May 18, 2012

Crimean Tatars: 68th Anniversary of Sürgün

18 May 2012 marks a day of remembrance by Crimean Tatars worldwide for the victims of the Crimean Tatar Genocide (Sürgün), where huge numbers of Crimean Tatars were forcibly deported from Crimea to Siberia and Uzbekistan by the Soviet government. 

Below is an interview with Dr Sezai Ozcelik published by

On May 18, 2012, the Crimean Tatars worldwide, including Crimean Tatar-Americans, will commemorate the 68th anniversary of the Crimean Tatar Genocide — the Surgun, our Day of Mourning. What is this date for you personally?

Personally, it is very one of the most important dates for me. I am ethnically a Crimean Tatar. My father side has migrated from Crimea to Turkey (or Aktopraklar) during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878. My mother side was migrated in 1944 from Romania, Constanta. They also came to Turkey.

Although my family has not been directly affected by the Surgun on May 18, 1944, I always commemorate this date every year. On that date, all Crimean Tatars who live in Crimean has been forcefully deported from their homeland into Siberia, Uzbekistan, and other places in the former Soviet Union. 

During the mass deportation, almost 50 percent of the Crimean Tatars perished. The Crimean Tatars all over the world has organized different activities and events. Of course, the most important and comprehensive events happen in Crimea. I am glad that since 1989, the Crimean Tatars have been returning to Crimea. Right now, they have reached almost % 12 of the Crimea population. This is a good news for the Crimean Tatar cause. But it is not enough.

As a member of the Crimean Tatar diaspora, I have been actively working on the Crimean Tatar Genocide (Surgun) issue. When I was in the USA during my education, I have attended the commemoration of the Surgun at the American Association of the Crimean Turks in Brooklyn, New York City. Also, we have visited a small but very powerful national monument that was erected at Washington Memorial Park on Long Island, New York. I had a chance to meet the leader of the Crimean Tatars, Mr. Mustafa Abdulcemil Kirimoglu during his visit in the United States in the late 1990s.

What are prospective of the Crimean Tatar Genocide recognition worldwide?

The recognition of the Crimean Tatar Genocide is the key issue for all Crimean Tatars in the world. The Crimean Tatar Genocide (Surgun) is the cornerstone of the Crimean Tatar national identity. Unfortunately, the national identity of the Crimean Tatars is closely linked to this tragic event happened on 18th May 1944. If a person suffers from death of a close relative, we can categorized this as a tragic event or a trauma.

After a travmatic incident, a person usually go through a process of reconciliation. The rituals of reconciliation have utmost importance in human societies. A person should pass through different stages. Like a human being, an ethnic group may have suffered from some traumatic events like the Crimean Tatar Genocide (the surgun).

As a result, ethnic groups should heal and reconcile with their pasts. The reconciliation process include acknowledgement, mourning and forgiveness. In order to heal, sufferings and traumas of the ethnic groups should be acknowledged by the perpetrator. The recognition of the Crimean Tatar Genocide by the Russians is very important for reconciliation and healing of the Crimean Tatars. In my opinion, the prospective of the recognition of the Crimean Tatar Genocide is very slim because first the Russians should acknowledge their wrongdoings. After that, the Crimean Tatars can move to the other stages: mourning and forgiveness. There is a need for explicit acknowledgement and acceptance of moral responsibility of the Crimean Tatar Genocide. After that, the Crimean Tatars can move toward problem-solving and complete their reconciliation process.

The Crimean Tatars are a very proud nation. They don't want outside forces to use their grievances about the Surgun into their political purposes. Also, they are not like other diasporas like Armenian diasporas that have had more effects on the major power foreign policy. The Crimean Tatars have unable to raise their voice in international platform.

In short, I am not expecting the recognition of the Crimean Tatar Genocide in the short run. But like Serbia if Ukraine and Russia move toward the Western world and institutions like the European Union, it may open a door for them to face their past histories and wrongdoings like the Crimean Tatar Genocide. In short, the international pressure can play a key role to recognition of any genocide and massacre.

Azerbaijani Diaspora is going to join commemoration event scheduled in New-York at 68th Anniversary of the Crimean Tatar Deportation. What kind of role may such kind events play in recognition of the Surgun?

I am very happy that our Azerbaijani friends are shoulders to shoulders with us and sharing our sorrow and pains. In addition, other nations that were deported during the 1944-45 period by the Stalin regime has been also supporting the Crimean Tatar cause. The Azerbaijani Diaspora also shares similar traumas and tragic events such as the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. I think both nations can understand each other because they have similar experiences. I think this also helps for both diasporas and nations to go through the conflict resolution.

It is important that both nations use this opportunity to commemorate their past grievances. The solidary between two nations can only have positive psychological effects but also political consequences. When they show common stand on the recognition of the Surgun, it can give more strength on their common struggles against the perpetrators.

How would you estimate the present situation with Crimean Tatars? What are their major problems and goals?

The present situation of the Crimean Tatars is a frozen conflict. During the first decades of the returning of the Crimean Tatars into their homeland, there has been more international and domestic support about the Crimean Tatars cause. But during the 2000s, the Crimean Tatars question has faded from the international and domestic agenda. The nature of the Crimean Tatar struggle can be chacterized as a long but a strong nonviolent movement. It has been ups and downs but slowly but surely, the Crimean Tatars have been struggling not only the recognition of the Crimean Tatar Genocide (the Surgun) but also the return of their homeland. In this struggle, the Crimean Tatar diasporas in Turkey, the Europe and the USA has played a key role to become a force in foreign policy of the Crimean Tatars.

The most important problem of the Crimean Tatars is the lack of interest about their struggle in the world. Second, the domestic power struggle in Ukraine between Russians and Ukrainians may have spillover effects in Crimea. During the western-oriented government in Ukraine, the Crimean Tatars have enjoyed relative positive developments in their situations. But when the Russian-oriented government has won elections in Ukraine, the Crimean Tatars situations have deteriorated in terms of human rights and democracy.

The third problem is economic in which the Crimean Tatars have had the worst social, economic and cultural development indicators. Another problem is the identity crisis of the Crimean Tatar diaspora. Yes, the Surgun is the most important cornerstone of the Crimean Tatar identity. Yet most Crimean Tatar diasporas who have not gone through the Surgun has assimilated into their country. We have not seen a real diaspora nationalism among the Crimean Tatars who live in Turkey and the USA. Some of young generations have been revitalized the Crimean Tatar identity but that is not enough.
The most important goal of the Crimean Tatars is the recognition of the Crimean Tatar Genocide (the Surgun). Second, they would like unite all Crimean Tatars diaspora in Crimea. The goal is not only return of the Surgun victims but also all Crimean Tatars diasporas (Turkey, the USA, Germany) into their homeland. Third, the Crimean Tatars aim that Ukraine should integrate into the Western world and the Western institutions, namely the European Union. The last but the least one is the creation of the autonomous Crimean Tatar Republic.