At a referendum held on January 20, 1991, or exactly 25 years ago, more than 93% of Crimeans voted for Crimea to remain part of Ukraine. Since then, a lot of things have changed, with different political parties coming to power and changing the course Crimea developed and living standards of its people.

In an interview with QHA, Risa Shevkiyev, a Mejlis member, spoke about the struggle for the rights of indigenous people of Crimea waged over the last decades.

- What did it feel like after a referendum about an autonomous status was held in 1991?

 – We had huge expectations. After the referendum, we held the Kurultay of the Crimean Tatar people on January 20. We sincerely believed that Ukraine would authorize establishment of an autonomy genuinely ensuring the rights of our people. However, the course events took over the following years showed that they used our name to establish an autonomous entity not for Crimean Tatars. Our interests, the interests of the indigenous people of Crimea, were not at all reflected in this Constitution. 

- What has changed over the last 25 years?

You can say that all this time we have been struggling to defend our rights. First, we ‘fought’ the Ukrainian government. Coming to power of new political parties gave us hope that our national interests would be restored. However, that never happened. There was a time when we were pinning hopes on Vyacheslav Chornovol, leader of the Rukh Party. He was our friend, human rights activist and wonderful human being. And I am convinced that if Chornovol had been elected President, we would have restored justice and rights of the indigenous peoples of Crimea. After Yuschenko was elected President we had high expectations, too. Unfortunately, he did not live up to our expectations, insisting that we cancelled the declaration adopted by the Kurultay in 1991 and amended the part of it which dealt with the right of indigenous people for self-determination. This is not a coined word. This is term from a UN resolution but Yuschenko insisted on his decision.

- What factors do you think could have prevented Crimea’s annexation?

A lot of people have come to realize that if the Ukrainian Parliament had voted to have a Crimean Tatar autonomous republic within Ukraine, Russia would never have occupied Crimea. The occupants would then have had to face an indigenous people with its own government! We would have been the masters in our land and been able to repel the aggressor. However, when Russia invaded Crimea we had no power at all. There was no way we could resist. If there had been a national autonomy, I am positive the aggressor would never have dared invade Crimea. And if it had, the international community would have been more resolute protecting us.

- What do you think the current Ukrainian government should do with Crimea?

I think sober-minded political parties in Ukraine will come to their senses at last. However, we expect the Ukrainian Parliament to pass a law on a Crimean Tatar autonomy within Ukraine before Crimea is liberated. I think a government and new laws are necessary now.