Umerov believes in ethnic authonomy within Ukraine
Washington, D.C., Monday, July 19, 2004
CRIMEAN TATAR LEADER BELIEVES CRIMEAN AUTONOMY
SHOULD BE BASED ON ETHNIC LINES WITHIN UKRAINE
"Ilmi Umerov: Every deported people should have the desire to return"
Interview with Ilmi Umerov, Deputy Chairman of the Crimean Supreme
Council; by Serhiy Kychyhyn, Editor-in-chief, newspaper 2000
2000, Kiev, Ukraine, in Russian 16 Jul 04; p b1, b5
BBC Monitoring Service, UK, in English, Saturday, Jul 17, 2004
A deputy chairman of the Crimean parliament believes Crimean autonomy should
be based on ethnic lines making it easier for Crimean Tatars to develop
their culture and language. Speaking in an interview with Serhiy Kychyhyn,
the editor-in-chief of a progovernment weekly, Crimean deputy speaker Ilmi
Umerov said there are about 250,000 Crimean Tatars currently residing in
He said he had never been in favour of land grabbing, but noted that until
problems are solved in repatriating Crimean Tatars, friction and trouble is
likely to arise from time to time. Umerov said that religious extremism is
not a big problem among Crimean Tatars, though "there are individual
The following is an excerpt from the interview with Umerov, entitled "Ilmi
Umerov: Every deported people should have the desire to return", published
in the Ukrainian newspaper 2000 on 16 July; the subheadings are the
The deputy chairman of the Crimean Supreme Council [parliament] and member
of the Majlis [self-styled parliament] of the Crimean Tatar people [Ilmi
Umerov] gave an interview to the editor-in-chief of the weekly 2000.
[Kychyhyn] Our paper has often written about the problems of the Crimean
Tatars. And I myself am not dispassionate on the issue.
[Passage omitted: Crimean Tatars are said to keep together in defending
[Kychyhyn] How many Crimean Tatars are on the peninsula now?
[Umerov] About 250,000.
[Kychyhyn] And beyond [Crimea's] borders?
[Umerov] Another 150,000.
[Kychyhyn] Not all of them want to return?
[Umerov] I don't know any who do not want. There are those who for various
reasons cannot make the move: small wages, some are held by a position in
[Kychyhyn] Are the families of these people mixed?
[Umerov] Maybe there is a part that has mixed families. Possibly, someone
will not move because of that. But I think about 100,000 will, if economic
possibilities afford themselves, gradually return.
NONE WILL REMAIN GUESTS HERE
[Kychyhyn] From the example of the Crimean Tatars the difference between
Ukraine and some other post-Soviet countries is very visible. Even with all
the problems here [in Ukraine] the government has invited the deported to
their historical homeland.
[Passage omitted: in 1986, when Soviet society began to talk about
non-resolved ethnic questions, Crimea was considered potential hot spot
number one. But no blood was ever spilled, Umerov notes.]
[Umerov] We well understand that Ukraine has been left one-on-one with this
problem. Not one state, including the former Soviet republics, has taken
part in the return of the Crimean Tatars. Just Ukraine. And, of course, we
are grateful to her for that. We highly value that. But at the same time
many unresolved issues remain.
[Kychyhyn] What are the urgent problems which, in your opinion, demand first
place in being resolved?
[Umerov] We have the most serious claims on Crimea. We believe that its
status should be changed. That autonomy which exists today with an
incomprehensible status on territorial principles, is not exactly correct.
Autonomy should be given to the indigenous people of Crimea.
[Kychyhyn] You believe Crimea should be of a Crimean Tatar autonomy?
[Umerov] Within Ukraine.
[Kychyhyn] Then what about the Ukrainians and Russians who live here?
[Umerov] How do they live in Tatarstan, Bashkiriya or Komi [autonomous
regions in the Russian Federation]?
[Kychyhyn] That is, Ukrainians and Russians will become guests here?
[Umerov] No, no one is going to become a guest. When we say national
autonomy, many are frightened by the word national.
[Passage omitted: Umerov takes examples from Russian national autonomous
[Umerov] In 1991 we managed to hold elections, an all-peoples meeting, at
which a representative body was elected, the Majlis. Unfortunately, this
body is not recognized on Ukraine's legal landscape. Therefore in 1999, the
president [Leonid Kuchma] adopted a wise decision - the entire composition
of the Majlis was included in the make-up of the council of representatives
of the Crimean Tatar people under the president.
[Kychyhyn] Are schools being established for Crimean Tatars?
[Umerov] That is a serious problem. After all we, living in Uzbekistan far
from home and from learning our native tongue, became Russified,
assimilated. Now we are actively opening schools. We believe that education
in the Crimean Tatar language will aid in protecting our culture. We do not
have enough textbooks, there are no specialists in many subjects, for many
sciences there is no terminology. Therefore, more than half of the subjects
are taught in Russian.
[Passage omitted: Answering a question, Umerov says before deportation, 70
per cent of Tatars made their living off the land. But after being deported
about that per cent was employed in factories and so on, meaning they now
lack the skills to live off the land. Now some are trying out the tourism
ON LAND-GRABBING AND PROVACTIONS
[Kychyhyn] From time to time in Crimea we hear of scandals linked to
occupying land. How do you evaluate such happenings?
[Umerov] The reasons, as always, are banal. Problems are not being resolved
and not all people are able to wait. Such so-called land grabbing is due to
inertia. There is mutual understanding at the level of the president [of
Ukraine] and the top leaders of the autonomy, but local executive bodies are
often doing nothing. Sometimes it happens that local authorities get the
desire, instead of sound reasoning, to make money, to sell, rent, take
bribes...[ellipsis as published] I think these issues will eventually be
regulated and people will get plots of land. But other problems are piling
The Crimean Tatars are a nationality. And among us there are smart [people]
and stupid [people], literate and illiterate, politicized and apolitical.
For example, the incident of beating journalists. On that day I made an
announcement, in which I said law enforcement officials should not be
prevented from doing their job. They should figure things out so that the
guilty are punished. I think this was provoked by those who did it, whether
consciously or not. If consciously, then from now on such people should not
take part in acts by Crimean Tatars. But at any rate, it was a provocation.
The journalists behaved themselves as on the side of separatist, extremist
leaning political forces in Crimea, pro-Russian ones. They are constantly
working here, as [the Russian national television channel] ORT shows. In
this case they came with Cossacks basically to provoke.
It is another matter that our people did not need to fall for it, even in
wars journalists and medical workers are not shot all. One of my colleague
MPs, the owner of that Akvapark, invited the Cossacks to build a wall.
First, if he needed to build a wall that day, he could have hired local
workers, who sit around in the winter with no work and no pay. He knew what
[his actions] would lead to. The Cossacks came to Akvapark in formation and
with a Russian flag - that is a provocation. And with them came the
journalists. But their anger could have been directed not towards the
journalists...[ellipsis as published]
[Kychyhyn] The Crimean Tatars were incensed because they came with a Russian
[Umerov] No, they were infuriated because they did not film what they should
have, the reaction of the Crimean Tatars - how they were running and
shouting and so on - and not how someone was building a wall.
[Kychyhyn] Why were the Crimean Tatars upset?
[Umerov] They were against how these people were taking down houses on
formally self-occupied territory which was in the way of the wall.
And if we were to talk about what happened in the Simferopol bar on 23 March
(when nine people were admitted to hospital, five with knife wounds), then
even if this was preceded by a knife injury to a Crimean Tatar, in no case
should they have gone to settle things in a bar with people who had noting
to do with it. If they had got even with those responsible, some kind of
justification would have been found. But here we just had a reprisal against
people who just happened to be in a bar. They had nothing to do with it.
Someone should answer for that.
[Passage omitted: In 1991 authorities on all levels opposed the return of
Crimean Tatars, Umerov says. He recounts the difficult history of Crimean
Tatars returning after perestroika.]
[Kychyhyn] Do you support the idea of occupying land?
[Umerov] I never supported that. I took part in those negotiations, which
took place then in the Supreme Council and the government of Crimea. And I
always suggested: (let's give every returning Crimean Tatar, who is
agreeable to independently build himself a home, a plot of land. And in the
end, we were given 47,000 land plots for building individual dwellings;
45,000 of them we took ourselves.
[Kychyhyn] Do you believe Crimea will be a calm and peaceful place?
[Umerov] I am convinced of that. We will find in ourselves the wisdom and
strength to not allow conflicts. At the same time so many people cannot
return to such a small place without friction, conflicts or problems.
ON WAHHABISM AND CHECHNYA
[Kychyhyn] It has been heard that Crimean Tatars sometimes sympathize with
[Umerov] During the first war and up to the beginning of the second there
was mass sympathy. But the second war strongly shook them because of the
incursion into Dagestan. I was in Chechnya twice and even took part in a
meeting of the first congress of the peoples of Ichkeriya and Dagestan,
which was led by Shamil Basayev. Although I ended up there absolutely by
coincidence, I spoke critically. I said: "You won in a war, now get strong
and improve the economy, raise your image and authority. If you now go into
Dagestan, you will lose everything."
I had just arrived there from Dagestan and knew for certain that they did
not support the Chechens there. But they childishly thought, [make a] run
through Dagestan and get to the Caspian Sea on the border with Azerbaijan,
and they will have not 15 km of border with Georgia, but much more.
Honestly, there is a small problem in Crimea also, which is called
Wahhabism. It is absolutely not influential, but there are individual
fanatics. We are trying to keep their influence from spreading. In Chechnya
it was massive and that is what led to the crash.
[Passage omitted: Uzbekistan is a real dictatorship, Ukraine is
super-democratic by comparison, Umerov says.]