Alexander GRIGORIEV – Independent analyst and researcher
Zafer Üskül, the head of the unofficial Turkish delegation that visited the Republic of Crimea at the end of April, has shared some of his thoughts with the Anadolu Agency. The Turkish professor’s report contained a number of harsh accusations against the Russian authorities, which he believes are systematically violating the rights of those living on the peninsula. This refers to an alleged violation of citizens’ language, property and personal rights. The findings have apparently been made on the basis of discussions with a wide range of people, and the text produced as a result of the visit was handed to Vladimir Putin by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during a recent meeting between the Russian and Turkish presidents in Baku.
The contents of this document will most likely be widely publicised and creatively developed during the II World Congress of Crimean Tatars set to take place in Ankara between 31 July and 2 August. The decision to hold the congress was made at the beginning of April following a meeting of Crimean Tatar organisations in Turkey unable to ignore the views of their host country’s authorities.
As you know, attempts by Kiev, as well as the US and the European Union, to play the Crimean Tatar card has a fairly long history, but has not yet produced the desired result. All the same, during his visit to Ukraine in March, President Erdogan stated the need for the Crimean Tatar’s situation to be constantly monitored and the willingness of Ankara to continue including the issue on their agenda not just within the framework of bilateral contacts, but in any international format.
In the same month, a Turkish delegation visited Crimea that included the deputy mayors of a number of cities, as well as business and community leaders: the first guests representing the official authorities of a foreign state to visit Russian Crimea. Recently, however, statements by Turkish leaders have been sailing close to the wind. Commenting on Vladimir Putin’s visit to Yerevan on 24 April 2015, for example, Mr. Erdogan sharply criticised Russia’s policy in Ukraine and Crimea, going so far as to compare it with the actions of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in Kuwait.
Nevertheless, with a desire to develop friendly and good-neighbourly relations with Turkey based on the utmost respect for the interests of its partner, Russia cooperated with the requests of its southern neighbour interested in the situation on the peninsula. The request for a monitoring mission to visit Crimea was granted, and granted without any kind of trade-off such as a request for a similar Russian group to visit the unofficial capital of Turkish Kurdistan, Diyarbakır. The unofficial (and this word is worth emphasising) Turkish delegation made up of scientists, human rights activists, retired deputies from the Justice and Development Party and academics from several universities, the declared aim of which was to monitor the situation of the Crimean Tatars in Crimea, travelled from Kiev to Simferopol through Moscow on 27 April and stayed on the peninsula until 30 April.
During their three-day stay in the autonomous region, members of the delegation held meetings with public authorities, including the leaders of the Qirim movement and the Mufti of Crimea. Naturally they also had to have dinner with representatives of the so-called Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People. The head of this de jure non-existent organisation, Refat Chubarov, stated that «the Turkish government agreed the international and legal aspects of the visit beforehand with the president of Ukraine» and «the possibility of sending a Turkish delegation, the goals, objectives and reporting of its work was discussed with the national leader of the Crimean Tatar people, Mustafa Dzhemilev, and the chairman of the Mejlis». According to the first deputy chairman of the Mejlis, Nariman Dzhelyal, the Turkish delegation was told about human rights violations in Crimea, including the infringement of the rights of Crimean Tatars. After commenting that «for someone visiting Crimea and walking around the streets of Crimea’s towns and cities, it would seem on the surface that everything is normal, people are working, there are Crimean Tatars running businesses and so on», Dzhelyal countered this with some vague fears and concerns. All of this was repeated in full to the head of the monitoring mission, who also complained that he had allegedly been pressured.
Mr. Üskül’s public statements have not been ignored by the Russian Foreign Ministry, which has consistently been working on strengthening relations between Russia and Turkey. However, it seems that not every representative of Turkey’s political elite understands that any dialogue is a two-way street. «The opinions expressed by the head of the delegation cannot but cause regret and disappointment. An emphasis was placed on negative aspects alone that are untrue and based on information obtained from private conversations with persons who can hardly voice the opinion of the majority of Crimean Tatars», noted the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Information and Press Department. «We are surprised that after visiting the peninsula, the delegation members still failed to see anything positive. It is absolutely clear that the head of the delegation offered a lopsided presentation of the facts, which was evidently performed as a result of external pressure», said the Russian Foreign Ministry.
However, this «lopsided presentation» is completely understandable if you fully appreciate the destructive position of the kind of people Mr. Üskül spoke to such as the leaders of the self-proclaimed Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, which has absolutely no kind of legal political status. It should be remembered that long-standing problems of the Crimean Tatars like the land issue were never resolved in the many years that Crimea was part of Ukraine in favour of short-term ambitions and self-serving interests. More importantly, attempts by Mustafa Dzhemilev and Refat Chubarov, frequent guests not just in Washington and Europe but Ankara as well, to drag the Crimean Tatars into their extremely dangerous political games fraught with interethnic conflicts have alienated the vast majority of their own people. Attempted acts of provocation on Crimea’s borders have finally placed the Mejlis’ activities beyond the reach of Russian legislation. The display of self-exposure was completed by the public joy in connection with Kiev’s attempts to organise energy, water and other blockades against Crimea (including the Tatar population, of course, the object of Kiev’s demagogic ‘concern’). Incidentally, for some reason Kiev’s closure of the North Crimean Canal, which affected a large number of Crimean Tatar farmers, did not give rise to any angry statements from the Turkish Foreign Ministry…
At present, despite illegal sanctions and systemic financial and economic pressure, the Crimean government is taking steps aimed at creating a safe environment for conducting business, including by Turkish businessmen. Issues such as the preservation of national culture and language are gradually being resolved. This is in keeping with the aim of strengthening bilateral relations between Russia and Turkey in trade, economic and humanitarian spheres, although the specific interest in «human rights violations» in Crimea is hindering this constructive work. By a strange coincidence, it acquired new dimensions right after the national and government status of the autonomy changed following the results of the national referendum held on 16 March 2014 in full accordance with international law.
It should be noted here that the practice of holding referendums is not something unknown, including in the history of the Turkish Republic. On 2 September 1939, for example, the national assembly of the Sanjak of Alexandretta, located within what was the French Mandate of Syria, proclaimed the independent Republic of Hatay. Sometime later, following a national referendum, Hatay became a Turkish vilayet, resulting in the exodus of many Arabs and Armenians (and it should be noted in brackets that these numbered far more than the amount of Crimean Tatars who resettled in Ukraine after March 2014).
The threat (explicit or imaginary) to the Turkish minority in Cyprus laid the foundations for the occupation of a significant proportion of the island by Turkish forces, resulting in numerous casualties, flows of refugees and the start of a long-standing conflict that is still going on today. And what Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, either at the suggestion of his friends from NATO or the leaders of the Mejlis, refers to as «the annexation of Crimea» also passed peacefully, if you don’t count those Crimeans who became the victims of Maidan militants near the Korsun Cherkasy region and the victims of several acts of provocation directly within the autonomy itself…
But let us leave aside the peculiar nuances of each specific case and look more closely at the unmistakable harm being caused by the use of double standards when it comes to establishing genuine good-neighbourly relations. As you know, the «zero problems with neighbours» policy announced by Ahmet Davutoğlu has failed in recent years. Clearly a Russian-Turkish dialogue, which will almost certainly continue to be subjected to systemic pressure linked to the desire of the authorities of the neighbouring state to develop comprehensive ties with the Russian Black Sea regions (by no means as much as with Crimea) will be rather complex.
Moscow understands the complexity of the dilemma facing Turkish politicians, although everyone needs to resolve their own problems based on their own understanding of their national interests. Pragmatic and responsible partners have to choose what is more important to them: the irresponsible escapades of self-proclaimed «national leaders» (even if they do have a kindred language and Turkish medals in parade photographs) or the stable and progressive development of relations with a country like Russia.