KIEV: Crimea’s indigenous Muslim Tatars have taken the first steps towards seeking autonomy for the Black Sea peninsula, following Crimea’s annexation by Russia.
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.
The Tatars, who have inhabited Crimea for centuries, were deported in May 1944 by Stalin, who accused them of collaborating with the Nazis.
“In the life of every nation there comes a time when it must make decisions that will determine its future,” Crimean Tatars’ assembly leader Refat Chubarov told more than 200 delegates, Reuters reported.
The latest move by Crimean Muslim Tatar was expected to face Russian pressures, amid moves by Moscow to convince the minority to drop their opposition
Moscow moves started after delegating two senior Russian Muslim officials with close ties to the Kremlin to convince start negations with the Muslim minority.
“I think we should get closer together, be together,” Rustam Minnikhanov, the head of Tatarstan, a largely Muslim region in Russia, said during Saturday’s assembly meeting. Ravil Gaynutdin, the head of Russia’s Council of Muftis, has also attended the meeting to persuade the Crimean Tatars to side with Moscow.