Deportation of the Crimean Tatars

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A sign commemorating the 70th anniversary of the deportation of the Crimean Tatars

The deportation of the Crimean Tatars (Russian Депортация крымских татар; Crimean Tatar Qırımtatar sürgünligi; Ukrainian Депортація кримських татар) refers to the 'ethnic cleansing' of that nation from Crimea on 18 May 1944, carried out by Lavrentiy Beria, chief of the Soviet security and secret police, under orders of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin. Within a space of three days, the Soviet NKVD deported at least 191,044 Crimean Tatar people in cattle trains—including women, children, elderly, as well as Communists and members of the Red army−several thousands kilometers away to modern day Uzbekistan. The deportation was ordered by Stalin as collective punishment due to the alleged collaboration of individuals from the Tatar nation with the Nazi soldiers during the German occupation of Crimea in World War II, where 15,000–20,000 Tatars collaborated with the Nazis, joining the ranks of the Wehrmacht. Stalin's orders were despite the fact that 25,033 Crimean Tatars joined the Soviet Red army during the war.

Nearly 8,000 Crimean Tartars perished during the deportation, while in later years further tens of thousands died in the harsh and crude conditions in exile. They were forced to leave 80,000 houses and 360,000 acres of land behind them, all of which were confiscated by the Soviet authorities. Stalin's regime ordered the eradication of all traces of Crimean Tatars, and in subsequent censuses it was forbidden to even mention that nation in the files of the USSR. In 1956, the new Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev condemned Stalin's crimes, among them the deportation of various nations, but despite that the directive forbidding the return of Crimean Tatars remained. Despite De-Stalinization of the USSR, the Crimean Tatars were forced to continue living in Uzbekistan and other parts of Central Asia for several decades, and it was not until the era of Perestroika in the late 1980s that 260,000 people of their nation were given the official permission to return to their homeland. The restrictions on the ban of return of the deported people were officially declared null and void, while the Supreme Council of Crimea issued a declaration on the 14 November 1989 in which the deportations of people during the Stalin era constitute criminal activity. Even though the local authorities did not help them to return or to compensate for their lost real estate, by 2004 the Crimean Tatars experienced a fragile revival and made up 12% of the Crimean population. The Russian Federation, the successor state of the USSR, never paid out reparations to the Crimean Tatars, nor did it compensate for their lost property. Also, it never filed any charges or legal proceedings against the perpetrators of this forcible resettlement. The deportation of the Crimean Tatars represents one of the crucial events in the history of that nation and with time came to be seen as a symbol of plight and oppression of smaller nations by the Soviet Union.


Crimea on the map of the Black Sea

The Crimean Tatars had their Crimean Khanate for centuries, from 1441 up until 1783, when the Crimea became the target of Russian expansionism and was annexed by the Russian Empire. The Turkic-speaking population of the Crimea had mostly adopted Islam already in the 14th century, following the conversion of Ozbeg Khan of the Golden Horde, often getting engaged in conflicts against Moscow, and were thus extremely averse to the Russian rule. By their own will, the dissatisfied Tatars were thus leaving Crimea in several waves of emigration. As a consequence of this, the Crimean Tatars became a minority in their homeland: in 1783, they comprised 98% of the population,[1] but by 1897, they comprised only 34.1% of the population of Crimea.[2] At the same time, Moscow was carrying out the Russification of that area, populating it with Russians, Ukrainians and other Slavic nations. This Russification continued even during the Soviet rule.[2] Already between 1784 and 1790, out of a total population of about a million, around 300,000 Crimean Tatars left for Ottoman Empire. [3] The Crimean War triggered another mass exodus of the Crimean Tatars who again found refuge in the Ottoman Empire, which again led to their further drop on that peninsula: between 1855 and 1866 at least 500,000, and possibly even up to 900,000 Muslims left the Russian Empire and emigrated to the Ottoman Empire. Out of that number, at least one third was from Crimea, while the rest were from the Caucausus. These emigrants comprised between 15 and 23% of the total population of Crimea. The Russian Empire used that to further Russify "New Russia".[4]

The position of the Crimean Tatars was relatively improved after the October Revolution in 1917 when the Crimea was granted the status of autonomy inside the USSR, but the collectivization in the 1920s led to severe famine from which up to 100,000 Crimean Tatars perished because the foodstuff was transported to "more important" regions of the Soviet Union.[5] Their status once again deteriorated after Joseph Stalin became the new Soviet leader and started implementing various repressions. Stalin killed at least 5.2 million Soviet citizens between 1927–1938[6]

In 1940 the Crimean Socialist Soviet Republic had approximately 1,126,800 inhabitants, while the Crimean Tatars numbered 218,000 people or about 19.4% of the population.[7] In 1941, the Third Reich started an invasion of Eastern Europe and annexed large parts of western USSR. During the Nazi occupation of Crimea a part of the Crimean Tatar population saw this as an opportunity to finally gain back their independence after 160 years of Russian rule. Around 10% of Crimean Tatar, or somewhere between 15,000[8]–20,000 people,[9] joined the ranks of the Axis collaborationists. The Crimean Council even organized mass massacres of Russian on Crimea, in which tens of thousands members of that nation perished.[10] However, not all Crimean Tatars joined the collaboration: the Nazis implemented a brutal repression on Crimea and destroyed more than 70 villages which were the host to about 25% the entire Crimean Tatar population. They also forcibly transferred thousands of Crimean Tatars to the Third Reich so that these could work as Ostarbeiter in various German factories under the supervision of Gestapo in conditions which were described as "vast slave workshops".[11] The Third Reich considered the Crimean Tatars and various other nations as "people of a lower race".[12] Crimean Tatar Ahmet Özenbaşlı, for instance, was strongly opposed to the occupation and even nurtured secret contacts with the Soviet resistance movement by giving them valuable strategic and political information.[13] Up to 130,000 people died during the Axis occupation of Crimea.[14] In April 1944 the Red army managed to chase away the Axis forces from that peninsula in the Crimean Offensive.[15]


"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.".[16]
— Saiid, who was deported with his family from Yevpatoria when he was 10

Due to collaboration of individuals with the Axis Powers during World War II, a collective guilt was inflicted on various nations that wanted independence from the Soviet Union after or during the war, among them the Crimean Tatars. Many of these nations were punished by being deported to far regions of Central Asia or Siberia. On 10 May 1944, Lavrentiy Beria wrote to Stalin and recommended that the Crimean Tatars should be deported away from the border regions due to their "traitorous actions".[17] The Soviet authorities decided to collectively punish them by forcible deportation to the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic. Despite of that, it was neglected that 25,033 Crimean Tatars fought together with the Red army during World War II,[18] which is more than those who joined the Nazi collaboration, who numbered around 15,000[8]–20,000 people.[9] It was also ignored that many collaborators fled together with the Wehrmacht before the evacuation of German soldiers and their collaborators, meaning that 20,000 Crimean Tatars escaped together with them to the West. Several Soviet officers thus claimed that the Crimean Tatars who stayed on the peninsula were all those who did not betray the Soviet Union. It also became obvious that many other nations were also Nazi collaborators, even numerous Russians and Jews, which indicated that people on the occupied territories were forcibly drafted.[9]

The deported peoples were transferred in sealed off railroad cars

In spite of all this data, Stalin decided to punish whole nations for being "disloyal to their homeland". He issued GKO Order No. 5859ss that envisaged the resettlement of these people.[19] The deportation was carried out in only three days[20]—between 18 and 20 May 1944—and consisted of NKVD agents that compiled a list, went from house to house, collected Crimean Tatars at gunpoint and forced them to load onto sealed off[21] cattle trains which then transferred them to almost 3,200 kilometres (2,000 mi)[22] remote locations in Uzbekistan. The inhabitants were allowed to carry up to 500 kg of their property per family.[23] By 8:00 hours of the first day, the NKVD already loaded 90,000 Crimean Tatars distributed in 25 trains.[24] The next day, a further 136,412 persons were boarded into railroad cars.[24] Thousands of people died during the long and exhausting transit in these trains.[20] They travelled in overcrowded wagons for several weeks. Their journey was plagued by a lack of food and water.[25]

On 4 July 1944 the NKVD officially informed Stalin that the resettlement was complete.[26] However, not long after that report, the NKVD found out that one of its units forgot to deport people from the Arabat Spit, which meant that several Crimean Tatars were still left behind. Instead of preparing an additional freight in trains, the NKVD rushed to gather the peasants from Arabat. The NKVD then boarded hundreds of Crimean Tatars onto an old boat, shipped it in the middle of the Azov Sea and then sunk and drowned all the people in it on 20 July.[27]

It is estimated that at least 228,392 people were deported from Crimea, of which at least 191,044 were Crimean Tatars,[28] or 47,000 families.[29] 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.[30]

Uzbekistan, the main destination of the deported

Officially, there was not a single Crimean Tatar left on Crimea anymore. The deportation disproportionately encompassed every person of Crimean Tatar descent, regardless if they were children, women, elderly or even 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 Commanders and 7,079 soldiers. There were also 742 members of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and 1,225 of Komsomol.[31] 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.[32] This was especially humiliating for war heroes: Ilyas Ablayev, for instance, proved himself by fighting on various fronts in the war and serving in the Red army until May 1947, only to later on be forced to live in exile in the region of Tashkent.[33]

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 which were left behind by the Crimean Tatars.[34] 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 that peninsula. All were collectively branded as traitors are became second class citizens for decades in the USSR.[34] Among the deported, there were also 283 persons of other ethnicities: Italians, Romanians, Karaims, Kurds, Czechs, Hungarians, Croats.[35] During 1947 and 1948, a further 2,012 veterans returnees were deported from Crimea by the local MVD.[7]

151,136 Crimean Tatars were deported to the Uzbek SSR, 8,597 to the Mari Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, 4,286 to the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic whereas the remaining 29,846 were sent to various remote regions of the Russian SFSR.[36] When the Crimean Tatars arrived at their destination in the Uzbek SSR, they were met by the hostile Uzbek locals who stoned them, even their children, in the Tashkent area because they heard that the Crimean Tatars were "traitors" and "fascist collaborators".[37] 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 whom even resulted in fatalities.[37]

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, as well as 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, as well as two local leaders, P. M. Fokin, Head of the Crimea NKGB and V. T. Sergjenko, Lt. General.[7] In order to execute this deportation, the NKVD secured 5,000 armed agents whereas the NKGB allocated a further 20,000 armed men, together with a few thousand regular soldiers.[19] Two of Stalin's directives from May 1944 reveal that every aspect of the Soviet government, from financing up to the transit, was involved in executing this operation. [7]

On 14 July 1944 the GKO authorized the immigration of 51,000 people, mostly Russians, to 17,000 empty collective farms on Crimea. On the 30 June 1945, the Crimean ASSR was abolished and adjoined to the Russian SFSR.[19]

The Soviet propaganda tried to cover up this forcible transfer by claiming that the Crimean Tatars decided to "voluntarily resettle to Central Asia".[38] In essence, Crimea was 'ethnically cleansed'.[25] Even though the Volga Tatars actually proportionally participated in collaboration far more than the Crimean Tatars, by giving around 35 to 40,000 volunteers to fight among the Axis ranks, they completely avoided any kind of collective punishment.[8] After this act, the term "Crimean Tatar" was banished from the Russian-Soviet lexicon, whereas all Tatar toponyms (names of towns, villages, mountains) on Crimea were altered to Russian language on all maps. 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.[39] Muslim graveyards and religious objects on Crimea were demolished and converted into places of secular use.[25]


Mortality and death toll[edit]

Number of Tatars on Crimea[40][1]
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%
Mortality of deported Crimean Tatars according to NKVDs files[41]
Year Number of deceased
Maj 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 due to the fact that the NKVD was keeping only 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. A large number of those deported had to perform forced labor, mostly heavy manual labor, such as working in coal mines or the lumber industry, which would last for a whole day, under the strict supervision of the NKVD. Deserters were punished by shooting.[42] Despite this difficult physical labor, they were given only around 200[43] to 400 grams of bread per day.[44] The accommodation for the immigrants was 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.[45]

The sole transport to these remote areas and labor colonies was equally as strenuous: the NKVD loaded 50 people into one railroad car, together with their property. They had only one hole on the ground of the wagon which was used as a toilet.[42] One witness claimed that 133 people were locked up in her wagon.[44] The conditions in the overcrowded train wagons were exacerbated by a lack of hygiene, leading to cases of typhus.[42] 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.[42] 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.[42] The first group of deportees started arriving in the Uzbek SSR on 29 May 1944 and had in the main arrived by 8 June 1944.[46] Still, some were redirected to other destinations in Central Asia and had to continue their journey. Some witnesses claimed that they travelled in sealed off freight cars for 24 consecutive days.[47] During this whole time, they were given very little food or water while trapped inside.[25] There was even 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".[48] The records show that at least 7,889 Crimean Tatars died during this long journey, amounting to about 4% of their entire nation.[49]

"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.[50]
— anonymous Crimean Tatar woman, depicting the life in exile

The huge mortality continued for several years even in exile due to malnutrition, labor exploitation, diseases, lack of medical care and exposure to harsh desert climate in Uzbekistan.[51] The death toll was the highest during the first five years. In 1949 the Soviet authorities counted the number of the deported nations who lived in special settlements. According to their records, there were 44,887 excess deaths in these five years or 19.6% of that total group.[52] Other sources give the figure of 44,125 deaths during that time,[53] while a third source, alternative NKVD archives, gives a figure of 32,107 deaths.[54] These reports included all the people resettled from Crimea (Armenians, Bulgarians, Greeks), even though the Crimean Tatars formed a clear majority in this group. It took five years until the number of births among the deported people started to surpass the number of deaths.[51] 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.[41] Almost half of all deaths encompassed children under the age of 16 as well as around 1/4 of grown men: 6,096 of the dead were children, 4,525 women while only 2,562 were men. During 1945, a further 13,183 people died.[41] Thus, by the end of December 1945, already at least 27,000 Crimean Tatars died in exile.[55]

Crimean Tatar own estimates claimed that their mortality figures were far higher and amounted to 46% of their population living in exile.[56] 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 Tatar were exaggerating, the KGB published figures showing that "only" 22% of that nation died.[56] Hannibal Travis estimates that the Crimean Tatars suffered overall 40–80.000 deaths in exile.[57] 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".[58] 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.[54]

Various estimates of the mortality rates of the Crimean Tatars:

Died in exile
Survived in exile
Died in exile
Survived in exile
Died in exile
Survived in exile


Chronology of the ethnic make up of Crimea.
  Crimean Tatars

Stalin's regime denied the Crimean Tatars the right to education or publication in their own native language. They instead had to study in Russian or Uzbek language, but still kept their cultural identity intact.[59] In 1956 the new Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, held a speech in which he condemned Stalin's crimes, including the mass deportations of various nations. Still, even though many nations were given the allowance to return to their homes, three of them were still officially forced to stay living in exile: the Soviet Germans, the Meskhetian Turks and the Crimean Tatars.[60] In 1954, Khrushchev only allowed the Crimea to be included into the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic under the reason that it is geographically linked with it, and not with the Russian SFSR,[61] while in 1956 he revoked the special restrictions against Crimean Tatars, though various other restrictions were still kept and they did not get any compensation for their lost property.[60]

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

Starting from 1960s, the Crimean Tatars started actively advocating the right to return. Already in 1957, they collected 6,000 signatures in a petition that was sent to the Supreme Soviet, and which demanded their rehabilitation and return to Crimea.[50] By 1961 already 25,000 signatures were collected in a petition that was sent to the Kremlin.[60] Mustafa Dzhemilev, who was only six months old when his family was deported from Crimea, grew up in Uzbekistan and became an activist advocating 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 state. Due to that, he was nicknamed the "Crimean Tatar Mandela".[62] In 1984 he was sentenced for the sixth time for "anti-Soviet activity", but was given moral support by Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov who observed his fourth trial in 1976.[63] When older dissidents were arrested, a new, younger generation would emerge that would replace them.[60] Finally, on 21 July 1967, the representatives of the Crimean Tatars, led by dissident Ayshe Seytmuartova, gained the permission to go to Moscow and meet with high ranking Soviet officials, among them Yuri Andropov. During their meeting, the Crimean Tatars demanded a correction of all injustice 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".[64] 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 more from that peninsula.[65] The most notable example of such resistance was Crimean Tatar activist Musa Mahmut, who was 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 will be evicted, he poured gasoline over his body and set himself on fire.[65] Despite this, 577 families still managed to obtain state permission for a place of residence on Crimea.[66]

In 1968 unrests erupted among the Crimean Tatar people in the Uzbek city of Chirchiq.[67] 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 plight of Crimean Tatars by the USSR amounted to genocide.[68] That same year, Dzhemilev was also arrested.[69]

Despite De-Stalinization of the USSR, it was not until the era of 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 Kremlin.[50] This compelled Gorbachev to found a commission that would look into this matter. Even though the first conclusion of the commission, led by hardliner Andrei Gromyko, was that there is "no basis to renew autonomy and grant Crimean Tatars the right to return", Gorbachev ordered a second commission which recommended the renewal of autonomy of that nation.[70] In 1989 the restrictions on the ban of the return of the deported nations were finally officially declared null and void while the Supreme Council of Crimea issued a declaration on the 14 November 1989 in which previous deportations of nations constitute criminal activity.[34] 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 did the same.[71] The 1991 Russian law On the Rehabilitation of Repressed Peoples addressed rehabilitation of all ethnicities repressed in the Soviet Union. It adopted measures which involed 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".[72]

By 2004 the Crimean Tatars formed 12% of the population of Crimea.[73] 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 on 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 even the army to arrive on the spot and calm down the situation. Local Soviet authorities were reluctant to help Crimean Tatar returnees find a job or a place of residence.[74] The returnees found 517 abandoned Crimean Tatar villages, but bureaucracy strained their efforts to renew them.[50] During 1991 at least 117 Crimean Tatar families lived on two meadows in tents near Simferopol, waiting for the authorities to grant them a permanent residence.[75] After the dissolution of the USSR, Crimea found itself a part of Ukraine, but Kiev gave only a limited support to Crimean Tatar settlers. Since the exile lasted for almost 50 years, some Crimean Tatars decided to stay in Uzbekistan, which again led to separation of families who decided to return to Crimea.[76]

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![77]
— Mustafa Dzhemilev, 1966

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 titled Forgetting Nothing, Forgetting No One was published in the Russian emigre journal Kontinent, written by Ukrainian journalist Vasil Sokil. In 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.[78] 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.[79]

A symbol of the deportation of the Crimean Tatars

By 2000 there were 46,603 recorded appeals of the returnees on Crimea who demanded a part of the land. A majority of these applications was 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.[80]

Scholar Walter Kolarz alleges that the deportation and liquidation of Crimean Tatars as a nation in 1944 was just the final act of a centuries long process of Russian colonisation of Crimea, which started already 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.[81]

In March 2014 the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation unfolded, which was in turn declared illegal, null and void 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 the 21 April 2014,[82] in practice it treated Crimean Tatars with far less care starting from 2014. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights even issued a warning against Kremlin in 2016 because its policies "intimidated, harassed and jailed Crimean Tatar representatives, often on dubious charges",[20] while the Mejlis, their representative body, was banned.[83] Certain Crimean Tatar groups have called for the international community to put pressure on the Russian Federation, the successor state of the USSR, in order to finance the rehabilitation and financial compensation for the damages brought by this forcible resettlement.[84]

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,[85] which caused a further decline of their fragile community. Many Crimean Tatars stated several reasons for their departure, among them insecurity, fear and intimidation from the new Russian authorities.[86] In its 2015 report, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights warned that various human rights violations were recorded on Crimea: one of them was the prevention of Crimean Tatars from marking the 71st anniversary of their deportation.[87] Dzhemilev, who was in Turkey during the annexation, was banned from entering Crimea for five years by the Russian authorities, marking thus the second time that he was evicited from his homeland.[88]

Modern interpretations by scholars and historians sometimes classify this mass deportation of civilians as a crime against humanity,[89] an ethnic cleansing,[90][79][25] a depopulation,[91] an act of Stalinist repression[92] or an "ethnocide", meaning a deliberate wiping out of an identity and culture of a nation.[93][81] The Crimean Tatars call this event Sürgünlik ("exile").[94]

Some activists, politicians or historians go even further and consider this deportation an act of genocide.[95] Soviet dissidents Ilya Gabay[68] and Pyotr Grigorenko[96] both classified it as such. 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".[97] Other academics disagree with this classification. Alexander Statiev argues that Stalin's regime 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".[98]

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 the 12-year-old girl Safi 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.[99]

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.[100]

In 2015 Christina Paschyn released the documentary film A Struggle for Home: The Crimean Tatars in a joint Ukrainian-Qatar co-production. It depicts the last centuries of that nation, from 1783 up until 2014, with a special emphasis on the 1944 mass deportation.[101]

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 of 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, where she won representing Ukraine.[102]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Tanner 2004, p. 22.
  2. ^ a b Vardys (1971), p. 101
  3. ^ a b c Potichnyj 1975, p. 302–319.
  4. ^ Fisher 1987, p. 356–371.
  5. ^ Olson, Pappas & Pappas 1994, p. 185.
  6. ^ Rosefielde 1997, p. 321–331.
  7. ^ a b c d Parrish 1996, p. 104.
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  9. ^ a b c Williams (2001), p. 382–383
  10. ^ Banerji & 23 October 2012
  11. ^ Williams (2001), p. 381
  12. ^ Fisher 2014, p. 151–152.
  13. ^ Fisher 2014, p. 157.
  14. ^ Fisher 2014, p. 156.
  15. ^ Allworth 1998, p. 177.
  16. ^ Colborne & 19 May 2016
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  21. ^ Weiner 2003, p. 224.
  22. ^ Tweddell & Kimball 1985, p. 190.
  23. ^ Pohl (1999), p. 114
  24. ^ a b Pohl 2000, p. 3.
  25. ^ a b c d e Magocsi 2010, p. 690.
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  28. ^ Garrard & Healicon 1993, p. 167.
  29. ^ Merridale 2007, p. 261.
  30. ^ Pohl (1999), p. 5
  31. ^ Pohl 2000, p. 1.
  32. ^ Magocsi 2010, p. 691.
  33. ^ Studies on the Soviet Union 1970, p. 87.
  34. ^ a b c Sandole et al. 2008, p. 94.
  35. ^ Bugay 1996, p. 46.
  36. ^ Syed, Akhtar & Usmani 2011, p. 298.
  37. ^ a b Stronski 2010, p. 132–133.
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  39. ^ Buckley, Ruble & Hoffman (2008), p. 238
  40. ^ Drohobycky 1995, p. 73.
  41. ^ a b c Amnesty International 1973, p. 160–161.
  42. ^ a b c d e Pohl 2000, p. 4.
  43. ^ Kucherenko 2016, p. 85.
  44. ^ a b Reid 2015.
  45. ^ Lillis 2014.
  46. ^ Kamenetsky 1977, p. 244.
  47. ^ Human Rights Watch 1991, p. 33.
  48. ^ Allworth 1998, p. 155.
  49. ^ Garrard & Healicon 1993, p. 168.
  50. ^ a b c d Human Rights Watch 1991, p. 37.
  51. ^ a b Pohl 2000, p. 7.
  52. ^ Buckley, Ruble & Hofmann (2008), p. 207
  53. ^ Human Rights Watch 1991, p. 9.
  54. ^ a b c Ukrainian Congress Committee of America 2004, p. 43—44.
  55. ^ Moss 2008, p. 17.
  56. ^ a b c Human Rights Watch 1991, p. 34.
  57. ^ Travis 2010, p. 334.
  58. ^ a b Pohl 2000, p. 10.
  59. ^ Pohl 2000, p. 5.
  60. ^ a b c d Tanner 2004, p. 31.
  61. ^ Nagel & Requejo 2013, p. 179.
  62. ^ Vardy, Tooley & Vardy 2003, p. 554.
  63. ^ Shabad & 11 March 1984
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  66. ^ Tanner 2004, p. 32.
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  73. ^ BBC News & 18 May 2004
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  76. ^ Uehling 2002, p. 388–408.
  77. ^ Allworth 1998, p. 214.
  78. ^ Finnin 2011, p. 1091–1124.
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  80. ^ Buckley, Ruble & Hoffman (2008), p. 237
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  82. ^ Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights 2014, p. 15.
  83. ^ Nechepurenko & 26 April 2016
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  85. ^ UN News Centre & 20 May 2014.
  86. ^ Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights 2014, p. 13.
  87. ^ Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights 2015, p. 40–41.
  88. ^ Reuters & 22 April 2014
  89. ^ Wezel 2016, p. 225.
  90. ^ Requejo & Nagel 2016, p. 180.
  91. ^ Polian 2004, p. 318.
  92. ^ Lee 2006, p. 27.
  93. ^ Williams (2002), p. 357–373
  94. ^ Zeghidour 2014, p. 83–91.
  95. ^ Tatz & Higgins 2016, p. 28.
  96. ^ Allworth 1998, p. 216.
  97. ^ Radio Free Europe & 21 January 2016
  98. ^ Statiev 2010, p. 243–264.
  99. ^ O'Neil & 1 August 2014.
  100. ^ Grytsenko & 8 July 2013
  101. ^ International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam 2016.
  102. ^ 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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Scientific journal articles
Dufaud, Grégory (2007). "La déportation des Tatars de Crimée et leur vie en exil (1944-1956): Un ethnocide?". Vingtième Siècle. Revue d'histoire. 96 (1). JSTOR 20475182.  (in French)
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Uehling, Greta (2002). "Sitting on Suitcases: Ambivalence and Ambiguity in the Migration Intentions of Crimean Tatar Women". Journal of Refugee Studies. 15 (4). doi:10.1093/jrs/15.4.388. 
Vardys, V. Stanley (1971). "The Case of the Crimean Tartars". The Russian Review. 30 (2). JSTOR 127890. doi:10.2307/127890. 
Williams, Brian Glyn (2002). "Hidden ethnocide in the Soviet Muslim borderlands: The ethnic cleansing of the Crimean Tatars". Journal of Genocide Research. 4 (3). 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). JSTOR 3180785. 
Zeghidour, Sliman (2014). "Le désert des Tatars". Association Médium. doi:10.3917/mediu.040.0083.  (in French)