May 30, 2011

Crimean Tatars: Is Massive Deportation an Act of Genocide?

The Georgian Parliament’s recent declaration that the Russian Empire committed genocide against the Circassian people has had a broad resonance in post-soviet space, opening a wide discussion on the Crimean Tatars situation. 

Below is an article published by Kyiv Post:

The Georgian parliament’s decision last week to declare the Russian repression of the Circassians 150 years ago a genocide, a decision that has infuriated Moscow, could have a far broader impact than even its critics have suggested.

Indeed, it could lead other groups victimized in the past to seek similar declarations from governments in the region now.

That possibility is suggested by the proposal of the Ukrainian Peoples Party this week that the Ukrainian government declare the deportation of the Crimean Tatars by Stalin in 1944 “an act of genocide and a crime against humanity,” something for which international law specifies that there is no statute of limitations.

Oleg Fomushkin, the head of the Crimean section of that party, said that “at the moment [of the deportation of the Crimean Tatars in May 1944], “51 percent of Crimean Tatar men had been mobilized and were fighting in the ranks of the Red Army and [an additional] 11 percent fought in partisan units.”

As a result, the Ukrainian Peoples Party continued, Stalin’s deportation of the Crimean Tatars in the first instance involved “older people, women and children” rather than those who might as Moscow then charged have collaborated with the invading German forces against the Soviet Union.

“In this way, the actions of the Communist powers, in terms of the UN Convention ‘On the Prevention of the Crime of Genocide and Punishment for It’ falls under the definition of genocide since for the Crimean Tatars were intentionally created conditions which were calculated to lead to the full or partial destruction” of that people.

According to researchers, during “only the first years” of exile in Central Asia, Siberia and the Urals, “almost half” of the Crimean nation was lost” to premature deaths. Moreover, that exile continued for almost all until the end of 1989 and continues for more than 150,000 to this day, making genocide charges in this case especially explosive.

Moreover, for almost half a century, the Crimean Tatars were “deprived of the rights of ethnic self-identification” by the Soviet authorities who refused to allow them to call themselves Crimean Tatars and who prohibited the use of the Crimean Tatar language in schools and kindergartens as part of an effort to destroy any future for that nation.

Over the last week, Russian media outlets have been full of attacks on the Georgian decision. (See others: source 1, source 2, source 3, source 4).

But almost all of them have focused only on the impact of Tbilisi’s decision on the North Caucasus rather than discussing the ways in which the Georgian Parliament’s declaration that the Russian Empire committed a genocide against the Circassians has broader implications for the Russian Federation and indeed for Eurasia as a whole.

An exception to this is an article by a pro-Russian journalist in Ukraine who in an article posted online today explicitly considers the ways in which the Circassian decision may have an impact on the Crimean Tatars and through the Crimean Tatars on other groups inside the borders of the Russian Federation and other post-Soviet states.

In an essay posted on the portal, Vladislav Gulyevich, a commentator for Kyiv’s “Chas Pik” weekly, argues that “Crimea and the project of Greater Circassia are steps along the path to the conquest of the entire Caucasus region” by the Western powers with Russian influence there being excluded.

The success of such an enterprise, he argues, would hurt “not only Russia but also Turkey which would find itself in the position of ‘a loser who had not fought.’” And that, Gulyevich argues, makes the ideas of Ismail Gasprinsky “about the unity of Slavs and Turks“ especially important and a possible barrier to the further unraveling of Russia and its neighbors.

Gasprinsky’s name and works may not be widely known in many quarters, but that appears likely to change in the coming weeks, given his ideas on this point which Gulyevich outlines with approval and given a conference this week in Moscow on the great Crimean Tatar thinker on his 160th birthday.

That conference as well as Gasprinsky’s ideas are likely to make the issue of the Soviet genocide of the Crimean Tatars not only the focus of political debates in Kyiv and Moscow but also lead other peoples, themselves victimized by Russian imperialism, to seek recognition from other governments of what was done to them.