On May 17, a rally commemorating the 70th anniversary of the deportation of the Crimean Tatars was held in Kyiv. The event ‘Light a fire in your heart’ took place on Mykhailivska square with the participation of the Crimean Tatar community and lasted an hour. As part of the event the contours of the Crimean peninsula, the number 70, the contours of the Crimean Tatar Tamga national symbol and the words ‘No genocide’ were formed from candles. The Head of the Crimean Tatar Medjlis Mustafa Dzhemilev that was recently banned entry to Crimea, MP Oles Doniy, and famous political Vasyl Ovsiyenko took part in the gathering.
“Now the Crimean Tatars are in a very difficult situation, like the one 70 years ago,” notes Tamila Tasheva, the event’s organiser and the head of the media department of the Crimean Tatar brotherhood in Kyiv. “The occupation athorities of Crimea pressure the Tatar population, forcing them to leave their homeland,” reports Gazeta.ua. On May 16, the first day of remembrance of the deportation of the Tatars in Crimea, the puppet government in Crimea headed by Aksyonov banned all mass rallies till June 6, as a result of which the rally ‘Light a fire in your heart’ planned to happen in Crimea was cancelled.
70 years ago, the night of May 17 to May 18 almost became the last page of the long history of the Crimean Tatars, which lived through one of the largest tragedies of all time – deportation. The USSR authorities did everything to cross out the Crimean Tatars as a nation from the history of Crimea.
In 1944, under the pretext of alleged collaboration between the Crimean Tatars and the Nazis during the Nazi occupation of the Crimea in 1941–1944, the Soviet government evicted the Crimean Tatar people from Crimea on the orders of Joseph Stalin and Lavrentiy Beria. A total of 238,500 people were deported, compared to a recorded total of 9,225 Crimean Tatars who had served in anti-Soviet Tatar Legions and other German-formed battalions.
The deportation began on 18 May 1944 in all Crimean-inhabited localities. More than 32,000 NKVD troops participated in this action. The forced deportees were given only 30 minutes to gather personal belongings, after which they were loaded onto cattle trains and moved out of Crimea. 193,865 Crimean Tatars were deported, 151,136 of them to Uzbek SSR, 8,597 to Mari ASSR, 4,286 to Kazakh SSR, the rest 29,846 to the various oblasts of Russian SFSR. At the same moment, most of the Crimean Tatar men who were fighting in the ranks of the Red Army were demobilized and sent into forced labor camps in Siberia and in the Ural mountain region. The deportation was poorly planned and executed; local authorities in the destination areas were not properly informed about the scale of the matter and did not receive enough resources to accommodate the deportees. The lack of accommodation and food, the failure to adapt to new climatic conditions and the rapid spread of diseases had a heavy demographic impact during the first years of exile.
From May to November 10,105 Crimean Tatars died of starvation in Uzbekistan (7% of those deported to the Uzbek SSR). Nearly 30,000 (20%) died in exile during the following year and a half according to NKVD data. According to Soviet dissident information, many Crimean Tatars were made to work in the large-scale projects conducted by the GULAG system.
Crimean Tatar activists tried to evaluate the demographic consequences of the deportation. They carried out a census in all the scattered Tatar communities in the middle of the 1960s. The results of this inquiry show that 109,956 (46.2%) Crimean Tatars of the 238,500 deportees died between July 1 1944 and January 1 1947 due to starvation and disease.
Although a 1967 Soviet decree removed the charges against Crimean Tatars, the Soviet government did nothing to facilitate their resettlement in Crimea and to make reparations for lost lives and confiscated property. Crimean Tatars, having definite tradition of non-communist political dissent, succeeded in creating a truly independent network of activists, values and political experience. Crimean Tatars, led by Crimean Tatar National Movement Organization, were not allowed to return to Crimea from exile until the beginning of the Perestroika in the mid-1980s. On March 11, 2014 the Crimean parliament recognized the deportation of Crimean Tatars as a tragic fate. Crimean activists call for the recognition of the Sürgünlik as genocide.
Translated by Alya Shandra