A Crimean Tatar holds the Ukrainian flag during a rally in front of a Ukrainian military base last month, two days before the referendum over the peninsula's status.Viktor Drachev / AFP / Getty Images
“We were telling her: ‘What the hell for? You’ll do that and then they’ll just come and take your house away again?’” she said.
Mixed into the distrust among Tatars for central authority — for the Ukrainian government, for the Russian government — is a feeling of betrayal from the United States and Europe that the West allowed the Kremlin to take Crimea without a fight, despite a 1994 agreement between Moscow and the West that ensured Ukraine’s territorial integrity in exchange for it giving up its Soviet-era nuclear weaponry.
“We want the EU, NATO, the United Nations, the United States to take concrete harsh measures against Russia, because that’s the only language that they understand in Moscow. And only then will you have peace,” Afduramanov said. “With all their trickery and tanks, that’s how you have to deal with them.
“If the international community doesn’t enforce the agreements they signed, and protect a country’s territorial integrity, then any country that thinks it’s stronger than another can violate its borders,” he said. “The agreements are worthless.”
In Bakhchisaray, Akhtem Chiygoz, the chain-smoking chairman of the town’s local representative council, who peppers his arguments with expletives, argued that Tatars are the only group that has been consistent in its defense of Ukraine’s integrity since 1991. Yet, he said, the central government in Kyiv had treated Tatars like disloyal subjects, a “fifth column.”
“Of course we’re resentful,” he said. “There’s masked men running around the streets, and all the West wants to do is give Ukraine money?
“For 50 years we fought for our land, fought to return to our motherland. We wanted to believe in your ideals, freedom, democracy. All these ideals that you’ve thrown at us. What’s it done for us?” he said. “The Americans, the Europeans, they’re spitting on us now. If they didn’t want to spit on us, they’d be sending in NATO troops … For your ideals we have to suffer.”
Still, Chiygoz predicted Crimea’s Tatars would find some way to deal with the new Russian authorities.
“I’ve lived under three governments,” he said: Soviet, Ukrainian, now Russian. “We’ll find a way to get through this as well.”