The Crimean Tatars, Crimea, and Turkey

Submitted by AWL on 8 January, 2020 - 10:51 Author: Melek Maksodoglu
Crimean Tatar

Conditions are bad for the Crimean Tatar community in Crimea, under Russian rule since Putin annexed Crimea in 2014.

No Crimean Tatar organisations are able to operate. The sixteen Crimean Tatar language schools have all been closed. The Crimean Tatar library has been shut down. The Crimean Tatar university (Tavriva) has had to move to Kiev.

The Crimean Tatar TV channel has been taken over by the Russian authorities. Of the three Crimean Tatar newspapers, two have been shut down, and one is now run by the Russian authorities.

There have been lots of kidnappings and disappearances of activists. For example, three years ago Ervin Ivraginov, a member of the Crimean Tatar parliament which operated within Crimea when Crimea was part of Ukraine, had traffic police stop his car. He was dragged into a van and has not been heard of since.

Another Crimean Tatar activist was kidnapped at the time of the staged referendum in 2014, and his body was dumped, with the eyes gouged out, in the Crimean parliament building.

There are at least 183 Crimean Tatar political prisoners in jail, mostly still waiting for trial.

An organisation called “Our Children” campaigns for 186 Crimean Tatar children whose fathers are in jail or have disappeared.
The everyday religious practice of Islam (most Crimean Tatars are Muslim) is now branded as terrorism.

Crimean Tatar monuments have been destroyed. The Crimean Tatar graveyards levelled by Stalin when he deported the entire Crimean Tatar population during World War 2, in May 1944, have been demolished again.

The Hansaray, or Khan’s Palace, in Bakhceseray (between Sevastopol and Simferopol) is being “renovated” in a way which destroys it. Even Stalin left the Hansaray intact, because it was celebrated in a famous poem by Pushkin, *The Fountain of Bakhceseray*.

Between 20,000 and 50,000 Crimean Tatars have fled, mostly to Kiev, and there are only about 300,000 left in Kiev. We estimate that maybe 500,000 Russians have been moved into Crimea, to change the demographic balance.

Putin is not deporting the Crimean Tatars as Stalin did in 1944, but he is forcing them to leave. Families are divided when young people are able to flee but leave the rest of their families behind.

The Crimean Tatars were allowed back into Crimea, after Stalin’s deportation, only from 1989. From then until the mid-90s, many Crimean Tatars had to live in tents, abandoned shops, railway carriages, and similar. The Crimean Parliament was set up to negotiate with the Ukrainian government (after Ukraine separated from Russia in 1991) for re-housing, and on the whole that worked. Until Russia’s annexation in 2014, conditions were improving.

About five million Crimean Tatars live in Turkey. The only other country with a comparable number is Romania. Those Crimean Tatar communities originate with people fleeing the expansion of the Tsarist empire in the 19th century, mostly first to Romania, and then some of them from Romana to Turkey.

In Turkey, the Crimean Tatar community is concentrated round big cities — Ankara, parts of Istanbul, and Eskişehir. Generally it is a community with above-average qualifications, and more secular than the average in Turkey. Eskişehir has two universities, one of them, through its distance courses, one of the largest universities in the entire world.

Most Crimean Tatars in Turkey speak only Turkish. A large part of the population of Turkey is minorities of one sort or another — Circassian, Bosnian, etc. — but we don’t suffer discrimination as the Kurds do. I remember as a child at school having to declare that I was “proud to be Turkish”, and in that I saw no contradiction with my Crimean Tatar identity.

The Crimean Tatar language is not available in schools in Turkey, but Crimean Tatar cultural associations, dances, food, and commemorations (taking black flowers to the Russian embassy on the anniversary of the mass deportation, displaying the Crimean Tatar flag on Flag Day, 26 June) flourish.

The new disadvantaged minority in Turkey is the Syrian refugees, officially three million of them, maybe in fact five million.

I remember returning to Turkey via Syria after studying in Jordan, and then the whole Turkish-Syrian border was mined. The landmines have been cleared now, and refugees move freely.

At the start, many people welcomed the refugees and wanted to help them, but now there is a lot of hostility, and in fact more from secular people than from the religious.

The Turkish government provides food allowances and health care, and some accommodation in refugee camps, but not enough. But the refugees are banned from working.

They live mostly around Istanbul, in poor conditions, working illegally in construction, on farms, etc. There’s high unemployment, and Turkish people, including Kurdish-Turkish people in Istanbul, are becoming increasingly resentful.

After five years in Turkey, the refugees can apply for Turkish citizenship. A good number must have their five years now. I don’t know how many have applied for citizenship.

The government has started deporting some of the Syrian refugees to the areas of Syria which the Turkish army has taken.

The political parties are not saying much, partly because of the level of repression. The HDP [a leftish party backing Kurdish rights] spoke out well against the Turkish invasion of Syria, but since then many of its leaders have been jailed.

Ekrem İmamoğlu, a member of the CHP [the old Kemalist party, and the biggest anti-Erdogan party] won the mayoral election in Istanbul in June. But his attitude to the Syrian refugees is even worse than the government’s. He has said they should all be sent back to Syria.

• Melek Maksodoglu talked with Martin Thomas from Solidarity.

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