The Crimea’s interests not represented

On 6 September an extraordinary appeal was addressed to Dmitry Medvedev, Vladimir Putin and the President of the Republic of Tatarstan M. Shaimiyev.  It came from Vasvi Abduraimov, leader of the Crimean Tartar organization Milli Fyrka [National Party] and begins, shall we say, dramatically.  I quote:

"The civic organization Milli Fyrka, having exhausted all possible means of protection in Ukraine, is asking you, on behalf of the Russian Federation, to defend the indigenous and other small ethnic groups in the Crimea from the nationalist-leaning official authorities in Ukraine". 

Since the appeal also states that "people who raise their voice in defence of human rights are persecuted by the authorities, subjected to arrests and torture", it was given some scrutiny by human rights organizations, my own included.  The problem (so to speak) was not just that none of us had been persecuted, but that almost every one of the claims made in this strange appeal was demonstrably false. It claims, for example, that Ukraine has anti-Semitic laws dating back to the Pale of Settlement where Jews were forced to live in Tsarist times. 

Since the recipients of the said appeal hardly need to be told that this is arrant nonsense, the less said about it the better, or so it seemed.  

Until 13 September when an article appeared on the website of the Russian information agency Novy region  quoting (without URL) a Crimean newspaper "Sobytiya" ["Events"] with the headline "Crimean Tatars ask Medvedev and Shaimiyev to protect them from Yushchenko’s genocide".  The article quotes extracts from the appeal and also an interview presumably given to the newspaper by Abduraimov.  For reasons which need no explanation, I quote in full:

"The fact that the northern neighbours "came out as defenders of the small peoples of the Caucuses – the Abkhazis and Ossetians, arouses only positive assessment of the actions of the Russian leadership", the leader of "Milli Fyrka" believes. He is not afraid of accusations of trying to "adopt a pro-Russian niche in Crimean Tatar politics".

"If it happens that Crimea’s interests and the interests of the Crimean Tatar people coincide with the interests, for example, of Russia, why not use this to resolve the main problems of the nation?", Vasvi Abduraimov says pragmatically."

The article was seized and reposted by numerous Russian media outlets, and as usual by some Ukrainian websites.  Since the appeal states that journalists are intimidated to prevent them from covering events, then either those Ukrainian journalists saw no need to read the actual appeal they were reporting, or felt "protected" by the Russian media.

Music to certain ears, a discordant cacophony to others

What Mr Abduraimov hopes to achieve is anybody’s guess.  He may well be in the dark himself since there are grounds for wondering whether he always acts on his own initiative.  Mr Abduraimov, a former Soviet dissident, was the only Crimean Tatar to be subjected to punitive psychiatry.  After 5 years in a Soviet psychiatric hospital, he emerged with a strong pro-Russian, anti-Ukrainian, anti-Turkish and anti-Western position.  He is well outside the mainstream of Crimean Tatar thinking on many issues, including his pronounced pro-Russian leanings.

What those who have so enthusiastically reported an extremely dubious appeal would like to gain from this is perhaps easier to guess.  It’s a nice feeling to be asked for protection and each such appeal is not just music to the ears, but ammunition of its kind.  The Russian newspapers don’t probe too hard, and manage to add their own touches, like the mention of Yushchenko in the title. The very first words – "Crimean Tatars" may be understandable, since a headline "one very marginal and small break-away Crimean Tatar organization asks Medvedev for protection" hardly has the same ring to it.  Misleading the title remains nonetheless.

The wrong impression it creates may not be entirely accidental.  There are those who would like to see a rift between all ethnic communities in the Crimea, on the divide and rule principle.

The technique is brutally simple: repeat absolute nonsense as breaking news.  You can be certain that other media outlets will jump at the chance of copy-pasting a sensation. 

The appeal makes very serious allegations to "justify" even more far-reaching conclusions about who can defend the interests of one of the groups populating the Crimea. Mr Abduraimov says he can provide evidence, but gives absolutely none.   There are plenty of people and civic groups in Ukraine, including human rights organizations that can provide information about who such appeals are speaking for, and who they most categorically do not represent.

Halya Coynash

Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

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