The Beginning of the Crimean Tatar National Liberation Movement

 

The Crimean Tatar national liberation movement, the beginning of which goes back to the period when the Crimean Khanate was liquidated and its territory was annexed by the Russian Empire in April 1783, already has a history of more than two centuries which is full of not only dramatic events, but also constant changes in the method and form of struggle, depending on changing conditions in the life of the people.

During the first years after the occupation of Crimea by Russian troops, there was a natural urge among Crimean Tatars to try to achieve liberation for their country by means of military force and armed opposition, which was common at that time. However, the Crimean people - bled white and ruined during the Russo-Turkish war of 1768 to 1774 and betrayed by Crimea's last and extremely shortsighted pro-Russian khan, Shakhin-Girey, and his court, to whom the Russian tsarina Catherine II had promised noble titles - no longer had sufficient strength to successfully oppose the colonizers.

Moreover, Russia, by that time having successfully annexed significant territories from its weaker neighbors, had a rich historical experience in suppressing resistance by enslaved peoples and colonizing their lands. Therefore, several successive Crimean Tatar insurrections (the largest of which were the Gezlevs and Bakhchisarai - uprisings) were brutally suppressed. Tens of thousands of civilians, including peaceful residents, werw killed by Russian army without regard for gender or age - not by military necessity, but simply to establish fear. Also widespread were "electoral" repressions, during which prominent and authoritative people -those potentially capable of organizing and leading opposition to the colonizers - were destroyed. Thus, within several days of the publication of Catherine ll's manifesto on the annexation of Crimea to Russia at the end of April 1783, several thousand scientists, military leaders, and clergy had already been gathered together in the city of Karasubazar (now Belogorsk) and slaughtered.

Subsequently, to strengthen its supremacy in Crimea, Russia repeated methods that it had used after conquering the Kazan and the Astrakhan Khanates, only more intensively and systematically in Crimea because, due to its geographic location and natural resources, the peninsula was immeasurably more important to the Russian empire than all previously annexed lands, especially as Russia's immediate expansionist plans included conquering Istanbul and securing access for itself to the Mediterranean Sea.

A major part of Russia's strategy toward Crimea was to force out the native population as soon as possible and to settle immigrants from Russia's inner provinces there, since statesmen of the empire could not count on free Crimeans to become obedient Russian subjects and quickly reconcile themselves to its conditions of serfdom. To meet this objective, Russia applied a broad arsenal of well-developed methods: terrorism and systematic plundering of the civilian population; seizure of the most fertile lands by high tsarist officials; the displacement of Crimean Tatars to territories unsuitable for farming, thus depriving them of their means of existence; and the harsh violation of the Crimean Tatars' religious beliefs, which was most painful for this deeply religious people. Russian agents disguised as Muslim clergymen were used to disseminate appeals to the Crimean Tatars, which were supposedly from the Turkish sultan, to move to the religiously unified Ottoman Empire.

Massive emigration began which continued throughout the entire tsarist regime and grew stronger or weaker depending on Russian moves to toughen or to liberalize Russia's policy toward Crimean Tatars. Emigration reached its climax during the Crimean War, from 1854 to 1856, when the Russian administration, attempting to explain its shameful defeat in the war by the "betrayal" of Crimean Tatars, acutely intensified acts of repression against them. (Jumping a bit ahead, it should be mentioned that a similar method of simultaneous realization of chauvinistic plans of evicting objectionable peoples from their territories and justifying their wartime defeats was applied, but in a more barbaric and harsh form, by the successor of the Russian Empire - the Soviet government - during World War II.)

As a result of this combination of repression and emigration, Crimea's population of Crimean Tatars, which by several evaluations had totaled roughly two million during the period of the Crimean Khanate, had fallen to 186,000 - only 34 percent of the Crimean population - by 1897.

As soon as they invaded Crimea, the colonizers set about destroying the native material and spiritual culture, believing in the generally correct premise that the more ignorant a people are, the less likely they are to have the will for opposition, freedom, and independence. Over several years, hundreds of schools and seminaries were closed, and religious subjects were excluded from the curricula of those which remained. Over nine hundred mosques were destroyed or transformed into military dormitories or churches. In 1833, books were collected and burned throughout Crimea, among them unique manuscripts. (The Soviet authorities would do the same tiling 111 years later, but in a more organized and thorough fashion, after Crimean Tatars were deported in 1944.)

 

The Second Phase of the Crimean Tatar Liberation Movement

Exactly one hundred years after the seizure of Crimea by Russia, the second stage of the Crimean Tatar liberation movement, which had a completely new character, began. It was not oriented toward the liberation of Crimea's territory from colonizers, which would have been completely unrealistic and without perspective in the conditions that had formed. The founder and undisputed leader of this movement was Ismail Gaspraly, a prominent author and publisher who was widely known beyond the borders of not only Crimea, but the entire Russian Empire. This new movement set itself the primary goals of radically reforming the education system for Crimean Tatars and other Muslim peoples of the empire; rejuvenating their culture and reuniting colonized peoples, primarily (and more realistically) Turkic peoples who shared common or similar languages and religion; fostering the integration of Islamic and Western cultures; training Tatars in a variety of specialized skills; promoting wider involvement of Muslim peoples in the business, cultural, and political life of the empire; and finally, encouraging the gradual reformation of the totalitarian Orthodox monarchical empire into a democratic country where the rights of all people would be respected, including the people's right to self-determination. These ideas were widely propagated in Terdzhiman - the first Muslim newspaper in the Russian Empire - founded in 1883 in the city of Bakhchysaray by Gaspraly, who was its editor until he died in 1914. Hundreds of new schools organized and reformed by Gaspraly also propagated these ideas.

The best of the nascent intelligentsia of Muslim peoples in the empire gathered around Terdzhiman and its editor. After the February 1917 revolution, these people became leaders of national democratic liberation movements, but they were completely destroyed during the Stalin dictatorship.

Gaspraly's humanitarian ideas attracted the attention of scientific and intellectual circles even in the West. The interest in and the fondness for Gaspraly's ideas are evidenced by the fact that he was nominated as a competitor for the Nobel Peace Prize by a number of scientists. The prize was not awarded to him, for his ideas contradicted the interests of the higher echelons of power not only in Russia, but also in other powerful colonial states of that time, primarily, the British Empire, under whose authority numerous Muslim peoples also lived.

 

The Crimean Tatar Liberation Movement at the Beginning of the Twentieth Century

At the beginning of the twentieth century, a national trend of the Crimean Tatar movement began to emerge in Crimea, It was not opposed to Ismail Gaspraly's ideas, but it was more radical and revolutionary. It was concentrated around a deputy to the Russian State Duma, Reshat Mekhdi, and his newspaper, Vatan Khadimi (the Motherland's servant), published in Karasubazar since 1907. This period was also marked by enhanced activities of the Crimean Tatar diaspora in Turkey - first of all, among Crimean Tatar students there. The underground organization created by them, called Vatan, supported a permanent connection with their compatriots in Crimea and disseminated illegal antimonarchical literature there.

Therefore, by the February 1917 revolution the Crimean Tatar movement possessed considerable intellectual and revolutionary democratic forces capable of organizing and leading power structures in their own land. However, the attempts of Crimean Tatar leaders to create a government system in Crimea in coalition with functioning, democratically oriented Russian parties on the basis of respect for the right of the Crimean Tatar people to self-determination failed to produce positive results, since, unfortunately, the democracy of many pro-Russian parties (incidentally, as is still the case) ends or becomes very weak where the question of self-determination of peoples subordinated to the empire arises.

Nevertheless, the Kurultai, a national congress of representatives of Crimean Tatars convened on 10 December 1917, proclaimed the Crimea Democratic Republic. And despite the fact that the Constitution of the Republic guaranteed the equality of all citizens, regardless of nationality or religion, and protection of property and political rights of all people residing in Crimea, Russian-language newspapers in Crimea persisted on scaring common people with the "Tatar dictatorship." Only an insignificant number of Russian officers, who were well aware of the coming Bolshevik threat, opted for close cooperation with authorities elected by the Kurultai and created a new structure, the Crimean Army Staff.

Under these conditions, the main allies of the Crimean Tatars were Ukrainian organizations in Crimea and in Ukraine itself, which had declared independence in November 1917. Ukraine was trying to unite separate forces of national outlying districts in the face of the threat of restoration of the empire, but the young republic was too weak even to protect its own independence.

Armed squadrons of Crimean Tatars thus appeared to be the only force in Crimea resisting the hordes of Bolsheviks. In the course of a decisive day-and-a-half battle below the city of Bakhchysarai on 12 and 13 January 1918, the superior Bolshevik troops of the Black Sea Fleet and the Red Army defeated the Crimean squadrons several times. Numan Chelebidzhikhan, head of the Crimean Democratic Republic, was arrested and, on 23 February 1918, shot to death in a Sevastopol prison. The Crimean Tatars responded with anti-Bolshevik insurrections and the capture and execution in April 1918 of the entire Soviet government of the Tavrida Republic created by the Bolsheviks and headed by the chairman of the Soviet People's Committee, Anton Slutsky, in the city of Alushta.

After the definitive consolidation of Soviet power in Crimea in October 1921, the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was formed and became a subject of the Russian Federation. The semiofficial organ of the Russian People's Commissariat on the Affairs of Nationalities, the newspaper Zhizn Natsional'nostei (the Life of Nationalities), characterized the establishment of the republic as the restoration of the Crimean Tatars' national statehood and as a compensation for many years of tsarism's criminal policy against this people. It thus overtly recognized the propagandist meaning of this action. The Bolshevik leaders intended the creation of the Crimean Tatar national and territorial autonomy to demonstrate to the peoples of the East the justness and respect for law of Soviet power, to attract their sympathies to this power, and even, according to this same newspaper, to become a guiding torch for them. This circumstance and, apparently, the fact that the Soviet authorities did not feel that they had become firmly enough established explains their relatively liberal policy in relation to the Crimean Tatars during the first seven to eights years of the regime. After the terrible famine of 1921 to 1923 - which took the lives of over one hundred thousand Crimeans, over 60 percent of whom were Crimean Tatars -the autonomy's government, chaired by Veli Ibraimov, in close contact and in cooperation with former members of the Milli-Firka national Crimean Tatar party who occupied several positions in that government, achieved definite successes in both the restoration of the Crimean economy and the development of national culture. But after Ibraimov was shot to death in May 1928, the Soviet Union launched the extermination of Crimean Tatar political figures and intelligentsia. According to some estimates, during the years of prewar cleansing, about ten thousand Crimean Tatars were executed or exiled to the Gulag; by percentage of population, this figure represents significantly greater repression than Stalin exerted against other nationalities. Roughly fifty thousand more Tatars were exiled from Crimea on the pretext that they were kulaks (well-off peasants). This severe ethnic cleansing of Crimea continued with even greater severity throughout the 1930s and then during World War II, which provided the Soviet regime with an excuse to decisively complete this criminal policy.

 

The Crimean Tatars During World War II

Aside from generally known facts, there are differing assertions and conjectures concerning the position and activities of the bulk of Crimean Tatars during World War II and the occupation of Crimea through today.

To justify the deportation of Crimean Tatars, Soviet propaganda, of course, asserted that an overwhelming majority of the Crimean Tatars collaborated with the Nazis and betrayed their "Soviet motherland." The Crimean Tatars, who were participants in the war and partisan movements, some of whom had been activists of the nationalist movement during its initial period, tried to prove the contrary. In their appeals to the leadership of the USSR, they fell into the other extreme, asserting that, with the exception of an insignificant number of "traitors to their people," almost all Crimean Tatars remained faithful to the "Soviet motherland" and the Communist Party during the years of occupation and bravely fought against the Nazis on the fronts and in partisan groups. In actuality, as is proved by sources, including the memoirs of witnesses to the events of those days, the situation was not that simple.

Doubtless, some Crimean Tatars who were not sufficiently informed about the essence of German fascism entertained hopes, for a time, of deliverance from the hated Bolshevik regime which had succeeded in bringing so much suffering to their people within a short period of time. There were some Crimean Tatars who were brought up by the Soviet state in the spirit of absolute fidelity to the "work of Lenin and Stalin" and the inevitable victory of "global socialism." In their turn, the Germans, still hoping to attract Turkey to their coalition, declared their somewhat selective and more tolerant attitude to Turkic and Muslim peoples in the occupied territories. This explains their outward benevolence toward Muslim committees established by Crimean Tatars; and toward the activities of these committees, including their attempts to restore and reopen the mosques that had been ruined or closed by the Bolsheviks; to revive the national system of education; to consolidate the people and avert the mutual hostility between certain Crimean Tatar groups provoked by the earlier cleansings, collectivization, and other measures of "class policy" practiced by the Bolsheviks; and to facilitate the liberation or ease the fate of Muslim soldiers who had been taken prisoner.

However, very soon, especially after the Nazis conducted mass executions of Jews, Crimeans, and Gypsies in Crimea and introduced the system of collective responsibility for hostages, most of the Crimean Tatars came to realize that in principle there was no difference between German Nazism and Russian Bolshevism. They managed to arrive at this conclusion before they knew anything about the Germans' plans to exile Crimean Tatars to the Thuringia region of Germany, to populate Crimea with Germans, and to rename it Gottland.

Therefore, most of Crimean Tatars viewed the "Great Patriotic War" as no more than a skirmish between two villains, neither of which promised any kindness or relief. Nevertheless, the total deportation and the beginning of genocide against the Crimean Tatars a month after the Soviet troops returned to Crimea surpassed their very worst expectations. This was, in addition, the greatest treachery by the Soviet authorities, since during the same period the majority of Crimean Tatar men who had been conscripted into the army at the beginning of the war continued to spill their blood on the fronts for this same Soviet authority.

 

The Post-War Crimean Tatar National Movement

One view is that the beginning of the postwar Crimean Tatar national movement for the return to their native land and restoration of their national and territorial autonomy should be dated from the fateful day of expulsion, 18 May 1944. This opinion is based on the fact that there were incidents of resistance to the deportation and there were executions of resisters on the spot. Afterward, there were escapes from the place of exile, and several people, even in those years, wrote letters to the leadership of the USSR condemning the deportation of the entire people - letters that brought repression upon the writers.

Still, it would be more correct to date the beginning of the new, postwar stage of the national movement from the middle of the 1950s, because during the first decade after deportation, the mass death of people from starvation, disease, and backbreaking work m "special settlements" under the very severe Stalinist regime allowed few opportunities for any organized political movement. These opportunities appeared, although in an extremely limited form, only after the condemnation at the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in February 1956 of some of the criminal acts of Stalin's regime, including the practice of deporting entire peoples from their territories, and after a decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR was adopted two months later, on 28 April 1956. The decree released Crimean Tatars from open administrative supervision by agencies of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, but stipulated that they had no right to return to the territories from which they had come.

The Crimean Tatars then began with growing intensity to send collective and individual letters and petitions to higher state authorities concerning the restoration of justice to their people. The movement reached its next stage when delegations of people's representatives traveled to Moscow with the goal of obtaining a meeting with the Kremlin leaders and an answer to their letters and appeals.

The tone of the Crimean Tatars' appeals, especially in the first years, was absolutely loyal and strictly in the Communist spirit. As a rule, they contained numerous quotations from Lenin and renowned Communist leaders. This allowed them to collect many signatures on such letters. The largest number of signatures - about 120,000 - was gathered under an appeal to the Twenty-Third Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1966. None of the other national, religious, or human-rights movements in the USSR were so massive. Meanwhile, initiative groups were created in towns and villages where Crimean Tatars lived. The task of these groups was to organize regular meetings of compatriots with the goal of explaining to them the goals and objectives of the national movement, informing them about events connected with the Crimean Tatar issue, collecting signatures for all-nation appeals directed toward various authorities, and amassing resources to support such activities as sending delegations to Moscow and providing assistance to repressed families.

As the delegates were departing for Moscow, they sent copies of national appeals addressed to government and parry authorities to various magazines and newspapers and prominent public figures of the capital. From the summer of 1965, the presence of rotating Crimean Tatar delegates in Moscow - on average, fifteen to twenty, and sometimes up to one hundred - was almost permanent and uninterrupted. They regularly published leaflets about their activities in Moscow and disseminated typewritten copies to all major centers of deported Crimean Tatars, where they were reprinted and sent to all initiative groups. These pieces of "information" from Crimean Tatar representatives in Moscow became the first samizdat periodicals in the Soviet Union.

The system of initiative groups turned out to be very efficient and demonstrated low vulnerability. The absence of a single, central group of leaders deprived the authorities of the opportunity to decapitate the national movement, while the openness of the activities of the initiative groups' members, who were elected at the people's meetings and accountable to these meetings, made the task of repressing them by accusing them of illegal activity more difficult. Later on, this Crimean Tatar system of initiative groups was borrowed by other national and human rights movements.

The constant striving of the national movement activists to create appeals, petitions, and informative documents consistent with Communist ideology and to ensure that signers would not be threatened by the possibility of having their signatures traced had several negative results, however. These precautions lowered the level of civic-minded-ness and objectivity of the documents and did not allow the ideals of democracy and freedom to become entrenched in people's consciousness. Without such ideals, an inevitable crisis threatens any public political movement.

 

Crisis in the Crimean Tatar National Movement

Soon after 1965, a more radical wing began to split off and take the lead in the Crimean Tatar national movement. This wing opted for a different strategy and attitude toward the prospect of restoring the people's rights.

At the very beginning of the national movement, its leading authorities, the majority of whom were veterans of war and the partisan movement in Crimea and former party and administrative workers of the Crimean ASSR, proceeded from the notion that the problems of the return of Crimean Tatars to Crimea and the restoration of their autonomy could be decided only if the leadership of the USSR was convinced of their absolute loyalty to the Soviet state and the Communist party and of the expediency of the Tatars' return for Crimea's economy. The advocates of the more radical wing considered such views to be illusory, lacking in perspective and humiliating to the Crimean Tatars. Their argument was based on the concept that the Crimean Tatar nationality issue could be solved only when the Soviet authorities were convinced that leaving the problem unsolved would be significantly more costly in all aspects than solving it. At the same time, the understanding matured that a just solution of the problem could only be seriously expected under complete substitution of the Soviet totalitarian system with a democracy (which appeared highly unlikely in the foreseeable future) or at least, transformation of the regime in a more democratic direction. This concept dictated the necessity of consolidating the Crimean Tatar national movement with all other national-democratic, religious, and human-rights movements in the USSR which opposed the regime.

The appeals, informational tracts, and other documents of the more radical wing were addressed primarily not to state officials, but to broader society, including the international community. They no longer tried to please the regime, and things were called by their proper (not Soviet) names. As a rule, documents were redirected to the West through Moscow dissidents and foreign journalists, and then "returned" to the USSR through the powerful transmitters of the radio stations: Radio Liberty, Deutsche Welle, the British Broadcasting Corporation, the Voice of America, Radio Canada, and others, in various languages over the entire territory of the country. Obviously, this was a most painful blow to a regime which spent huge amounts of money annually for propaganda both inside the country and abroad to create an attractive image.

Naturally, it was this wing of the national movement which suffered the greatest persecutions by the authorities, although activists of the conservative, pro-Communist wing whose activity exceeded the limits tolerated by the regime were also often expelled from the party, dismissed from their jobs, and persecuted administratively and criminally.

 

The 1960s

Beginning in the mid-1960s, Crimean Tatars increased their massive meetings and demonstrations everywhere, especially on the day of deportation, 18 May, and the founding day of the Crimean ASSR, 18 October. The meetings usually ended in the mass beating and arrest of the activists. In June 1969, on one of Moscow's central squares, a group of Crimean Tatars held a demonstration that coincided with the opening of the conference of leaders of Communist Parties. The main demand at the demonstration was the immediate release of General Petro Grigorenko, a prominent human-rights activist who had spoken out in defense of the Crimean Tatars. The demonstrators were able to hold out on the square for only six minutes before being beaten and taken away by the KGB and the police, but during those six minutes, they managed to scatter dozens of leaflets with a description of the Crimean Tatar problem and information about Grigorenko. Most importantly, the numerous foreign correspondents present received an excuse to give their publications and radio stations material on the Crimean Tatar issue once again.

The first trials of activists of the national movement began in 1961 with charges of anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda, but since the political cases soon began to attract the fixed attention of the West, authorities began to use false charges more often. The frequency of trials of participants in the national movement sharply increased after new articles were introduced into the Soviet republics' criminal codes in June 1966. These articles provided for punishment for "slander, to the Soviet system which could easily apply to any of the Crimean Tatar documents which criticized the state's national policy, and for "participation in mass disturbance" as the Crimean Tatars' meetings and demonstrations, which were never legally sanctioned, could be classified. Of course, arrests of prominent activists did appreciable damage to the national movement and sometimes caused a temporary abatement in the activists' activity, but after some rime, the movement would gather new strength.

Close relations were established with human-rights groups in Moscow, which greatly sympathized with the Crimean Tatar movement, tried to provide it with comprehensive aid, and overtly protested against the persecution of activists of the Crimean Tatar movement. Their apartments were havens for Crimean Tatars who came to Moscow. Numerous documents on the Crimean Tatar issue, which the dissidents were accused of creating or disseminating, figured into the sentences of many individuals convicted of political crimes by Soviet courts in the 1970s and 1980s.

Here, it is worth mentioning the particular role of General Grigorenko, a Ukrainian human-rights activist who lived in Moscow and would later become famous worldwide. Having first become acquainted with the Crimean Tatar issue from his friend, the writer Alexei Kosterin (author of numerous letters and appeals in defense of the rights of the repressed peoples), Grigorenko remained a faithful friend and helper of the Crimean Tatars for the rest of his life, thus earning one of the Soviet regime's most horrid punishments: five years in a psychiatric clinic of the Ministry of the Interior. Expelled from the Soviet Union after his release he lived in the United States where he continued through his very last days to address the U.S. president and international organizations - both personally and on behalf of the Ukrainian Helsinki Group, which he chaired - with appeals to help in the liberation of Crimean Tatars being held as political prisoners. Therefore, it is no surprise that in 1991, in the very first settlement constructed in Crimea returned to the Crimean Tatars, one of the first streets was named after Grigorenko. In its turn, the Crimean Tatar national movement began to lend effective support to the general democratic process and other national and democratic movements in the country. This position of the Crimean Tatar national movement was formulated in the last words of one of the movement's activists in the early 1980s in Tashkent: "It is impossible to struggle for one's own rights and at the same time remain indifferent when others' rights are violated." The signatures of Crimean Tatar national movement activists appeared already not only on appeals and declarations in defense of their own people's rights, but also on protests against the arrests of other human-rights activists, against the Soviet troops' Invasion of Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan, and against any national or religious oppression. In 1969, Crimean Tatars were among the founders of the first initiative group for the defense of human rights established in the Soviet Union. This position of the Crimean Tatar national movement contributed significantly to its growing prestige both within the USSR and beyond its borders.

After a demonstration by thousands of people in Tashkent, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR issued a decree and resolutions "on citizens of Tatar nationality who previously inhabited Crimea", dated 5 September 1967. Alongside other classic demagogy concerning the abundance of rights that "Tatars who previously inhabited Crimea" now possessed in the places to which they had been sent, the decree and resolutions stated that the Crimean Tatars henceforth had the right to live anywhere on the territory of the Soviet Union. As a result of the adoption of these acts by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, hundreds of Crimean Tatar families began to emigrate to Crimea. However, the Crimean authorities, who had received special "explanations" that the decree was issued solely to neutralize "imperialistic propaganda" and that the right to live anywhere on the territory of the country in no way signified the right to return to Crimea, began to take vigorous measures to turn the returning Crimean Tatars back whence they had come. The behavior of the authorities in relation to Crimean Tatars followed an increasingly familiar pattern: refusal to formulate official registrations for newly purchased houses and residential permits, denial of jobs, several fines for living without a residential permit, court procedures on the accusation of violating the passport regime, and, finally, forceful eviction beyond the borders of Crimea. Expulsions by the militia, fire brigades, and members of the local public-order squad {who were Russian-speaking residents as well as those convicted of minor crimes, including disturbing the peace) were sometimes carried out with unbelievable cruelty: furniture was broken, property and valuables were stolen or destroyed, and people - including children - were mutilated.

The Crimean Tatars responded to these illegal actions with a variety of actions, including meetings, demonstrations, appeals to the United Nations and to the world community, and hunger strikes, but they never resorted to violence, as that would have contradicted one of the major principles of the national movement: nonviolence.

According to some estimates, in 1968 alone, over ten thousand Crimean Tatars who had returned to their homeland were evicted by force or under strong pressure. Although the emigrants knew the cruel crimes they were to encounter in Crimea, the return process did not cease. Some families were forced out several times, but they returned and continued their struggle for the right to live on their own land.

Sometimes these expulsions had tragic consequences. For instance, after thirty-five-year-old Fenzi Seidaliev and his family were forced out of their house with extreme brutality, he left for Moscow and organized a demonstration in Red Square, where he was arrested, taken out of Moscow, and killed in a Dnipropetrovsk prison on 19 October 1968. Musa Mamut, age forty-six and father of three, as a sign of protest against repeated attempts to force his family out of Crimea, poured gasoline over himself and proceeded to burn himself in the presence of local authorities in the village of Besh-Terek (Donske) on 23 June 1978. Several children who were injured during the expulsions later died, and some will remain invalids for the rest of their lives.

It should be added that not one of the authorities responsible for these crimes received any kind of punishment. To this day, those among them who have not retired continue to occupy important positions in the Crimean administration.

From 1967 through 1968, more than three hundred Crimean Tatars were convicted by the Crimean courts of violating regulations of the passport regime. Those who wrote or signed appeals to the public concerning the tyranny of the authorities were imprisoned on the charge of libel against the Soviet system and the state's national policy.

Many of the Crimean Tatar families repeatedly forced out of Crimea in the 1960s (and later) did not return to their initial places of exile, but rather settled close to Crimea in the Kherson and the Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine and the Krasnodarskii Krai in the Russian Federation, where they also formed initiative groups of the national movement. Before long, these groups, consisting of people who had endured harsh crimes on their own land, became the most active and dynamic.

 

The 1970s

The authorities' acts against the Crimean Tatar national movement were not limited to repression. Beginning in the 1970s, government agencies began to undertake more and more active measures to split the national movement and to create their own puppet wings and groups within the movement. These wings and groups also declared their aspiration to return the people to their homeland and to restore its statehood, but their chief activity was to send various appeals denouncing activists of the main wing of the national movement and accusing them of anti-Sovietism and of connections with "Western imperialists" and anti-Soviet dissidents to the Supreme Soviet of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, official Soviet bodies, and editors of periodicals. According to these appeals, the activities that they were alleging discredited the Crimean Tatar people in the eyes of the "Soviet people" and the Soviet government and were therefore the main obstacle to Crimean Tatars' returning to Crimea and to the restoration of all their rights. Thus, former KGB lieutenant colonel Alexander Kichikhin, who used to work in the department responsible for "supervision" of national and human-rights movements in the USSR, confirmed in an October 1993 interview on Radio Liberty that the KGB established three different trends as alternatives to the main wing of the Crimean Tatar national movement.

In addition, the ideological department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan, in cooperation with its counterpart department in the KGB, systematically wrote and disseminated, primarily by mail, various typewritten letters with crude defamatory fabrications against the entire national movement as well as its individual activists. Most of these letters were disseminated over the signatures of anonymous entities, such as "representatives of the Crimean Tatar intelligentsia", "Crimean Tatar Communists" and "veterans of party, war and labor". Sometimes these leaflets would bear the signatures of Crimean Tatars who occupied prestigious positions, but it was later revealed that the majority of these signatures were collected under pressure from the authorities.

 

The 1980s

The democratization process, which began in the country in the late 1980s, was naturally conducive to yet more activation and consolidation of the Crimean Tatar national movement.

On 11 to 12 April 1987, a highly representative forum -the First АН-Union Conference of Representatives of the National Movement's Initiative Groups - was convened in Tashkent This forum adopted an appeal to Mikhail Gorbachev, formulating the chief demands of the Crimean Tatars and naming the sixteen representatives selected to conduct negotiations.

Since there was no response to this appeal, on which roughly forty thousand signatures had been gathered in a short period, the next all-Union conference, held on 13 to 14 June 1987, resolved to send a delegation to Moscow with as many people as possible to perpetrate actions with the goal of attracting the attention of the country's leadership and society to the Crimean Tatar issue. This conference also elected the first leadership organ of the national movement, the Central Initiative Group, which consisted of fifteen members.

On 6 and 23 July 1987, hundreds of Crimean Tatars who had arrived in Moscow held the first open demonstrations in the history of the Soviet regime on Red Square, notwithstanding the threats of force against them. These demonstrations and their devastation by militia and special security groups became one of the headline stories in the world's leading publications, radio, and television. The Soviet authorities responded to this with a TASS announcement on 24 July 1987, which contained vicious concoctions and insults to the entire Crimean Tatar people and announced the establishment of a state committee on Crimean Tatar issues led by the chairman of the USSR Supreme Soviet, Andrei Gromyko.

The TASS announcement gave rise to an outburst of indignation among Crimean Tatars and an unprecedented rise in the national movement. A wave of meetings and demonstrations rolled through all places where Crimean Tatars lived. Eleven months later, Gromyko's committee published its findings and conclusions, the gist of which was that Crimean Tatars would not be returned to Crimea and that it would be impossible to restore the Crimean ASSR, since, as a result of postwar demographic changes, Russians and Ukrainians constituted the majority of Crimea's population.

There followed new meetings and demonstrations, some of which, (those in Tashkent, Moscow, and Taman), were broken up by the militia. In response to the authorities' cruelty and as a sign of protest against the conclusions of Gromyko's committee, the first general Crimean Tatar strikes were announced in Uzbekistan and Krasnodarski Krai, as a result of which more than fifteen hundred people were dismissed from their jobs.

For the overwhelming majority of Crimean Tatars, it became clear that they should not count on the government to help them return to their native land. Hundreds of families, overcoming vari­ous obstacles put in place by the authorities in their places of exile, began to emigrate to Crimea, where they met with the traditional resistance of the authorities of the Crimean oblast It is true that Crimean officials could no longer, as they had earlier, overtly announce that there was no place for Tatars in Crimea, although some officials still did; they also could no. longer expel (hem beyond the borders of Crimea with the application of violence or throw them in prison for violation of passport regime regulations. Glasnost and democracy augmented by the force of the national movement barred such tactics. Now, more emphasis was placed on such activities as the creation of bureaucratic obstacles, "work" with the Russian-speaking population so that its members would not sell their houses to Crimean Tatars, and the exacerbation of interethnic tension.

And once again, in order to receive residence permits and register their already purchased housing, Crimean Tatars were forced to resort to meetings, demonstrations, pickets, and hunger strikes in protest. For instance, from 17 through 21 May 1988, approximately one hundred Crimean Tatars held a four-day-long nonstop demonstration at the building of the Bakhchysarai Regional Executive Committee, which the authorities wanted to keep ethnically "clean" from the region's native residents, before the first few Crimean Tatar families were allowed to obtain residence permits, Crimean Tatars were forced to use similar methods or several other forms of struggle and protest almost everywhere. As a result, the strength of the Crimean Tatar population in Crimea doubled within a year, and by April 1989, it already amounted to some forty thousand.

Gradually, the epicenter of the national movement and the struggles of the Crimean Tatar people moved from Uzbekistan to the people's native territory. The last major forum of the national movement activists -the Fifth АН-Union Conference of Initiative Group Representatives - took place from 29 April through 2 May 1989 in the city of Yangiyul in the Tashkent region. At this conference, the decision was made by an overwhelming majority of votes to establish a sociopolitical organization on the basis of the existing initiative groups which would have a fixed membership, its own regulations, and a clear-cut program: the Organization of the Crimean Tatar National Movement (OKND). The Central Council and the chairman of the organization were elected by secret ballot for one-year terms.

Since then, all major forums, congresses, and meetings of the OKND Central Council have been held in Crimea. One after another, most of the OKND Central Committee members moved to Crimea, as the ever increasing Crimean Tatar population in the peninsula and their intensifying opposition to the local authorities required better-organized and more goal-oriented actions.

Soon OKND divisions were established in all the Crimean Tatar settlements within Crimea; their representatives met every two weeks - and, depending on the circumstances, sometimes more often - to analyze the information arriving from different settlements and to make suitable decisions. This allowed for more control of the situation, a more effective defense of their compatriots' rights, the neutralization of provocations being prepared by the authorities, and the timely prevention of impending local interethnic conflicts.

Meanwhile, the possibilities for Crimean Tatars to move by means of acquiring real estate were significantly reduced by the sharp increase in the price of property in Crimea due to the massive reentry of Crimean Tatars and the decrease in prices for those selling their houses in previous places of exile. The question arose of allotting land to those returning to Crimea, which would enable them to build housing for themselves, but to all of the Crimean Tatars' appeals the authorities answered that there were no vacant lots, while they began to distribute land rapidly for vegetable gardens and the construction of housing and dachas for the Russian-speaking population of Crimea. Sometimes these lots were simply thrust upon Russians at their workplaces (for instance, at the Photon and the Phiolent plants in Simferopol), appealing to their "patriotic duty" and explaining that otherwise the lands could become the property of returning Crimean Tatars and that Crimea would become "Tatar" territory. In the Bakhchysarai district, there were cases where chairmen of collective farms and village councils and party leaders toured villages and tried to persuade Russians not only to take pieces of land for vegetable gardens and dachas for themselves, but also to invite their relatives and friends from outside of Crimea as quickly as possible, promising them comprehensive aid in constructing housing, getting settled, and finding work. The argument was the same: otherwise, Crimea could become "Tatar". During a relatively short period, over 150,000 estates were distributed. Later, newspapers were full of advertisements offering to sell a dacha or a piece of land or to exchange it for a video-cassette recorder, a car, or some other item.

Collective and state farms and district executive committees began to conclude dozens of agreements with various Russian trusts and associations which allowed the latter to obtain land for construction of housing or other objects in exchange for construction materials, fuel, and other goods.

Under these conditions, the Central Council of the OKND, at its session on 9 to 10 June 1989, resolved to "provide every conceivable support and assistance" to Crimean Tatars who would occupy plots to build housing in Crimea without official permission.

The first unauthorized occupation of empty plots of land by Crimean Tatars occurred in August 1989 in the Bakhchysarai district and then the practice spread all over Crimea. The authorities responded by destroying Crimean Tatar tent settlements, initiating criminal proceedings, and making arrests. In several instances, the authorities tried - and, unfortunately, not without success - to draw the Russian-speaking civilian populations from surrounding villages into their pogroms against the shelters that the Crimean Tatars had constructed, which created a serious threat of a widespread interethnic conflict. The local newspapers were full of articles condemning "Tatar extremists" and the OKND. Functionaries from the puppet organs of Tatar trends and groups dutifully linked up with this propaganda, as did some Crimean Tatar individuals who were simply lured in closer to the Crimean administration. It was primarily due to these Crimean Tatars that the so-called Committee on Deported Peoples' Issues was later formed. It was supervised by the Crimean administration and took care of the allotment - or, more accurately, the squandering and misappropriation - of the funds allocated by Ukraine to the program for the return to Crimea of Crimean Tatars and other deported ethnic groups.

Nevertheless, due to the desperate persistence of the Crimean Tatars, in the overwhelming majority of cases the plots they had occupied remained with them, and the authorities, after a certain amount of time, were forced to "legalize" the ownerships. This later allowed them to answer criticism of their repressive policies by referring to the large number of legalized estates and pointing out how many of them had been "allotted" to Crimean Tatars. Therefore, tens of thousands of Crimean Tatar families had the opportunity to return to their native land over the next two to three years.

Further developments in the USSR which clearly manifested themselves as signs of the collapse of the Soviet Empire and transformation of the USSR's "Union republics" into independent states seriously troubled Soviet patriotic circles in Crimea, especially the Crimean Regional Committee of the Communist Party. These forces began an intense campaign to exaggerate the issue of the "illegality" of the USSR Supreme Soviet's edict of 19 February 1954 on the transfer of Crimea from Russia to Ukraine - as though except for this particular edict, all other decisions issued by the tsarist and Bolshevik regimes concerning Crimea had been absolutely legal and just. And it was the Crimean Communist Party Regional Committee - which earlier regarded the mere mention by Crimean Tatars of the necessity of restoring the Crimean ASSR, which had been liquidated after their deportation, almost as a criminal offense - that first spoke about "the self-determination of the Crimean people" and (with Moscow's support) organized a campaign to hold a referendum on the formation of a Crimean ASSR, which would join the USSR on the basis of some "union treaty." But, of course, they were not talking about the self-determination of the Crimean Tatar people, the majority of whom continued to live in exile, but rather the "self-determination" of postv.ar settlers, mostly from Russia, who constituted the bulk of the population. Thus, the idea was to establish - on the historic territory of Crimean Tatars - an essentially Russian autonomy with broad plenary powers which, depending on the situation, could join Russia, the historic motherland of the majority of postwar settlers, or could be an independent republic for a while.

 

The 1990s

The OKND denounced this shady enterprise, regarding it as a violation of the legal rights and interests of the native people of Crimea, and called far its compatriots to boycott the referendum scheduled for 20 January 1991, the outcome of which was predetermined.

There were certain hopes that the authorities of Ukraine would take measures against this referendum - if not as a defense of the legal rights of the Crimean Tatar people, then for the sake of protecting its own sovereignty and territorial integrity. Moreover, this referendum contradicted the Ukrainian law on referendums, which stipulated that decisions concerning the status of one or another part of Ukraine would be made only on the basis of the results of a national not a regional, referendum.

However, the Communist majority of the Ukrainian Parliament legalized the results of the Crimean referendum and established the territorial Crimean ASSR by passing its own resolution on 12 February 1991. Although representatives of the OKND were admitted into the Ukrainian Parliament's session room, their persistent demands to the prodemocratic deputies were disregarded, and they were not even allowed to make a presentation, even though the issue concerned the fate of their homeland's status/The administration of the Crimean Communist Party Regional Committee made the argument that the OKND did not represent the entire Crimean Tatar people and that the Tatars had various political trends which adhered to various political views.

On 26 June 1991, in Simferopol the first congress of representatives of the Crimean Tatar people - opened since the establishment of Soviet power. Delegates to the Kurultai were elected in all Crimean Tatar settlements in the USSR.

The Kurultai declared illegal the territorial autonomy in Crimea that had been established against the will of the Crimean Tatar people, adopted the Declaration on the National Sovereignty of the Crimean Tatar People, and elected by secret ballot a single supreme representative organ of the Crimean Tatar people: the Mejlis.

Soon after, the Mejlis launched the formation of local organs of national self-government on the entire territory of Crimea, including rural, village, and regional mejlises and committees in temporary Crimean Tatar settlements outside of Crimea's borders to aid Tatars in returning to their homeland.


This text was translated from the Russian by Sanoma Lee Kellogg and Inna Pidlusk. (Reprinted from a book "Crimea: Dynamics, Challenges, and Prospects" edited by Maria Drohobycky and published in the USA byRowman Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1995.)

This website was created with the support of: IRI www.iri.org  and  CO "Foundation for Development of Crimea" www.cdf.org.ua;  2, Shmidt Str., Simferopol, Crimea, tel.:273526© 2011 QTMM.ORG All rights reserved.