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Fear among Crimean Tatars

Yulia Vishnevetskaya, Markian Ostaptschuk/ cc
December 11, 2014

There have been an increasing number of abductions in Crimea. It is usually Tatars who disappear in unexplained circumstances. Relatives of the victims have made serious allegations against the Russian police.

Abdurashid Jeparov in his son's room. (Photo: DW/ Yulia Vishnevetskaya)
Image: DW/Y. Vishnevetskaya

"What's he eating? Has he been able to cut his hair? And above all, is he still alive?" These are the questions Abdurashid Jeparov, a resident of the Tatar village Sary-Su in Crimea, has been asking himself ever since his 18-year-old son Islam disappeared. Jeparov describes his son as a tall, slim young man and a practicing Muslim who wanted to study medicine. On 27 September Islam wanted to visited his five nephews who are being raised by his widowed sister. He used to visit them every day. That evening he set off to see them with his cousin, 25-year-old Cevdet.

"Later that evening a car drove in front of my house and honked loudly. It was a neighbor. She had just seen unidentified people dragging Islam and Cevdet into a car," says Jeparov. According to the witness, the car had tinted windows and a Crimean license plate, and the men who got out of it were wearing a uniform with white writing on the back. Jeparov stresses that he went straight to the police. "They could have blocked all the roads. You can't get very far in Crimea!" But that didn't happen – which is why Jeparov suspects Russian policemen were involved in the kidnapping.

Trail to Turkey and Syria

When the investigators interrogated the relatives, Jeparov says he was made to feel not like a victim but a culprit. "They held us until late into the night, and asked questions about Islam and its different currents, including the radical ones. Whether this was something I knew about! Of course the investigators have to gather information. But they have to understand me as a father. My son has disappeared," Jeparov says.

Crimean Tatars praying in a mosque. (Photo: DW/ Yulia Vishnevetskaya)
Crimean Tatars in Sary-Su's village mosqueImage: DW/Y. Vishnevetskaya

This is not the first misfortune in Abdurashid Jeparov's family. His eldest son Abdullah has been missing for the past two years. Abdullah and Cevdet initially planned to go to Turkey to earn money. Then the two cousins ended up in the Syrian war zone. Cevdet came home, Abdullah did not. No one in the family wants to talk about why the young men were in Syria, but perhaps no one really knows. It's possible they were fighting on the side of the Free Syrian Army.

Parallels with Chechnya?

"We don't know what's happening today in Crimea. But we do know what goes on in the northern Caucasus," the Russian human rights activist Alexander Cherkassov said in an interview with DW. "People there are being held for months in basements and tortured to make them give up information about the Islamist underground. Afterwards they're usually killed. It's seldom that anyone manages to stay alive."

According to the human rights activist, the Russian federal security service, the FSB, is behind it all. He says that secret service agents take names given under torture as a pretext for new abductions. Cherkassov doesn't rule out the possibility that following the Russian annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula, these methods of fighting extremism may now also be applied in Crimea.

Activists from "Ukrainian House" missing

Seyran Zinetdinov's is another story. He's been missing since the spring of 2014. He works for the social organization "Ukrainian House" in Crimea, which is investigating the disappearance of their activists Leonid Korsch and Timur Sheymardanov. According to the social organization "Crimea Field Mission for Human Rights," which is active in Russia, Ukraine and Crimea, Seyran had information proving that pro-Russian "people's militias" were involved in the abductions.

Seyran Zinetdinov's mother Elvira. (Photo: DW/ Yulia Vishnevetskaya)
Elvira Zinetdinova's son has been missing since MayImage: DW/Y. Vishnevetskaya

On 30 May Seyran left his house to meet Sheymardanov's wife. Seyran's mother Elvira Zinetdinova reports that she received an automatic text message two days later with the message that Seyran's cellphone had reception again. But none of her calls have been answered. "This has nothing to do with Crimean Tatars. Sheymardanov is only half-Tatar, and Leonid Korsch is a Jew. This all happened because of the 'Ukrainian House' investigation," says Elvira.

Relatives organizing contact group

Abdurashid Jeparov has now founded the "Contact Group for Human Rights" along with the parents of other victims of abduction. It collects information not only about abductions but also about other crimes. Seven people have gone missing in Crimea since March, most recently 23-year-old Eskender Apselyamov, who disappeared in Simferopol on October 3. The most sensational abduction took place in early March, even before Crimea was annexed by Russia. The Crimean Tatar Rishat Ametov was simply marched off in front of a large number of people by persons unknown in camouflage battle dress. He was found dead ten days later.

Islam Jeparov's supposed abduction site. (Photo: DW/ Yulia Vishnevetskaya)
Sary-Su's residents fear for their children's safetyImage: DW/Y. Vishnevetskaya

The parents of the abductees hope that their children will remain unscathed. Many families in the village of Sary-Su are living in fear. "We don't let our children go to school alone any more," says Jeparov. "No one here can be sure any more that a calamity like this won't happen to them, too."