THE FORGOTTEN TRAGEDIES OF THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLES OF CRIMEA
I first met Nadir Bekirov last year at the Project Access 2012 Tribal Link Foundation training, at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII).
Nadir is a proud Crimean Tatar and indigenous academic from Ukraine – where he is that country’s leading expert and lobbyist on Indigenous Issues. He has a PhD in Philosophy, and participates with the United Nations on Human Rights advocacy and intellectual property issues.
He is also currently the President of the International Public Organization Foundation for Research and Support of Indigenous People’s of Crimea, an organization committed to helping the indigenous peoples of Crimea and also open for the collaboration of all Indigenous Peoples of the Region of Eastern Europe, Russia, Central Asia and Transcaucasia.
Nadir is a living library, in one hour listening to him share his knowledge – I learned more about the TRUE history of the former USSR by one who experienced it’s dark underside personally, and who can recount volumes of heart-breaking human rights abuses and atrocities that the indigenous peoples of this vast swath of the Earth have endured.
Crimea, also known as the Crimean Peninsula, located on the northern coast of the Black Sea, currently under the jurisdiction of Ukraine, has a history of over 2000 years. The territory has been conquered and controlled many times throughout this history. The Cimmerians, Greeks, Sythians, Goths, Huns, Bulgars, Khazars, Byzantine Greeks, Kipchaks, Ottoman Turks, and the Mongols – all controlled Crimea in its early history. In the 13th century, it was partly controlled by the Venetians, and by the Genovese; they were followed by the Crimean Khanate and the Ottoman Empire in the 15th to 18th centuries, the Russian Empire in the 18th to 20th centuries, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and later the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic within the Soviet Union in the rest of the 20th century, and Germany during World War II.
The name “Crimea” takes its origin in the name of the city of Qırım (today called Stary Krym) which served as a capital of the Crimean province of the Tatars. The ancient Greeks called Crimea Tauris (later Taurica), after its inhabitants, the Tauri.
Taurica was eventually renamed by the Crimean Tatars, from whose Turkic language the Crimea’s modern name derives. The word “Crimea” comes from the Crimean Tatar name Qırım, via Greek Krimeía (Κριμαία).
After the annexation of Crimea in 1783 the newly-installed Russian authorities made an attempt to revive the ancient name, and the former lands of the Crimean Khanate were organized into the Tourida Governorate. But this name was used only in the official documents and “Crimea” remained a common name for the country.
The Crimean Tatar People are a fusion of; 1) ancient and aboriginal tribes of Crimea (Tavrs, Scythians, Sarmatians) that had been populating the peninsula as long as B. C.; 2) some alien European ethnic groups (Goths, ancient Greeks, Genoeses) had been settling here during the I-XIV centuries; and 3) Turkic origin tribes of the Northern Trans-Black Sea Region (Bulgars, Hazars, Pechenegs, Kumans) who had mingled with a forming composition of the people in the first century AD and comprised some mixture of emigrants from Central Asia brought there by Huns and later through Ghengis-Khan’s (Mongols) invasion.
The evidence of autochthonosity of Crimean Tatars is proven both by their anthropology (mainly European), and culture, organically harmonizing with general traditions of Mediterranean and Middle East’s cultural heritage.
“So they are descendants from the populations which from time immemorial inhabited certain geographical regions of Ukraine in its present state boundaries; (b) preserving cultural, linguistic, religious group identity different from the identity both of the dominant nation and national minorities in Ukraine, and desire to maintain and develop such identity; (c) existence of their own historical traditions, social institutions, self-government systems and bodies; (d) non-existence of the ethnically congener national state or homeland beyond Ukraine’s boundaries.
According to this definition, the Crimean Tatars are the only indigenous people in Ukraine”. (Bill Bowring, “The rights of Indigenous Peoples: international perspectives”, Migration Issues – Ukrainian Analytical – Informative Journal # 2, 1998, page 30).
The Crimean Tatars, whose population by the end of XVII century had constituted 1.5-2 million. people, were a sovereign nation in Medieval Europe. Their National State – the Crimean Khanate – was the Southern neighbor of Ukraine. The Crimean Khanate’s territory included not only the Crimean peninsula but also almost the whole Northern coastline of the Black Sea which expanded up to Kishenyov – Zaporozhye – Donetsk – on the North, and to Don River on the East.
The Crimean Khanate was a sovereign state, which had been in political and military alliance with the Ottoman Empire (reminiscent of the relations between Scotland and England until XVII century). It had independently conducted both internal and foreign affairs. In particular, relations with Ukrainian Cossacks Republic – Zaporozhskaya Sich (Cossack Host) – are mentioned in armed conflicts and frontier clashes for decades – with long military and trade alliances.
The independence of Ukraine was completely demolished since the Pereyaslavskaya Rada was established in 1654, when the Russian Empire taking advantage of the political and military agreement with Bogdan Khmeinitski, Hetman of Ukraine, step by step occupied and abolished Zaporozhskay Sich (Cossack Host).
129 years later the Crimean Tatar Khanate had lost its sovereignty. Under the Peaceful Treaty which was concluded in Kuchuk – Kaynardzhi, after one of the Russian – Turkish Wars, the Crimean Khanate was allied with the Ottoman Empire, but at the same time its independence was guaranteed both by Turkey and Russia. In 1783 having occupied the territory of the Crimean Khanate, the Russian Empire broke off the Treaty and declared Crimea to be a part of the Russian Empire. Thus, Russian annexation of the Crimea was realized.
Prior to the Russian annexation, Crimean Tatar people had already been existing as an ethnic and political identity with its linguistic peculiarities, specific life style and social structure based on the centuries – of old cultural and political institutions of its ancestors.
Repression and annihilation of some stratas of the Tatars’ population, partial displacements and deportations, expropriation of the land and property and other forms of the colonial oppressions resulted in the fact that by 1921 the population of the Crimean Tatars residing on their homeland had decreased to 150 thousand turning the people into minority (25 % of the total Crimean population). At that moment about 50 % of the whole population constituted Russian colonists and 25% – Germans, Greeks, Checks, Estonians, Poles, Bulgarians, etc. brought here by the Tsar’s government from the countries of the Western part of the Soviet Union. Along with it, the Crimean Tatars residing outside of the Crimean peninsula were subjected to genocide. Those, who survived, moved to the present–day Romania and Turkey. As a result, by the beginning of the 20th century the Crimean Tatar population could be found only on the Crimean peninsula.
After the collapse of the Tsar regime in February, 1917, the National Crimean Tatar Congress (Kurultay) was convened. The Crimean Tatar leadership made an attempt to restore national statehood through declaring the People’s Democratic Republic of Crimea. In 1918 by the invasion from the base of Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, which had been controlled by the Bolsheviks of Russia, almost all leaders of the national movement were killed, and one more time the Crimean Tatar people underwent mass terror.
During the Civil War in Russia there were different regimes, including German and Vrangel troops’ occupations, in Crimea. In 1921 Communists completely won the Civil War. Taking into account sustained resistance of the underground national – liberal movement, Soviet authorities tried to compromise with Crimean Tatar People, strongly intending to restore its national statehood. On October 18, 1921 the Council of People Commissars of Russia had adopted a Decree about the establishment of the Soviet Socialistic Republic of Crimea. Crimean Tatar and Russian languages were declared to be State languages in the Republic. Thus, the Crimean Tatar National Autonomy, within the Soviet Federative Socialist Republic of Russia, later the USSR, was legalized.
Nevertheless, the Central Soviet Government was adamant to annihilate Crimean Tatar People totally. As a prologue to this intention – the Crimea had been forcibly settled with Russian settlers brought in from the different oblasts (regions) of Russia and the leadership of the Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of Crimea, being accused of anti-soviet propaganda and nationalism, had been assassinated several times.
Another convenient excuse for the ethnic cleansing of Crimea was committed during the World War II. After German troops were mainly defeated on the territory of Crimea by the Soviet Army, a secret Decree titled “About Crimea Tatars” was adopted by State Committee of War of the USSR on May 11, 1944. Crimean Tatars were accused of collaboration with Nazi troops and sentenced to en masse deportation to the distant sites of Russia and Middle Asia. On May 18, 1944 the whole Tatar People was exiled within 24 hours by military units of the USSR. As the male population was recruited for military service in the Soviet Army it was mainly children, women and old persons who had suffered from the deportation. The exile of 1944, committed by the Soviet Government, had separated the indigenous people from their historical motherland for more than 50 years. Moreover, 46% of the Crimean Tatar people died during the first years of the deportation. From 1944 till 1956, all of those who had pulled through, were detained in special confinement settlements, where living conditions were close to those in the concentration Camps.
Thereupon in 1946 the Soviet government, notably the Supreme Council of the USSR legally abolished the Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of Crimea, which had been converted into an ordinary administrative unit – Crimean Oblast (region). At the same time the Criminal Code was modified by adding a provision that stated ‘escape from the places of exile was punishable with 25 years of hard labor’.
In 1954 by the Decision of the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the USSR the Crimean Oblast was moved out of the jurisdiction of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and transferred to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic as its administrative unit.
Legal procedure was as follows: On the 5th of February, 1954; the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic had made a decision to transfer the Crimean Oblast to Ukrainian SSR. On the 19th of February, 1954 the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic adopted that proposal of Russia by its own Decision using the following words: “Presidium of the Supreme Council of Ukrainian SSR expresses cordial acknowledgement of thanks to the Presidium of the Supreme Council of Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic for this magnanimous noble act of the brotherly Russian People. Ukrainian People imbued with the feeling of satisfaction and gratitude will meet the decision about the transfer of Crimea into the composition of the Ukrainian SSR as a new bright manifestation of the endless confidence and sincere love of the Russian People to Ukrainian People, a new evidence of the indissoluble brotherly friendship between Russian and Ukrainian peoples”.
On 19th of February, 1954 the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the USSR approved this transfer through its own Resolution.
In order to understand and evaluate this act it is essential to pay attention to the fact that Crimean Tatar People in this period were totally detained far away from Crimea in the concentration camps in Russia and Central Asian republics of the USSR. And this detention had lasted untill 1956. However, even after the abolition of the concentration camps, the Crimean Tatars were strictly prohibited from returning to Crimea. Ukrainian authorities of that time played an important role in preventing the repatriation of the deportees.
At that time Soviet authorities had actively continued their policy of resettlement of Crimea by the ethnic Russians from the inner sites of Russia. It was 370 thousand persons in Crimea after the World War II and the deportation, whereas in 1990 (due to the mass repatriation of Crimean Tatars to their Motherland) the population of Crimea had grown up to 2.5 mln. persons. Only from 1967 – 1987 about 1.5 mln. persons were driven to Crimea. Thus, 90% of the Crimean population are the settlers brought in here after the deportation or their children. Throughout the time the Soviet Government, in particular, the top Communist party leadership, suppressed all the endeavors of Crimean Tatars to come back to Motherland. Tens of thousand of families, trying to return to Crimea, were repeatedly evicted, thousands were accused of violation of the residence regulations and thrown into prisons or mental hospitals. Hundreds were accused of anti soviet propaganda and incarcerated for many years.
Since 1954 when the Crimean peninsula was brought under Ukrainian jurisdiction, Ukraine has been responsible for such kinds of violations. Despite the fact that Ukraine was one the founders of the UN, and ratified the International Charter on Human Rights, its law enforcement agencies and courts were primarily involved in the post-deportation discrimination. The repression had been carried out on the basis of legislation and administrative practices of the Soviet Socialistic Republic of Ukraine. The recent Crimean Tatar hearings on violations of the residence regulation were handled in 1982-1983. The Criminal cases brought against squatting by the repatriates was considered in courts in 1992. In 1990 – 1992 local authorities destroyed newly constructed Crimean Tatar settlements.
Present-day Ukraine legally declared to be a successor of the USSR and Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine what was particularly focussed in considering the transmission and possession of the territory of Crimea as a legally based act which was realized in the time of the USSR and in accordance to its legislation. At the same time Ukraine has been evading responsibility for being privy to the restriction of Crimean Tatar repatriation to their Motherland, as well as violations toward many persons, that contradicts its International obligations. Moreover Ukraine – as a successor of the USSR – avoids responsibility for the restoration of rights of the Crimean Tatar People, brutally violated by the deportation of 1944.
In the period, preceding to its independence – 1990 – 1991 – Ukraine had carried out some legal measures aimed at the elimination of the very possibility of restoring the rights of the Crimean Tatar People who had returned to their historical motherland.
In the period of Glasnost (Openness) and Perestroyka, the Soviet Government did not apply direct repression against Crimean Tatars returning to their Motherland. By 1990 the number of Crimean Tatars, who had returned from the sites of deportation to Crimea (Ural, Uzbekistan, Tadzhikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kirgizstan) had reached 40 thousand persons. In political respect Crimean Tatars demanded the restoration of the Autonomous Socialistic Republic of Crimea as a national and territorial Autonomy of Crimean Tatar People. If all the deported Crimean Tatars could return to Crimea they would have constituted about 20% of whole population, so it would be equated to the percentage of 1921. Moreover, at first in the USSR, now in Russia there are many national autonomies of those peoples who are in the minority on their own motherland (Bashkirs, Udmurts, Komi, Hakasians and so on).
Thus, the claims were not ungrounded. However the Ukrainian leadership conducted the Referendum among the Russian – speaking population (January of 1991) concerning the Status of Crimea and approved its outcomes. Afterwards, some corresponding amendments were brought into the Constitution of Ukraine, so that the Republic of Crimea was established, as a supposedly territorial Autonomy. But in fact it became the Autonomy for the Russian speaking settlers, deliberately brought in Crimea to prevent the repatriation of Crimean Tatars. Crimean Tatars boycotted the referendum and opposed its results. However, the Ukrainian Government ignored the protests, after all. By doing so the top leadership of Ukraine laid a groundwork for the local authorities to act against Crimean Tatars, about whom the facts will be given below.
At the end of 1998 the President and Parliament of Ukraine approved the Constitution of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, drafted by Verkhovna Rada (the Parliament) of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea without participation of Crimean Tatars and inspite of their protest campaign. Since then the issue of legal restoration of the Crimean Tatars’ rights had appeared as a question, so any Ukrainian law concerning the Crimea has to be brought into line with its approved Constitution. Crimean authorities, representing the Russian-speaking majority, have earned a carte blanche for first-law and forcible assimilation of Crimean Tatar people.
The Law on National Minorities of Ukraine is absolutely not enough to guarantee the realization of the Human Rights of Crimean Tatar people because it define only some cultural and linguistic rights but not political, economic and social ones. On the other hand this law provides the rights of the minorities who are the majorities in any region in fact. Crimean Tatars are practically in minority in all administrative districts of their Motherland, in the smallest ones. However the Government doesn’t want to consider the situation and undertake any adequate measures to deliver remedies and TRUE Justice in accordance with International Human Rights laws and Conventions.
On the 18th of May 1944 the ENTIRE population of 193,865 Crimean Tatars were put on cattle trains and forcibly exiled from their own country to central Asia. But indeed the number of deportees was twice bigger because tens of thousands of Crimean Tatar were exiled before the WWI, then the week before the 18th of May 1944 all men from age 16 to 60, who still remained in Crimea were collected under the predict of mobilization to the Red Army and sent to the concentration camps separately from their families, about 60 000 Crimean Tatars were already serving in Soviet Army, about 30 000 escaped from Nazi occupation, more that 20 000 were forcibly taken from Crimea to Germany by Nazi occupants as so called der Ostarbeiter. All of them including those ones, who during all WWII served in the Soviet Army fighting with Nazis were wounded and received the Soviet awards later – were STILL placed at the same concentration camps as the rest of the people.
Nadir’s own mother – who was then just a little girl of 10 years old; was among them. They were given 15 minutes to gather their belongings before the world as they knew it – ended for them forever.
This was the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s idea of ‘collective punishment’ of the Tatar people – whom he wrongfully accused of ‘collaborating with the Nazis’….when in truth and in fact – the Tatars were helpless victims of the ruthless Nazi military occupation that was followed by an equally ruthless Soviet military occupation…both of which the indigenous peoples of Crimea were powerless to oppose.
Only when the former USSR started to collapse did the remnant surviving Crimean indigenous peoples finally get a chance to return to their own country without any official permission to do it, but upon their return other non-indigenous peoples that the Soviets had illegally settled in Crimea – were inhabiting their homes, farming their croplands, tending their vineyards….and the indigenous Crimeans had NOTHING left to reclaim.
To make matters worse, the present day Neo-Colonial Government of Ukraine (which exercises a de facto jurisdiction over Crimea) STILL refuses to accept the United Nations recognized ‘inherent and undeniable rights’ of Indigenous Peoples of Crimea.
In fact, Ukraine – which wants to be seen as a ‘progressive’ candidate as it actively courts the European Union in the hopes of attaining membership; is continuing to abstain from supporting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples – and therefore is still an active VIOLATOR of the rights of indigenous peoples in their own country!
Nadir is a classic example of the Tribal Link Project Access Training having been provided to the right person who can not only use it in his life’s dedication of service to oppressed indigenous peoples, but who can be a powerful force multiplier of this valuable knowledge for a vast underrepresented region of the indigenous 4th world!
Damon Gerard Corrie
Founder & President of the Pan-Tribal Confederacy of Indigenous Tribal Nations, Co-Founder and President of the registered non-profit Caribbean Amerindian Development Organisation (CADO) – which was itself created as a direct result of 2012 Project Access Training – the motto of which is “Dedicated to the Preservation and Promotion of Amerindian Cultural Heritage, and the Hemispheric National Implementation of Internationally recognised Rights of Indigenous Peoples”
He is also the CARICOM Commissioner on the Indigenous Commission for Communication Technologies in the Americas (ICCTA), a member of the Working Group on the American Draft Declaration with the Organisation of American States (OAS) since 2000; and a registered participant of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) since 2008, and Chief of the Barbados chapter of the United Confederation of Taino People (UCTP)