The European Parliament hosted a delegation of Crimean Tatars on February 1, nearly four years after their ancestral homeland was illegally seized by Russia in the wake of Ukraine’s pro-Western EuroMaidan Revolution.
The Crimean Tatars – a Muslim, Turkic-speaking nationality descended from medieval Mongol Hordes – made up roughly 20 percent of Crimea’s population prior to 2014. Deported en masse by Stalin to Central Asia in 1944, they were only allowed to return to Crimea after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.
In the 20 years since their return from Uzbekistan the Crimean Tatars settled into a difficult, but prosperous life in the villages they built in the wake of their repatriation.
The Crimean Tatars have tried, mostly in vain, to garner international and EU support for their plight following Moscow’s seizure of the strategic Black Sea peninsula in February 2014. They have been the victims of a campaign by Russia’s FSB security services to suppress any dissent within the Tatar community, who overwhelmingly opposed Russia’s illegal takeover. They’ve received little outside support from the West or their ethnic and religious kin in Turkey. That the EU parliament, led by Lithuanian MP Petras Auštrevičius, Green Party MEP Rebecca Harms, and Czech parliamentarian and former journalist Jaromír Štětina, took the time to address an ongoing humanitarian issue in a part of the world that generally gets little attention is significant.
The situation in Crimea for the indigenous Tatars is untenable. As steadfast critics of Russia’s actions over the last four years, the Tatars have seen members of their media outlets, community leaders, and political organisations – the Mejlis – arrested, deported, or disbanded.
Their exiled leaders Akhtem Chiygoz, Ilmi Umerov, and Mustafa Dzhemilyev did their best to, once again, bring Brussels’ attention back to the plight of a nation that has endured not one, but two, hostile acts of oppression in the last 80 years.
One week after the world marked Holocaust Remembrance Day and the immediate outcry over Poland’s new draft law criminalising the suggestion that Poles took part in Nazi war crimes – it is time for the West to address the ongoing suppression of another minority on its doorstep.
The Poles may want to try and erase the memory of their complicity in the killing of Jews in the Jedwabne Pogrom during World War II and the Palestinians may not want to talk about the role Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini played in collaborating with the Nazis, nor is the 1948 massacre of Palestinians at Deir Yassin discussed much in polite Israeli society.
The Turks long ago criminalised any mention of the nearly 2 million Armenians they murdered during the First World War and Ukrainian nationalists are never interested in bringing up the amount of blood that was spilt by the UPA and OUN militias’ execution of Poles in Volyn, the sort of amnesia that is only returned by Russians’ inability to comprehend the magnitude of the Soviet NKVD’s cold-blooded murder of Ukrainians during the Holodomor, Poles in Katyn, Belarusians and Jews in Kurapaty, or Moscow’s forced deportation of Chechens, Ingushetians, and Crimean Tatars, to Central Asia.
But all of these are facts. Historical facts. They are also cases where the memory of the tragedy faded as quickly as alliances and political circumstances shifted.
The Crimean Tatars hope that their current situation under Vladimir Putin’s Russia does not end up as a footnote like incidents from the last century. – NW