Eviction of Tatars may lead to violence rivaling the Gaza Strip
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Eviction of Tatars may lead to violence rivaling the Gaza Strip

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John Ahni Schertow
November 22, 2007
 

The Crimean Tatars are Turkic people who inhabited the Crimean peninsula, now a part of Ukraine, for over seven centuries. During World War II, the entire Tatar population was unjustly accused of being Nazi collaborators and deported en masse to Central Asia and other lands in the Soviet Union.

In 1967 a Soviet decree removed the charges against the Tatars, but the government did nothing to facilitate their resettlement or to make reparations for lost lives and confiscated property.

In the early 1990s, the Tatars began to return to their land, only to find their estates occupied by the state and Slav settlers. Today more than 250,000 Tatars are back home, struggling to reestablish their lives and reclaim their lands and rights.

Evictions and Violence
In recent months, ethnic tensions have been rising in Crimea, “laying the ground work for a bloodbath that will rival Bosnia and the Gaza Strip.” The Tatars have been literally reclaiming their lands–but State authorities and various others label them as illegal squatters and have been moving to evict them–or perhaps more accurately, to protect their business interests. The Crimea Penninsula is considered to be a tourist hotspot.

On November 1, 2007, “several hundred Tatars clashed with representatives of a construction company in Simferopol. The company said Tatars had seized its construction site and built houses there illegally. Tatars said that the company only “claimed” to own the plot and that they wanted to protect their property from demolition. Police apparently did not interfere, and nobody was seriously injured or detained.

A more serious conflict broke out on November 6, when police destroyed a Crimean Tatar café and several unfinished buildings at Mount Ay-Petri. About 1,000 riot police clashed with some 500 Tatars who tried to prevent the demolition. Police say they obeyed a court order, but Tatars insist that only one of the destroyed sites was illegal. Police arrested 18 repatriates for resistance; four more repatriates were hospitalized, including one with a gunshot wound. A video of the clash, which was shown on TV channels nationwide, prompted accusations of police brutality.

Police said that the Tatars had prepared Molotov cocktails and threatened to set fire to a liquefied gas cylinder. The Tatars denied this and accused the police of brutally beating and shooting unarmed people at Ay-Petri.”

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