Ukraine: Crimean Tatars are being neglected

While the world press is debating whether or not ethnic Russians in Crimea are under threat and need the protection of the Russian Federation, Crimean Tatars are being neglected. Crimea is getting ready for a referendum, its outcome is obvious – the Russian minority, which in fact is a majority of Crimea’s population, will vote for joining the Russian Federation.

The first time I encountered the Tatars of Crimea was in the 1980’s. Erick, whose last name I don’t remember, was a handsome man in his 50’s, tall, with bright emerald eyes, and a famous frame maker in my town. Some would say that he was a descendant of Crimean Tatar Khans. He ended up in Georgia soon after the 1944 forced and mass deportation of the entire Crimean Tatar people to Uzbekistan under Stalin. His parents and relatives were murdered or sent to the Central Asian Soviet Republics. He was somehow spared and ended up living with his aunt in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Erick's small workshop with all his paintings, sculptures and installations was destroyed during the civil war of 1991/2. Erick died in the late 90’s and no one around me knows anything further about him. Just like no one knows, or no one cares to know, the story of Crimean Tatars.

Stalin made sure that Tatars were erased from the land of Crimea – Russians and Ukrainians were resettled there, new cities were built, old Tatar places were demolished, all geographical names were changed to Russian. Crimea was the pride of Russia, symbol of a victory over Ottoman Turks and Nazi Germans. Tatars were accused of cooperating with the Nazi administration during the occupation of 1941-1944 - something that the Russian media is diligently reminding us of now.. 32,000 Soviet troops participated in a special operation for the deportation of the entire Crimean Tatar population that started on 18th of May 1944.

70 years later, 16,000 to 26,000 Russian troops are on a standby in Crimean towns. All they need is a clear go ahead for a conflict that will easily turn into a bloodbath. Russian troops are purportedly deployed there to protect the Russian minority from Ukrainian nationalists, although the Russian leadership hasn’t made any particular statements on how they would also save and protect Tatar people from the nationalists from Euromaidan.

I’m sure anyone can understand what most Tatar from Crimea feel right now; uncertainty and a fear that they are about to experience exactly what happened to their grandparents 70 years ago. But let’s be optimistic and imagine that peace and common sense will prevail. Let’s imagine that the Russian leadership realizes that the military course of action in Ukraine is not the best means for achieving whatever the goal is and cancels all Russian military maneuvers in and around Crimea.

As attractive, but equally unlikely, as this scenario sounds, it still leaves a big question mark on the topic of Russian minority protection. The safety, security, and rights of the ethnic Russians in Crimea is and will be a pretext for continuous harassment of Ukrainian and Tatar people. Western leaders should clearly demonstrate and show their support for Tatar people of Crimea who were proudly chanting “Allah Akbar, Ukraine” during their demonstrations demanding a unity of Ukrainian state.

Konstantine Peradze

Photo: Tatar grafitti, http://www.flickr.com/photos/dotpolka/

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