About Kurultai

Among the Turkic peoples, including the Crimean Tatars, the Kurultai is a traditional institution of higher state power, which was convened during turning points and fateful events in history. It ensured broad representation of free members of the community and made decisions that became mandatory for all sections of the population.

The basis of the modern Kurultai is not only the centuries-old historical legacy of democratic governance, but also the experience of building national statehood in 1917 and the creation of a branched structure of the Crimean Tatar National Movement of the 1950s-80s.

The first Kurultai

After the February revolution in russia, on March 25, 1917, the All-Crimean Muslim Congress was convened in Simferopol, in which 1,500 representatives from all over Crimea took part. The Congress of the Temporary Crimean-Muslim Executive Committee headed by Noman Chelebidzhikhan. The Muslim Executive Committee began active activities in managing the life of the Crimean Tatars: changes were being prepared in the field of education, newspapers were being printed, and steps were being taken to create Crimean Tatar military units. Connections with national movements in the russian Empire were established and strengthened.

On October 1-2, 1917 (according to the old style), the Muslim Executive Committee held a congress of representatives of Crimean Tatar organizations, at which Chelebidzhikhan expressed the general opinion of the initiators that, in connection with the new political circumstances, the question of the future fate of Crimea should be decided by the Kurultai. The decision to convene the Kurultai was made unanimously.

A commission of five people was created to prepare the Kurultai. Its members included Noman Çelebidjihan, Jafer Seydamet, Amet Ozenbashly, Seitjelil Hattat and Ali Bodaninsky. The Congress appointed the elections for November 17, and the holding of the Kurultay from November 17 to December 7.

The Muslim executive committee ensured that the elections were held. According to a specially adopted law, Crimean Tatars who reached the age of 20 took part in them. Elections were held in five constituencies. 76 delegates were elected to the Kurultai, among them 24 delegates from Yalta, 19 from Simferopol, 16 from Feodosia, 11 from Yevpatoria, and 6 from Perekop. There were 4 women among the delegates.

The Kurultai opened on November 26 at 2:00 p.m. in Bakhchisarai, in the Khan’s Palace, after the delegates prayed. Many people gathered near the palace, a military march was playing. Mufti of Crimea, Chairman of the Central Executive Committee of Muslims of Crimea, Noman Chelebidzhikhan, delivered a short introductory speech. The Presidium and the Secretariat of the Kurultai were formed.

All the powers of the Muslim Executive Committee were transferred to the Kurultai. The meetings of the Kurultai continued in December 1917. There, issues of the Crimean state system, mutual relations of the Crimean Tatars with other nationalities on the peninsula, the policy of the national government, the drafting of laws defining various spheres of the public life of the Crimean Tatars, and the implementation of fundamental reforms were considered.

Kurultai announced the creation of the Crimean People’s Republic, approved the Constitution, state symbols, and then declared himself a member of parliament. Asan Sabri Aivazov was elected as the head of the parliament, and Noman Chelebidzhikhan was elected as the head of the national government. The government, formed on December 18, included Jafer Seydamet, Amet Shukri, Amet Ozenbashly, Seitjellil Hattat.

The Bolshevik government of russia did not recognize the Crimean People’s Republic and the Crimean Tatar government. On January 26, 1918, Bolshevik armed units from Sevastopol went into active action. The Crimean Tatar government was overthrown, and the Bolsheviks seized control of Crimea. The head of the Crimean Tatar government, Noman Chelebidzhikhan, was arrested and held in Sevastopol prison for 27 days. On February 23, 1918, Noman Chelebidjihan was shot, and his body was thrown into the Black Sea.

The establishment of the Soviet regime in the Crimea in the 1920s, although it led to the creation of the Crimean ASSR with the aim of attracting the indigenous people to the new government, was accompanied in practice by increased repression against the most prominent representatives. A complete purge of the state apparatus from Crimean Tatars, who were suspected of striving for national revival, was carried out, thousands of families of rural residents were evicted during collectivization, and the bloom of the Crimean Tatar intelligentsia was destroyed. But the biggest blow to the “disloyal” Crimean Tatar people was inflicted by the total deportation in 1944.

Second Kurultai

Having been evicted from the borders of their homeland and still in the conditions of special settlements, the Crimean Tatars started a massive national movement for the return of the people to Crimea and the restoration of all their rights.

The structure of the Crimean Tatar National Movement, the foundation of which was laid in the late 1950s and early 1960s of the 20th century, was maximally adjusted to operate in the conditions of a strict authoritarian communist regime. The national movement at that time consisted of a wide network of initiative groups operating in almost every region of the USSR where Crimean Tatars lived.

In the mid-1980s, in connection with the democratic reforms in the USSR, opportunities opened up for the activation of the National Movement through the development of new organizational forms. In the initiative groups, an understanding of the need to create a permanent coordinating body consisting of authoritative representatives of the movement was brewing.

At the fifth All-Union Council of representatives of initiative groups on April 29 – May 2, 1989 in the city of Yangiul, Tashkent region, a decision was made by an overwhelming majority of votes to form a socio-political Organization of the Crimean Tatar National Movement (OCNR) on the basis of active initiative groups. Mustafa Dzhemilev became the head of the organization.

However, part of the initiative groups also continued to function outside the OKNR. Referring to this, the central and Crimean authorities avoided constructive dialogue with the People’s Republic of China in every possible way.

These main reasons, together with the tendency to create nationwide democratic political movements and organizations in the country, prompted the leaders of the movement to look for a mutually acceptable form for uniting all the structures of the movement on a broader platform.

The specific form of such an association was suggested by historical experience, which was conceived and transformed into the idea of ​​a national congress – the Kurultai.

On March 8, 1990, at a meeting of the Central Council of the People’s Republic of China, a working group was created to study the possibilities of holding the Kurultay.

May 1, 1990 – the working group was instructed to establish contacts with representatives of all currents of the national movement, as well as other interested groups of Crimean Tatars.

On September 23, 1990, the founding meeting of the Organizing Committee for the preparation of the Kurultai was held, which included 36 people (Chairman – Server Omerov). The structure of the organizing committee has been defined: the Central Election Commission, the editorial commission and the organizational bureau. The organizing committee approved the “Regulations on the Organization of the Election of Delegates to the Congress of the Crimean Tatar People”, the “Voter Registration Form” and “Conference Registration Form”, recommended sample protocols.

“Regulations on the Organization of Elections…” was published in the press and provided for holding elections in two stages. At the first stage, voters were elected at the general meetings in the places of residence of the Crimean Tatars, who at the second stage at their conferences (district, city, regional or republican) elected congress delegates. Quotas were established – 1 voter for every 30 people, 1 congress delegate for every 1,000 people (33-34 voters). All Crimean Tatars over the age of 16 had the right to participate in the elections. Voters were elected by open (but sometimes at the discretion of the meeting – secret) voting, and delegates to the congress at the conference – by secret. From October 1990 to May 1991, an election campaign was held, which was hindered in every possible way by local authorities.

From October 1990 to May 1991, an election campaign was carried out, which was hindered in every possible way by the local authorities.

The purpose of convening the Kurultai was defined as the unification of all the intellectual, spiritual, and economic forces of the people for the fastest possible solution of problems, above all, the return to their own Motherland and the restoration of statehood. The Kurultay’s main task was to determine ways to solve national problems and elect a permanent body – the Mejlis.

Intensive work was carried out in Ukraine and Crimea, where more than 120 thousand Crimean Tatars have already returned, in Uzbekistan and other Central Asian republics, the Krasnodar Territory and other regions of the RSFSR, where most of the Crimean Tatar people ended up after deportation.

On April 6-7, 1991, at the regular meeting of the Organizing Committee for preparation, the first results of the elections were announced. Taking into account the course of preparations for the Kurultay and the holding of elections in various regions, the Organizing Committee considered it possible to set the date of the congress – June 26-30, 1991. It was also decided to apply to the Crimean state authorities with a statement to inform the appointed date of the Kurultay in order to allocate premises for its holding. Financing of all Kurultai events was carried out at the expense of donations made by voters.

On May 26-27, 1991, at the meeting of the Organizing Committee, the Mandate Commission was created, the draft Regulations on the Mejlis and the Statute of the “Crimea” Foundation were discussed.

From the very beginning of preparations for Kurultai, the Crimean authorities took a hostile position. On the basis of the draft documents published in the Avdet newspaper, the authorities stated that they envisage the creation of an independent national parliament and parallel government structures. They refused to give official permission to hold the Kurultay.

In response to this, on May 30, 1991, several hundred Crimean Tatars held a protest action under the building of the Council of Ministers of Crimea in Simferopol. As a result, the authorities were forced to sign invitations to foreign guests and issue an official permit for the congress. Later it became known that the Soviet embassies and consulates were ordered not to issue visas for entering the USSR to persons invited to the Kurultai of the Crimean Tatar people.

On the eve of the Kurultay, the election commission summed up the election results: 129 delegates were elected in Crimea, 88 in Uzbekistan, 1 in Kazakhstan, 4 in Kyrgyzstan, 3 in Tajikistan, 16 in the RSFSR, 9 in Ukraine (excluding Crimea), 9 in Lithuania – 3, in Latvia – 1, in the city of Sukhumi – 1. The mandate commission of the Kurultai confirmed the powers of 255 delegates. Taking into account the norm of 1 delegate per 1,000 people, as well as the presence of representatives from almost all regions where Crimean Tatars lived, the Kurultay in this composition had the right to solve the tasks and elect the only authorized representative body of the Crimean Tatar people.

The invitation to the national congress of the Crimean Tatar people was sent to all existing state bodies of the Soviet Union, socio-political and human rights organizations, and mass media. State authorities showed no interest and were not present at the Kurultai, with the exception of a representative of the Council of Ministers of Ukraine and a deputy of the Council of Ministers of Crimea. However, much attention was paid to Kurultai by the public and mass media.

II Kurultai opened on June 26, 1991 in Simferopol. At the Kurultay session, the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people was elected from among its delegates, consisting of 33 people, as well as the Chairman of the Mejlis – Mustafa Dzhemilev and his deputy – Refat Chubarov.

On July 6, 1991, the first meeting of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people was held, at which its structure was approved and a decision was made to prepare the Regulation on local bodies of national self-government. These bodies were formed in accordance with the mandate of the Kurultay and were called to implement the decisions of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people, to protect the interests of the people in interaction with local authorities, and to promote the revival and development of culture, language, religion, customs and traditions. During 1991–1992, regional and local bodies of national self-government (mejlis) were elected on the territory of almost all 290 village, settlement, and city councils of Crimea, including 15 district and 7 city mejlis.

Author: Elvedin Chubarov