By Murat Temizer
ANKARA (AA) - Ukraine and Turkey should continue working together to de-occupy Crimea, said Sergiy Korsunsky, the Ukrainian ambassador to Ankara, on Tuesday.
Korsunsky said in an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, on the lead up to the May 18 anniversary of Joseph Stalin's deportation of the Crimean Tatars from Crimea in 1944, that Ukraine and the international community will not recognize the annexation of Crimea.
"We - Ukraine and Turkey - share the Black Sea region and we share this neighbor, Russia. If you recall history from the 15th century until now, you will see that both Ukraine and Turkey have always had problems with Russia," Korsunsky maintains.
He said that since Ukraine became a part of the Russian empire after Moscow annexed Ukraine's territory at the end of the 17th century, Moscow violated every promise it gave to Ukraine regarding protection of its rights and freedom.
"Since then Russians did everything possible to eradicate Ukraine's soul, culture and language. The same is the case with Crimea," he said and argued that the Russians seized Crimea in the 18th century with one goal: to take Istanbul back.
This was an ambitious plan of the Russian Orthodox Church to “take Istanbul back” as the ancient capital of the Orthodox Church, but they were not successful, Korsunsky explained.
"Turkish people will never believe that Russia annexed Crimea because it cares about Russians there. No way! What it cares about is changing the geostrategic position of Russia in the Black Sea region," he argued.
Crimea was formally annexed by Moscow in March 2014 after an illegal independence vote on the heels of violent anti-government protests in the Ukrainian capital Kiev that led to the overthrow of then-President Victor Yanukovich.
More than 9,000 people lost their lives due to the conflict between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian rebels since April 2014, according to the UN.
The UN General Assembly voted almost unanimously to proclaim the annexation illegal.
Along with many UN countries, including the U.S. and the EU, Turkey does not recognize Crimea as Russian territory.
- From a peaceful tourist zone to military base
According to Korsunsky, Russia's strategy is to control the Black Sea region.
"If you look at the Black Sea map, if you imagine that Crimea is a huge military base, you can easily see that Russia is trying to control the Black Sea. From Crimea, Russians can easily control access to all countries around the Black Sea. They can threaten every NATO country around the Black Sea: Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey," he said.
He stressed that now Russia is moving huge military contingents to Crimea with airplanes, ships and submarines.
"Why? Against whom? The only country with submarines in the Black Sea, except Russia, is Turkey. Who has a fleet, which can stand against the Russian fleet? The only country that has such a fleet is Turkey. That’s the answer. You should look at the facts," Korsunsky said.
Through the militarization of Crimea, Russia has transformed it from peaceful tourist zone which was open to all, to a huge military base, he said adding that some experts maintain that Russia has moved nuclear weapons to Crimea.
"Against whom? Of course, against NATO and, first of all, Turkey. I’m not saying they’re going to start a war. But those moves violate every norm of international law and civilized behavior," he said.
- "Violation of Tatars' rights"
The Ukrainian diplomat claims that Russians are violating the rights of Crimean Tatars because they are the biggest resistance force against its occupation.
"They violate every right of the Crimean Tatars: right to speak the Crimean Tatar language, right to observe their own religious and cultural traditions. The Muslim population is a big part of Russia but it violates the rights of Muslim Crimean Tatars," he said.
Crimean Tatars make up roughly 13 percent of Crimea's 2.1 million people. They were deported en masse to Central Asia by Moscow in 1944 before being allowed to return to their homeland in the late 1980s as the Soviet Union began to collapse.
Korsunsky said that 100 Crimean occupants were arrested after Friday prayer on May 6 without any explanation.
Furthermore, Korsunsky said that Turkey shares its concerns with the Tatars after the works of Mevlana Rumi, 13th-century Islamic scholar and philosopher, are announced as extremist literature.
Born in 1207 into a Turkic family in present-day Afghanistan, Mevlana Rumi is one of the most widely read philosophers across the world, whose teachings have transcended boundaries of race, color and religion.
The Ambassador said he is very happy that Ukraine has Turkey's full support on this issue and both will continue to work with the Crimean Tatar community.
"We try to continue to push Russians to fulfill their obligations. In spite of the fact that now it looks like we can do little, we will not stop. We are sure that the international community should continue sanctions; Ukraine and Turkey should continue working together to de-occupy Crimea. There is no other way out of this. We will not recognize this. The international community will not recognize this. We are 100 percent sure that Turkey will be with us on this. This is very important. as this is a task which unites us," he said.