Six years have gone by since Russia illegally annexed from Ukraine the Crimean peninsula on the northern end of the Black Sea, largely populated by Crimean Tatars.
Russian forces entered the peninsula in February 2014, with Russian President Vladimir Putin formally dividing the region into two separate federal subjects of the Russian Federation the following month.
Since then, Crimean Tatars have kept up their struggle for Ukraine's territorial integrity against Russian occupation.
Speaking exclusively to Anadolu Agency, Tatar leader and chairman of the Crimean Mejlis Refat Chubarov lamented that had Russia faced a "stern response" when it invaded Crimea in 2014,the country would not be that much involved in the process that led to the current conflict in Syria", referring to Moscow's support for the Syrian Bashar al-Assad regime.
Chubarov said Russia's influence in Syria was rooted in the inability of international actors to take preventative measures against its forays ahead of time.
"If Russia had been prevented in August 2008, the annexation of Crimea would not have happened either," he underlined, this time citing Moscow's war with Georgia, a former Soviet republic.
Tbilisi fought a five-day war with Russia in 2008 over Georgia’s breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Georgia lost control of both areas, and Russia later recognized them as independent states.
Chubarov asserted that Turkey's support for Ukraine's territorial integrity and the Crimean Tatars forced Moscow to "take more careful steps."
Since the occupation began, Turkey has pushed to protect the Crimean Tatars as "brothers and sisters" and have not accepted the occupation of Crimea, he said.
"We don't know what more Russian occupying powers could have done to us without Ankara's protection," added Chubarov.
Chubarov also voiced concern for the continuity of the occupation in Crimea and said: “We think if Russia stays 15-20 years more in Crimea, they will continue to oppress our kin and will try to eradicate them.”
"Russia's centuries-long Crimea policy is to completely take control and eradicate the population in Crimea. Our history shows that all of these catastrophes came from Moscow. For that reason, Crimean Tatars living around the world are more than those who live in Crimea," he added.
Crimea's occupation shocked the world with the UN, European Council and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) calling for action that failed as none of these organizations had any influence on Russia, Chubarov said.
"The U.S. and EU sanctions on Russia were important for us Ukraine supporters. However, they were not enough to stop Russia. These sanctions harmed Russia to some extent, but were not enough to make Russia retreat from Crimea," he added.
However, he ruled out military action, arguing that this would not bring a peaceful solution to Crimea, instead, it would risk larger conflict.
"Had there been a diplomatic, political or economic consensus among western countries, they could have helped Ukraine," added Chubarov, suggesting that an embargo on Russian oil and natural gas would have been beneficial.
"But this is too hard. Many countries need Russia’s oil and gas. Russia kills people with the money it earns through these."
Life in Crimea
Lacking freedom of speech or thought, Crimeans continue to live under occupation forces.
"If you live there today, and if your ideas and approaches are not similar to those of the Russian government, then you shouldn't voice your ideas. The state would work against you if you did this. This freedom does not exist there. There is no freedom of ideas. There is no free press," said Chubarov.
"Since 2014 -- the Russians' arrival -- Crimean press organizations have either worked in line with Russia's demands, have been shut down or shut themselves down. We had two media organizations there, one TV channel and a Crimean news agency. We had to move them to Kiev," he added.
Russia came to the Crimean peninsula not only physically but also mentally in a bid to make the region a Russian province, Chubarov said, imposing the Russian curriculum and language on its schools.
"In Crimea, we had 14 schools teaching in the Crimean Tatar language. They have not been shut down, but the education systems have been changed, they have been Russified," he said.
Chubarov claimed Russia has sought to secure the Tatars' "voluntary" exodus from out of the peninsula.
"And they want our kin to leave with their own will. How can they leave? Russians raided peoples' homes. They abducted our young, and some of our kin living in Crimea were jailed. Some were accused of being extremists, terrorists, but this was not true. It is completely made up, serving the sole purpose of scaring people off and forcing them to leave," he explained.
Russia regularly raid homes, people were then imprisoned, some of them transferred to Russia, according to the Crimean Solidarity, a Kiev-based media organization of the Crimean Tatars.
Russia claims the arrested have links to terrorist organizations.
Chubarov said the Tatars have been supporting Ukraine in the conflict with Russia because Ukraine's political system is "based on freedom and democracy, and they recognize the Crimean Tatar people."
Crimea's ethnic Tatars have faced persecution since Russia’s 2014 takeover of the peninsula, a situation Turkey has decried.
Russia and Ukraine have been at loggerheads since Russia annexed Crimea after a controversial referendum.
The U.S. and Turkey, as well as the UN General Assembly, viewed the move as illegal.
Ukraine has also blamed the Kremlin for separatist violence in Donbass, in the country's east, near its border with Russia, which has claimed some 13,000 lives.Anadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.