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As Russia menaces Ukraine, Crimea's Tatars turn to Turkey

Complex ties stretch across centuries and continents, but Turkey's affinity for its ethnic kin is taking a backseat to global relations with Russia.
Participants gather with Ukrainian flags and flags of Crimean Tatars before riding in their cars through Kiev to commemorate the 76th anniversary of the deportation of the indigenous population of the Crimea by the Soviet Union, on May 18, 2020.
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KYIV, Ukraine — Ilmi Umerov, a Crimean Tatar political leader, was lying on a hospital bed in Simferopol, the capital of Crimea in his pajamas when Russian secret service agents carted him off to the airport and put him on a plane to Ankara with fellow Crimean Tatar political detainee Ahtem Chigoz. 

The dissidents were freed on Oct. 25, 2017, in exchange for a pair of Russian operatives held in a Turkish jail for their alleged role in the murders of seven Chechen dissidents between 2000 and 2015. The swap was engineered by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “He is such a sultan,” Umerov said of Turkey’s authoritarian leader, whom he met the day after his release. “I mean in a good way.”

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