An historically persecuted Muslim minority, an increasingly feverish far-right movement, and an uncertain political future are all stoking the fires of ethnic tension in Crimea. As Crimea awaits a referendum to decide its future sovereignty, set for Sunday, some are warning that a Russian annexation could turn Crimea into another Chechnya. The FT has the story:
Mustafa Jemilev, a member of the Ukrainian parliament, said a number of militant Tatars had approached him to say they would fight the Russians.“We have Islamists, Wahhabis, Salafis . . . groups who have fought [with the opposition] in Syria,” he said in an interview in Simferopol, the Crimean capital. “They say: ‘an enemy has entered our land and we are ready’. […]Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center and an expert on jihadist movements in Syria, said Russia’s invasion was already being actively discussed on social media and internet forums frequented by Islamic militants. “People are asking whether events [there] would legitimise the opening of a new jihadi front,” he said.
Crimea’s Tatars, who represent 12 percent of the population, staunchly oppose Russian annexation, for good reason. In 1944, nearly 200,000 Crimean Tatars were shipped away in trains to Central Asia within a matter of days, after Stalin accused them of aiding the Nazi occupation of Crimea. Around half of them died along the way, and Crimea’s Tatars haven’t forgotten.Now the Tatars, a Turkic minority, are looking to Ankara in hopes that Erdogan will take a stand for his northern brethren. But seeing as how Turkey relies on Russia for 55 percent of its natural gas, it would probably require nothing short of a massacre for Erdogan to get behind the Tatars.As Crimea’s pro-Russian mobs become increasingly aggressive in their efforts to silence anti-Moscow sentiment, the Tatars are being singled out, yet again, with ominous X marks on their houses. And while security forces on the peninsula look the other way and the crickets chirp in Ankara, Crimean Tatars may see no other option but to arm themselves. As the FT reminds us, such a precarious situation is vulnerable to the exploitation of militant Islamists. Just think of Syria, Lebanon, Libya and Chechnya. Let’s hope that the radicals’ rallying cries in Crimea go unheeded.