Crimean Tatars, mutual ties discussed during Erdoğan's Kiev visit
by Mehmet Solmaz
ISTANBULMar 20, 2015 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Mehmet Solmaz
Mar 20, 2015 12:00 am
President Erdoğan is welcomed by his Ukranian counterpart in Kiev, where the two leaders discussed the ongoing crises with Russia and ways to boost ties
The issue of the Crimean Tatars, bilateral relations with Turkey's northern neighbor and economic ties were discussed during President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's official visit to civil war-struck Ukraine on Friday. Accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan, Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, Energy Minister Taner Yıldız, Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci and Culture and Tourism Minister Ömer Çelik, Erdoğan attended the fourth meeting of the Turkey-Ukraine High Level Cooperation Council. Prior to his departure for Kiev, Erdoğan held a press conference at Istanbul Atatürk Airport, where he commented on the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. He stated that Turkey supported the full implementation of the Feb. 12 Minsk cease-fire agreement in Ukraine. Clashes, observed by international monitors, are ongoing in eastern Ukraine between government forces and pro-Russia separatists, despite the cease-fire agreement. "We believe that a lasting solution can only be found via peaceful means. During this process, any opportunity to achieve permanent stability should be utilized to its full extent," Erdoğan said.
The president said that Ankara was concerned about the Ahiska Turks and Crimean Tatars living in Ukraine and Crimea, who – like the rest of society – bore the brunt of months of fighting between government forces and separatist rebels.Turks have close kinship bonds with the Muslim, Turkic-speaking Tatar minority in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula Moscow annexed from Ukraine a year ago. Erdoğan has repeatedly warned that the instability could have regional repercussions. "Our brothers, who in the past suffered mass deportations, were able to return to their homelands after many years. Unfortunately they … have been seriously impacted by [recent] developments there," Erdoğan told reporters.
"Turkey is closely following the situation of our brothers," he said before leaving for his meeting with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, describing pressure on Tatar community leaders as "unacceptable."
Erdoğan's visit to Kiev takes place at a critical time when Ukrainian government troops and Russia-backed separatists have not completely set aside their arms, as the cease-fire agreement that was signed on Feb. 12 is precarious, despite a series of mediating talks and peace efforts. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which is monitoring the cease-fire, recently protested in recent reports that both parties hindered its observer teams from accessing weapons' sites.
More than 5,300 people have been killed and 12,200 injured in eastern Ukraine since mid-April of last year in the ongoing conflict between the Ukrainian army and pro-Russian separatists, the U.N. Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights reported in February.
Although it is among the countries that did not implement the EU and U.S. economic sanctions imposed on Russia, Turkey opposes Russia's annexation of Crimea and has defended the territorial integrity of Ukraine since the beginning of the crisis. Also, the 280,000 Crimean Tatars in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, which constitute roughly 13 percent of the total population, is one of the issues to which Turkey is sensitive, as Crimean Tatars in the region have ethnic and linguistic ties with Turkey.,