Jul 17, 2015

Crimean Tatars: Documentarian Reveals New Hardships Faced by the Community

 Ksenia Giorno, a Ukrainian director, has risked her life to reveal the hardships suffered by Crimean Tatars living under the conditions of the illegal Russian annexation of the territory. The film demonstrates that, despite Russian claims to the contrary, the authorities have followed a deliberate policy of persecution of Crimean Tatars.


See the full article, published by KyivPost, below:

The irony and sadness of the fate of the Crimean Tatars runs through "Qirim," a short documentary by Ksenia Giorno, a Ukrainian director based in the United Arab Emirates. The film portrays three generations of Crimean Tatars, drawing parallels between the past and the present situation in Crimea, in which the Tatars have again become exiles - but in their own homeland.

Russia, after invading and then illegally annexing the Ukrainian territory of Crimea in February-March 2014, then instigated an armed conflict in Ukraine’s Donbas, and the fate of the Crimean Tatars dropped out of the limelight somewhat. Seeing this, Giorno realized she could use her filmmaking to remind the international community about what had happened to the Crimean Tatar people.

“The only possible thing I could contribute was to shoot a film and expand the world’s view of the Crimean Tatars as an ethnic group, and their living conditions under the Russian authorities,” Giorno told the Kyiv Post by Skype.

The resulting film, “Qirim, has already won praise at the Cannes Film Festival, where it was shown as part of the non-competitive Short Film Corner. It has also won its first international award – a Bronze Remi Award at the Houston Film Festival. The film will be screened at the Odesa Film Festival as a part of a program entitled, “Way to Freedom.”

With the isolation of the Crimean peninsula growing as the Russian authorities tightened their grip on the Ukrainian territory, Giorno reached out over the Internet for contacts in the Crimean Tatar community to make the film.

“I communicated with a young Crimean Tatar woman on Facebook when Russia annexed the peninsula,” Giorno said. “She told me how things were changing; we even discussed possible places for her family to move to the UAE, or my hometown Vinnytsia. But they refused to move from Crimea.”

The woman’s Crimean Tatar family agreed that Giorno could come to them in the summer of 2014 to shoot the documentary. But due to the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 on July 17, all flights were canceled. It wasn’t until October that Giorno managed to reach the peninsula, where she spent a week filming.

To be on the safe side, Giorno went to Russian-annexed Crimea alone, with just her camera and a tripod. She said people tried to persuade her not to go, but her desire to make sure the story of Crimean Tatars was heard outside Ukraine was too strong.

Fears for her safety may have been justified: Giorno said she received threats after filming her first interview in public.

“People were afraid to talk. No one shared their opinion (in public), only inside the family, and nothing was (said) in the streets,” she said. “It was scary to ask (questions), because people inform easily on each other.”

After filming, Giorno uploaded her footage to the Internet. She left Crimea without evidence of the recordings on her person.

In contrast to the recent Russian propaganda documentary “Crimea: The Way Back Home,” Giorno’s film does not portray a traditional chronological order of events, and does not feature the mendacious speeches of politicians. Instead, it provides insight into the everyday life of Crimean Tatars and the humiliations they now suffer under Russian rule. 

For example, Russian authorities have invaded or raided Tatar homes, schools and mosques on false pretenses. They’ve in addition closed the Crimean Tatar library and television channel and banned some 2,000 books on Islam.

Qirim also addresses the ability to live with the past and understand how to deal with painful memories. In a larger context, the film focuses on human experiences of past traumas, and ways to go forward to the future. Giorno’sability to identify emotionally with the historical experience of the Crimean Tatars helps her not only to tell their story to the world, but helps Ukrainians to understand the effect of the past on the present.

The film touches on the greatest tragedy in the Crimean Tatar’s history, when on May 18, 1944 the entire nation, accused by Stalin of collaborating with the Nazis, was deported from Crimea on the Soviet dictator’s orders.

A woman in the film who experienced the deportation recalls the official slander of the Soviet Union, which branded the Tatars as betrayers, and collaborators with fascists and killers of Russians. Her memories evoke eerie echoes of present-day Russian propaganda on Ukraine.

“Uzbekistan (where I settled) was not our homeland, Russia was not our homeland. We do not have any other homeland but Crimea,” says the voice of a woman off camera.

“Many questions were raised during interviews, but I wasn’t able to use all of them in the film, or even some people’s faces,” Giorno says.

“All of the Crimean Tatars I met support Ukraine,” she says. “(At first) people were proud about not handing in their Ukrainian passports. But it soon became dangerous and impossible to resist. They are hostages in their homeland.”

While Russia claims there is no problem with the Crimean Tatars, the facts tell a different story. The Russian authorities even prohibited the commemoration of the anniversary of the nation’s deportation in 1944.

“A Muslim is a Muslim everywhere,” says a young man in the film. Muslims in the Soviet Union lived for years is a state where (the existence of) God was denied, meaning several generations were not capable of fully incorporating their religion in everyday life.

“In Russia there are slightly different traditions of Islam. The first thing (the Russian authorities) did was replace local (Crimean) imams with imams from Russia and the Central Asia,” said Girono. “Yet, the faith will remain the faith.”

Giorno’s goal in making her film was also to show the high level of tolerance in Ukraine to diverse nationalities and cultures.

“For me Ukraine is much more tolerant than some European countries,” she says.

But the director acknowledges there is deadlock over the question of Crimea. And as time passes, and Crimea moves forward into the future, its ties with Ukraine will gradually weaken.

“People get used to a (new) regime sooner or later,” Giorno said. “No one needs another change of passports.”



Photo credit: Vyacheslav Argenberg @Flickr