Turkey expresses ‘concern’ after Russia detains more than 50 Crimean Tatar activists

Turkey voiced its concern over the arrest of Crimean Tatar activists on the occupied Crimean Peninsula by Russia’s security service, pro-government Daily Sabah reported on Sunday.

On Saturday, Ukrainian officials announced that the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) detained five Crimean Tatar activists, including Nariman Dzhelyal, the deputy chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People which is banned in Russia. Radio Free Europe later reported that more than 50 Tatars were taken into custody after they gathered outside the local FSB office to protest the arrests.

Tanju Bilgic, a spokesman for Turkey's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, shared a statement that expressed Turkey's consternation over the arrest of the Crimean Tatar activists. Bilgic said that Ankara was following the detentions “with concern” and expressed hope that they would soon be allowed to return to their homes. 

Turkey has never recognised the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Russia in February 2014. From the beginning of the Russian occupation, Turkey expressed particular concern for the fate of the Crimean Tatars, a Turkic-speaking people who are the traditional inhabitants of Crimea.

There are centuries of linguistic, cultural and historical ties that have linked Turkey with these inhabitants and it remains a steadfast advocate for them. In 2017, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Russia’s Vladimir Putin where he managed to secure the release of two prominent Crimean Tatar leaders and flew them home.

Turkey has also cultivated stronger relations with Ukraine in recent years, particularly on defence ties. Erdogan has met numerous times with Ukrainian president Volodmyr Zelensky where he reiterated Turkish support to Ukraine and its aspirations to join NATO. More recently, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu traveled to Ukraine to take part in the first meeting of the Crimean Platform, an initiative by Zelensky to pressure Russia over its continued occupation of Crimea, where he reiterated Turkey’s support for the Ukrainian position. 

Russia has not been too keen on Turkey’s close friendship with Ukraine. Moscow has accused Ankara of fueling “militant tendencies” in Kyiv through its military exports and it suspended defence cooperation with Turkey in April over this move. Russia denounced the Crimean Platform as “anti-Russian” and has been critical of past Turkish invocations of the Crimean Tatars’ plight.