Mustafa Jemilev, the elder statesman of the Crimean Tatar community, the largest minority group on the now-Russian peninsula, started out in life by being deported from his homeland. It now seems that he could possibly end his days in exile too.
On April 22, ironically the 144th anniversary of Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin’s birth, the Crimean Tatar Assembly, or Mejlis, issued a statement confirming that Jemilev, 70, had yet again become a target of Soviet-style repression. Jemilev was departing Crimea for the Ukrainian capital Kyiv early on April 22 when he was handed a document by border officials notifying him that he would not be allowed to reenter Russia until April 2019. The document alleged that he had violated Russian laws covering exit and entry from the Russian Federation, the Mejlis statement said.
Jemilev described the document as “an indicator of what kind of ‘civilized’ government we are dealing with,” the Mejlis statement said. Jemilev also vowed to return to Crimea, regardless of what the document stated.
Jemilev, who is a member of the Ukrainian parliament, has been an outspoken critic of Russia’s land-grab in Crimea. He played a prominent role in organizing a Tatar boycott of a March referendum, which the Kremlin used as justification for the annexation of the peninsula. Although he still wields enormous influence within the Tartar community, his exile is unlikely to squelch widespread discontent within the minority group.
The same day as Jemilev’s exile, the Mejlis’ Presidium issued a declaration calling on Crimea’s new rulers “to take steps to reduce lawlessness in Crimea.” The declaration listed a variety of transgressions against the Tatar community, including Jemilev’s exile, and an earlier attempt on April 19 to prevent him from entering Crimea. It also cited an April 21 incident, in which a group of unidentified men dressed in camouflage carried out a “bandit attack” on the Mejlis building, reportedly in an effort to take down a Ukrainian flag.
The April 22 airport incident represents just the latest twist in a long road filled with hardship for Jemilev. When still an infant, he survived the ordeal of forced deportation in 1944 from Crimea to Uzbekistan. During the late Soviet era, he agitated for the rehabilitation of Crimean Tartars, and for human rights more broadly; as a result, he served lengthy sentences for anti-Soviet activity in penal colonies. At one point, he went on a hunger strike that lasted over 300 days, surviving only due to forced feeding by prison authorities.