Amid all the of necessary analysis of what Russia’s move into Crimea means geopolitically and strategically, it might also be good to remember Reshat Ametov.
Mr. Ametov was buried this week. He was 39 years old, married and the father of three young children.
He was last seen at a demonstration on March 3 in Simferopol, where he joined other Crimean Tatars held a silent protest before the pro-Russian armed men in unmarked uniforms who surrounded the cabinet ministers building.
Tatars make up more than 10 percent of Crimea’s population. Many Tatars, who are primarily Sunni Muslim, were brutally deported by Joseph Stalin in the 1940s, and scattered over the deserts of central Asia and Siberia. As many as 200,000 Tatars died in that government removal. Some Tatar families began to come back after Ukraine became independent in the 1990s.
Video from ATR, a local Crimean television channel, shows two armed men in green uniforms, and one in a black uniform, surrounding Reshat Ametov, taking him by the arms, and leading him away.
“He was just standing there and they took him away,” Ametov’s mother, Refika Ametova, told the Kyiv Post, an independent newspaper. “He stood there for about an hour and a quarter, and I suppose they were waiting for him to leave. But he didn’t.”
His family called the police, who said they could find nothing. Two weeks later, people in a village about 28 miles away found a man’s body in a nearby forest. Local media reports suggested there was clear tape wrapped around his head and hands, and signs of torture.
Reshat Ametov’s wife identified the body as her husband’s.
Human Rights Watch has called for an investigation into Reshat Ametov’s disappearance and death, and they’re concerned the crime is not isolated.
“For weeks, armed, masked men who refuse to identify themselves have harassed and intimidated people,” says Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. And Crimean Tatars living in Brooklyn and Queens told the New York Daily News that relatives in Crimea report that X’s have been slashed in paint on the doors of some Tatar families.
Enver Ablakimov was at Reshat Ametov’s funeral. He is 21 years old and told the Kyiv Post, “There were always people here who didn’t like us, but before, they hid it. Now with the appearance of the Russian army, they feel protected and understand that no one will do anything.”
It’s that past that may make Tatars in Crimea apprehensive about the future.