Deportation of the Crimean Tatars

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A rally in Taras Shevchenko Park in Kiev in 2014, commemorating the 70th anniversary of the deportation of the Crimean Tatars

The deportation of the Crimean Tatars (Crimean Tatar Qırımtatar sürgünligi; Russian Депортация крымских татар; Ukrainian Депортація кримських татар) refers to the ethnic cleansing of at least 191,044 Tatars from Crimea, then part of the USSR, in May 1944. It was carried out by Lavrentiy Beria, head of the Soviet state security and secret police, acting on behalf of Joseph Stalin. Within three days, Beria's NKVD used cattle trains to deport women, children, the elderly, Communists and members of the Red Army, several thousands kilometers to Uzbekistan, then part of the USSR.

The deportation was intended as collective punishment for the 15,000–20,000 Tatars who had joined the Wehrmacht during the German occupation of Crimea in World War II, even though 25,033 had joined Red Army during the war. Nearly 8,000 people died during the deportation, while tens of thousands perished as a result of the harsh exile conditions in later years. The Tatar exile left abandoned 80,000 houses and 360,000 acres of land.

Stalin sought to eradicate all traces of the Crimean Tatars, and in subsequent censuses forbade mention the nation. In 1956, the new Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev condemned Stalin's policies, including the deportation of various nations, but did not lift the directive forbidding the return of Crimean Tatars. Thus, they were forced to remain in Central Asia for several decades, and it was not until the Perestroika era in the late 1980s that 260,000 Tatars were permitted to return to Crimea. The ban on their return was officially declared null and void, and the Supreme Council of Crimea declared on 14 November 1989 that the deportations during the Stalin era had been a criminal act.

By 2004, sufficient numbers of Tatars had returned to Crimea that they comprised 12% of the peninsula's population. Local authorities did not assist their return or compensate them for lost land. The Russian Federation, the successor state of the USSR, did not provide reparations, compensate those deported for lost property, or file legal proceedings against the perpetrators of the forced resettlement. This deportation was a crucial event in the history of the Crimean Tatar nation and has come to be seen as a symbol of the plight and oppression of smaller nations by the Soviet Union.


Crimea highlighted on a map of the Black Sea

The Crimean Tatars controlled the Crimean Khanate from 1441 to 1783, when Crimea was annexed by the Russian Empire as a target of Russian expansionism. The Turkic-speaking population of Crimea had mostly adopted Islam by the 14th century, following the conversion of Ozbeg Khan of the Golden Horde. It was the longest surviving state of the Golden Horde.[1] They often engaged in conflicts with Moscow—from 1468 until the 17th century, the Crimean Tatars made almost annual incursions into Slavic lands, capturing many people used in the slave trade[2]—and were extremely averse to the new Russian rule. Thus, the Tatars began leaving Crimea in several waves of emigration. Between 1784 and 1790, out of a total population of about a million, around 300,000 Crimean Tatars left for the Ottoman Empire.[3]

The Crimean War triggered another mass exodus of Tatars. Between 1855 and 1866 at least 500,000 Muslims, and possibly up to 900,000, left the Russian Empire and emigrated to the Ottoman Empire. Out of that number, at least one third were from Crimea, while the rest were from the Caucausus. These emigrants comprised 15–23% of the total population of Crimea. The Russian Empire used that to further Russify "New Russia".[4] Eventually, the Crimean Tatars became a minority in Crimea; in 1783, they comprised 98% of the population,[5] but by 1897, this was down to 34.1%.[6] While Crimean Tatars were emigrating, the Russian government encouraged Russification of the peninsula, populating it with Russians, Ukrainians, and other Slavic ethnic groups; this Russification continued during the Soviet era.[6]

Number of Tatars in Crimea[7][5]
Year Number Percentage
1783 500,000 98%
1897 186,212 34.1%
1939 218,879 19.4%
1979 5,422 0.3%
1989 38,365 1.6%

After the 1917 October Revolution, Crimea was granted autonomous status inside the USSR on 18 October 1921,[8] but collectivization in the 1920s led to severe famine from which up to 100,000 Crimeans perished when their crops were transported to "more important" regions of the Soviet Union.[9] By one estimate, three-quarters of the famine victims were Crimean Tatars.[8] Their status deteriorated further after Joseph Stalin became the Soviet leader and started implementing various repressions that would lead to the deaths of at least 5.2 million Soviet citizens between 1927 and 1938.[10]

In 1940 the Crimean Socialist Soviet Republic had approximately 1,126,800 inhabitants, of which 218,000 people, or about 19.4% of the population, were Tatars.[11] In 1941, Nazi Germany invaded Eastern Europe, annexing much of the western USSR. During the Nazi occupation of Crimea a part of the Crimean Tatar population joined the ranks of the Axis collaborators:[12] estimates of their numbers are of around 10% of the Crimean Tatars, or somewhere between 15,000[13] and 20,000 people.[14] However, not all people of that nation joined the collaboration; Crimean Tatar Ahmet Özenbaşlı, for instance, was strongly opposed to the occupation and nurtured secret contacts with the Soviet resistance movement to give them valuable strategic and political information.[15]

Up to 130,000 people died during the Axis occupation of Crimea.[16] The Nazis implemented a brutal repression, destroying more than 70 villages that were together home to about 25% the Crimean Tatar population. Thousands of Crimean Tatars were forcibly transferred to work as Ostarbeiter in German factories under the supervision of Gestapo in what were described as "vast slave workshops."[17] The Nazis considered the Crimean Tatars and various other nations as "people of a lower race."[18] In April 1944 the Red Army managed to repel the Axis forces from the peninsula in the Crimean Offensive.[19]


"We were told that we were being evicted and we had 15 minutes to get ready to leave. We boarded boxcars – there were 60 people in each, but no one knew where we were being taken to. To be shot? Hanged? Tears and panic were taking over."[20]
— Saiid, who was deported with his family from Yevpatoria when he was 10

Due to the collaboration of individuals with the Axis Powers during World War II, a collective guilt was inflicted on ten nations that wanted independence from the Soviet Union during or after the war, among them the Crimean Tatars. Many of these nations were punished by being deported to distant regions of Central Asia and Siberia.[21]

On 10 May 1944, Lavrentiy Beria recommended to Stalin that the Crimean Tatars should be deported away from the border regions due to their "traitorous actions."[22] This was despite the fact that 25,033 Crimean Tatars fought in the Red Army during World War II,[23] a greater number than the 15,000[13]–20,000[14] who collaborated with the Nazis. It also ignored that many of the collaborators, including 20,000 Crimean Tatars, had fled with the Wehrmacht during the evacuation of German soldiers and their collaborators. Several state officers thus claimed that the Crimean Tatars who had stayed on the peninsula were all those who had not betrayed the Soviet Union. Even though the Volga Tatars actually participated in collaboration in higher number than the Crimean Tatars, with 35,000–40,000 volunteers fighting with the Axis, they avoided any kind of collective punishment.[13] Many other nations were also Nazi collaborators, even numerous Russians and Jews, which indicated that some people in the occupied territories had been forcibly drafted.[14]

The deported peoples were transferred in sealed off railroad cars

Stalin issued GKO Order No. 5859ss, which envisaged the resettlement of the Tatars.[24] The deportation was carried out in only three days,[25] 18–20 May 1944, during which NKVD agents went house to house collecting Crimean Tatars at gunpoint and forcing them to enter sealed-off[26] cattle trains that would transfer them almost 3,200 kilometres (2,000 mi)[27] away to remote locations in the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic. The Tatars were allowed to carry up to 500 kg of their property per family.[28] By 8:00 on the first day, the NKVD had already loaded 90,000 Crimean Tatars distributed in 25 trains.[29] The next day, a further 136,412 persons were boarded onto railroad cars.[29] They traveled in overcrowded wagons for several weeks and were plagued by a lack of food and water.[30] It is estimated that at least 228,392 people were deported from Crimea, of which at least 191,044 were Crimean Tatars[31] in 47,000 families.[32] Since 7,889 people perished in the long transit in sealed-off railcars, the NKVD registered 183,155 Crimean Tatars who arrived at their destinations in Central Asia.[33] The majority of the deportees were rounded up from the Crimean countryside. Only 18,983 of the exiles were from Crimean cities.[34]

On 4 July 1944 the NKVD officially informed Stalin that the resettlement was complete.[35] However, not long after that report, the NKVD found out that one of its units forgot to deport people from the Arabat Spit. Instead of preparing an additional transfer in trains, the NKVD boarded hundreds of Crimean Tatars onto an old boat, took it to the middle of the Azov Sea, and sunk the ship, drowning all of the people in it on 20 July. Those who did not drown were finished off by machine-guns.[36]

Uzbekistan, the main destination of the deported

Officially, there was not a single Crimean Tatar left in Crimea. The deportation encompassed every person of Crimean Tatar descent, including children, women, and the elderly, and even those who had been members of the Communist Party or the Red Army. In March 1949, a total of 8,995 former soldiers of the Red Army of Crimean Tatar descent were registered in special settlements. Among these veterans, there were 534 officers, 1,392 sergeants, and 7,079 soldiers. There were also 742 members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and 1,225 members of Komsomol.[37] According to one Russian witness of the deportation, some men were still fighting at the Eastern front, but the deportation awaited them at the end of the war.[38] This was especially humiliating for war heroes; Ilyas Ablayev, for instance, fought on various fronts in the war and served in the Red Army until May 1947, only to then live in exile in the region of Tashkent.[39]

During this mass eviction, the Soviet authorities confiscated around 80,000 houses, 500,000 cattle, 360,000 acres of land, and 40,000 tons of agricultural provisions that were left behind by the Crimean Tatars.[40] In addition, all Crimean Tatars were fired from the Red Army. Besides 191,000 deported Tatars, the Soviet authorities also evicted 9,260 Armenians, 12,420 Bulgarians, and 15,040 Greeks from the peninsula. All were collectively branded as traitors are became second class citizens for decades in the USSR.[40] Among the deported, there were also 283 persons of other ethnicities: Italians, Romanians, Karaims, Kurds, Czechs, Hungarians, and Croats.[41] During 1947 and 1948, a further 2,012 veteran returnees were deported from Crimea by the local MVD.[11]

151,136 Crimean Tatars were deported to the Uzbek SSR; 8,597 to the Mari Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic; and 4,286 to the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic; and the remaining 29,846 were sent to various remote regions of the Russian SFSR.[42] When the Crimean Tatars arrived at their destination in the Uzbek SSR, they were met with hostility by Uzbek locals who threw stones at them, even their children, because they heard that the Crimean Tatars were "traitors" and "fascist collaborators."[43] The Uzbeks were also objecting because they did not want to become the "dumping ground for treasonous nations." In the coming years, several assaults against the Crimean Tatars population were registered, some of which were fatal.[43]

Lavrentiy Beria, the chief of the Soviet NKVD

The mass Crimean deportations were organized by Lavrentiy Beria, the chief of the Soviet secret police, the NKVD, and his subordinates Bogdan Kobulov, Ivan Serov, B. P. Obruchnikov, M.G. Svinelupov, and A. N. Apolonov. The field operations were conducted by G. P. Dobrynin, the deputy Head of the Gulag system; G. A. Bezhanov, the Colonel of State Security; I. I. Piiashev, Major General; S. A. Klepov, Commissar of State Security; I. S. Sheredega, Lt. General; B. I. Tekayev, Lt. Colonel of State Security; and two local leaders, P. M. Fokin, head of the Crimea NKGB, and V. T. Sergjenko, Lt. General.[11] In order to execute this deportation, the NKVD secured 5,000 armed agents and the NKGB allocated a further 20,000 armed men, together with a few thousand regular soldiers.[24] Two of Stalin's directives from May 1944 reveal that every aspect of the Soviet government, from financing to transit, was involved in executing the operation.[11]

On 14 July 1944 the GKO authorized the immigration of 51,000 people, mostly Russians, to 17,000 empty collective farms on Crimea. On 30 June 1945, the Crimean ASSR was abolished and adjoined to the Russian SFSR.[24]

Soviet propaganda sought to hide the population transfer by claiming that the Crimean Tatars had "voluntarily resettle to Central Asia".[44] In essence, Crimea was "ethnically cleansed."[30] After this act, the term "Crimean Tatar" was banished from the Russian-Soviet lexicon, and all Tatar toponyms (names of towns, villages, and mountains) in Crimea were changed to Russian names on all maps. Muslim graveyards and religious objects in Crimea were demolished or converted into secular places.[30] During Stalin's rule, nobody was allowed to mention that this nation even existed in the USSR. This went so far that many individuals were even forbidden to declare themselves as Crimean Tatars during the Soviet censuses of 1959, 1970, and 1979. It was only during the Soviet census of 1989 that this ban was lifted.[45]


Mortality and death toll[edit]

Mortality of deported Crimean Tatars according to NKVDs files[46]
Year Number of deceased
May 1944 – 1 January 1945 13,592
1 January 1945 – 1 January 1946 13,183

The total mortality rate as a consequence of the deportation of Crimean Tatars is still a matter of dispute, partially because the NKVD kept incomplete records of the death rate among the resettled nations living in exile. Like the other deported nations, the Crimean Tatars were placed under the regime of special settlements. Many of those deported had to perform forced labor: their tasks included working in coal mines and in construction battalions, under the supervision of the NKVD. Deserters were punished by a death sentence.[47] Special settlers routinely had to work eleven to twelve hours a day, with no days off.[48] Despite this difficult physical labor, the Crimean Tatars were given only around 200 grams (7.1 oz)[49] to 400 grams (14 oz) of bread per day.[50] Accommodations were insufficient; some were forced to live in mud huts where "there were no doors or windows, nothing, just reeds" on the floor to sleep on.[51]

The sole transport to these remote areas and labor colonies was equally as strenuous. The NKVD loaded 50 people into each railroad car, together with their property. They had only one hole in the floor of the wagon which was used as a toilet.[52] One witness claimed that 133 people were locked up in her wagon.[50] The conditions in the overcrowded train wagons were exacerbated by a lack of hygiene, leading to cases of typhus.[52] Since the trains only stopped to open the doors of the railroad cars at rare occasions during the trip, the sick inevitably contaminated others in the wagons.[52] It was only when they arrived at their destination in the Uzbek SSR that the Crimean Tatars were released from the sealed-off railroad cars.[52] The first deportees started arriving in the Uzbek SSR on 29 May 1944 and most had arrived by 8 June 1944.[53] Still, some were redirected to other destinations in Central Asia and had to continue their journey. Some witnesses claimed that they traveled in sealed-off freight cars for 24 consecutive days.[54] During this whole time, they were given very little food or water while trapped inside.[30] There was no fresh air, since the doors and windows were bolted shut. In Kazakh SSR, the transport guards unlocked the door only to toss out the corpses along the railroad. The Crimean Tatars thus called these railcars "crematoria on wheels."[55] The records show that at least 7,889 Crimean Tatars died during this long journey, amounting to about 4% of their entire nation.[56]

"We were forced to repair our own individual tents. We worked and we starved. Many were so weak from hunger that they could not stay on their feet.... Our men were at the front and there was no one who could bury the dead. Sometimes the bodies lay among us for several days.... Some Crimean Tatar children dug little graves and buried the unfortunate little ones.[57]
— anonymous Crimean Tatar woman, describing life in exile

The high mortality rate continued for several years in exile due to malnutrition, labor exploitation, diseases, lack of medical care, and exposure to the harsh desert climate of Uzbekistan.[58] The exiles were frequently assigned to the heaviest construction sites. The Uzbek medical facilities were filled with Crimean Tatars who were susceptible to the local Asian diseases, not found on Crimean peninsula where the water was purer, including yellow fever, dystrophy, malaria, and intestinal illness.[34] The death toll was the highest during the first five years. In 1949 the Soviet authorities counted the population of the deported nations who lived in special settlements. According to their records, there were 44,887 excess deaths in these five years, 19.6% of that total group.[59] Other sources give a figure of 44,125 deaths during that time,[60] while a third source, using alternative NKVD archives, gives a figure of 32,107 deaths.[61] These reports included all the people resettled from Crimea (including Armenians, Bulgarians, and Greeks), but the Crimean Tatars formed a large majority in this group. It took five years until the number of births among the deported people started to surpass the number of deaths.[58] Soviet archives reveal that between May 1944 and January 1945 a total of 13,592 Crimean Tatars perished in exile, about 7% of their entire population.[46] Almost half of all deaths (6,096) were of children under the age of 16; another 4,525 were adult women and 2,562 were adult men. During 1945, a further 13,183 people died.[46] Thus, by the end of December 1945, at least 27,000 Crimean Tatars had already died in exile.[62] One Crimean Tatar woman living near Tashkent recalled the events from 1944:

My parents were moved from Crimea to Uzbekistan in May 1944. My parents had sisters and brothers, but when they arrived in Uzbekistan, the only survivors were themselves. My parents' sisters and brothers and parents all died in transit because of catching bad colds and other diseases.... My mother was left completely alone and her first work was to cut trees.[63]

Estimates produced by Crimean Tatars indicate mortality figures that were far higher and amounted to 46% of their population living in exile.[64] In 1968, when Leonid Brezhnev presided over the USSR, Crimean Tatar activists were persecuted for using that high mortality figure under the guise that it was a "slander to the USSR." In order to show that Crimean Tatars were exaggerating, the KGB published figures showing that "only" 22% of that nation died.[64] Hannibal Travis estimates that overall 40,000–80,000 Crimean Tatars died in exile.[65] J. Otto Pohl cites Michael Rywkin's figures of at least 42,000 Crimean Tatars who died between 1944 and 1951—this would mean that around 20% of their population died as a consequence of this policy. Pohl described it as "one of the worst cases of ethnically motivated mass murder of the 20th century."[66] The Crimean State Committee estimated that 45,000 Crimean Tatars died between 1944 and 1948. The official NKVD report estimated that 27% of that nation died.[61]


Chronology of the ethnic make up of Crimea.
  Crimean Tatars

Stalin's government denied the Crimean Tatars the right to education or publication in their native language. Although they had to study in Russian or Uzbek, they still kept their cultural identity intact.[67] In 1956 the new Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, held a speech in which he condemned Stalin's policies, including the mass deportations of various nations. Still, even though many nations were allowed to return to their homes, three groups were forced to stay in exile: the Soviet Germans, the Meskhetian Turks, and the Crimean Tatars.[68] In 1954, Khrushchev allowed Crimea to be included in the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic since Crimea is linked by land to Ukraine and not with the Russian SFSR.[69] On 28 April 1956, the directive "On Removing Restrictions on the Special Settlement of the Crimean Tatars... Relocated during the Great Patriotic War" was issued, ordering a de-registration of the deportees and their release from administrative supervision. However, various other restrictions were still kept and the Crimean Tatars were not allowed to return to Crimea. Moreover, that same year the Ukrainian Council of Ministers banned the exiled Tatars, Greeks, Germans, Armenians and Bulgarians from relocating even to the Kherson, Zaporizhia, Mykolaiv and Odessa Oblasts in the Ukrainian SSR.[70] The Tatars did not get any compensation for their lost property.[68]

In the 1950s, the Crimean Tatars started actively advocating the right to return. In 1957, they collected 6,000 signatures in a petition that was sent to the Supreme Soviet that demanded their rehabilitation and return to Crimea.[57] In 1961 25,000 signatures were collected in a petition that was sent to the Kremlin.[68]

Mustafa Dzhemilev, who was only six months old when his family was deported from Crimea, grew up in Uzbekistan and became an activist advocating for the right of the Crimean Tatars to return. In 1966 he was arrested for the first time and spent a total of 17 years in prison during the Soviet era. This earned him the nicknamed the "Crimean Tatar Mandela."[71] In 1984 he was sentenced for the sixth time for "anti-Soviet activity," but was given moral support by Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov who had observed Dzhemilev's fourth trial in 1976.[72] When older dissidents were arrested, a new, younger generation would emerge that would replace them.[68]

Mustafa Dzhemilev, a Crimean Tatar activist, spent years in jail for his advocacy

On 21 July 1967, the representatives of the Crimean Tatars, led by dissident Ayshe Seytmuartova, gained permission to meet with high-ranking Soviet officials in Moscow, including Yuri Andropov. During the meeting, the Crimean Tatars demanded a correction of all the injustices that the USSR did to their people. In September 1967 the Supreme Soviet issued a decree that gave amnesty to Crimean Tatars with regards to their charges of mass treason during World War II and also gave them more rights in the USSR. Still, the Crimean Tatars did not get what they wanted the most: the right to return to Crimea. The carefully worded decree stated that "The citizens of Tatars nationality who had formerly been living on Crimea […] have taken root in the Uzbek SSR."[73] Individuals united and formed groups that went back to Crimea in 1968 on their own, without state permission—only for the Soviet authorities to deport 6,000 of them once again.[74] The most notable example of such resistance was Crimean Tatar activist Musa Mahmut, who had been deported when he was 12 and who returned to Crimea because he wanted to see his home again. When the police informed him that he would be evicted, he poured gasoline over his body and set himself on fire.[74] Despite this, 577 families managed to obtain state permission to reside in Crimea.[75]

In 1968 unrest erupted among the Crimean Tatar people in the Uzbek city of Chirchiq.[76] In October 1973 Jewish poet and professor Ilya Gabay committed suicide by jumping off a building in Moscow. He was one of the significant Jewish dissidents in the USSR who fought for the rights of the oppressed nations, especially Crimean Tatars. Gabay was arrested and sent to a labor camp, but still insisted on his cause because he was convinced that the treatment of Crimean Tatars by the USSR amounted to genocide.[77] That same year, Dzhemilev was also arrested.[78]

Despite the process of de-Stalinization, it was not until Perestroika and the arrival of Mikhail Gorbachev to power in the late 1980s that things started to change. In 1987 Crimean Tatar activists organized a protest in the center of Moscow near the Kremlin.[57] This compelled Gorbachev to form a commission to look into this matter. The first conclusion of the commission, led by hardliner Andrei Gromyko, was that there was "no basis to renew autonomy and grant Crimean Tatars the right to return," but Gorbachev ordered a second commission that recommended the renewal of autonomy for Crimean Tatars.[79] On 14 November 1989 the ban on the return of the deported nations was finally officially declared null and void while the Supreme Council of Crimea issued a declaration that the previous deportations of nations were a criminal activity.[40] This paved the way for 260,000 Crimean Tatars to return to their homeland. That same year, Dzhemilev returned to Crimea, and by 1 January 1992 at least 166,000 other Crimean Tatars had done the same.[80] The 1991 Russian law On the Rehabilitation of Repressed Peoples addressed the rehabilitation of all ethnicities repressed in the Soviet Union. It adopted measures which involved the "abolition of all previous RSFSR laws relating to illegal forced deportations" and called for the "restoration and return of the cultural and spiritual values and archives which represent the heritage of the repressed people."[81]

By 2004 the Crimean Tatars formed 12% of the population of Crimea.[82] Despite this, the return of Crimean Tatars was not a simple process—in 1989, when they started their mass return, various Russian nationalists staged protests in Crimea under the slogan: "Tatar traitors - Get out of Crimea!" Several clashes between locals and Crimean Tatars were reported in 1990 near Yalta, which compelled the army to intervene to calm the situation. Local Soviet authorities were reluctant to help Crimean Tatar returnees find a job or a residence.[83] The returnees found 517 abandoned Crimean Tatar villages, but bureaucracy strained their efforts to restore them.[57] During 1991 at least 117 Crimean Tatar families lived in tents in two meadows near Simferopol, waiting for the authorities to grant them a permanent residence.[84] After the dissolution of the USSR, Crimea found itself a part of Ukraine, but Kiev gave only limited support to Crimean Tatar settlers. Some 150,000 of the returnees were granted citizenship automatically under Ukraine's Citizenship Law of 1991, but 100,000 who returned after the country declared independence faced several obstacles, including a costly bureaucratic process.[85] Since the exile lasted for almost 50 years, some Crimean Tatars decided to stay in Uzbekistan, which led to the separation of families who had decided to return to Crimea.[86] By 2000 there were 46,603 recorded appeals of returnees who demanded a piece of land. A majority of these applications were rejected. Around the larger cities, such as Sevastopol, a Crimean Tatar was on average given only 0.04 acres of land, which was of poor quality or unsuitable for farming.[87]

Modern views and legacy[edit]

The KGB collaborators are furious that we are gathering statistical evidence about Crimean Tatars who perished in exile and that we are collecting materials against the sadist commandants who derided the people during the Stalin years and who, according to the precepts of the Nuremburg Tribunal, should be tried for crimes against humanity. As a result of the crime of 1944, I lost thousands upon thousands of my brothers and sisters. And this must be remembered![88]
— Mustafa Dzhemilev, 1966

Ukrainian-Canadian historian Peter J. Potichnyj assumes that the dissatisfaction of the Crimean Tatars over their life in exile mirrors a broader picture of non-Russian nations of the USSR that started to publicly express their anger against injustices perpetrated by the Greater Russian ideologists.[3] In 1985 an essay by Ukrainian journalist Vasil Sokil titled Forgetting Nothing, Forgetting No One was published in the Russian emigre journal Kontinent. In an often sarcastic manner, it highlighted the selectively forgotten Soviet citizens and nations who suffered during World War II, but whose experiences disrupt the official Soviet narrative of a heroic victory: "Many endured all the tortures of Hitler's concentration camps only to be sent to the Siberian gulag. […] What, in truth, does a human being need? Not much. Simply to be recognized as humans. Not as an animal." Sokil symbolically took the fate of Crimean Tatars as an example of the nations who were denied this recognition.[89]

Between 1989 and 1994, around a quarter of a million Crimean Tatars returned from the Central Asia to Crimea—which represented a symbolic victory of their efforts to return to their homeland.[90]

A symbol of the deportation of the Crimean Tatars

Not one of the ten nations who were deported during Stalin's era received any kind of compensation.[21] Certain Crimean Tatar groups have called for the international community to put pressure on the Russian Federation, the successor state of the USSR, to finance the rehabilitation and provide financial compensation for the damages brought by the forcible resettlement.[91]

Scholar Walter Kolarz alleges that the deportation and liquidation of Crimean Tatars as a nation in 1944 was just the final act of the centuries-long process of Russian colonization of Crimea that started in 1783.[3] Gregory Dufaud regards the Soviet accusations against Crimean Tatars as a convenient excuse for their forcible transfer through which Moscow secured an unrivaled access to the geostrategic southern Black Sea on one hand and eliminated hypothetical rebellious nations at the same time.[92]

In March 2014 the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation unfolded, which was in turn declared illegal by the United Nations General Assembly (United Nations General Assembly Resolution 68/262) and which led to further deterioration of the rights of the Crimean Tatars. Even though the Russian Federation issued decree No. 268 "On the Measures for the Rehabilitation of Armenian, Bulgarian, Greek, Crimean Tatar and German Peoples and the State Support of Their Revival and Development" on 21 April 2014,[93] in practice it has treated Crimean Tatars with far less care. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a warning against the Kremlin in 2016 because it "intimidated, harassed and jailed Crimean Tatar representatives, often on dubious charges",[25] while the Mejlis, their representative body, was banned.[94]

An event commemorating the victims of the Crimean Tatar deportation in Kiev in 2016

The UN reported that over 10,000 people left Crimea after the annexation in 2014, mostly Crimean Tatars,[95] which caused a further decline of their fragile community. Crimean Tatars stated several reasons for their departure, among them insecurity, fear, and intimidation from the new Russian authorities.[96] In its 2015 report, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights warned that various human rights violations were recorded in Crimea, including the prevention of Crimean Tatars from marking the 71st anniversary of their deportation.[97] Dzhemilev, who was in Turkey during the annexation, was banned from entering Crimea for five years by the Russian authorities, thus marking the second time that he was evicted from his homeland.[98]

Modern interpretations by scholars and historians sometimes classify this mass deportation of civilians as a crime against humanity,[99] ethnic cleansing,[100][90][30] depopulation,[101] an act of Stalinist repression[102] or an "ethnocide", meaning a deliberate wiping out of an identity and culture of a nation.[103][92] The Crimean Tatars call this event Sürgünlik ("exile").[104]

Some activists, politicians, and historians go even further and consider this deportation a crime of genocide.[105] Soviet dissidents Ilya Gabay[77] and Pyotr Grigorenko[106] both classified the event as a genocide. On 12 December 2015, the Ukrainian Parliament issued a resolution recognizing this event as genocide and established 18 May as the "Day of Remembrance for the victims of the Crimean Tatar genocide."[107] Some academics disagree with the classification of deportation as genocide; Professor Alexander Statiev argues that Stalin's administration did not have a conscious genocidal intent to exterminate the various deported peoples, but that Soviet "political culture, poor planning, haste, and wartime shortages were responsible for the genocidal death rate among them." He rather considers these deportations an example of Soviet assimilation of "unwanted nations."[108] According to Professor Amir Weiner, "...It was their territorial identity and not their physical existence or even their distinct ethnic identity that the regime sought to eradicate."[109] According to Professor Francine Hirsch, "although the Soviet regime practiced politics of discrimination and exclusion, it did not practice what contemporaries thought of as racial politics." To her, these mass deportations were based on the concept that nationalities were "sociohistorical groups with a shared consciousness and not racial-biological groups".[110]

In popular culture[edit]

Jamala dedicated her song 1944 to the deported Crimean Tatars.

In 2008, Lily Hyde, a British journalist living in Ukraine, published a novel titled Dreamland that revolves around a Crimean Tatar family returning to their homeland in the 1990s. The story is told from the perspective of a 12-year-old girl who moves to a demolished village with her parents, brother, and grandfather from Uzbekistan. Her grandfather tells her stories about the heroes and victims among the Crimean Tatars.[111]

The 2013 Ukrainian Crimean Tatar-language film Haytarma portrays Crimean Tatar test pilot and Hero of the Soviet Union Amet-khan Sultan against the background of the 1944 deportations.[112]

In 2015 Christina Paschyn released the documentary film A Struggle for Home: The Crimean Tatars in a Ukrainian–Qatari co-production. It depicts the last centuries of that nation, from 1783 up until 2014, with a special emphasis on the 1944 mass deportation.[113]

During the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest, the Ukrainian Crimean Tatar singer Jamala performed her song 1944 which refers to the deportation of the Crimean Tatars in that year. Jamala, herself born in exile in Kyrgistan, dedicated the song to her deported great-grandmother. She became the first Crimean Tatar to perform at the Eurovision Song Contest, which she won representing Ukraine.[114]


  1. ^ Spring 2015, p. 228.
  2. ^ Fisher 2014, p. 27.
  3. ^ a b c Potichnyj 1975, pp. 302–319.
  4. ^ Fisher 1987, pp. 356–371.
  5. ^ a b Tanner 2004, p. 22.
  6. ^ a b Vardys (1971), p. 101
  7. ^ Drohobycky 1995, p. 73.
  8. ^ a b Smele 2015, p. 302.
  9. ^ Olson, Pappas & Pappas 1994, p. 185.
  10. ^ Rosefielde 1997, pp. 321–331.
  11. ^ a b c d Parrish 1996, p. 104.
  12. ^ Banerji, 23 October 2012
  13. ^ a b c Fisher 2014, p. 155.
  14. ^ a b c Williams (2001), pp. 382–383
  15. ^ Fisher 2014, p. 157.
  16. ^ Fisher 2014, p. 156.
  17. ^ Williams (2001), p. 381
  18. ^ Fisher 2014, pp. 151–152.
  19. ^ Allworth 1998, p. 177.
  20. ^ Colborne, 19 May 2016
  21. ^ a b Human Rights Watch 1991, p. 3.
  22. ^ Knight 1995, p. 127.
  23. ^ Buckley, Ruble & Hoffman (2008), p. 209
  24. ^ a b c Buckley, Ruble & Hoffman (2008), p. 231
  25. ^ a b Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights 2016.
  26. ^ Weiner 2003, p. 224.
  27. ^ Tweddell & Kimball 1985, p. 190.
  28. ^ Pohl (1999), p. 114
  29. ^ a b Pohl 2000, p. 3.
  30. ^ a b c d e Magocsi 2010, p. 690.
  31. ^ Garrard & Healicon 1993, p. 167.
  32. ^ Merridale 2007, p. 261.
  33. ^ Pohl (1999), p. 5
  34. ^ a b Williams 2015, p. 106.
  35. ^ Pohl (1999), p. 115
  36. ^ Levene 2013, p. 317.
  37. ^ Pohl 2000, p. 1.
  38. ^ Magocsi 2010, p. 691.
  39. ^ Studies on the Soviet Union 1970, p. 87.
  40. ^ a b c Sandole et al. 2008, p. 94.
  41. ^ Bugay 1996, p. 46.
  42. ^ Syed, Akhtar & Usmani 2011, p. 298.
  43. ^ a b Stronski 2010, pp. 132–133.
  44. ^ Williams (2001), p. 401
  45. ^ Buckley, Ruble & Hoffman (2008), p. 238
  46. ^ a b c Amnesty International 1973, pp. 160–161.
  47. ^ Pohl 2000, pp. 3–4.
  48. ^ Viola 2007, p. 99.
  49. ^ Kucherenko 2016, p. 85.
  50. ^ a b Reid 2015.
  51. ^ Lillis 2014.
  52. ^ a b c d Pohl 2000, p. 4.
  53. ^ Kamenetsky 1977, p. 244.
  54. ^ Human Rights Watch 1991, p. 33.
  55. ^ Allworth 1998, p. 155.
  56. ^ Garrard & Healicon 1993, p. 168.
  57. ^ a b c d Human Rights Watch 1991, p. 37.
  58. ^ a b Pohl 2000, p. 7.
  59. ^ Buckley, Ruble & Hofmann (2008), p. 207
  60. ^ Human Rights Watch 1991, p. 9.
  61. ^ a b Ukrainian Congress Committee of America 2004, pp. 43–44.
  62. ^ Moss 2008, p. 17.
  63. ^ Dadabaev 2015, p. 56.
  64. ^ a b Human Rights Watch 1991, p. 34.
  65. ^ Travis 2010, p. 334.
  66. ^ Pohl 2000, p. 10.
  67. ^ Pohl 2000, p. 5.
  68. ^ a b c d Tanner 2004, p. 31.
  69. ^ Requejo & Nagel 2016, p. 179.
  70. ^ Bazhan 2015, p. 182.
  71. ^ Vardy, Tooley & Vardy 2003, p. 554.
  72. ^ Shabad, 11 March 1984
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  76. ^ Williams 2015, p. 127.
  77. ^ a b Fisher 2014, p. 150.
  78. ^ Williams 2015, p. 129.
  79. ^ Human Rights Watch 1991, p. 38.
  80. ^ Kamm, 8 February 1992
  81. ^ Bugay 1996, p. 213.
  82. ^ BBC News, 18 May 2004
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  85. ^ Prokopchuk, 8 June 2005
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  87. ^ Buckley, Ruble & Hoffman (2008), p. 237
  88. ^ Allworth 1998, p. 214.
  89. ^ Finnin 2011, pp. 1091–1124.
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  91. ^ Allworth 1998, p. 356.
  92. ^ a b Dufaud 2007, pp. 151–162.
  93. ^ Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights 2014, p. 15.
  94. ^ Nechepurenko, 26 April 2016
  95. ^ UN News Centre, 20 May 2014
  96. ^ Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights 2014, p. 13.
  97. ^ Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights 2015, pp. 40–41.
  98. ^ Reuters, 22 April 2014
  99. ^ Wezel 2016, p. 225.
  100. ^ Requejo & Nagel 2016, p. 180.
  101. ^ Polian 2004, p. 318.
  102. ^ Lee 2006, p. 27.
  103. ^ Williams (2002), pp. 357–373
  104. ^ Zeghidour 2014, pp. 83–91.
  105. ^ Tatz & Higgins 2016, p. 28.
  106. ^ Allworth 1998, p. 216.
  107. ^ Radio Free Europe, 21 January 2016
  108. ^ Statiev 2010, pp. 243–264.
  109. ^ Weiner 2002, pp. 44–53.
  110. ^ Hirsch 2002, pp. 30–43.
  111. ^ O'Neil, 1 August 2014
  112. ^ Grytsenko, 8 July 2013
  113. ^ International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, 2016
  114. ^ John, 13 May 2016


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Banerji, Robin (23 October 2012). "Crimea's Tatars: A fragile revival". BBC News. Retrieved 4 August 2017. 
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Vardys, V. Stanley (1971). "The Case of the Crimean Tartars". The Russian Review. 30 (2): 101. JSTOR 127890. doi:10.2307/127890. 
Weiner, Amir (2002). "Nothing but Certainty". Slavic Review. 61 (1): 44. JSTOR 2696980. doi:10.2307/2696980. 
Williams, Brian Glyn (2002). "Hidden ethnocide in the Soviet Muslim borderlands: The ethnic cleansing of the Crimean Tatars". Journal of Genocide Research. 4 (3): 357. doi:10.1080/14623520220151952. 
Williams, Brian Glyn (2002). "The Hidden Ethnic Cleansing of Muslims in the Soviet Union: The Exile and Repatriation of the Crimean Tatars". Journal of Contemporary History. 37 (3): 323. JSTOR 3180785. doi:10.1177/00220094020370030101. 
Zeghidour, Sliman (2014). "Le désert des Tatars". Association Médium. 40 (3): 83. doi:10.3917/mediu.040.0083.  (in French)
International and NGO sources
Prokopchuk, Natasha (8 June 2005). Vivian Tan, ed. "Helping Crimean Tatars feel at home again". UNHCR. Retrieved 5 September 2017. 
Amnesty International (1973). "A Chronicle of Current Events - Journal of the Human Rights Movement in the USSR" (PDF). 
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Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (2014). "Report of the Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsák - Addendum - Mission to Ukraine" (PDF). Retrieved 4 August 2017. 
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (2016). Rupert Colville, ed. "Press briefing notes on Crimean Tatars". Geneva. Retrieved 4 August 2017.