By Christina M. Paschyn
On April 26, Russia banned the Crimean Tatars’ legislature, the Mejlis, calling it an extremist organization. On May 12, the authorities arrested several Tatars, including Ilmi Umerov, deputy chairman of the Mejlis. Activists say that more searches and arrests are likely soon. This would be a particularly tone-deaf move on Russia’s part, considering that the anniversary of the 1944 deportation is this week.
But if past treatment of the Crimean Tatars is anything to go by, Russia probably isn’t bothered by that.
The Crimean Tatars have always been easy scapegoats for Russia. Joseph Stalin’s justification for deporting them was that they had sided with Germany in World War II. It’s true that some did, historians say, either because they were forced to by the invading army or because they believed the Germans would liberate them from the Soviet Union. But records show that just as many Crimean Tatars, if not more, did not defect during the war. Many fought valiantly for the Red Army.
The Crimean Tatars’ suffering goes as far back as 1783, when Russia first conquered and annexed the peninsula and began forcing them out. For hundreds of years before Russia took control, the Crimean Tatars had their own state, the Crimean Khanate.
Crimean Tatars still refuse to submit to Russian occupation. Most opposed the 2014 annexation, and their leadership continues to demand Crimea’s reunification with Ukraine.
Russia has not taken kindly to this dissent. Russian authorities have shut down Crimean Tatar media. Russian forces have raided homes and mosques, and harassed and imprisoned Crimean Tatar activists, some of whom have disappeared or been killed. Russia has tried to block the Crimean Tatars from publicly commemorating the deportation and has even re-exiled Mustafa Dzhemilev, the Crimean Tatars’ political leader.
According to Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry, about 20,000 Crimean Tatars have fled the peninsula since the annexation. This is devastating for a people who spent 45 years banished from their homeland. Many thought they were done with Russia once and for all when the Soviet Union disintegrated and Crimea belonged to Ukraine. Few predicted that their nightmare would begin anew in 2014.
If the Crimean Tatars are to survive, Western governments must do more to help.
The first step is to formally recognize the Crimean Tatars as the indigenous people of Crimea. Ukraine finally did so two years ago, and the European Parliament later followed. Likewise, the 1944 deportation should be recognized as an act of genocide. Ukraine officially declared it so in 2015 and is now calling on other governments and organizations, including the United Nations, to do the same.
Categories: Ethnic cleansing, Ethnic discrimination, Europe, Foreign affairs, History, Human rights, Indigenous peoples, Islamophobia, Opinion/Editorial, Self-determination, Ukraine, War crimes, World history, World news