Mustafa Jemilev: «We Haven’t Got Anything Except Ukraine»
Though, Ukraine is considered to be one of the main Christian states its territory has been inhabited by representatives of various nations and religions for many centuries. One of such multi-religious regions is Crimean peninsular. According to the state statistics Muslims have the majority of communities here. Another peculiarity of Crimea is that almost all local Muslims are Crimean Tatars. The main religious center of Crimean Muslims is the Religious Board of Crimean Muslims. The representative body of Crimean Tatars is Mejlis. In fact, today Mejlis influence the religious life as well, because for the overwhelming majority of Crimean Tatars Islam is inseparably connected with their national culture and public life.
We talk about the religion in Crimean Tatars’ life with the Chairman of Mejlis, MP of Ukraine, famous dissident and public figure Mustafa JEMILEV. Recently he was awarded “Light of Justice” Prize for moral, spiritual and ethic leadership.
- What prevails in identity of Crimean Tatars – religion or nationality? First of all, what you associate yourself with – Crimea, Ukraine or Muslim world?
- We think that religion is a private life and honor all religions. Religion plays an important role in public and everyday life of all Muslim peoples. However, we clearly delimit the national and religious spheres. We’d like to preserve everything that is inherent to Islam in Crimea. Unfortunately, today we face new groups with new ideas, new schools in Crimea. Frankly speaking, this causes big damage – people start reasoning about who is a true Muslim and who isn’t a Muslim. This couldn’t promote consolidation of people. There are even plain provokers who have neither God nor devil in their souls. They pursue absolutely other interests.
Recently the new Islamic Center was registered mainly influenced by Khabashids sect. In general, there was a trend Crimea in due time to create the favorable conditions to those religious groups that oppose the Religious Board of Crimean Muslims. This threatens not only Crimea, but the whole country.
- Recently Mass Media have spread information that there are four Muslim centers in Crimea. Two schools, considered being terroristic – Vakhabists and Khisbut Takhrir are also often recalled. What the Religious Board of Crimean Muslims think of these movements?
- First, the Religious Board of Crimean Muslims is a single legitimate structure, because it is elected in a democratic way. I openly state: if the representatives of these new movements will gain majority and they will elect Mufti among the representatives of Khisbut Takhrir in a democratic way we will accept this. Though, if they will make any actions against Crimean Tatars and stability on the peninsular, of course we will do our best to get rid of this mufti.
They used to have the tactics to change Imams in mosques. It was quite primitive: the representatives of Khisbut Takhrir gathered from all around Crimea in one mosque and said let’s elect Imam in a democratic way. And they changed Imam, because there were just they and few local old men. However, this caused opposition and Mejlis prohibited this practice. Of course, this provoked their discontent – how could secular body interfere in religious community’s affairs. But we did it following from the national interests, in the interests of stability. We stopped this process, but they preserved their Imams in few mosques.
- You said in one of your commentaries that Islam becomes fashionable in Crimea. What is its fashion and what is it connected with?
- I said concerning some girls that wear headscarf apparently in order to distinguish themselves from others in some way. But, if you will talk to them you’ll see that they know nothing about Islam. It seems like they just want to be special. I think that the clothes and manifestation of the fact that the one is a Muslim should go from the soul and convictions, instead of the desire to distinguish oneself from the others.
- Do you keep in touch with any organized Crimean Tatar communities outside Crimea?
- It happened so that after Russia conquered Crimea the conditions were created that made many Crimean Tatars immigrate. The repressions started back in Tsarist time, especially during war time when Russia suffered a defeat. The most mass emigration was after the Crimean war 1853-1856. So, if in the 19th century Crimean Tatars represented the majority of Crimean population, in 1917 they already represented less than 25 %. The majority had to emigrate.
Most emigrants escaped in the Ottoman Empire that included today’s Bulgaria and Rumania. That is why there are about 30 thousands Crimean Tatars living in Rumania. According to different estimations there are also from two to five millions Crimean Tatars living in Turkey. However, these Crimean Tatars lost their ethnic identity long ago, first, because there was similarity of traditions, religion and the main thing – lack of discrimination. That is why everything was favored there to their quick integration and acceptance of Turkish mentality. However, there are about thirty Crimean Tatar organizations in Turkey. They call themselves Crimean Tatar Turks. What did they preserve? This is Crimean Tatar language, way of life, because there are villages in Turkey that mainly inhabited by Crimean Tatars. They preserved a craving for Crimea that passed from generation to generation. They are supporters of double-citizenship. They want to obtain Ukraine citizenship without loosing the Turkish one. However, it is impossible and there could be no exclusion for Crimean Tatars in Ukraine.
- Today the question of the Grand Mosque in Simferopol gains its actuality again. Is this rather political or religious question?
- This is both political and religious issue. After the deportation of 1944 the regime ruined everything that was related to Crimean Tatar culture and religion in order to erase the very memory of them. There were almost no mosques remained. Before the Bolshevik Revolution there were about 700 mosques in Crimea. Today, despite all our efforts to build more mosques there are only 60. There is a great need in the Grand Mosque in Simferopol, because on holidays we have to rent other premises that could accommodate all its participants. This is not normal. Our Grand Mosque must accommodate around five thousand people. The process of registration took too much time. The City’s administration proposed us the land site, and when the Religious Board of Crimean Muslims provided all the documents they just had to vote for it, but they proposed us to look for another site. Someone was very interested in this inter-national, inter-ethnic and inter-religious conflict. But, thank God, the solution was found. Those members of the City Council who vote against the construction of the Grand Mosque now vote unanimously for it now.
- Recently, there were many talks in Russian Mass Media about the threat of conflicts in Crimea, about extremism and terrorism. What is true and what is propaganda?
- Russian Mass Media and Russian political figures usually day that this is the second Chechnya, second Kosovo. That the majority of Russian-speaking citizens of Crimea wished Crimea were part of Russia. I don’t think that the politicians seriously think that Russia could ever get Crimea back. But, they need these talks in order to create problems and tension in Ukraine. Lately we obtained the information that Russia allotted big finances – around 20 millions to create various structures that would oppose Mejlis with such concept that they could even take anti-Russian position, but act parallel to Crimean Tatar ones.
The majority in Crimean authorities keep to pro-Russian position, in particular after the elections of the present President. Crimean Tatars always supported the national – democratic forces. The curious thing about it is that on the last elections the violent separatists became the ardent supporters of the newly elected President.
Lately, there are trends that we even didn’t expect, for example, such provocations as installing of the cross. We do not afraid of this Cossacks, but we don’t want to interfere, because it could take the form of the interethnic, interreligious conflict. The court’s decision was issued to take of this illegally installed cross and then there was a conflict with Militia. The good thing about it is that even the Patriarch of Moscow Orthodox Church condemned these provokers.
- What are the relations between Christians and Muslims in Crimea, despite the extremists from both sides?
- We respect all people. There is the association of all religions titled “Peace – God’s Gift”, but the representatives of Moscow Patriarchate are against participation of Kyiv Patriarchate there.
We are seeking for equal attitude to all religions. We have very good relations with the representatives of Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate. We invite them to our holidays. However, frankly speaking, we don’t have good relations with Moscow Patriarchate. Though, after the statements made by Metropolitan Lazar concerning the provokers, I think he made the step in the right direction. On the laying of the first stone in the foundation of the Grand Mosque we invited them along with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate and they took part in this ceremony, blessing the construction of the Grand Mosque. In other words, we try to avoid the religious confrontations. But, there are hard moments when the representatives of Moscow Patriarchate act as extremists. All lands in Bakhchisaray that related to the Khan’s Palace, pantheon, the tomb of the founders of Crimean Khanate were arbitrarily allotted by the mayor who was the representative of “Russian Block” to Dormition Monastery. There are a lot of such examples. There are a lot of talks about the danger of Khizbut Tkhrir, Vakhhabits, but the other side represents no less danger.
- You mean so called Cossacks who are talking about liberation of Crimea from Tatars?
- In fact, Cossacks never existed in Crimea. These people who call themselves Cossacks today were the members of gang bands in the past. They are hired for some security reasons. They have committed the purely provocative actions.
I can’t imagine that, saying, in Kuban, that is, frankly speaking Ukrainian land, there were people marching around with Ukrainian flags, demanding joining Kuban to Ukraine. I wonder, what would do the Russian authorities. But, here in Crimea they are marching with double-headed eagles and Russian flags, shouting: “This is Russian land, down with infidels”. Ukraine bears these provocations. Once we discussed this issue with Vladimir Gorbulin, the Secretary of SNBO of Ukraine. The right words were said – that these are provokers, that some measures should be taken. I said that if it is allowed to create half-military formations we could also create our own ones and we could succeed better than these Cossacks in this. However, we don’t do this, because we know what this could result in, and if so, then some measures should be taken that Russians also had no such formations. Because, the state has its special services safeguarding state security, public order and one has to obey these services. Everybody agreed, but nothing was done.
- You have recalled Bakhchisaray. There is intention to change the governing body of the reserve in order to appoint people from Donetsk. Will Mejlis react to this?
- Traditionally, there is need in a watcher. This supervisor will keep an eye on finances. There is no reaction yet. This doesn’t hamper the museum’s work. But, in general this isn’t normal.
Bakhchisaray historical – cultural reserve has very big significance for us, because everything was destroyed after the deportation. A single thing that preserved is Khan’s Palace.
- Crimea is famous for its resorts, but it has also potential for religious tourism. Does Mejlis plan to promote the development of alternative religious tourism, studying of Crimean history?
- Tourism has very big significance for Crimea. However, the danger for business is that 80% of tourists are Russians. At the beginning of the tourist season the Russian Mass Media start inventing various things in order to frighten tourists. If Russian tourists won’t come to Crimea it will remain without income. That is why we want to make Crimea open to all countries. Few years ago I visited Tokyo in order to popularize Crimea among Japanese tourists. They said that Crimea could attract Japanese tourists only if we could show them something that others don’t have; if there will be ethnic tourism showing indigenous culture. This is fist. Second, communication is very important. That is why we have to work in this area. Crimea has perfect nature, but the service remained as in the Soviet times. Investments are very important for the development of tourism. But, there is no investment climate in Crimea, because there is watching gang that only wants to obtain profit, but don’t want to do anything for this. These questions are interrelated.
We have to develop ethnic tourism, not only Crimean Tatar. We have also other ethnic groups, such as Greeks, Karaites and Germans. All this together could promote preserving and revival of culture of these nationalities and could attract tourists.
- When you were just one year old you were deported from Crimea. When did you feel that Crimea is your land or it was always yours?
- Crimea was ours even when we were in deportation. We just knew clearly that we were deported illegally. And that we will return one day. But, we weren’t sure that we could return within our lifetime. The Soviet power looked so mighty. We had no other option. Every person has its Homeland. We haven’t got anything except Ukraine.
Interviewed by Maryana Karapinka and Taras Antoshevsky