Fear and uncertainty for Crimean Tatars under Putin

Fear and uncertainty for Crimean Tatars under Putin
Crimean Tatars listen to a sermon in the Khan Chair mosque in Bakhchisaray,near Simferopol. The prospect of a return to Moscow rule brings only fear and uncertainty for them.

SIMFEROPOL - In the dying days of the Soviet Union, Milyara Settarova was a young activist who took part in historic demonstrations in Moscow demanding Crimean Tatars be allowed to return home from Central Asia, where they had been deported under Stalin.

Twenty-seven years later, the feisty 51-year-old is up in arms again, protesting Russia's takeover of Crimea.

"I do not trust Russia," said Settarova, who teaches her native language at a university in Simferopol, the Black Sea peninsula's main city.

"I don't believe that this state will give us more rights than we already have," she told AFP.

She said many Tatars have still not forgiven Moscow for the horrors their families went through under deportation in 1944.

Crimea's 300,000 Tatars largely boycotted a disputed referendum last month in which nearly 97 per cent of voters - mainly from the region's Russian-speaking majority - chose to split from Ukraine.

This week the minority's assembly, the Mejlis, agreed to cooperate with the peninsula's new authorities but also said they would consider conducting their own plebiscite on broader autonomy.

The Tatars' spiritual leader Mustafa Dzhemilev, who is a Ukrainian lawmaker, told a session of the UN Security Council this week his people were extremely worried about their future and even their lives.

"The possibility is rather high of bloody inter-ethnic conflicts, or to be more precise of the slaughter of Crimea's Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians which may unfold in Crimea in the coming days," he said.

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