Tatars end Red Square sit-in


MOSCOW -- About 150 Crimean Tatars demanding to be returned to a homeland abolished by Joseph Stalin during World War II ended an all-night vigil in Red Square Sunday and said they were promised a meeting with President Andrei Gromyko.

The largely Sunni Moslem Tatars, who had camped out since Saturday night by the Kremlin wall and the onion-domed St. Basil's Cathedral, dispersed peacefully over a bridge leading away from Red Square.


Sofina Djemileva, 35, the wife of long-time Crimean Tatar activist Mustafa Djemilev, 45, who was released from prison this year, said the all-night sit-in -- a rare sight in Moscow -- achieved its aim.

'We have won a meeting with Gromyko and the government commission (which Gromkyko heads) that was set up to decide our national question, and that is why we decided to disperse,' Djemileva said. She said the meeting will be Monday at the presidium of the Supreme Soviet, or parliament.


Djemileva said about 500 Tatars had participated in the two-day demonstration demanding a hearing over the forced removal to Siberia and Central Asia of 250,000 Crimean Tatars from their autonomous republic on charges they collaborated with the German army in World War II.

But reporters saw at most about 150 Tatars peacefully end the sit-in, at which they unfurled banners saying 'Homeland or Death,' and 'I want to live in my homeland.' Saturday, many chanted that they wanted a meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Dictator Joseph Stalin, who died in 1953 after ruling 29 years, dissolved the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic in 1945, and in 1954 the region became part of the Ukraine.

Sabrie Setova, 33, a Tatar journalist, said her people are demanding Tatar autonomy as part of a five-point program. The other demands are return of the Tatars to the Crimean peninsula, repeal of secret resolutions 'about our nationhood,' freedom of Crimean Tatar political prisoners, and rehabilitation of those subjected to repression.

The Red Square demonstration began Saturday and turned rough when protesters tried to charge police lines. Police, outnumbering the demonstrators by at least three to one, pushed and shoved back the demonstrators but later allowed them to conduct a sit-in.


Early Sunday, the militiamen circled the band of Tatar activists with yellow buses in a scene that resembled a motorized stockade, tightening the pressure on the Tatars to disperse and make way for a Navy Day salute in historic Red Square.

The police treatment was in sharp contrast to past demonstrations, which were brutally suppressed, and was considered a result of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's attempts to open Soviet society.

'There never has been anything like this,' said one Russian bystander at the demonstration. 'How disgraceful.'

Musladanov Bilyanovich, 19, and Djemileva said the protesters were upset that there had not been a Crimean Tatar representative on the commission announced Thursday to listen to the Tatar demands to return home.

'If one of our representatives had been on the commission already, we would not be standing there,' Bilyanovich said when he left the demonstration to get water for the others in the square.

Djemileva, whose 45-year-old husband had served 15 years for nationalist activities, said that Gromyko would receive the Crimean Tatar delegation at the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, or parliament, on Monday.

'We will demand that our representatives be included on the commission,' she said.

Gromyko, 78, is the sole surviving high-level official from the Stalin era, but he was a young diplomat in Washington during the deportation of the Crimean Tatars and five other nationalities.


The Crimean Tatars, a Turkic Mongolic people, are the remnants of the Tatars of the Golden Horde who conquered Russia in the 13th century and loosely governed it for nearly 200 years. When the Soviet Union was formed after the 1917 revolution, the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was set up in 1921, where the Crimean Tatars lived among other nationalities.

Last week, the official Tass news agency said it had been unjust to resettle the entire Tatar population.

Latest Headlines