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You're reading: Bohdan Nahaylo: The Crimean Tatar factor

While working for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as

a senior policy adviser I was involved in the 1990s in the
multilateral efforts to bring the Crimean Tatars back to Crimea from
former Central Asia to which they had been deported en masse by Stalin
in May 1944.  At that time, together with the CSCE High Commissioner
for National Minorities and the Council of Europe we had to persuade
the authorities of the newly independent Ukrainian state that the
Crimean Tatars would not be a potential source of Islamist extremism
and separatism, as the Russian media often claimed, that their
acquisition of Ukrainian citizenship should be expedited, and that
they be helped to integrate.

Fortunately, these efforts were successful for official Kyiv
ultimately proved receptive.  Some 250,000 Crimean Tatars returned in
the mid-1990s, mainly from Uzbekistan.  Many of them if not most of
them had been born in exile.   Despite the hostility of the
pro-Russian authorities in Crimea and efforts to keep them politically
and economically disenfranchised, the Crimean Tatars persevered and
quickly re-established themselves socially and as a political factor
on the peninsula.  Despite severe provocations, they did this
peacefully. In 1998,  in recognition of this their leader Mustafa
Dzhemilev, who had been imprisoned several times by the Soviet
authorities for campaigning for the right of his people to return to
Crimea,  was awarded the prestigious annual Nansen prize by UNHCR.

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