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Explainer: Crimean Tatars were sent to exile 78 years ago today

  • 18 May 2022

The Turkic Muslim minority are the silent victims of several centuries of oppression and they continue to be at the receiving end even today.

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With the decision of the Soviet Union leader Josef Stalin, the Crimean Tatars were picked up from their homes on May 18 1944, in midnight raids and exiled to Central Asia in train cars. The pain is still felt by their descendants.

Russian rulers always saw the Black Sea and the Crimean peninsula from a strategic lens while ignoring the human aspect of it. To maintain their dominance in the region, Russian rules in various phases of history deployed the policy of oppression and extermination against the Crimean Tatars. It all began from 1762 as the reign of Russian Tsarina Catherine II  began. The oppression was repeated in other periods of history.

The Crimean Khanate, separated from the Ottoman Empire with the Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainarji (Kucuk Kaynarca) signed in 1774, was occupied by Russia in 1783. A tough fate awaited the Crimean Tatars.

Tens of thousands of Crimean Tatars had to migrate to different regions of the Ottoman Empire. Russian rulers made life difficult for them.

In World War II, Soviet Russia handed over Crimea to the Germans. The Crimean Tatars took their place in the Soviet ranks and successfully fought against Nazi Germany. Despite this, Russian commanders accused the Crimean Tatars of "collaborating with the Germans".

After the Russian Red Army recaptured Crimea from Hitler's Germany, the Crimean Tatars began to face pressure from the Russians. Reports were prepared against the Crimean Tatars to the Soviet administration and demanded the complete expulsion of the Crimean Tatars from their homeland.

The leader of the Soviet Union, Josef Stalin, signed a secret decree and decided to exile the Crimean Tatars to Central Asia. The deportation of the Crimean Tatars began on May 18 1944, at around 3 a.m. By June 1, Russia closed the operation.

As World War II continued, most Crimean Tatar men fought alongside the Soviet army against Hitler's Germany. Soviet soldiers entered the homes of Tatars in Crimea in midnight raids. Awakening women, children and older people from sleep, the soldiers gathered them at town squares and then bundled them into train cars. Nearly 250,000 Crimean Tatars were exiled to Central Asia within three days. Almost half of the deported Tatars died on the way due to disease, starvation and other challenging conditions.

After expelling the Crimean Tatars from the peninsula, new campaigns were started to erase the Turkish culture and other indigenous communities. By 1944, the Soviet Union replaced the Turkish names of every town and neighbourhood with Russian.

After the death of Stalin, Crimea was gifted to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic on the anniversary of the union of Ukraine with Russia.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the homeland of the Crimean Tatars became the Autonomous Republic of Crimea in Ukraine.

Russia illegally annexed Crimea in 2014. As a result, Crimean Tatars again became victims of the policy of repression, as it was during the reign of Catherine II and Stalin.

Those seen as a potential danger among the Crimean Tatars were imprisoned on flimsy charges. In addition, prominent Crimean Tatars were banned from entering the peninsula.

Russia declared the Crimean Tatar National Assembly an "extremist organisation", banning its activities.

Thousands of Crimean Tatars have left the peninsula in recent years due to the Russian administration's iron-fisted rule.

In the peninsula, the raids on the houses, mosques and kindergartens reportedly continue, so do arbitrary arrests of people under draconian laws.

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