Crimean Tatar Hero Mustafa Dzhemilev Honored by NED with the Democracy Service Medal

Mustafa Dzhemilev

The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) has awarded the Democracy Service Medal to the revered Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev in recognition of his lifelong struggle to defend the rights of the Crimean Tatars.  NED president Carl Gershman presented the medal at an event on Thursday, May 24, 2018 at the Endowment’s Washington, DC office.

“In recognition of his spiritual strength and devotion to the cause of democracy, and for his unyielding defense of the human dignity and national integrity of his people, the Crimean Tatars, the National Endowment for Democracy is proud to honor Mustafa Dzhemilev with its Democracy Service Medal,” said Gershman.

Dzhemilev, a renowned human rights activist and Soviet dissident, campaigned for the right of return of the Crimean Tatars following their deportation under Stalin. As a result, he spent 15 years in prison camps in the USSR and undertook what remains the longest hunger strike on record – 300 days. Since 2014, Dzhemilev has served as Commissioner of the President of Ukraine for the Affairs of Crimean Tatars.

“I believe that this medal belongs to the entire Crimean Tatar nation, a nation which is very courageous and brave, which managed for decades to resist such a strong superpower, and which now is also resisting this audacious, vile, cruel aggressor,” said Dzhemilev. “Our country, our people, badly needs solidarity and support these days…Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea, Dzhemilev and the Crimean Tatars face renewed persecution. The Russian annexation has been accompanied by numerous human rights violations, including beatings and kidnappings of civic activists. Crimean Tatar activists such as Dzhemilev have been singled out for persecution.

The award presentation was a moving conclusion to a program focused on the historic and current plight of Crimea and the Tatars.  Jorgan Andrews, Director of the US Department of State Office of Eastern European Affairs made remarks reiterating US support for Ukraine and rejection of the Russian occupation of Crimea. “the American people stand in solidarity with Ukraine, the people of Crimea, and the Crimean Tatars,” said Andrews. “ We continue to bear witness to the horrific violations of human rights and other injustices committed by the Russian occupiers in Crimea.  We look forward to the day when Crimea can be returned to Ukrainian control and its residents can live in peace.”

Following Andrews remarks, the documentary Mustafa, produced by NED grantee CrimeaSOS, was shown.  The biographical film was followed by a conversation between Dzhemilev and Paula Dobriansky, former Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs and current Senior Fellow at the Future of Diplomacy Project at Harvard University’s Kennedy School.  A recording of the event is available on the NED website.

The Board of Directors of the National Endowment for Democracy created its Democracy Service Medal to recognize individuals who have made significant contributions to the progress of democracy around the world. It has been presented to more than 30 outstanding individuals who have demonstrated through personal commitment, their dedication to the advancement of freedom and human rights, and to the building of democratic institutions.

The National Endowment for Democracy is a private, nonprofit, grant-making organization created in 1983 to strengthen democratic institutions around the world.  It is active in more than 90 countries, supporting grassroots, democratic initiatives.

Contact:  Jane Riley Jacobsen (202) 378-9604 or