KIEV, Ukraine

International society did not respond to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea as expected, Crimean Tatar Turks suffer from oppression the most on the peninsula, according to the national leader of the Crimean Tatar people and Ukrainian deputy.

“I thought the reaction of the world was going to be different, it had to be so strong but unfortunately it wasn’t,” Mustafa Abdulcemil Kirimoglu told Anadolu Agency on the occasion of the seventh anniversary of the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia.

Crimea’s ethnic Tatars have faced persecution since Russia’s 2014 takeover of the peninsula, a situation Turkey has decried.

Turkey and the US, as well as the UN General Assembly, view the annexation as illegal.

Kirimoglu said he did not think the annexation would last for seven years, and added: “I didn’t believe that a country will enter your country in the 21st century, occupy it with its tanks and as if it’s not enough, it will add your lands to its own.”

He said his thought was that Russia would turn Crimea into a puppet government similar to what happened in Georgia in 2008, when Tbilisi fought a five-day war with Russia over Georgia’s breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Georgia lost control of both areas and Russia later recognized both South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.

Noting that Crimean Tatar Turks were in favor of the integrity of Ukraine then, he said they boycotted the referendum.

“For this reason, the occupiers showed the most oppression to Crimean Tatar Turks. There are around 120 remanded in prisons, 75% of them are Crimean Tatars but our population is only 13% of Crimea,” Kirimoglu said, adding that 95% of house raids, 85-90% of those who were kidnapped and killed were Crimean Tatars.

Oppression on Crimean Tatar Turks ongoing

Russians would never agree with Tatars, Kirimoglu noted, stressing that they adopted a policy to “force them to leave.”

“They didn’t load them in wagons carrying animals and send them to Siberia as in 1944, because we are in the 21st century, but they are applying the policy after the 1783 occupation. There were such pressures then and the majority of our people migrated to the Ottoman lands, especially after the Crimean war,” he said.

He said, according to estimates, there are around 3 to 5 million Crimean Tatar Turks living in Turkey.

They brought many people from Russia to Crimea, he added, noting: “According to official statements of Russians, 205,000 people came [to Crimea], to us, 600,000, while our cognates in Crimea say the number is nearly 1 million.”

This was a policy, Kirimoglu stressed, and said even though Russia will need to leave Crimea in the future, their people will stay there.

“They are bringing their people to influence Ukraine’s policy,” he added, urging for taking necessary decisions in the parliament to prevent such influences.

He said that those people shall not be given Ukrainian citizenship and shall be punished for illegally crossing the borders before they return to their country.

‘Russia becoming North Korea’

International sanctions are effective, but they are not enough, Kirimoglu said, adding: “I went to Brussels for a NATO meeting after speaking to [Russian President] Vladimir Putin in March 2014. They said they will impose sanctions and that Crimea will certainly be free.”

He recalled that he was told the annexation would not last long after sanctions, but it has been seven years.

Kirimoglu said the illegal annexation has brought great harm to Russia both economically and in terms of prestige, and added: “The Russian Federation is slowly becoming a North Korea. They aren’t inviting them to anywhere.

“The world has understood but, unfortunately, the required actions are not done.”

He said they do not expect support from the whole world as some countries have ties with Russia for gas and oil supply and some regimes depend on it for its existence.

“On March 27, 2014, a very right decision [support for the territorial integrity of Ukraine] was taken at the UN General Assembly with the participation of 100 countries,” he said.

Turkey’s support for Crimean Platform

Noting that this year there will be some initiatives within the Crimean Platform, part of Ukraine’s strategy of de-occupation of Crimea which started since the peninsula was annexed by Russia, Kirimoglu said: “There are several parts of Ukraine that are under occupation, 20,000 square-kilometer [7,722-square-mile] Donbas and 26,000-square-km [10,038-sq-mi] Crimea.”

He said invitations were sent to 114 countries to discuss the situation, while the EU, Canada, the UK, and the US voiced support for Crimea.

He recalled that when they came to Turkey with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky last October, a declaration was issued after their meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“Turkey said it supports the platform 100% and that it will attend it, we are grateful for that,” he said.

Stressing that the platform will serve to bringing the issue to the world agenda, Kirimoglu said the fight will continue whether the platform succeeds or not.

Kirimoglu and President of the Crimean Tatar National Assembly Refat Cubarov were banned from entering the peninsula after the annexation.

The assembly was branded an “extremist organization” and its activities were banned.

Some 2,500 Crimean Tatars who had direct ties to the assembly, and everyone who had relations with it, were considered members of the “extremist organization.”

Due to pressure from the Russian administration, thousands of Crimean Tatars had to leave the peninsula.

Detentions of Crimean Tatars’ homes, mosques, and kindergartens continue on charges of being members of a “terrorist organization.”

*Contributions and writing by Sena Guler in Ankara

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