda and—even more worrisome—its special operations. Russian propaganda regularly cites as sources its own reporting and blames others for what Moscow is likely doing itself. Hence, a closer monitoring of such narratives in the Russian media can help predict where the Kremlin’s aggressive behavior may strike next