Gulnara Abbasova is a Crimean Tatar from Ukraine. Judging by her sidelong glance and cheerful nature, one could never tell she bears inside her the suffering of her people. Nor that this young lady of twenty-two has already set out her goals in life: ensuring the rights of indigenous peoples of Crimea are fulfilled.
The Crimean Tatars are one of the indigenous peoples of the Crimea , a peninsula on the Black Sea , part of the territory of Ukraine . Crimea has close to 2 million inhabitants, most of whom are Russian settlers. Before it was annexed by the Russian empire in 1783, Crimea was a Khanate under Ottoman-Turk sovereignty. Crimean Tatars had immigrated massively, mainly to the Ottoman Empire, to flee Russian colonisation.
In 1944, during World War Two, 200,000 Crimean Tatars accused of collaboration with the Nazis were deported to Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia and confined in settlements. Meanwhile, settlers replaced the Crimean Tatars in their lands. Forty-six per cent of deported Crimean Tatars perished in less than a decade.
As the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s, Crimean Tatars began to return to their lands, where they now constitute an estimated 13 per cent of the population. Many live in settlements without basic facilities. Discrimination against them persists, discouraging the return of the estimated 150,000 Crimean Tatars that remain in Central Asia. Unemployment is also a major problem: 60 per cent of those who have returned are unemployed. The restitution of the land they owned before deportation is not guaranteed, and it is illegal to build on or to cultivate land for which one has no title deed.
Gulnara was born in Uzbekistan but grew up in Russia . In 1997, she returned to Ukraine and witnessed, first hand, the repatriation to the peninsula of 260,000 Crimean.
“The numerous problems Crimean Tatars face upon return are aggravated by non-equality in access to rights and social opportunities. That is contrary to both the Constitution of Ukraine and international human rights standards”, Gulnara emphasises.
For the past four years, she’s been working for the Foundation for Research and Support of Indigenous Peoples of Crimea, hoping to revive their traditions, as well as to foster economic, social, religious and political development.
Gulnara applied for the Indigenous Fellowship Programme after hearing about it from a former fellow. Says Gulnara: “It’s the most high-level and in-depth by content training programme for young indigenous representatives. The programme will be a base for future projects and activity of my organisation and will promote more fruitful ideas on certain issues we work with”.
She had already organised training courses on indigenous rights and human rights topics in Crimea , and facilitated legal aid for indigenous Crimean. She hopes her newly-acquired skills will make her work more productive when she returns.
“The Fellowship Programme gives real-life training and is also a good opportunity to meet other indigenous people from all over the world. It’s impossible to get such training in Ukraine “.