The role of Crimean Tatars in the history of Crimea and their attitude to this territory

       Historical context

In the heart of Eastern Europe, where history and geopolitics intersect, there is a story that begs to be told, the story of a people whose resilience and determination defy all odds. These are the Crimean Tatars, an indigenous people with a rich and long history, just like the land they rightfully call home. Today, however, they once again face an existential threat that demands the world’s attention.

      A Rich Tapestry of History:

The Crimean Tatars are a testament to the peninsula’s diverse history, with their origins intertwining with the likes of about 28 nations and ethnic groups: the Taurians, Greeks, Scythians, Genoese, Pechenegs, Polovtsians and many  more, forming a unique cultural amalgamation. Their heritage is a mosaic of influences, reflecting the rich history of the Crimean Peninsula itself. (1)

The Crimean Tatars, as their name suggests, are the Muslim inhabitants of Crimea. 

Ibn Bibi, the author of the chronicles, emphasizes that the Islamization of the peninsula began in the 13th century. New institutions appear en masse – mosques, madrassas; a system of hierarchy of ministers is created – muftis, qadiaskers (supreme judges on military and religious issues), imams, khatibs (clergyman who performs Friday prayers). 

During the Crimean Khanate Age, the culture of Crimean Tatars reached new heights, and a plethora of famous scientists appeared. In particular, their scientific works are referred to by leading scientists of Saudi Arabia and still today, quoting the works of the XIV century. (2) 

     First Occupation of Crimea 1783

In 1441, the Crimean Khan Mengli Girey (born in Lithuania in 1389) concluded a military and political alliance with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Russia (Kievan Rus). For 3.5 centuries, the Crimean Tatars thrived independently, governing their own state until the Russian Empire’s occupation in 1783 (3)

In imperial, Soviet, and post-Soviet historiography, the legality of the annexation lacks both a scholarly-historical and a practical (state-legal) basis. There is a direct violation of international law, at least on two counts. The Russian invasion of Crimea constitutes a breach of the international Küçük Kaynarca Treaty, and secondly, there is no official document signed regarding the transfer of Crimea. (4) The Russian occupation marked the beginning of a dark chapter in the Crimean Tatars’ history, characterized by systematic attempts to erase indigenous people of Crimea and their cultural, spiritual identity. Schools, mosques, archives and even tombstones bore the brunt of this brutal campaign. (5)

    Genocidal Deportation and Exile: A Tragic History of Crimean Tatars 1944

The most harrowing chapter in the Crimean Tatars’ history unfolded during World War II.

Stalin’s totalitarian regime was constantly looking for and finding culprits. They were different in different periods. But there were always reasons to justify such a policy – and they were sometimes even phantasmagorical. With regard to the deportation of the Crimean Tatars, they were formulated in the GKO Resolution No. 5859ss (classified as “top secret”) “On the Crimean Tatars” of May 11, 1944.(6)

 In 1944, under the pretext of collaboration with the Nazis, the entire Crimean Tatar population faced forced deportation. This genocidal act claimed the lives of 46.3% of the Crimean Tatars, leaving scars that still haunt survivors and their descendants today.  Nearly half of the Crimean Tatar population perished during this horrific event (46.3%) (7). During this genocide deportation, children and the elderly died in cattle cars, women gave birth on the road, and children did not survive and died due to the terrible conditions, 70% were died children (8).  At the places of exile, the Crimean Tatars were subjected to cruel curfew supervision and legal restrictions that contributed to the mass deaths and cultural degradation of the Crimean Tatars. Only Crimean Tatars retained the right to slave labor. Only in the first years after the expulsion, the Crimean Tatars lost about 46.3 percent of their number from starvation, disease, and hard forced labor. This is a severe, unbearable, and open trauma that will reverberate for generations to come.

Meanwhile, Crimea was being hastily settled by immigrants from central Russia. All property of the Crimean Tatars was taken away during the eviction and distributed to new settlers. (9) In 1944, Russian propaganda began with renewed vigor, portraying Crimean Tatars in the most negative light. (10)

For five long decades, they were forbidden to return to their homeland, forced to rebuild their lives from the ground up. It took nearly half a century for them to return to their homeland after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.(11)

   The Never-Ending Exodus 2014

 The struggle of the Crimean Tatars did not end there. Their hope was short-lived. They found themselves back at the beginning of the journey, striving for a peaceful life in their homeland. In 2014, Russia’s occupation of Crimea shattered any illusions of stability, and discrimination, hatred, persecution, torture, and imprisonment of the indigenous people of Crimea began.  (12)

Since then, the Russian government has intensified its campaign to annex Crimea to Russia, displacing indigenous people and replacing them with ethnic Russians. (13)

When Russia occupied Crimea again in 2014, it was a blatant violation of international agreements, including the Budapest Memorandum of 1994 (14). Ukraine had relinquished Soviet and nuclear weapons in exchange for guarantees of security and territorial integrity, which Russia betrayed.

The Need for International Action

The United Nations’ inability to prevent and stop such aggression is evident, largely due to the aggressor’s veto power. Russia openly defies international resolutions and decisions.(15) 

  The Crimean Tatars’ Plight in 2023

The oppression of the Crimean Tatars has escalated dramatically and become more frequent since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 (16). Activists and protesters who dared to resist were met with threats, imprisonment, and even kidnappings in broad daylight. The story of Nariman Dzhelyal, the first deputy chairman of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, exemplifies this. His participation in the Crimean Platform Summit resulted in a 17-year prison sentence, on trumped-up charges, leaving his three young children fatherless.(17) 


A Brutal Reality 

At first glance, there seems to be no connection between Reşat Amet, the first victim of the occupation of Crimea, and the hundreds of Ukrainians tortured in Bucha, Irpen and Izium – horrors that have shocked the world. But the connection is real. 

The future system of international security must be based on the toughest possible response by governments and international organisations to human rights violations. This will allow us all to prevent such tragedies from being repeated. Governments that systematically violate human rights should be isolated from the civilised world. As we contemplate the Crimean Tatars’ plight, it is impossible to ignore the horrifying parallels to past genocides. Reading Muslim literature and expressing anti-government views can lead to 15-year prison sentences. Ethnic purges are happening before our eyes, and the Crimean Tatars are locked up, their voices silenced.(18)

In the face of oppression, the Crimean Tatars maintain their faith that justice will ultimately prevail. However, as the world watches, we must not allow more innocent lives to be lost. The time to act is now. 

The Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev aptly remarks, “The reign of jackals lasts until the lions wake up and stand up.” They hope for justice to prevail, not brute force, and call upon the international community to stand with them.(19)


  • Bibliography

1.Gulnara Abdulaieva. “Crimean Tatars: From ethnogenesis to nationhood” p.12. 2. 3.                                                                                                 4. V.Vozgrin, II, History of Crimean Tatars p.384-385                                                                                                                 5. Clarke, 1810. p.467, V.Vozgrin, II, History of Crimean Tatars p.394-431

The Numbers Testify (mass-political publication) Historical Documents. 2012. p.307 
Ernst Abduraimovich Kudusov                                         9. Mustafa Cemiloglu, “The Beginning of the Crimean Tatar National Liberation Movement,” in Crimea: Dynamics, Challenges and Prospects, ed. Maria Drohobycky (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1995)
Gulnara Abdulaieva. “Crimean Tatars: From ethnogenesis to nationhood” 2021 p.6.  
Rory Finnin “Blood of Others” 2022 
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Archival video of the 90s and a letter of recollection from a Crimean Tatar woman in November 2023

“It’s the year 1990.

I reminisce about our family’s return to our homeland, a time marked by hardship shrouded in the darkness of disbelief and injustice. I was young then, but even at that age, I already grasped that the world is far from always being fair.

In my memory, images of the cruelty of Russian occupiers in Crimea stand out. They infiltrated the homes of our grandparents, settling there like strangers in a foreign land. Upon returning to Crimea, our people didn’t abandon their fight for justice. We pleaded with the world to take notice, but it seemed we were still carried away by waves of indifference, reminiscent of the beastly gaze our ancestors faced when encountering Russians on their land two centuries ago.

And here we are again, facing the beast, but something has changed this time. The world heard us, Ukraine felt us, and finally, we became united. We must restore the strong Ukrainian-Crimean Tatar connections erased by the efforts of Russian historians. We must learn from how the Crimean Tatars preserved their uniqueness and humanity in resistance.

Today, we endure all the pains accompanying the struggle for our country. But this time, we have the ears and attention of the world. We understand what is happening in Ukraine not only on a rational level but also on a soulful level. Our determination to reclaim Ukrainian Crimea, liberate occupied territories, and cleanse Ukraine from Russian influence is our destiny.

The journey of return to the homeland for Crimean Tatars demands too much to tread it in vain. In this struggle, we must not lose our humanity, or victory will lose its meaning. We believe in the revival of Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar identity, and we are ready to defend our country and homeland despite all the challenges”.

Crimean Tatar Journalist and Scholar at Purdue University
Zera Mustafaieva

Source of archived video YouTube Channel “Crimea Speaks”

Source of archived video Instagram Page “Crimean Tatar Foundation USA”

Mission of “Crimean Tatar Foundation USA” Inc.

Justice and Peace

At the core of our hearts lies an unwavering commitment to justice and a vision of a peaceful future for our beloved people – the Crimean Tatars. As daughters of a resilient nation, our souls are inextricably linked with the destiny of our people. From the very first days of our lives, we have witnessed and shared the peaceful struggle of those who, for half a century, endured exile and injustice, while striving to return to their homeland in Crimea.

Our hearts burn with a burning desire to see the entire Crimean Tatar people regain their rightful place in the historical land they call home and regain the fundamental rights that were unjustly taken from them. It is the reason that lives deep within us, the unquenchable fire that fuels our every action.

Join us on this remarkable journey, where the pursuit of justice and the dream of a peaceful coexistence form the bedrock of our endeavors. Together, we can make a difference. Together, we can write a brighter future for the Crimean Tatars and all those who yearn for a world where justice and peace prevail.



Ukrainian Rally (Manhattan)

Zera Mustafaieva is a dedicated journalist, human rights activist, and scholar with a profound commitment to advocating for justice and human rights. With a background in reporting from the Ukrainian Parliament and expertise in social media marketing, she has been instrumental in raising awareness on critical issues.

As one of the founders of the influential YouTube Channel “Crimea Speaks,” Zera has provided a platform for the Crimean Tatar people to share their stories and perspectives with the world. Through this channel, she has chronicled the rich history and present struggles of the Crimean Tatar community, shedding light on their experiences and aspirations.

Zera’s passion for human rights extends beyond her journalism work. She is actively involved in volunteer initiatives, notably with “Razom for Ukraine,” where she contributes her time and energy to support the Ukrainian cause. In addition to her volunteer efforts, Zera is also the co-founder and president of the Ukrainian NGO “Space of Crimea,” where she works tirelessly to promote the rights and well-being of the Crimean Tatar population.

In pursuit of academic excellence and furthering her advocacy, Zera is a scholar at Purdue University, where she continues to expand her knowledge and skills in order to better serve her community. Her dedication to peaceful methods and her unwavering commitment to human rights make her a respected figure in both Ukraine and the global community.

Crimean Tatar Foundation USA Inc
Crimean Tatar Foundation USA Inc

Zarema Mustafaieva is a prominent journalist, human rights activist, and scholar known for her tireless efforts to promote justice, human rights, and the welfare of the Crimean Tatar community. With an impressive career that includes reporting from the Ukrainian Parliament and expertise in social media marketing, she has made significant contributions to the field of journalism and advocacy.

Together with her sister, Zarema co-founded the influential YouTube Channel “Crimea Speaks,” which has become a vital platform for amplifying the voices of the Crimean Tatar people. Through this channel, she has chronicled the history and current struggles of the Crimean Tatar community, bringing their stories to a global audience and advocating for their rights.

Zarema’s commitment to human rights is not limited to her journalistic endeavors. She actively engages as a volunteer with “Razom for Ukraine,” dedicating her time and energy to support Ukraine’s causes and humanitarian efforts. Furthermore, she is the co-founder and president of the Ukrainian NGO “Space of Crimea,” where she works tirelessly to advance the rights and well-being of the Crimean Tatar population.

Zarema’s dedication to promoting peace and respect for human rights has earned her recognition and respect both locally and internationally. As a scholar at Purdue University, she continues to deepen her understanding and expertise, further equipping herself to be a powerful advocate for the causes she holds dear. Her commitment to peaceful advocacy.

All Roads lead to Crimea: Crimean Tatar anthem in Manhattan

Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars Unite in a Unique Cultural Event

The organizers: Razom For Ukraine, Crimean Tatar Foundation USA, and the co-organizers, the Ukrainian Institute and Сemiyet, partners Brighter Ukraine Foundation, Speakers: Mustafa Jemilev, Andriy Grigorenko, Mubein Altan, Walter Ruby, Zera and Zarema Mustafaieva



Doors Open – 1:00 pm  

Session Starts – 1:30 pm  

Coffee & Sweets – 3:30 pm  



Ukrainian National Home

Manhattan, 140 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

One big event introduced Ukrainians and Americans to the world of Crimean Tatar heritage, enriched the cultural landscape and opened new horizons of understanding.

On July 1 at 1 p.m., the Ukrainian National Home hosted an exciting event that opened the door to learning about the rich and deep Crimean Tatar history and culture*.

We introduced Ukrainians and Americans to the richness of Crimean Tatar culture and shed light on the history and legacy that Crimean Tatars have left in this world. The event, which consisted of fascinating performances, exhibitions and concerts, provided a unique opportunity to delve deeper into an ethnographic journey and realize the significance of this people in the context of modern culture.

More than 200 people joined this cultural celebration and met with talented artists, researchers and cultural figures, sharing the joy of discovery and creating new threads of connection between Americans, Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars


Founders of Crimean Tatar Foundation USA

How the Crimean Tatar people live in Putin’s Crimea (2014-2023)

In 2014, when Russian troops occupied Crimea, the Crimean Tatars were among the most ardent opponents of Russia’s invasion of their homeland. 

Since then, Crimean Tatars have been paying a high price for our disobedience.

“Crimean Tatars live in fear,” “As occupation, all our fears, all the tragedies that our people have suffered since 1944, have resurrec up.”

Crimean Tatars – and these are mainly Muslims of Turkic origin – make up about 12 percent of the two million population of Crimea.

In May 1944, by order of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, the entire Crimean Tatar population was deported “for sympathy for Nazi Germany. Entire families were loaded into railway cars to transport livestock and went to Central Asia. 46,3 % of Crimean Tatars died as a result of this deportation.

Crimean Tatars were  imagined “fully rehabilitated”  in 1967, deportation remains a great trauma for the Crimean Tatars, many of whom still associate Russian rule with oppression and suffering.

Persecution of Crimean Tatars began soon after the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014. Activists and protesters are harassed, threatened, imprisoned for 15 years, and in some cases even kidnapped in broad daylight. On 15 March 2014, the mutilated body of Reshat Ametov, a Crimean Tatar who was abducted while peacefully demonstrating against the Russian occupation, was found outside Simferopol.He was buried on 18 March, the day Putin triumphantly announced the annexation of Crimea, promising to protect all ethnic groups on the peninsula. Ametov’s murder sent shockwaves through the Crimean Tatar people. This is when we became really scared,“We felt and feel  scared and completely unprotected of our people. Over the next year, more than 30 Crimean Tatars went missing. At least six of them, including Ametov, have since turned up dead. Others remain unaccounted  for. 

At the same time, russia  was quick to crack down on Crimean Tatars’ distinctive  culture and sense of identity. Because of the risk of repression, we Crimean Tatar people can only express our family anger and pain in closed circles.

A new Russian law imposing  prison sentences of up to 15 years for disseminating  information that contradicts  the authorities’ view of the war in Ukraine has made dissent  in Crimea even more dangerous.

Now the same Auschwitz is taking place in Crimea, Crimean Tatars are being killed and prisons for religious and political reasons, ethnic purges, repressions of the indigenous people.

Today there are more Crimean Tatar political prisoners than Russian political prisoners, there are 300 thousand of us and 146 million Russians. More than 1000 children were left without fathers.

Crimean Tatar media outlets were shut down or turned into Russian-language Kremlin mouthpieces. The Crimean Tatar language all but disappeared from the public sphere. The Mejlis, the representative body of the Crimean Tatars, was declared  “extremist” and disbanded, and its leaders were forced into exile.

In one of the most painful blows to Crimean Tatars people were banned from marking the anniversary of our people’s Stalin-era genocide.

For 30 years we had gathered on squares in our cities to pay tribute  to the victims,” “Today we are no longer allowed to hold   these commemorations. We can’t even grieve гand honour our dead.”

Putin’s current war against Ukraine is a devastating reminder of the invasion of Crimea nine years ago, which  we believe paved the way for today’s tragedy.

Due to the risk of reprisals, Crimean Tatars  can only express in their family  anger and pain in private circles.

A new Russian law imposing  prison terms of up to 15 years for spreading information that contradicts  the authorities’ narrative about the war in Ukraine has made dissent even more dangerous in Crimea.

“Crimean Tatars  want to scream but we need to keep silent,”. “Our people  are locked up.

Genetic roots of the Crimean Tatars and relatedness to the Mongols

Crimean Khanate
Crimean Khanate

The founder of the Crimean Khanate, Melek Hacı Geray, was born in 1397 within the borders of Lithuania. His parents, political emigrants, seeking refuge in Lithuania, having fled the turbulent feuds of the Golden Horde. Thus, a direct descendant of Genghis Khan found himself in the heart of Europe. Growing up amidst the cultural tapestry of Lithuania, Hadji Giray received a well-rounded education by the standards of his time.

When the Crimean Tatars were in search of a leader for their future nascent Khanate, they turned to Hadji Giray. His dual identity as a leader and an heir to the Golden Horde made him the perfect candidate to ask for their legitimate rights to the inheritance of the Golden Horde.

In 1441, Hadji Giray assumed the mantle of leadership as the first Khan of the Crimean Khanate. He cemented his authority by forging a strategic military and political alliance with both the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Rus’ (Kyivan Rus’). The Moscovites paid tribute to the Crimean Khanate for a span of 300 years.

The basis of khanate was the indigenous people – Crimean Tatars (descendants of Scythians, Goths, Taurians, Greeks, Italians, Seljuks, Polovtsians, Pechenegs – about 28 peoples and ethnoses). The Mongols who were in the administration quickly dissolved into the people of the Crimean Tatars.

Every Crimean Tatar is a living historical document, reflecting the complex mosaic heritage of this region. Their blood carries traces of Scythians, Goths, Taurians, Greeks, Italians, Seljuks, Polovtsians, Pechenegs, and many other peoples who have left their mark on this land. This unique cultural symbiosis not only makes Crimean Tatars the heirs of history but also the custodians of a multifaceted legacy they proudly pass down to future generations.

Hadji Gerai of Crimean Khanate
Hadji Girey of Crimean Khanate