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Look, she is a terrorist’s wife!

This photostory is about the daily struggles of the Crimean Tatars in their new reality following the Russian annexation. This involves accusations of terrorism and legal battles with the new authorities that shake the core of the Crimean Tatar society.

January 10, 2020 - Alina Smutko - PhotoStories and ideas

A collective dua [prayer request to Allah] in the house basement of the missing Ervin Ibragimov inBakhchysarai, Crimea.

All my adult life I knew exactly what my country looked like. And then it turned out you could easily tear off a piece of it. You could wear a military uniform without identification marks, imitate a referendum and convince people this would be better. In 2014, after the “Crimean referendum”, which depending on the political vector recognize or don’t different countries of the world, Crimea “returned to its native harbour”, as said Mr. Putin. For citizens of Ukraine this is a time of deep despair, confusion, anger at themselves and the state, an absolute lack of understanding of what was happening. Five years have passed, and even for a hint that Crimea won’t be returned, you will be publicly ostracized. Although this situation in the short term is quite obvious to everyone. Every year fences become higher, Russian flags – bigger, porters of Putin – more colourful.

Ten thousand Crimean people left their homeland and moved to mainland Ukraine. The UN refugee agency reports most of them are Crimean Tatars, and a third are children. A forcing to change passports, threats, searches, a pressure and a persecution forced people to leave their homes, which many of them had been building stone by stone for the last 20 years after the returning from Stalin’s deportation. The remaining dissenting and uncomfortable Crimean Tatars, veterans of the Crimean Tatar national movement, deeply religious Muslims, pro-Ukrainian activists, members of the Crimean Tatar Majlis were pressed to a wall by the new government.

The loudest case against “terrorists” on the Russian Federation territory, the “Hizb ut-Tahrir case”, hard hit on the residents of Crimea. Thirty-two Crimean Muslims are in places of detention. Eight of them were convicted and transferred, or are preparing to this, to colonies on the territory of mainland Russia. Five are waiting for the decision of the military court in Rostov-on-Don. The last three accused of terrorism Crimeans arrested less than a month ago.

Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islamia is a political party that seeks to establish the Sharia by non-violent methods. In the Ukrainian Crimea, its members and supporters freely gathered for rallies. In Russia this organization is banned and recognized as terrorist. However, in Crimea it’s not even necessary to be a supporter of the ideas of this party to fall into disfavour to the state security services. It’s enough to discuss at home in the kitchen or in the garage topics of a concern to even an apolitical Muslim: the meaning of life or everyday rituals.

Large families of prisoners were left alone with reality: the lack of a breadwinner and the stigma of the terrorist’s relatives. This project is about them, about relatives of the political prisoners, not only the “Hizb ut-Tahrir case”, but also other less popular cases from the Crimea, whose life has changed dramatically one morning after the search. “They said that would take my father for three minutes, sign the documents. We have been waiting for him for three years”, said Diliaver, the son of Remzi Memetov, who was arrested in May 2016 in Bakhchysarai. His father was sentenced to 9 years in prison for “participating in organizing a coup d’état and membership in a terrorist organization”, in fact, for religious conversations in a neighbour’s garage. The neighbour, the “organizer of the cell of terrorists”, Enver Mamutov, was sentenced to 18 years. He is the father of seven minor children.

This story is about their life, daily small battles with the Russian court system in the revealingly exultant new Russian Crimea, which looks more like a Potemkin village than a successful political decision of the century.

Liana Belialova, the wife of the Crimean Tatar Emil Dzhemadenov, in her house in Kamenka village near Simferopol, Crimea, holding on her hands six months old daughter Asia. Dzhemadenov is one of the five faces of the Simferopol “Hizb ut-Tahrir case”, accused of “cooperating with a terrorist organization”. Asia was born after the arrest of Dzhemadenov.

The search was carried out at the house of the Crimean Tatar Yusuf Toroz in Morske village (Kapsikhor) near Sudak, Crimea. Yusuf and his son Server were accused of possession of weapons and drugs, although nothing was found. After the search, security forces took the Server in an unknown direction. Crimean activists cleared up his place only in the evening: a special group sent him to Krasnodar kray, in the mainland of the Russian Federation.

Emine Lumanova, the mother of the arrested in the Yalta “Hizb ut-Tahrir case” Crimean Tatar Refat Alimov, in her house in Krasnokamenka village near Yalta, Crimea. Alimov and his schoolfriend and fellow villagers Arsen Dzhepparov were detained in the spring of 2016, when they refused to testify against other participants in the case.

Women pray at the house of the Deputy Head of the Majlis, the Crimean political prisoner, Akhtem Chyigoz, on his birthday in Bakhchysarai, Crimea.

Children listen to an azan [a prayer call] of the local muezzin before the Iftar [the dinner after a fasting day in the Ramadan] in the Abdullaiev family house in the Strogonovka village near Simferopol, Crimea. Uzeir and Teimur Abdullaiev, the key figures of the Simferopol “Hizb ut-Tahrir case”, are known on the peninsula as Taekwondo coaches who were accused of collaborating with an organization, recognized as terrorist in the Russian Federation.

Cape Meganom, Sudak, Crimea.

Simferopol Central Railway Station. The inscription on the billboard is: Crimea and Russia are together forever! Our future is in unity! Four years at home.

There are family of figures of the Yalta “Hizb ut-Tahrir case” Muslim Aliev: (from left to right) the daughters Gulsum and Salime, the wife Nadzhie. Aliev is accused of “organizing a terrorist cell of Hizb ut-
Tahrir”. Also he has two sons Ilias and Seidali.

A police officer records on a video guests on a dua after its ending in the home of the missing Crimean Tatar activist Ervin Ibragimov in Bakhchysarai, Crimea.

A woman holds a photo of the Russian President Vladimir Putin at the celebration of the “All-Crimean referendum” anniversary in Sevastopol, Crimea.

Alie Abseliamova, the wife of the first Bakhchisaray “Hizb ut-Tahrir case” figure Enver Mamutov, and her youngest son Umar are on the collective payer in Ilmi Umerov house in Bakhchysarai, Crimea.

Bekir, the son of the Crimean Tatar human rights activist Emir-Usein Kuku, performs the namaz [a daily obligatory prayer] with other participants of the collective dua [a prayer] on the anniversary of his father’s arrest. Emir-Usein Kuku is one of the six figures of the Yalta “Hizb ut-Tahrir case”, accused of participating in a terrorist organization. He is currently in a jail in Rostov-on-Don. The North Caucasus District Military Court began to examine case on the merits.

Women prepare coffee for guests, who came to the collective prayer in the deputy chairman of the Majlis Akhtem Chiygoz birthday at his home while he is in the Simferopol prison. Chiygoz was accused of organizing riots on February 26, 2014 near the Supreme Council of the Republic of Crimea during which two people died.

Selsabil, the daughter of the figure of the “Simferopol five” in the “case of Hizb ut-Tahrir” Uzeir Abdullaiev, shows a photo of her father, which she quietly made on her mobile phone in the courtroom.

Elmira Memetova, the wife of a figure of the “Bakhchysarai five” in “Hizb ut-Tahrir case” Remzi Memetov, is preparing dinner at home in Bakhchysarai. Memetov was recently sentenced to 9 years in prison for “participating in a terrorist organization and an attempt to coup d’état” at The North Caucasus District Military Court in Rostov-on-Don.

Alina Smutko is a documentary photographer, photojournalist and visual storyteller from Ukraine. She has taken photos for RFE/RL from Crimea nearly three years. For her works, she has been awarded the Nikon Photo Contest 2019 (silver prize) and short-listed for the Direct Look Photo Contest 2019.

All photos copyright Alina Smutko 

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