IDEE Press Statement

Crimean Tatar Leaders Call for Increased Sanctions
Against Russia for Illegal Occupation of Crimea and Systematic Repression

Washington, D.C. (May 18, 2018): Released political prisoners Akhtem Chiygoz and Ilmi Umerov, leaders of the Crimean Tatar nation who were imprisoned by Russian occupation authorities in Crimea, called for increased sanctions on Russia during a trip to Washington, D.C. to meet with U.S. policy makers from May 12-17. The Russia Federation seized the territory from Ukraine by force in March 2014. The leaders called on the US Congress and Government to seriously escalate sanctions in order to end Russia’s occupation of Crimea and the systematic repression of Crimean Tatars.

Chiygoz and Umerov are deputy chairmen of the Mejlis (National Assembly) of the Crimean Tatar people, the indigenous national community of Crimea. They were the highest elected leaders of the Mejlis in Crimea after the occupation (others were banned from re-entering the territory). Following separate and equally fraudulent court proceedings, the two were sentenced in Crimea by Russian authorities to harsh prison terms in September 2017. Under international pressure to release the two leaders, the Russian Federation forcibly exiled them in October 2017.

During their trip to Washington, D.C., Chiygoz and Umerov met with officials at the National Security Council as well as lead staff on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. They also met with Congressman Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and key legislative aides to Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), Senator Chris Murphy D-CT) and Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH). In addition to a public meeting at The McCain Institute, where 30 democracy and human rights activists attended, Chiygoz and Umerov gave public a policy briefing at the Atlantic Council, hosted by former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst, and at the Center for American Progress.

The trip was organized by the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe (IDEE).

After being forcibly exiled, both leaders live in Kyiv and continue their efforts to liberate their homeland. The trip to Washington, DC followed a similar effort made throughout Europe, especially in Brussels, to lobby for coordinated pressure by the European Union. During their trips, Chiygoz and Umerov called for increased attention to the systematic repression—amounting to national destruction—of the Crimean Tatars. They pointed to various human rights abuses, including:

  • the banning of the Mejlis, the elected assembly of the Crimean Tatar nation;
    • at least forty kidnappings and cases of torture and murder by paramilitary groups;
    •  hundreds of arrests and more than 100 political prisoners sentenced and sent to far-away
    Russian prison sites;
    • thousands of administrative cases brought against Crimean Tatars in which they are fined
    from $100 up to $5,000 for such things as single-person pickets protesting the occupation;
    •  the closing of Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian-language schools;
    •  forced conscription of Crimean Tatars, especially those who refuse Russian citizenship;
    •  the harassment and confiscation of Crimean Tatar businesses;
    •  constant discrimination in employment, licensing, and other official matters;
    •  hundreds of illegal and often violent searches of homes;
    •  the closing of all independent media, including the Crimean Tatar television station;
    •  repression and closing of Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian NGOs and civic organizations;
    •  physical destruction of historical sites, including the UNESCO-protected Khan’s Palace
    and renowned National Library;
    •  and much more.

The targeted repression of Crimean Tatars, who numbered 300,000 before the occupation and made up 15 percent of the peninsula’s population, is due to their organized national resistance to the Russian occupation and their continued demand for Crimea’s return to Ukrainian sovereignty. Similar repression is visited on ethnic Ukrainians, Russians and other Russian-speaking ethnic groups who oppose the occupation. However, the Crimean Tatar national community, which is organized in traditionally self-governed and democratic institutions, is the most unified in its opposition the occupation. (For example, more than ninety percent of Crimean Tatars boycotted the so-called national referendum requesting annexation as well as local and national elections.) The International Court of Justice in April 2017 issued a provisional order that the Russian Federation Government cease systematic repression of Crimean Tatars and re-legalize its national assembly, the Mejlis. The Russian Federation has ignored this order.

According to Chiygoz and Umerov, fifty thousand people have left Crimea in the last four years due to general and targeted repression, one-half of them Crimean Tatars. As well, between 500,000 and 1 million Russian citizens have been re-located to Crimea — a violation of the Geneva Conventions.

In each meeting during their trip, Chiygoz and Umerov appealed to American elected officials and opinion and policy makers not to forget the occupation of Crimea and repression of Crimean Tatars when confronting overall Russian aggression. They called for a separate platform from the Minsk Agreements (which addresses Russia’s aggression in Ukraine’s eastern territories) to demand talks on the end of systematic repression of Crimean Tatars and the “de-occupation” of Crimea.

Chiygoz and Umerov argued that the most effective means for pressuring the Russian Federation under Vladimir Putin was through escalation of sanctions aimed at ending Russian aggression and occupation and restoring the territorial integrity of Ukraine. They called on Congress and the U.S. Government to use existing legal mechanisms, such as the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) and the Magnitsky Act. CAATSA, in particular, established non-recognition of the illegal annexation in law and specified that the U.S. Government amplify sanctions for the occupation of Crimea.

Chiygoz and Umerov called for increased personal sanctions both on individuals carrying out repression in Crimea (among them police, administration, the courts, and paramilitaries), but more importantly on those directing the occupation in Moscow, and especially on Vladimir Putin, the security apparatus, and oligarchs profiting from Russian aggression. Immediately, they called for sanctions on those engaged in illegal economic exploitation of the peninsula, including the builders of the recently completed Bridge of Azov, sectoral sanctions in the construction and maritime sectors, and personal sanctions on oligarchs in Putin’s inner circle who financially profit from the military occupation.

The Crimean Tatars are the indigenous people of Crimea who settled on the peninsula in the 14th century. Crimean Tatars have faced repression over centuries of Russian control. The entire population of 250,000 people was forcibly exiled to Central Asia by Stalin in 1944. After 44 years of struggle, Crimean Tatars began to return to their homeland, which was administratively transferred to the Ukraine Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954, during the perestroika period of Mikhail Gorbachev. The leader of the Crimean Tatar National Movement, Mustafa Dzhemilev, who spent 16 years in the Soviet Gulag, was elected to lead the Crimean Tatar National Movement in 1989 and was chairman of the Mejlis (national assembly) until 2013. He has been an elected member of the Ukrainian parliament since 1998 and was a prominent figure in the 2013-14 Maidan Revolution. After the occupation of Crimea, Dzhemilev was named the official representative of the Crimean Tatar people to the Ukrainian president. Mustafa Dzhemilev is also visiting Washington, DC from May 20 to 24.

The Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe (IDEE), formed in 1985, is an independent organization dedicated to the active promotion of democracy, civil society, and human rights throughout Central, Eastern and Southeastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, and other communist or post-communist countries (see