WASHINGTON: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday denounced fresh human rights abuses of Crimea’s Tatars, 70 years after the minority group was expelled from the then-Soviet Union.
The Tatars, a Turkic-speaking Muslim group, will commemorate the anniversary of the mass deportation on Sunday amid tensions over Moscow’s annexation of the peninsula, which has revived memories of the tragedy.
Starting May 18, 1944, Soviet secret police under Joseph Stalin began shipping Crimean Tatars to Central Asia. The Tatars, accused of collaborating with Nazi Germany, were packed onto trains for weeks with no drinking water or medical care.
Those who survived the journey had to live in special camps until after Stalin’s death in 1953.
Official figures say 193,000 people were deported, but Crimean Tatars put the number at closer to 240,000—including many soldiers who fought in the Red Army.
Kerry said “Russia’s occupation and illegal attempt to annex Crimea has reopened old wounds.”
“The list of human rights abuses committed today in Crimea is long and grows longer with each passing week,” the top U.S. diplomat said in a statement.
“Murder, beatings and the kidnapping of Crimean Tatars and others have become standard fare.”
Kerry said the United States will “commemorate the tragedy of 1944 with heavy hearts, even as we stand in solidarity with Crimean Tatars today against a new threat to their community.”
Washington has repeatedly denounced the “illegal annexation” of Crimea by Russia in March and expressed support for “Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
Many Crimean Tatars opposed Russia’s annexation of the peninsula in March and firmly reject the new pro-Russian authorities.