Vedzhie Kashka: “Is it really such a crime to be Crimean Tatar?”
An appeal written by Vedzhie Kashka over forty years ago* two weeks after Russia’s attempt to arrest the 83-year-old veteran of the Crimean Tatar national movement caused her death. Her questions back in 1974 as to why the Soviet authorities were trying to drive her family out of Crimea seem bitterly relevant to the present situation where Crimean Tatars are once again under attack.
Vedzhie Kashka was just 9 years old when the entire Crimean Tatar people were deported from Crimea. Although a decree in 1967 had stated clearly that the claims made by Joseph Stalin to justify the Deportation were untrue, it took until 1989 for the Supreme Soviet to declare the Deportation to have been unlawful and criminal.
Soon after the 1967 decree, Vedzhie and Bekir Kashka, together with their four children, became one of the first Crimean Tatar families to return to Crimea from exile. In 1969, they bought a home in the village of Kizilovka [Belogorsk oblast]. The local police head, F.I. Novikov, however, refused to register them, and without such registration they couldn’t get jobs.
“He also insulted and intimidated us in all sorts of ways, and demanded that we leave Crimea, but we refused. Then, 3 months after we arrived, they turned up at midnight and took us to Kuban (in Russia). The house we’d bought, almost all our possessions, 10 sheep, all remained behind. The belongings were locked away in a storehouse where half of them rotted or were eaten away at by mice and rats.
We returned immediately, but they didn’t give us back our belongings for 6 months, demanding that we sign an undertaking that we would leave Crimea. With the children, we slept and ate on the floor for 6 months. Then after 6 months the police again took us outside Crimea, to Kuban, and left us out in the open. They poured mineral fertilizer over our house so that we couldn’t return. We were forced to remain in Kuban, and a year later, they cleared the fertilizer from our home and put other people into it.
Four years later, in 1974, we bought a house in the village of Novoklenovka, in the same area. During this year they have again persecuted us, making it impossible to live normally and work. Our children are driven out of school, they won’t sell us textbooks and threaten to send us into exile again.
On August 25, the head of the village council said that they won’t register us and won’t allow our children into the school. The deputy head of the district executive committee suggested that I turn to the police about my children’s schooling. I don’t understand what the police have to do with the schooling of my children.
Is it really such a crime to be a Crimean Tatar that they don’t let us live in this world, that they turn what is light into dark for us and our children?
This autumn our eldest son is supposed to do military service in the Soviet Army. He, his parents, his younger brothers and his sister are deprived of fundamental rights, the right to live where they want, the right to earn their daily bread, the right to go to school. Will they not then deprive him of his honourable duty to serve in the Soviet Army?”
6 October 1974
In separate recollections, Vedzhie Kashkaof that second deportation in her life, in 1969. They had been woken in the night by a projector, directed at their windows, then police officers broke down the door, and, shouting, “get ready”, tied up her husband, before taking the whole family to Kuban.
The family had had four sons, but one died during that second banishment.
Vedzhie and Bekir Kashka were both involved in the Crimean Tatar national movement from the 1950s, while still in exile in Tashkent.
They were only finally given registration in Crimea after Vedzhie Kashka turned to Andrei Sakharov for help. Over the following years, she was to fight for the right of other Crimean Tatars to return, alongside veteran Crimean Tatar leader, Mustafa Dzhemilev.
Within two months of Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea, Moscow had banned Mustafa Dzhemilev from his homeland. In December 2014, Vedzhie Kashka, then 80, was summoned for questioning by the FSB, probably over the events on May 3 that year, when the Russian occupation authorities brought out huge contingents of riot police and military to prevent Mustafa Dzhemilev entering Crimea.
It is telling that back in 2014, the FSB officers appeared to still be embarrassed that they should have summoned the elderly woman who was in poor health, and was supposed to have been in hospital over a heart condition.
By November 2017, that had all changed, and Vedzhie Kashka, together with three highly respected members of the Crimean Tatar community had become the targets of a deliberate attempt to discredit the Crimean Tatar Mejlis [representative assembly] and, probably, Crimean Tatars in general.
The elderly woman had asked 65-year-old Asan Chapukh, Bekir Degermendzhy, a veteran of the Crimean Tatar national movement and father of a recognized political prisoner, and Kazim Ametov to help her. A Turkish man who had become friendly with her granddaughter had borrowed the family’s savings (7 thousand USD) claiming he needed the money urgently and promising to return it. He had not done so, and the three men had acted on her behalf trying to get the family’s money back.
It is not known whether Yusuf Aigan seized on the idea of contacting the FSB in order to get to keep the money, or whether the FSB contacted him. What does seem clear is that, having been internationally condemned for their mounting discrimination of Crimean Tatars and their extraordinary ban of this indigenous people’s self-governing body – the Mejlis, Russia is now trying to use criminal prosecutions to discredit them and to deflect the well-deserved charges of politically motivated persecution. This is yet another of the Soviet methods which Russia under President Vladimir Putin is resurrecting.
No attempt was made to ascertain whether Aigan was telling the truth when he claimed that the attempt to return money he had borrowed was ‘extortion’. This alone suggests that the entire ‘operation’ was a set up.
Armed and masked special forces burst into the café where the men had been meeting with Vedzhie Kashka and forced two men known to have serious medical conditions to the ground and then arrested them. An attempt was also, seemingly, made to detain Vedzhie Kashka. There is heavy surveillance of all Crimean Tatars and other Ukrainians viewed as ‘dissident’, and there is no possibility that the FSB did not know that the 83-year-old woman had been seriously ill and travelled in the summer to Turkey for treatment. It was foreseeable that the heavy-handed measures would result, as they did, in Vedzhie Kashka’s death.
Four men are now in custody, with Ruslan Trubach having been arrested separately. Both Bekir Degermendzhy and Asan Chapukh have health problems that should have prevented any detention order. 57-year-old Degermendzhy is now in hospital on a life support machine, after his severe asthma was ignored. It is likely that 65-year-old Chapukh , with the occupation authorities’ refusal to hospitalize him almost certainly placing his life in danger as well.
*was prepared for OVDinfo by Alexei Makarov, a historian and member of the International Memorial Society
* While Vedzhie Kashka wrote in the 1974 appeal that she had been born in 1935, other sources / documents say 1934.