The role of Crimean Tatars in the history of Crimea and their attitude to this territory
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)
1.Gulnara Abdulaieva. “Crimean Tatars: From ethnogenesis to nationhood” p.12. 2.https://risu.ua/ru/islam-v-krymu-zolotoe-proshloe-i-neopredelennoe-segodnya_n71602 3.https://youtu.be/paBJ22uY30s?si=A-XGJL_sIPGx9WcC 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