The possibility of Ukraine’s Muslim minority community radicalizing may become reality if Russia takes a stronger position in the disputed Crimean peninsula, according to a foreign policy expert.
In an interview with Fox News’ Jonathan Hunt, Soner Cagaptay explained the dynamics of what could happen if Russia remains in Crimea. Cagaptay serves as director of the Turkish research program at the Washington Institute.
Crimea is home to a large community of Crimean Tatars, who are ethnic Turks, according to Cagaptay. Tatars have had a tough history in Ukraine; a majority of them were deported by the Soviet Union from Crimea after World War II.
“They [Soviet officials] didn’t let the Tatars come back because they wanted to Russify the area, [make] Russian the ethnicity,” Cagaptay said. “The Tatars only since the fall of communism have been able to come back to Crimea and now form 10 to 15 percent of the population.”
There are an estimated 30,000 Tatars currently living in Crimea.
Cagaptay, author of “The Rise of Turkey: 21st Century's First Muslim Power,” says any Russian persecution against the Tatars might provoke Muslim extremists down the road.
“Perhaps in the long term, yes, because [currently] the Tatars are very secular,” Cagaptay said. But added, “they will not easily [join] the jihadists.”
“If in the off-case Russians do persecute the Tatars and they are slaughtered and they do start to radicalize – in the long term this could look like Chechnya, but in the short term probably not,” Cagaptay said.
In the upcoming disputed referendum over the status of Crimea, Cagaptay says you can expect Tatars to make clear they don’t want to be annexed by Russia.
“If Russia backs this split militarily and politically and you see Ukrainians, Tatars rising up … this is going to not only anger Ukraine but also Turkey,” Cagaptay said.
Chris Snyder is a producer for Fox News based in New York. Follow him on twitter: @ChrisSnyderFox.