30,000 Crimean Tatars rally in Ukraine marking 62nd anniversary of deportation
May 18 2006
(AP) Thousands of Crimean Tatars marched in the capital of Crimea on Thursday to mark the 62nd anniversary of their deportation from the Black Sea peninsula under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, a forced exile that lasted almost half a century.
"On this day, we remember those who died in foreign lands and those who struggled to return to their homeland," Mustafa Djamiliev, head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, or Assembly, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
The anniversary was being marked in solemn flower-laying ceremonies in Kyiv and a big march of some 30,000 in Simferopol, a Crimean Tatar group said.
The Crimean Tatars, a Muslim Turkic group, had inhabited Crimea for more than seven centuries. In 1944, Stalin accused them of collaborating with the Nazis and ordered the deportation of some 200,000 - about 70 percent of Crimea's population at the time.
Over a three-day period, officers from the Soviet secret police came knocking on their doors to read Stalin's deportation order, victims recalled. Many were given just 20 minutes to pack their belongings and climb aboard freight trains for the long journey to the Central Asian steppe. It was primarily women, children and the elderly, since the Tatar men were serving in the Soviet Army at the time. However, later, Crimean Tatar men were kicked out of the army and also forced into exile. Many families ended up separated.
According to different estimates, between 15 to 46 percent of those deported died of famine and disease.
The Tatars were not allowed to return to their homeland until around the time of the Soviet collapse of 1991. More than 250,000 have returned, where they now make up 13 percent of the population in Crimea. Djamiliev said that about 100,000 still live abroad.
Unemployment is high among the Crimean Tatars today, and many live in grim conditions in villages that lack basics such as water, natural gas and roads. Djamiliev complained that Tatars are still not officially recognized as a nation that was deported. They also lack schools where they can teach their children in their native language, he said.
Ukrainian authorities under President Viktor Yushchenko have pledged to restore Tatars' rights. But Tatars complain the promises remain unfulfilled and in recent years they have encountered difficulties in obtaining citizenship, finding jobs and getting back their land. Additionally, they said there is no regular dialogue between their assembly and the president.
"We have heard a lot of statements but have not seen any concrete actions," said Refat Chubarov, deputy head of the Mejlis.
On Thursday, Yushchenko pledged again to solve the problems of those deported as he participated in a ceremony in Kyiv at a memorial to victims of Stalin's regime.
Crimea remains a potential ethnic flash point for Ukraine. Low-level violence is frequent between Crimean Tatars and ethnic Russians and Ukrainians, who refuse to relinquish land they were given after the Tatars' deportation.
I really wanted to translate something from the book I'm reading now - Gulnara Bekirova's Crimea and Crimean Tatars in the 19th-20th Centuries - Mishah bought it in Moscow. But it's bad to pull things out of the context, and the alternative is to translate it all, which is impossible.
My last year's posts:
- Mustafa Jemilev's interview in Ukraina Moloda
- Mustafa Jemilev's RFE/RL interview
- Stalin's monument in Livadia
- censorship of Crimean Tatar literature - I have to quote it again:
In May 2004, an exhibition of Crimean Tatar samizdat was held in Crimea's capital, Simferopol. Here's a passage on it (in Ukrainian) from Qurultay.org:
From the official literature that began to be published in the Crimean Tatar language in the 1960s, censors used to painstakingly delete any mentions or even associations with Crimea, including the mountains and the sea.
I apologize for posting all this "used" stuff...