The Crimean Tatars 65 years on: has the Deportation ended?
It is 65 years since the Deportation of the Crimean Tatars from their homeland in the Crimea to Siberia, the Urals and Central Asia. On Stalin’s orders, beginning on 18 May 1944, almost 190 thousand Crimean Tatars were forcibly taken from their homes. Counting also former military servicemen, the number was in excess of 200 thousand.
During the actual deportation and first years of resettlement, even official figures report the deaths of 25% of those deported. According to figures from the National Movement of the Crimean Tatar People, based on a survey amongst all Crimean Tatars in the 1960s, almost 40% died.
Those who struggled for justice for the Crimean Tatars, including former General Petro Grigorenko, were through most of the Soviet period persecuted and imprisoned or incarcerated in psychiatric hospitals.
The mass return of Crimean Tatars to their native land only began at the end of the 1980s. Repatriation was officially supported by the newly independent Ukrainian State, although there was, and unfortunately, remains a lot of opposition from certain political forces and parts of Crimean society. This, combined with typical failure to adequately deal with the problems repatriants face, as well as the specific needs of the Crimea, has led to serious disgruntlement (cf. Crimean labyrinth http://khpg.org/en/1222809261 )
Historian Gulnara Bekirova stresses that such a long period of being uprooted has led to the destruction of virtually the entire national infrastructure. No only were cultural and educational institutions, religious structures, etc eliminated, but there was also the detrimental effect of decades being denigrated, labelled “traitors” (Stalin’s lie used to justify the Deportation was that the Crimean Tatars had collaborated with the Nazis). Ms Bekirova believes the consequences would not have been so catastrophic had it not been for the ban on returning. This was legally in place until 1987, and effectively until the beginning of the 1990s.
Crimean Tatars were allowed to write in their passports only that they were Tatars. For this reason the official decision to remove “nationality” from Ukrainian passports, which is entirely justified from a human rights point of view, was not welcomed within the Crimean Tatar community, and there have been calls to the authorities to renew indication of nationality in passports, making it voluntary.
Bereft of their own language and religion – not a people
The Head of the Association of Crimean Tatar Educationalists Safure Kodzhametova believes that the most tragic consequence of the Deportation has been the effective loss of their native language by younger generations and the breakdown of the Crimean Tatar education system.
At present there are only 15 (out of over 650) schools in the Crimea formally with teaching in the Crimean Tatar language. Furthermore, instruction in the Crimean Tatar language is only for younger classes since there aren’t textbooks for senior students. Some textbooks have been prepared, but the Ministry of Education lacks the money, or the will, to get them published. Safure Kodzhametova adds that they have been trying to get the Crimean Parliament to adopt a Concept Strategy for education in the Crimean Tatar language since 1994. According to official statistics only 8.5% of children from Crimean Tatar family are studying in schools with Crimean Tatar language, with most of the others studying in Russian language schools. Official measures are not taken, and attempts by the Crimean Tatar community to open schools in their own language need to overcome opposition from the local authorities.
There are no less problems in the religious sphere. Most mosques and other Muslim religious buildings were destroyed in Soviet times, with religious figures facing repression.
Since repatriation Crimean Tatars have run up against opposition from both the authorities and the official Orthodox Church clergy.
As reported here on many occasions, the struggle to build a Soborna [[Assembly] Mosque in Simferopol has been continuing for 10 years now. The stumbling block is the Simferopol City Council and an extraordinary decision to backtrack on a decision regarding the location. See http://khpg.org.ua/en/index.php?id=1230676352&w=soborna and the links below for more details.
There are conflicting versions of the conflict over the possible building of a mosque in the village of Mirnoye. This was planned in a sanitary zone where former prisoners of a Nazi concentration camp lie buried, but on the actual site of a former sovkhoz “Krasnoye”. The organization of former military servicemen “Great Brotherhood without borders” claims that the Crimean Tatars are trying to build a mosque on graves, while they plan a memorial centre. According to the latest reports, however, this Brotherhood is planning to build an Orthodox chapel.
Mufti haj Emirali Ablaev says that the authorities are not only using all means to obstruct the Spiritual Directorate of the Muslims of the Crimea and its communities, but have also given the green light to representatives of so-called “non-traditional Islam” which on the one hand endangers the ethnic and religious individuality of the Crimean Tatars, and on the other brings radical elements into the religious life of the Crimea. He believes that some of those in power are thus trying to create division on religious grounds.
Land – more than just a plot of ground
The land issue remains central and its resolution is being hampered both by flaws in legislation and by the corruption of the local authorities., as well as by external influences.
One of the reasons why the problem has been so acute was the decision of the Crimean Regional Executive Committee in 1989 to not register Crimean Tatars in Simferopol and the region, in Yalta, Alushta, Sudak, Feodosia, Yevpatoria and the Bakhchysarai region, these being precisely the places where the Crimean Tatars had mainly lived before the Deportation.
The repatriants, in the main former city residents, were forced to settle in rural and steppe regions where there was the greatest percentage of unemployment and a large number of social and economic problems. At the same time the authorities were involved in corrupt deals illicitly selling land on the coast which the Crimean Tatars see as both the land of their forebears and an integral part of their cultural heritage.
This has led to the land seizures and settlements which repatriants have simply established and which can only be knocked down by force.
Despite countless meetings at different levels, including national, the land issue remains unresolved.
According to the President of the Kyiv-based Centre of Near-Eastern Studies Oleksandr Bogomolov, the authorities are failing to take into account the fact that land for the Crimean Tatars is not simply a resource, but a part of their identity.
Still “traitors” and “enemies of the people”?
According to the Deputy Head of the Mejilis of the Crimean Tatar People Refat Chubarov, the greatest problem hampering resolution of all the other difficulties is the lack of political and legal regulation. The Crimean Tatars do not fall under the law on rehabilitation, and have thus not been rehabilitated. None of the countless draft laws on restoring the rights of the Crimean Tatar people have been fully adopted, and without this regulation all the money spend by the Ukrainian authorities is not enough to make the Crimean Tatars feel that the period of Deportation has ended.
Abridged and slightly adapted and supplemented from a personal opinion text by Volodymyr Prytula at www.radiosvoboda.org