Statement by UNPO General Secretary on 70th Anniversary of Crimean Tatars’ Deportation
18 May 2014 will mark the 70th anniversary of the deportation of the entire Crimean Tatar population from their homeland Crimea – the most tragic chapter in the history of this indigenous people. On this day of mourning, on behalf of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), I wish to pay respect to the Crimean Tatars, who despite 70 years of neglect and amidst uncertainty about their future, have not given up their non-violent struggle for the restoration of their rights.
On 12 May 1944, the Red Army defeated Nazi troops in the Crimean peninsula, thus bringing the Crimean Offensive of the Eastern Front to an end. Resolute to punish any person suspected of having collaborated with the Germans during their three-year occupation of the region, Joseph Stalin ordered the deportation of thousands of people to Soviet labour camps. Among them were the Crimean Tatars, who, on 18 May 1944, were deported en masse from their homeland to Central Asia. Half of them died in the long and arduous process of deportation, and those who survived and were released twelve years later had to await Ukrainian independence to eventually return to Crimea.
Since their return, the Crimean Tatars, now counting for only 12 percent of the Crimean population, have encountered a series of socio-economic problems which have left them in a disadvantaged situation. Not only have they been deprived of compensation for the properties they lost during the Soviet period, but they also face high levels of unemployment, land disputes, dilapidated housing, and cultural assimilation. However, despite all the hardship, the Crimean Tatars have continued their non-violent struggle towards the restoration of their political, economic, social and cultural rights. As I noted in my report to the UNPO Presidency in November 2013, prior to the outbreak of the ongoing political crisis in Ukraine, it actually seemed that this effort had started to bear fruit, with EU Member States, the United States and Canada expressing their support for the recognition of the International Forum for the Restoration of the Rights of the Crimean Tatar People and other formerly deported peoples – an initiative put forth by the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People. In this context, timid hope that the 70th anniversary of the deportation could be celebrated with a recognition of the Forum, emerged among Crimean Tatars.
Six months later, having followed the developments in Crimea closely, I can only state that this year the annual commemoration will be different, but regrettably not in the sense it was hoped for. What UNPO expressed fears of in its 1995 yearbook – that the situation of the Crimean Tatars is further complicated by the fact that the (primarily Russian) administration of Crimea wants independence for the peninsula or its annexation by Russia – has now become reality. Consequently, the Crimean Tatars, who boycotted the illegal 16 March 2014 independence referendum, are once again facing incertitude regarding their future, under circumstances distressingly similar to 70 years ago.
Fearing a repetition of history amidst escalating tensions in Crimea, thousands of families have already fled the peninsula to seek refuge in western Ukraine, Turkey and Poland. Those who have stayed, are under increasing pressure from local authorities and ‘self-defense forces’, with cases of physical harassment, house raids, marking of doors, land expropriation, vandalisation of property, and accusation of involvement in extremist activities being reported on a near daily basis. To make things worse, not only have the Crimean authorities barred Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Jemilev, and others, from entering the region for five years, but on 16 May 2014, citing tensions in eastern and southern Ukraine, they banned all rallies from 16 May until 6 June, including the annual 18 May mourning gathering of the Crimean Tatars.
Deeply deploring the precarious situation, in which the Crimean Tatars currently find themselves, I sincerely hope to see the international community realise the need to lend its full support to the Crimean Tatars, and encourage the Crimean Tatars, one of the founding Members of UNPO, to continue their non-violent struggle towards the restoration of their rights.
UNPO General Secretary
A briefing note on the Crimean Tatars, including the recent developments, can be found here.