Jan 23, 2007

Crimean Tartars: Protest to Reclaim Lands

Thousands protest on Monday to demand the return of land seized more than sixty years ago, which led to the deportation of the Crimean Tartar community.

Below is an excerpt from an article published by Kyiv Post: 

Thousands of Crimean Tatars rallied Monday on Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula to demand the return of land seized after Soviet leader Josef Stalin forced the deportation of their ethnic group more than 60 years ago.

Lilya Muslimova, press secretary for the Tatar Mejlis, or Assembly, said that some 12,000 Tatars from across Crimea had gathered in front of the main government building in the regional capital, Simferopol, to demand that their land claims be honored. Regional police put the number at about 5,000.  

The protesters - banging metal barrels and waving national flags - also were demonstrating against changes to the criminal code that toughen penalties for the illegal seizure of land, which they fear is meant to deter them from pushing their land claims. Some Tatars, frustrated by the government's lack of response, have physically taken over land on the Black Sea peninsula or attempted to block access to the current owners.  

"The land issue has been dragged out, and people have had enough," Muslimova said by telephone.  In 1944, Stalin accused the Crimean Tatars of collaborating with Germany's Nazis and ordered some 200,000 deported to Central Asia. Many have returned since the 1991 Soviet collapse and have sought - mostly unsuccessfully - to reclaim property, raising tension on the multi-ethnic peninsula.  

Protests are common, but they rarely attract more than a few hundred people.