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�������� Crimea: Russia's Dark Secret

For decades, Crimea's Muslim Tatars have been pinpointed for discrimination by Russia as the Tatars' opposition of Moscow's rule and ambitions have made them prime targets.


Since March 2014, 30 Crimean Muslim Tatars have been imprisoned on charges of "extremism". Forty-four activists have been abducted, 19 of whom are still missing, while six have been found dead. The Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation, known as the FSB, is allegedly the main culprit behind these incidents.



"I was kidnapped by people in military uniform without insignia. They put a sack over my head and took me away," an anonymous source told Al Jazeera. "They kept me in a cellar, tortured me and threatened my life. They try to recruit you as an informer. To inform on your own people and betray them."


Before the invasion of 2014, Crimea was a part of Ukraine, reformed when the Soviet Union broke up into separate states - something that many Russians, including President Vladimir Putin, were unhappy about.


However, since the Russian Federation's annexation of Crimea in early 2014, hostilities against the Muslim Tatar community by Russian authorities have notably increased in episodes of intimidation, aggression, disappearances and even alleged murder.


"After the annexation I was in Crimea and we all witnessed it. It was horrific. Armoured Russian military personnel carriers were driving along the roads. Russian Cossacks were walking the streets intimidating people. Ukrainian citizens had their passports taken and ripped up," says Evelina Arifova, deputy head of Crimea Civil Blockade.


The current reality of the situation in Crimea, however, means most incidents go unreported by the families of those missing as reprisals from authorities loom over their very existence.


This has also led to tens of thousands of Tatars fleeing north to various parts of Ukraine, seeking safety. Once the majority of the 2.5 million Crimean population, the Muslim Tatar community only accounts for 12 percent today, as Moscow encourages more Russians to move to the region.


Safinar Dzhehmilev refuses to leave her home in Crimea. She says the land belongs to the Muslim Tatars and should remain so. "Our people deserve to live peacefully, happily on our own land.... It would be wrong to abandon this land and leave because it's our ancestral home."


In 2018, the Crimean Bridge, a project linking Crimea with the Russian mainland, was inaugurated by Putin himself, as a symbolic gesture of presence and unification. The Tatars, devastated by the blatant disregard for ownership of their land, continue to hope for the release of those held by Russian authorities, while others pray for the ones they know nothing of.


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