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Terrified Muslim Tatars Flee Crimea

Published: 15/05/2014 03:47:48 PM GMT
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LVIV — Joining hundreds of terrified Muslim Tatars, Ismail Ayubov has decided to flee his home in Crimea with his wife and two children, fleeing an ambiguous future under the Russian regime after annexation. “It can be dangerous for Muslims in Russia,” Ayubov told World Crunch website on Tuesday, May 13. “I was afraid of the armed...(more)

LVIV — Joining hundreds of terrified Muslim Tatars, Ismail Ayubov has decided to flee his home in Crimea with his wife and two children, fleeing an ambiguous future under the Russian regime after annexation.

“It can be dangerous for Muslims in Russia,” Ayubov told World Crunch website on Tuesday, May 13.

“I was afraid of the armed militias,” added another man, Enver Mohammed.

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The 300,000-strong Muslim minority makes up less than 15 percent of Crimea's population of 2 million and has so far been overwhelmingly opposed to Russia's annexation of the peninsula.

The Russian move to annex Crimea followed an earlier vote in March on the peninsula’s future.

The referendum, approved by 96 percent, was followed by several steps from pro-Moscow Crimean parliament, issuing a law that allows Russia’s annexation of the disputed peninsula.

The hastily organized March 16 referendum was boycotted by Tatars who rejected as held at gunpoint under the gaze of Russian soldiers.

After Russian annexation of Crimea, fears of Muslim Tatars were doubled, voicing concerns over losing freedom and reviving the memories of exile and prosecution they faced in 1944.

Moreover, a decision by Crimea’s self-appointed Crimean government to refuse Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev, the chairman of the Mejlis, the Crimean Tatar assembly, for five years over his criticism to Moscow, added the Muslim concerns.

The peninsula’s Chief Prosecutor General Natalia Poklonska threatened Monday to dissolve the Mejlis and initiate criminal proceedings against the demonstrators.

Escaping an expected gloomy future, hundreds of Crimean Tatars have abandoned their homes, heading to the western Ukrainian city of Lviv.

“Many don’t want to leave their life behind,” the 28-year-old Mohammed said.

Anyway, “the referendum was a farce,” he added.

New Life

Fleeing their homes, Tatars formed groups to support new comers in Lviv.

“Russia supposedly wants to protect minorities, but they’re only pretending,” said 25-year-old Alim Aliev, who has been living in Lviv for six years and currently supports the Tatars.

Along with about 60 other activists, he helps find them places to live, collects money, and assists them with filling out forms.

Tatars help were not limited to Muslims taking refuge in Lviv. When militias turned up in the streets of the Crimean capital Simferopol in March, Aliev created the Crimean SOS Facebook page.

“We wanted to fight Russian propaganda and inform people about what was going on in Crimea and Kiev,” he said.

As the crisis escalated, Muslims developed their help, offering protective jackets and food for the Ukrainian soldiers locked up in Crimean barracks.

“We hid the things on freight trains heading for Crimea,” the Maidan activist relates.

Later on, activists set up several emergency numbers for Crimean refugees and helped organize their moves to Lviv.

“People get here and haven’t got a clue about what the next steps are,” Aliev says.

The Tatars, who have inhabited Crimea for centuries, were deported in May 1944 by Stalin, who accused them of collaborating with the Nazis.

The entire Tatar population, more than 200,000 people, was transported in brutal conditions thousands of miles away to Uzbekistan and other locations. Many died along the way or soon after arriving.

The Soviets confiscated their homes, destroying their mosques and turning them into warehouses. One was converted into a Museum of Atheism.

It was not until perestroika in the late 1980s that most of the Tatars were allowed back, a migration that continued after Ukraine became independent with the Soviet collapse in 1991.

Reliving the same exile experience, it was still difficult for many Muslim Tatars to make a new living in Lviv.

Having a Ukrainians citizenship, Tatars are not considered refugees and the Geneva Convention on Refugees doesn’t apply.

To earn a living, Crimean Tatars have opened kiosks and shops, Aliev said.

“One family even runs a café downtown,” he added.

The absence of any mosques in Lviv was a problem for new arrivals, praying to go back to their home under Ukrainian rule.

Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net - Read full article here

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