Kiev, Ukraine – Ukrainian Foreign Ministry reacted to Russia’s imprisonment of 3 Crimean Tatar Turks. Russia has been implementing a ruthless plan of ethnic cleansing and genocide since May 18, 1944, with the aim of exterminating the Crimean Tatar Turks.
Crimea, Ukrainian Krym, also spelled Krim, autonomous republic, southern Ukraine. Crimea is a peninsula located on the northern coast of the Black Sea in Eastern Europe that is almost completely surrounded by both the Black Sea and the smaller Sea of Azov to the northeast.
The Crimea republic is coterminous with the Crimean Peninsula, lying between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. In 2014 Russia covertly invaded and illegally annexed Crimea, a move that was denounced by the international community. Area 27,000 square km). Population (2001) 2,033,736; (2013 est.) 1,965,177.
Since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea, it has pursued a policy of brutally neutralizing and intimidating Crimean Tatar Turks. A military court in the Russian city of Rostov-na-Donu sentenced 3 Crimean Tatar Turks to prison terms ranging from 13 to 18 years on allegedly terrorism charges. A statement from Ukraine after the decision said it was “evidence of political persecution of the Tatar Turkish people of Crimea.”
A military court in the Russian city of Rostov-na-Donu sentenced 3 Crimean Tatar Turks to prison terms ranging from 13 to 18 years on allegedly terrorism charges. In a statement, the Crimean solidarity platform said that the court had tried 3 people on allegedly terrorism charges. According to the court’s decision, Anwar Umarov was sentenced to 18 years in prison, Ayder Capparov to 17 years and Reza Umarov to 13 years. 3 people in the case were reportedly detained in Crimea, which Russia illegally raided the homes of the people in question in 2019.
A statement from the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry reacted to Russia’s imprisonment of 3 Crimean Tatar Turks, stating that Russia’s political charges as a testament to political persecution. “The homes of the people in question were raided illegally in 2019, today’s decision has nothing to do with Justice, this is evidence of political persecution of the Crimean Tatar Turkish people,” the statement stressed.
Turkey slams Russian jail sentences for Crimean Tatar Turks
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry says to continue standing with Crimean Tatar Turks who peacefully defend their rights. Turkey condemned the conviction of seven Crimean Tatars by a Russian court.
The country’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement: “It is regrettable to suppress the Tatar Turkish community, which is the essential element of the Crimean Peninsula, by such methods.” The statement added that it will continue to stand with the Crimean Tatar Turks, who peacefully defend their rights and interests and strive to make their voices heard through democratic methods.
A military court in Rostov-on-Don, southern Russia, sentenced the Crimean Tatars to prison from 13 to 19 years over allegedly “terror” charges. The EU called on Russia to quash this ruling and to release all illegally detained Ukrainians without delay.
Russian forces entered the Crimean Peninsula in February 2014, with Russian President Vladimir Putin formally dividing the region into two separate federal subjects of the Russian Federation in February 2014.
Since then, Crimean Tatar Turks have continued their struggle for Ukraine’s territorial integrity against Russian occupation. Crimea’s ethnic Tatar Turks have faced persecution since Russia’s 2014 takeover of the peninsula, a situation Turkey has decried.
Turkey and the US, as well as the UN General Assembly, view the annexation as illegal.
Russia’s Crimean Tatar Turks Exile and Genocide
The deportation of the Crimean Tatar Turks (Crimean Tatar: Qırımtatar halqınıñ sürgünligi; Ukrainian: Депортація кримських татар; Russian: Депортация крымских татар) or the Sürgünlik (“exile”) was the ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide of at least 191,044 Crimean Tatar Turks in 18–20 May 1944 carried out by the Soviet government, ordered by Lavrentiy Beria, head of the Soviet state security and secret police, acting on behalf of Joseph Stalin.
Within three days, the NKVD used cattle trains to deport mostly women, children, the elderly, even Communists and members of the Red Army, to mostly the Uzbek SSR, several thousand kilometers away. They were one of the several ethnicities who were encompassed by Stalin’s policy of population transfer in the Soviet Union.
The deportation officially was intended as collective punishment for the perceived collaboration of some Crimean Tatar Turks with Nazi Germany; modern sources theorize that the deportation was part of the Soviet plan to gain access to the Dardanelles and acquire territory in Turkey where the Tatar Turks had ethnic kinsmen.
Nearly 8,000 Crimean Tatar Turks died during the deportation, while tens of thousands perished subsequently due to the harsh exile conditions. The Crimean Tatar Turks exile resulted in the abandonment of 80,000 households and 360,000 acres of land. An intense campaign of detatarization to erase remaining traces of Crimean Tatar Turk existence followed.
In 1956, the new Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, condemned Stalin’s policies, including the deportation of various ethnic groups, but did not lift the directive forbidding the return of the Crimean Tatar Turks, despite allowing the right of return for most other deported peoples. They remained in Central Asia for several more decades until the Perestroika era in the late 1980s when 260,000 Crimean Tatar Turks returned to Crimea. Their exile lasted 45 years. The ban on their return was officially declared null and void, and the Supreme Council of Crimea declared on 14 November 1989 that the deportations had been a crime.
By 2004, sufficient numbers of Crimean Tatar Turks had returned to Crimea that they comprised 12 percent of the peninsula’s population. Soviet authorities neither assisted their return nor compensated them for the land they lost. The Russian Federation, the successor state of the USSR, did not provide reparations, compensate those deported for lost property, or file legal proceedings against the perpetrators of the forced resettlement.
The deportation was a crucial event in the history of the Crimean Tatar Turks and has come to be seen as a symbol of the plight and oppression of smaller ethnic groups by the Soviet Union. On 12 December 2015, the Ukrainian Parliament issued a resolution recognizing this event as genocide and established 18 May as the “Day of Remembrance for the victims of the Crimean Tatar Turks genocide”.
18 May 1944 – Russia’s systematic Crimean Tatar Turks Exile and Genocide Crime
On the anniversary of this painful day, when the Crimean Tatar Turks were expelled by the Soviet Union and nearly half of their population was destroyed, we commemorate the people who died in exile and invite humanity to take action so that these disasters do not occur anywhere in the world.
In 1944, on the night connecting May 17 to May 18, the doors of Crimean Tatars living in Crimea began to be knocked. The soldiers of Stalin’s Russia were ordered to gather in the squares, preparing in fifteen minutes.
423 thousand Crimean Tatar Turks, consisting of women, babies in arson, the elderly, the sick, and men who could not fight, were hoarded in animal wagons from stations in Crimea that night and driven from their homeland. They were accused of” treason against the Soviet Union.” However, on the same night, 50 thousand Crimean Tatar Turk men were fighting on behalf of the Soviet Union on the front against Hitler’s Germany.
This ordeal journey of the Crimean Tatar Turks took more than 20 days. In animal wagons, where hundreds of people were stowed, a place to sit as people died opened up. They were not given proper food or water. The bodies of those who died were left on the side of the road when trains stopped every few days.
Crimean Tatar Turks, whose strong men were at war, lost their lives on this terrible journey of exile from hunger, thirst and disease. Old people, babies, children, women and young girls lost their lives from blood poisoning because they could not meet their ablution needs in carriages from shame and hijabs.
In this exile, Crimean Tatar Turks were distributed to many regions such as Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Siberia, and thousands of people were torn from their homes. By the time this ordeal was over, almost half of those animal cars were empty. The Crimean Tatar Turks lost 195 thousand people in exile.
In the countries reached after the exile, the suffering did not end. Thousands of Crimean Tatar Turks, who had no presence at all, had to work like slaves in the cotton fields to survive. During this time, many people died from causes such as malnutrition and infectious diseases.
After a few days of Exile, Russian NKVD officials realized that the village of Arabat in Crimea had been forgotten. The people of the village were filled with a ship and another problem was “solved” on behalf of the Soviet Union by sinking the ship off the Black Sea.
In 1965, Crimean Tatar Turks began to be allowed to travel to their homeland Crimea as “tourists”. On June 23, 1978, when Musa Mamut, known as the eternal torch of the Crimean Tatar Turks, wanted to return to his homeland and settle, the Soviet administration in Crimea wanted to forcibly remove him and his family from Crimea. Musa Mamut then burned himself and died on 28 June 1978.
In 1986, the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union issued a declaration declaring that all the provisions restricting the rights of all communities subjected to exile and oppression were abolished, that their rights and dignity were restored to these peoples and all these were guaranteed by the state. However, the mass return efforts of the Crimean Tatar Turks were still stuck with bureaucratic obstacles.
In 1987, Crimean Tatar Turks came to the world agenda with their demonstrations in Red Square against the prevention of their return to their homeland. Since 1989, despite bureaucratic obstacles, police repression and heavy financial conditions, they started mass returns from their exile to Crimea. At the end of this process, over 250 thousand Crimean Tatar Turks were able to return to their homeland.
Crimea was occupied again by Russia in February 2014. Since then, 21 Crimean Tatar Turks have been kidnapped. The tortured bodies of 3 were found. Violence against Crimean Tatar Turks increased. Crimean Tatar Turks face house searches, investigations and high fines every day. Crimean Tatar Turk leaders were banned from entering Crimea. National organizations were closed. Meetings commemorating the 18 May 1944 deportations and genocide were banned. New threats of exile against the Crimean Tatar Turks have also become frequent.
Deportation of Crimean Tatars Turks in 1944 was genocide
Crimean Tatar Turks were kept in extremely harsh conditions, and half of them were killed. The Soviet Union’s brutal 1944 deportation of Crimean Tatars bears all the hallmarks of genocide.
On May 18, 1944, the Soviet Union exiled all the Tatar Turks from Crimea, leaving not a single one. Crimean Tatar Turks were kept in extremely harsh conditions where they were sent, and half of them were killed.
The deportation is described as a “genocide”. The Soviet Union wanted the Crimean Tatar Turks to completely disappear from history, and they even removed the phrase ‘Crimean Tatar Turks’ from the records, stating that there would be no such people again.
The Ukrainian Parliament passed a bill calling on the UN and international organizations to recognize the deportation of the Crimean Tatar Turks as genocide.
Genocide was first recognized as a crime under international law in 1946 by the UN General Assembly, saying it involves killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.
During the deportation, groups of about 300 Crimean Tatar Turks were put in a covered wagon “like a sack of potatoes” with no room to move. Imagine that your child, brother, or grandfather is dying in front of your eyes. His dead body continues standing with you because there’s no room on the floor. These deportation journeys took nearly 20-25 days. The aim was to completely destroy these people and turn Crimea into purely Russian territory.
Underscoring that the Crimean Tatars Turks struggled democratically and non-violently against the Soviet Union for 30-40 years, hey returned to their homeland in harsh conditions, especially after the dissolution of the USSR.
Russian annexation of Crimea
Commemorating the 1944 events without condemning the recent Russian occupation of Crimea shows “great insincerity.” Denouncing the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, the “inhuman and illegal” occupation has continued in Crimean territory for six years now.
Nearly 50,000 Crimean Tatar Turks used to gather in Simferopol, the capital of Crimea, to commemorate the deportation. Now, not even three people could come together to commemorate it.
Crimean Tatar Turks are not allowed to commemorate or talk about the exile on pain of 15-20 years in prison as penalty. Almost all schools and media outlets of the Crimean Tatar Turks were closed. Political opinion leaders were either deported from Crimea, detained, or jailed.
The annexation was a crime against humanity and violation of international law, the international community should toughen sanctions against Russia. If there were no real sanctions and Russia were not punished by the international public, these people native Crimeans would disappear and international law would be trampled on.
Russia illegally annexed from Ukraine the Crimean Peninsula on the northern end of the Black Sea, largely populated by Crimean Tatar Turks. 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 in March 2014.
Since then, Crimean Tatar Turks have continued their struggle for Ukraine’s territorial integrity against Russian occupation. Crimea’s ethnic Tatar Turks have faced persecution since Russia’s 2014 takeover of the peninsula, a situation Turkey has decried. Turkey and the US, as well as the UN General Assembly, view the annexation as illegal.
Press Release Regarding The 70th Anniversary Of The Exile Of The Crimean Tatar Turks From Their Homeland, Crimea
Republic Of Turkey Ministry Of Foreign Affairs 18.05.2014
No: 150, 18 May 2014
We commemorate with great sadness and grief the 70th anniversary of the exile of the Crimean Tatar Turk people by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on 18 May 1944. Seventy years ago, today, nearly 250,000 Crimean Tatar Turks, mostly comprised of children and women, had been taken away from their homes at midnight by armed soldiers, piled into freight wagons under inhuman conditions and sent forcibly into exile to remote regions, thousands of kilometers away from their homeland, without provisioning of any food or water. Half of these uprooted people lost their lives due to severe conditions of hunger, negligence and diseases which they were subjected to during the journey and in the locations where they were settled.
The deep pains of this massive persecution in history, which we sadly remember today once again, have left indelible marks on the collective memory of the entire Turkish nation. We wish God’s mercy on all our kinsmen who lost their lives because of the exile.
Decades later, Crimean Tatar Turks have started to return to their homeland from 1989 onwards (as a result of their struggles under the leadership of Mustafa Abdülcemil Kırımoğlu). Yet, today more than one hundred thousand Crimean Tatar Turks are still unable to return to their homeland, Crimea.
On this occasion, we reiterate once again our strong support to the Crimean Tatar Turks who are now living through extraordinary conditions. We reaffirm our belief that the Crimean Tatar Turk people will overcome the challenges which they are facing today in unity, integrity and tranquility through democratic and peaceful methods; and thus they will maintain their existence in Crimea by protecting their rights and interests. Turkey will fulfill all of its duties in order to help them achieve this objective.
The Crimean Tatar Turks’ deportation, exile and genocide
Campana Aurélie, Sürgün: The Crimean Tatars’ deportation and exile, Mass Violence & Résistance, [en ligne], publié le : 16 Juin, 2008, accéder le 05/01/2021, http://bo-k2s.sciences-po.fr/mass-violence-war-massacre-resistance/fr/document/suerguen-crimean-tatars-deportation-and-exile, ISSN 1961-9898
Crimea is a peninsula located on the Black Sea coast in the south of today’s Ukraine. Part of the peninsula’s population was forced into exile in May 1944. In April 1944, after two and half years of German occupation, the Soviet forces regained control of Crimea. The reconquest was hardly completed when the Crimean Tatars were deported en masse on the false accusation of having collectively collaborated with the Nazis. This Muslim Turkic-speaking minority then represented 19.4% of the population of the peninsula, where Russians represented over 50%.
On May 18, 1944, in the early morning, soldiers of the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs (NKVD, the former KGB) entered Tatars’ houses by force and announced to their astonished and incredulous occupants their immediate deportation because of acts of “massive collaboration”. They were given only twenty to thirty minutes to gather some personal belongings. Without further delay, they were then conveyed to several stations, where they were loaded into cattle trains. In the matter of three days, nearly 180,014 Crimean Tatars were deported from the peninsula. At the same moment, most of the Crimean Tatar men who were fighting in the ranks of the Red Army were demobilized and sent into labor camps in Siberia and in the Ural mountain region. The demobilized soldiers were released after Stalin’s death in 1953 and allowed to return to their families in their place of exile.
Over 151,000 Crimean Tatar deportees were sent to Uzbekistan; the rest of the population was conveyed to regions of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), mostly in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, the Ural region, the Mari Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, and for some, to the region of Moscow (Broŝevan and Tygliânc, 1994: 85). The conditions of the transfer by train were particularly difficult; they were fatal for many of them, especially as the majority of the deportees were women, children and old people. The weakest ones were carried off by malnutrition, thirst, cold, overcrowding and diseases that spread rapidly in packed train carriages.
The conditions in the places of exile proved to be just as tragic. Even if their arrival was planned, the deportees’ resettlement had been prepared poorly. Local authorities were informed belatedly, if at all. In a context marked by war and the flood of deported peoples to Central Asia, the local authorities did not have the necessary time and means to absorb physically and psychologically weakened people. The lack of accommodation and food, the failure to adapt to new climatic conditions and the rapid spread of diseases had a heavy demographical impact during the first years of exile.
The Tatar deportees, from now on considered « special settlers », were placed under the special settlement regime. This punitive regime had deprived them, for thirteen years, of their rights, and particularly of their freedom of movement. They could not go as far as five kilometers away from their imposed place of residence, and once or twice a month they had to go to the local kommandatur administered by the NKVD and sign an attendance register. Finally, they were forced to work in the collective State farms or factories and received meager wages.
Simultaneous to the deportation and the scattering of the Crimean Tatar people, the central authorities launched a policy of « detatarization » in the Crimean peninsula: the main monuments and places which recalled the Tatar presence were destroyed; books about Crimean Tatars or written by Crimean Tatar authors were removed from the library shelves and some were burnt; place names were russianized. The status of the peninsula was also changed: the Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR), which was established in 1921 (in which Crimean Tatars enjoyed a positive discrimination), became under the law of July 25, 1946 an oblast (an administrative term which means region), forming part of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR). The passing of this law achieved the process of « detatarization », even as the settlement of Russian-speaking or Ukrainian settlers into the houses deserted by the Tatars was carried out. In 1954, the Crimean oblast was offered to Ukraine to mark the celebrations of the 300th anniversary of the union between Russia and Ukraine. That internal decision, which did not have an immediate effect, proved to be decisive after the USSR disintegrated.
Stalin’s death in 1953 raised hope amongst Crimean Tatar special settlers. However, their hope was quickly dashed. Indeed, they were excluded from the processes of rehabilitation led by Nikita Khrushchev in 1956. Thus, whereas most of the punished people regained their political rights and were authorized to return to their former homelands, Crimean Tatars, as well as Volga Germans and Turk-Meskhetians, were sentenced to a prolonged exile. If from this year on they regained their civic rights as individuals, going back to Crimea remained forbidden. Moreover, this decision meant the negation of the collective existence of Crimean Tatars.
The decision to deport the Crimean Tatars was taken at the Soviet State highest level. Beria, the NKVD Commissioner, proposed a plan to deport the Crimean Tatars in a telegram addressed to Stalin and dated May 10, 1944 (Bugaj, 2002, doc No. 55: 85). The day after, the State Committee for Defense, directed by Stalin, published a decree that ordered the mass deportation of Crimean Tatars. Not only did the decree go into all the details of the deportation, but it also justified the decision by denouncing the collective collaboration of Crimean Tatars with the Germans (Bugaj, 2002, doc No. 42, May 11, 1944: 70-72).
The NKVD intervened during the different stages of the deportation, from the forced expulsion overseen by Beria and two of his assistants, Kobulov and Serov, to the management of the special camps. Thus thirty-two thousand soldiers were mobilized expressly for the operation of expulsion. The meticulous preparation, which stands out in the written exchanges between the different authorities, shows a certain routinization. Indeed, the deportation of Crimean Tatars took place after those organized in the Caucasus in 1943 and at the beginning of 1944. Moreover, those documents reflect a complete dehumanization of the deportees. Soldiers’ brutality during the expulsion and the transfer by train as well as the orders to kill the recalcitrant or those who could not walk because of illness or age, tragically illustrate that dehumanization.
The terrible conditions, which characterized the first years of exile, prove that improvisation prevailed when the deportees arrived at the places of exile. In some camps, the deportees had to build themselves huts in order to shelter from winter harshness. The first year, especially the lack of food and clothes seem to have been deeply felt. The deportees were also deprived of the most basic health care (Broŝevan and Tygliânc, 1994: 86). Several official reports acknowledged the situation. In October 1944, Colonel Malkov, the head of the NKVD “special settlers” department, noted that Crimean Tatar deportees’ situation was catastrophic in some regions: the building of the huts was not finished; bread rations, of poor quality, were not sufficient (on average 150 grams per person and per day); clothes and shoes were lacking; wages had not been paid since July and several infectious diseases had appeared (Bugaj, 2002, doc. 130, October 10, 1994: 142-143). However no measures were planned to solve this situation, which confirms the little case made of the deported peoples.
The role of the Crimean local authorities in the deportation was also central. The Russian historian, Aleksandr Nekrich, even states that it was “fatal” (1978: 31). He underscores the responsibility of the local communist rulers and of the leaders of partisan movements. Their reports exaggerated the accusations against the Crimean Tatars for treason with the occupying Nazi army. They put forward allegations based on biased pieces of information and inflated figures. On one hand, they greatly exaggerated the involvement of the self-defense units created by the Germans and composed in major part of Crimean Tatars. On the other hand, they inflated the figure of Crimean Tatar deserters, giving 20,000 whereas 479 are recognized (Bugaj, 2002, doc No. 12: 54; doc No. 13: 54-55; doc No. 55: 85; doc No.30: 62-63). The reports written before and after the deportation contributed to develop the thesis of massive collaboration. They also fed off the anti-Tatar propaganda that was broadcast in the places of exile before the deportees’ arrival.
The number of victims among Crimean Tatars, which is still the subject of heated controversy, is as difficult to verify as in other cases of massive deportation. Official data are numerous but biased and imprecise. In addition to being biased, there are sometimes discrepancies between the documents and they do not concern only the Crimean Tatars. Thus, the documents published by the NKVD often referred to “special settlers from Crimea”, including in the same category all the peoples who were deported from Crimea: Tatars, but also Greeks, Armenians, Italians and Bulgarians from Crimea. Finally the scattering of the deported peoples caused a fragmentation of information. It is more important for those who were deported to Uzbekistan, the Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) where most of the Crimean Tatars were deported.
An official document establishes that 44,887 special settlers from Crimea died in 1944-1945, that is to say 19.6% of the peninsula’s population deported in 1944. In the Republic of Uzbekistan alone, 16,052 of them died in 1944 and 13,183 in 1945 (Bugaj, 1995: 156). These figures do not include the people who passed away during the transfer by train. Rywkin thinks there were 7,900 (1994: 67), an estimate that seems to be rather underestimated. It remains however very difficult to be more precise, failing that only a general census of the victims of the forced deportation can be done. A recent study, based on those same documents of the NKVD and on demographic projections, estimates that 18.01% of the deportees perished between 1944 and 1952, and that demographic deficit rose to 44.7% between those two dates (Ediev, 2004). These conclusions have to be considered cautiously again, because of the very nature of the documents consulted and of the uncertainties around them.
The activists of the Crimean Tatar national movement also tried to evaluate the demographic consequences of the deportation. They carried out a census in all the scattered Tatar communities in the middle of the 1960s. The results of this inquiry show that 109,956 Crimean Tatars of the 238,500 deportees died between July 1, 1944 and January 1, 1947. Thus 46.2 % of the deported Tatar population would have died during the first eighteen months of forced exile. Beyond the discrepancy between the figure of deportees given by the official data and that proposed by the Crimean Tatars, that high percentage forms part of a strategy of victimization followed by the Crimean Tatar movement. Besides, several studies questioned it. Ann Sheehy and Bogdan Nahylo think indeed that the figure of 30% is more likely (1980: 8). Every scientific evaluation is surely uncertain. That’s why there are such great discrepancies between one’s calculations and others’ evaluations. It is nevertheless a fact that the deportation had a very heavy demographic impact on the Tatar population of Crimea. The official figures, albeit one-sided, cannot deny this.
The deportation of the Crimean Tatars took place in the presence of numerous external witnesses. And yet few of them reported what they saw or, for some, what they lived through. Among the available testimonies, there is that of Vesnine, a soldier who participated in the deportation. He gives us details on the progress of the operation. He especially insists on the fact that only the commanders knew what kind of mission was assigned to the troops. His officer revealed to his men the final target of the operation only once they got into position around the Crimean Tatars’ houses. That testimony published in 1989 also shows the very good preparation of the forced expulsion, in a USSR at war and much dependent on the equipment delivered by the Americans. Thus, as Vesnine and also many accounts of deportees report, the vehicles and trucks used for the transportation of the Tatars from the villages to the stations from where they were conveyed to the places of exile were essentially provided by the American Army – Studebakers and Fords – (Vesnine quoted by Marie, 1995: 101-102). That detail is very often mentioned and proves both the high degree of preparation of the operations of mass deportation and the involvement at the highest levels of the State in their realization.
The censorship concerning the mass deportations during the Soviet period explains why testimonies are rare and belated relative to the event. On one hand, it was strictly forbidden, even after the destalinization, to refer to it and, even for the punished peoples, to commemorate these events. On the other hand, the propaganda against the Crimean Tatars played an important part in eclipsing the deportations, all the more since the official Soviet account emphasizes their treason, and the barbarity and cruelty they would have shown throughout the past centuries (Nekrich: 167-172). It also insists on the fact that they cannot be considered as a native people of the peninsula, but that they are the descendants of the Turkic-Mongols arrived in the thirteenth century. The deportation to Central Asia is consequently perceived as a return and thus justified. And yet, throughout the 1920s, the Soviet ethnography endeavored to demonstrate the native character of the Crimean Tatars, an argument that is nowadays widely taken up and developed by the Tatar nationalists (for a discussion of the indigenous nature of the Crimean Tatars see William, 2001: 7-38).
The rewriting of history which accompanied the deportation firmly took root in people’s minds. The images conveyed by the propaganda and the Soviet account, reinforced by the non-rehabilitation, were not erased from the memories after the collapse of the Soviet Union. On the contrary, today they nourish the tensions in the political field and, to a lesser extent, the interethnic tensions, which have accompanied the return of some 260,000 Tatars to Crimea (Campana, 2004).
The term “Sürgün” is used to refer to the deportation. It means “expulsion”, as well as “exil” in Turkish. By extension, “Sürgün” refers to violent expulsion and the prolonged exile. It has to be noticed that this term is mainly used by members of the Crimean Tatar Diaspora.
The deportation is the central event in the narratives that constitute individual memories and Crimean Tatars’ collective memory. It can be considered as the cement of the Crimean Tatar identity. The concept of “chosen trauma” (Volkan, 1997: 48) has been widely used in the studies to characterize the importance of this event and the diffusion of the memories still focused on it (Williams, 2001; Uelhing, 2004; Campana, 2003).
The censorship concerning the deportation, as well as the non-rehabilitation, has deeply marked the Crimean Tatars’ memories and their externalization. In most cases, the narratives broadcast from the 1960s to the 1980s were included in the appeals and the petitions that representatives of the dissident Crimean Tatar national movement wrote. They served a strategy of victimization and of consciousness-raising.
In general, the main social frameworks of memory are mixed up with the living memories of deportation, which are mainly passed on within the family circle. Memories of deportation thus can be assimilated to transgenerational memories. The survivors’ recollections constitute a cultural framework that the second and third generations of Crimean Tatars adopted as their own and took with them to Crimea (Uelhing, 2004: 9). A poem by Lilia Bujurova speaks of the desire of knowledge typical of the generations of Crimean Tatars who did not have a direct experience of the deportation or, because they were too young, have only partial memories. It is about a Crimean Tatar descendant who asks his father to talk about “the house where he was born”, an allegory used to describe Crimea. In a meaningful excerpt, he asks him:
Tell me once more who survived!
I want to know everything about that,
To be able to tell your grandson
Your sorrow, that screams in me and in my son
In every living moment!
The recollections are not simply reproduced and passed on, but circulate through families’ circles. Thus, the style that parents adopted in their accounts is, implicitly or explicitly, rejected by the youngest ones who, as they appropriated their parents’ recollections, gave them a stronger emotional significance (Uelhing: 17 and 116). This trend can be partly explained by the nationalist contexts in which many Tatars evolved between the 1960s and the 1990s and after the USSR split. The centrality of the Crimean Tatars’ return and the restoration of their political rights lost in 1944 are constructed as arguments based on a past seen through the nationalist prism.
The political mobilization promoted by the movement activists largely contributed to establish the sharing of traumatic recollections within formalized frameworks, whose diffusion led to a certain homogenization of the speeches and narratives. The historical narrative elaborated by the activists of the movement had a strong impact on memories. Terms as genocide or destruction are found in numerous narratives, which are a singular demonstration of the pain suffered by the group. Indeed, the Tatar historical account considers the deportation as the last stage of a genocide planned since the annexation of Crimea in 1783. The deportation is regarded as a break. The National Mourning Day, May 18, also represents the birth of a new solidarity that appeared in the places of exile and that was duplicated in a context of scattering and negation. The deportation is placed at the center of the timeline produced by the Crimean Tatar historical narrative which includes all the events perceived as “tragedies”: the annexation of the peninsula by the Tsarist Empire in 1783, the emigration of almost two million Tatars in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the actions of expropriation and russianization… Therefore, the historical account is one of the most efficient homogenizing frameworks of the Tatar memories (Campana, 2003).
Beyond the individual traumas exist traumas considered as collective peppered narratives. Many testimonies insist on the behavior presented as a humiliation and attacks against the Tatar identity: the physical and symbolic violence perpetrated against old people and women; the confinement of men and women in the same trucks mixed together; soldiers’ disrespect for religious symbols; their refusal to bury people who died during the transfer… The narratives also underline the destruction caused by the detatarization of Crimea, although those events, which took place after the forced expulsion, cannot be remembered by the deportees and their descendants. In parallel, they give an idealized view of life in Crimea before the forced displacement. The deportation gave birth to a new sense of identity and to new perceptions, which are the origin of the development of an idealized connection with a territory set up as a Homeland (Campana, 2006).
Crimean Tatars’ memories are in direct competition not only with the Soviet official narrative, but also with the memories of the Russian-speaking inhabitants of Crimea. Indeed, those inhabitants remember the Crimean Tatars’ collaboration with the occupying German army (Uelhing, 2004: 49-61). Conversely, the Crimean Tatars recall their active involvement in the ranks of the Red Army and in the Soviet partisan movement (Williams, 2001: 414). The Crimean Tatar soldiers who were decorated during the Second World War or killed in the line of duty are celebrated as personification of Crimean Tatars’ patriotism. Beyond that subjectivity of the memories, some aspects of Crimean Tatar history are ignored. Thus, the acts of collaboration of hundreds of Crimean Tatars are avoided, as well as the formation of self-defense units and their role during the German occupation. This period is greatly emotionally invested and gives still rise nowadays to competing interpretations.
There are two main questions in the studies concerning the Crimean Tatars’ deportation: the first is about the motivations that led to the deportation, and, to another extent, to the non-rehabilitation; the second deals with the very qualification of the facts.
Several authors establish a link between the deportation and the Soviet foreign policy. The decision to deport the Crimean Tatars would mainly be a result of the evolution of the relationship between the USSR and Turkey at the beginning of 1944. Indeed, the Crimean Tatar deportation would have followed the statement made by Viatcheslav Mikhaïlovitch Molotov, the Soviet Foreign Minister, by which the Neutrality Treaty signed in 1925 with Turkey was no longer effective (Fisher, 1978: 169). Similarly, Greta Uelhing considers the Soviet national policy pursued against the Crimean Tatars as a derivative of Stalin’s State security policy (Uelhing, 2004: 41).
Crimean Tatars’ non-rehabilitation can be explained by similar arguments, which underscore the political and geostrategic importance of the peninsula (Fisher: 168-170). However, the actual reasons of that decision are not one-dimensional. Indeed, the non-rehabilitation reflects also a determination to intimidate the other nationalities by using coercion and expresses a “Russian bias against the Crimean Tatar nationality” (Allworth, 1998: 202-203).
In addition to the Soviet authorities’ motivations, the studies also dispute the terms that should be used to describe the deportation. Since the beginning of the 1960s, the activists of the Crimean Tatar national movement employ the concept of genocide. It has found some echoes in the scientific community. Edige Kirimal, for instance, a Crimean Tatar historian who lived at that time in Berlin, uses it in an activist publication written in the 1950s (Kirimal, 1958). Others used it too, but being more careful about the terms. Greta Uelhing notes that the deportation and the exile to which the Crimean Tatars were forced under the special settlement regime go into the definition of genocide expressed in the Nuremberg Convention in 1948 (Uelhing, 2004: 91).
The concept of ethnocide is used by several other authors. It describes the fact that, behind the forced displacement, appears a policy of eradication of the Crimean Tatar identity. The authors base their demonstration on the Crimea “detatarization” and the attempts of assimilation of the exiled Crimean Tatar people, mainly through banning the teaching of the Crimean Tatar language and the negation of their cultural specificities. In the same way, Guboglo and Chervonnaia maintain that the forced recruitment of the Tatars in factories located in Central Asia, in the sovkhozes and the kolkhozes in order to practice an intensive agriculture, as well as limiting the intellectuals to manual tasks, can be assimilated to the destruction of the traditional economic production processes (Guboglo and Chervonniia, 1992: 76). That ethnocide thesis is also supported by Brian Glyn Williams, Edward Allworth, Svetlana Chervonnaia and Viktor Zemskov among others. By contrast, Grégory Dufaud considers that talking of ethnocide is questionable, but that we cannot contest the fact that, at some points, the decision to deport the Crimean Tatars has been supported by the intention to destruct a particular culture, at least until 1956 (Dufaud, 2007).
The concept of ethnic cleansing operation is often linked to that of ethnocide, if not mixed with it (Williams, 2001: 386; Williams, 2002). Norman Nairmak shows that, if today the abundant documentation found in the archives of the NKVD largely proved the intended character of the deportations, the real aim that Stalin pursued was not extermination, but assimilation and implementation of a stricter control over the groups scattered over the territory (Nairmak, 2001: 104-107). Pavel Polian also considers the Crimean Tatars’ deportation as an operation of ethnic cleansing of the borders. He recalls that the Crimean Tatars were not the only ones in the peninsula to have suffered from such a policy. After the Crimean Tatars, the Crimean Bulgarians, Greeks, Armenians and Italians all endured a similar fate (Polian: 153). However, he thinks that, in general, it is better not to talk of the deportations in terms of ethnic cleansing. Instead, he suggests interpreting them as policies conceived by a “repression system characterized by its administrative nature and its collective application” (2). Thus, he accurately observes that all the deportations involved a policy decision and were all perceived as punishments (43-44).
Since 1944, the deportation is at the center of the Crimean Tatar collective life. With the Crimean Tatars’ non-rehabilitation in 1956, a strong feeling of injustice and of incomprehension aroused. This acted as a catalyst for the birth of a nationalist movement. Its main claims were focused on the return to Crimea and the restoration of the Crimean Tatars’ political rights (about the history of the movement, Guboglo, Chervonnaia: 1991; 1993). In spite of the repression that its most active members were victims of, and in spite of its divisions, the movement survived throughout the Soviet period. Thereby, it contributed to the diffusion, amongst the scattered Crimean Tatar communities, of a political identity of their own and a strong feeling of belonging based on a community of fate.
From 1988, during the Perestroika, thousands of Crimean Tatars began to return illegally to Crimea, despite the openly declared hostility of the peninsula’s local authorities. This movement intensified before and after the USSR split, until it was almost stopped from 1994 on, mainly because of the deterioration of the economic conditions and the lack of economic and social assistance. Thus, 260,000 of them returned to the peninsula in 2002, out of the 500,000 estimated in the ex-USSR territory. Crimean Tatar institutions, an assembly (the Kurultaj) and its executive committee (the Mejlis), were instituted in 1991. They have not been recognized, neither by the peninsula’s authorities, nor by the Ukrainian government. But they progressively imposed themselves as the only negotiating partners of those same authorities and as promoters of the Crimean Tatar identity in Crimea. The eradication of the deportation’s consequences and the restoration of the collective rights considered as lost in 1944 remained one of the main concerns of the Crimean Tatar institutions, which acquired over the 1990s a strong political weight in the Crimean peninsula.
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