Aug 13, 2018

Crimean Tatars: Obstacles to Cultural Expression under Russian Occupation

The dismissal of Crimean Tatar managers of cultural institutions in Crimea is an act that undermines the cultural expression of Crimea’s indigenous minority. Official Russian government discourse portrays this minority as a subgroup of the Tatars living in Russia’s republic of Tatarstan, while the Crimean Tatars have their own cultural identity, including a distinct language and traditions. Crimean Tatars fear a worsening of the politically repressive and ecologically destructive attitude of the Russian occupation authorities in their homeland.


For more background information, read our Crimean Tatar timeline.

The article below was published by Euromaidan Press:

The sacking of Bilyal Bilyalov as head of the Crimean Tatar Academic Musical-Dramatic Theater this week on trumped up charges is just the latest move by the Russian occupation forces to undermine and ultimately destroy the history and culture of the Crimean Tatar nation, Zair Smedlyayev says.

The Crimean Tatar activist tells Kseniya Kirillova of Radio Svoboda’s Krym.Realii portal that this latest act has become “yet another step by the Russian authorities on the peninsula intentionally directed at the destruction of Crimean Tatar national identity.”

All these dismissals have two things in common, Smedlyayev says. On the one hand, those involved have not been guilty of “the crimes” that the occupation forces say they are; and on the other, they have not engaged in direct political action. Instead, these artists have been working only to ensure that Crimean Tatar culture survives, something Moscow doesn’t want.

“The Kremlin by all available means is seeking to show that the Crimean Tatars are a people which does not have its own history or culture” and that they are not in fact “an indigenous people of Crimea.” Instead, Moscow promotes the notion that they are “a diaspora” of the Kazan Tatars and thus already have their own statehood within the Russian Federation.

To that end, the occupation forces are not only dismissing important cultural figures but they are destroying cultural monuments, often in the name of “restoring” them as is the case with the khan’s palace, or undermining the survivability of the Crimean Tatar nation by destroying the environment, including water supplies, the nation needs.

For Moscow, Crimea is needed “in the first instance” only as “a military base.” Anything that gets in the way of that must be destroyed, Smedlyayev says. Ensuring that the Crimean Tatars have access to their own culture or even enough fresh water to drink are from the Russian perspective obstacles that need to be eliminated.

The activist also points to another factor at work against the Crimean Tatars since the occupation began in 2014: Moscow has allowed Chinese farmers to come into the peninsula; and they are poisoning the ground water supplies by their use of chemical fertilizers. “This may seriously harm the ecological situation in Crimea,” the activist says.


Photo courtesy of Evgenia Kozlovska @Flickr