17 April 2023
by Aleksandr Podrabinek
On 25 April, Russian security forces detained Crimean Tatar human rights activist Abdureshit Dzhepparov. Before doing so, they conducted a search of his home in Karasubazar (now called Belogorsk — Ed.) in Crimea. They confiscated all his electronic devices and documents. First thing, they took away all the cellphones so that no one could call a lawyer. After the search, they led Abdureshit away.
No one knows whether this is administrative detention or an arrest on a criminal charge. The security forces’ favourite method is first to take someone into administrative custody for 10-15 days and then to charge them with a crime.
Abdureshit Dzhepparov is one of those people by whose fate one can study the history of a people or country. Since he was a young man, he has taken part in the Crimean Tatar national movement. In the Soviet Union he was subjected to various persecutions but fortunately avoided a prison camp fate.
In autumn 1987, Dzhepparov was one of the organizers of a peaceful march by Crimean Tatars from Taman to Simferopol. They were demanding that their people be given the opportunity to return to their historical homeland in Crimea. Police detachments blocked the road to the march’s participants and the arrests began. Those arrested were beaten and sent from Crimea to their place of residence. Fourteen people, including Abdureshit Dzhepparov, were jailed for administrative law offences for short terms. More than 60 march participants were issued an official warning. Later, Dzhepparov was charged under Article 191-1 of the Russian Criminal Code for infringing on the life of a policeman or people’s militiaman. In those days, the vegetarian perestroika era, though, he managed to avoid imprisonment.
Everything collapsed with the occupation of Crimea
After the breakup of the Soviet Union, relatively good times ensued for the Crimean Tatars. Not to say that the Ukrainian regime at the time demonstrated genuine zeal in the matter of restoring justice for the Crimean Tatar people, but at least it did not prevent people’s return to Crimea or restrict their cultural, religious, and political rights.
The Crimean Tatars created their own national quasi-parliament, the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, which was given legal status and a headquarters in Simferopol. Schools were created for teaching the native language, they had their own radio and television, and national newspapers came out. Abdureshit Dzhepparov took active part in the nation’s life, putting most of his efforts into human rights activity.
Everything collapsed with the occupation of Crimea by Russia. History seemed to go backwards. Political persections, trials, arrests, and extrajudicial retributions returned. In autumn 2014, persons unknown kidnapped Abdureshit’s 17-year-old son and 22-year-old nephew—Islam Dzhepparov and Dzhevdet Islyamov—not far from their home. To this day they have not been found and are considered missing.
This is just the diplomatic way of putting it: “persons unknown” and “missing.” In fact, we know that Russian security forces or criminal structures affiliated with them were behind the kidnapping. And now we know that they aren’t missing, they were killed—without a trial, without a verdict, in the longstanding tradition of the Soviet punitive organs.
From 1783 to our day, with a short break
In March 2022, a search was conducted in Abdureshit Dzhepparov’s home, after which he was jailed for an administrative law offence for 15 days. Supposedly for displaying Nazi symbols in publications posted on his social media page in 2019. What “Nazi symbols” are in the understanding of Russian justice we can judge from the fact that President Putin calls the Ukrainian regime “Nazi.” The courts are not far behind their president.
The Crimean Tatars are enduring another spell of persecutions. History has not been kind to this nation since 1783, when Russia annexed Crimea, which was annihilated first by the Russian monarchs and then by the Soviet Bolsheviks.
They have suffered decades of discrimination, the devastation of their towns and villages, deportation from their homeland, mass death during the years of deportation, and bans on returning to Crimea. Now the new Russian regime has come after them. But this nation has more than two centuries of steadfast resistance behind it. It could not be subdued before, and it’s unlikely to be now.
Note: On 18-20 May 1955, by decree from Moscow, Crimea’s Tatar population was deported to Uzbekistan and neighbouring districts of Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. This forcible deportation was one of the most swiftly carried out deportations in world history.
Translated by Marian Schwartz