Mustafa Cemilev’s Personality Inspires Crimean Tatars to Resist Harassment From Russian Authorities

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 11 Issue: 87

Crimean Tatars meeting Mustafa Cemilev at Armiansk border crossing, May 3

On May 6, Poland awarded its first “Solidarity Prize” to Mustafa Cemilev for his ongoing contributions to peace, democracy and human rights. According to the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the actual award ceremony will be held on June 3, in Warsaw, and it will be attended by the President of Poland Bronislaw Komorowski and President Barack Obama of the United States ( Cemilev had previously been awarded the 1998 Nansen Peace Medal by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for his efforts and commitments to the “right of return” of the Crimean Tatars to Crimea; and he has twice been a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. Yet, this 70-year-old Crimean Tatars leader, renowned for his non-violent struggle in support of justice, has been banned from entering his homeland of Crimea, where the authorities have labeled him an extremist (

In fact, the first week of May 2014 was particularly challenging for Cemilev. On May 2, in an effort to celebrate Hidrellez (an originally pagan holiday that marks the arrival of spring, which is celebrated throughout the Turkic World as well as in the Balkans) in his homeland, Mustafa Cemilev landed at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport from Kyiv on his way to Crimea. But he was not allowed to enter the Russian Federation ( Despite the fact that Cemilev’s name is not actually on a list of individuals considered persona non grata in Crimea, and even though nobody explained the reasons for such a punitive ban against him, this action itself affirmed the reality of his five-year entry ban (until 2019) (see EDM April 28).

So seeking a different route, Cemilev returned to Kyiv and then attempted to drive into Crimea by car. Meanwhile, the Mejlis (the Crimean Tatar representative body) was forced to cancel its planned Hidrellez celebration, which was going to take place on May 3, in a large field near Bahcesaray, where it has annually been held for the past two decades ( Instead, a large group of Crimean Tatars decided to go to the border checkpoint at Armiansk to meet their leader ( Around 5,000 Crimean Tatars, including Cemilev’s wife Safinar Cemilova, arrived by car in Armiansk from different regions of Crimea. When they approached the border carrying Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar flags, they were confronted by hundreds of armed Russian special forces, riot police (OMON), Crimean self-defense units, 20 masked men in unidentified green uniforms (nicknamed in Ukraine “little green men”), and police units who, altogether, formed a human chain at the checkpoint. Ten Ural military trucks and several tanks had also been parked to block entry to the Crimean side (

The implications were clear. Since these mass precautions were taken, it was obvious that Cemilev was not going to be allowed to enter Crimea by the Russian occupying authorities. Negotiations with Crimean authorities as well as with representatives of the Russian Federation over the phone proved unproductive. When the Crimean Tatars realized that their leader was not going to be allowed into the peninsula, a large group of them started walking toward the Russian checkpoint to cross the border to meet with their leader within the neutral zone between Crimea and mainland Ukraine ( To frighten away the protestors, Russian border guards subsequently started firing their Kalashnikovs in the air, which in turn energized the Crimean Tatars even further instead of scaring them. While cheering “Mustafa! Mustafa! Homeland! Nation! Crimea!” they broke through the border line under the cover of gun fire from the OMON troops ( Once on the Ukrainian side, the protestors offered to carry Cemilev to Crimea on their shoulders, but Cemilev refused in order to avoid further conflict (–kirimoglu-rus-askerlerince-kirima-alinmadi).

After his meeting with the Crimean Tatars on the Ukrainian side, Cemilev told them to return to Crimea while he made his way back to Kyiv ( Cemilev promised them that he would come to Crimea to commemorate with them May 18—the day of remembrance dedicated to the 70th anniversary of the Crimean Tatars’ deportation at the hands of the Soviet authorities ( But when the Crimean Tatars went back to cross the border to Crimea, they were collectively denied entry by the Russian border guards, who claimed that the group had broken the border laws of the Russian Federation. After another set of negotiations, they were allowed to reenter Crimea, while Cemilev waited on the other side until the last person crossed back over (

The same day, in Simferopol, the self-appointed Prime Minister of the Crimean Republic Sergei Aksyonov publicly declared that he was not going to allow Cemilev to return to Crimea, claiming that the Crimean Tatar leader intends to create provocations on the peninsula that could be deadly for all resident nationalities. “There is no doubt that this man—Cemilev—was given the task by his masters, Western intelligence agencies, to destabilize the situation in Crimea,” Aksyonov claimed (

On May 4, the head of the Mejlis, Refat Chubarov, was visited in his office by the acting Crimean prosecutor, Natalya Poklonska, who warned him that if he does not stop his “extremist activities” such as supporting Cemilev, the Mejlis would be liquidated by the authorities. Poklonska cited the federal law of the Russian Federation “On Countering Extremist Activities” from July 7, 2002 (

On May 6, a number of the Crimean Tatars who met Cemilev at the border three days earlier were presented with subpoenas for criminal lawsuits for their “simultaneous mass movement of people in a public place at a crosswalk” (, as well as for blocking the road with their cars ( These charges carry fines ranging from 10,000 to 50,000 rubles ($280–$1,400).

Also on May 6, one day after Mejlis member Abduraman Egiz gave an interview about Cemilev’s ban and urged the international community to help the Crimean Tatars, he was beaten by 20 members of the self-defense units when he refused to show them his internal passport ( On May 7, another member of the Mejlis, Ahtem Chiygoz, also received a subpoena for his “extremist activity” at Armiansk last week (

Yet, while such blatant examples of harassment take place in Crimea on a daily basis, tangible links are growing between the Crimean Tatars and the Kazan Tatars of Tatarstan (ethnic republic in the Russia Federation). As a case in point, a number of Tatarstani public organizations, in particular the Council of Elders and the Tatar Public Center, have for the third time nominated Cemilev for the Nobel Peace Prize (