Exiled by Stalin, Ukraine ’s Tatars still strugglin g to recover

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Wed May 20 19:35:35 UTC 2009

Exiled by Stalin, Ukraine’s Tatars still struggling to recover

Many Tatars have returned to the Crimean Peninsula, but they continue
fight for the return of their land and rights.

By James Marson | Contributor 05.19.09

Kyiv, Ukraine – Twenty thousand Crimean Tatars marked the 65th
anniversary of their deportation from Crimea in southern Ukraine by
marching in Simferopol, the peninsula’s capital, on Monday. The march
was as much in protest as commemoration, as the Tatars complain that
they have not been treated fairly since they started to return to
their homeland 20 years ago. “[Ukraine] has not passed a single law
aimed at the restoration of the political, economic, social, and
cultural rights of the Crimean Tatar people,” read a resolution by the

The Crimean Tatars had populated the Crimean peninsula for centuries
before Stalin ordered them to be deported in May 1944 on false charges
of collaborating with Nazi forces. Of the more than 180,000 who were
sent by train to Central Asia, almost half died during the first year
(for more on the Tatars, view past Monitor stories here and here).
When they started to return during perestroika in the late 1980s,
things were far from easy. Many sold everything they had in order to
return to Crimea, and then lived in poor conditions.

Tatars now number around 250,000, or 12 percent of Crimea’s
population, but although their situation has improved, a number of
problems still remain, the sorest of which is the question of land. By
law, Tatars should be able to receive land plots to build on, but the
practice is very different. “Local officials prefer to receive bribes
for land than to share it out legally,” says Lilia Budzhurova, a
prominent journalist in Crimea. As a result, many Tatars live on land
that they simply seize and start building on. The Tatars are also
still struggling to preserve their language and have it taught in

If relations were previously “hostile” between local authorities and
the Tatars, they are less so now, says Ms. Budzhurova. “But the
authorities and the media blame the Tatars for trying to get more than
Slavs.”  Crimea’s population, more than 50 percent of which is
ethnically Russian, is well-known for its pro-Russian leanings, which
caused concerns last August that the peninsula would be Russia’s next
target after South Ossetia. The Crimean Tatars have been the Ukrainian
state’s staunchest supporters in Crimea, and politicians in Kyiv
(Kiev) were quick to offer kind words on Monday: Prime Minister Yulia
Tymoshenko promised them “a prosperous European future,” and President
Viktor Yushchenko has called for an investigation into the repression
of Tatars during Soviet times.

But some Tatars accuse the government in Kyiv of not doing enough.
Last week, one group went on a hunger strike outside a government
building in the Ukrainian capital demanding the resolution of their
problems. The central authorities are widely seen as lacking the will
– or the power – to influence the situation in Crimea. “Kyiv doesn’t
know about the problems, or is completely indifferent to them,” says
Budzhurova. “It is more concentrated on events in Kyiv.”


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