CRIMEAN TATARS IN UZBEKISTAN: PROBLEMS AND DEVELOPMENTS
Semyon Gitlin, professor, Ph.D. (History), senior research associate with the Institute of Russian and East-European Studies at Tel-Aviv University (Israel).
The euphoria in Central Asia from the newly acquired political independence seems to be wearing off now. The main attention is focused on topical socio-economic problems and ways of achieving political stability. Successful resolution of these problems hinges on the state of ethnic relations. Just how much progress is being made in this sphere is a separate subject. But even now it is clear that complete harmony in ethnic relations and formation of a real civil society is only possible within a genuinely democratic framework. This article sets out to describe, in general outline, the evolution of the national movement of the Crimean Tatars in Uzbekistan, centered around their demand to be allowed to return to the Crimea. But before we do that, a brief historical survey would be in order.
Deportation of the Crimean Tatars
Until the mid-1980s, it was forbidden to write about the Crimean Tatars. They are not even mentioned in such a fundamental work as Sovremennye etnicheskiye protsessy v S.S.S.R. (Contemporary Ethnic Processes in the U.S.S.R.) (Moscow, Nauka Publishers, 1977) by a group of authors at the N.N. Miklukho-Maklay Institute of Ethnography. Consider the following passage: “The Turkic subfamily of Altaic languages is the largest, second in the U.S.S.R. only to the Slavic subfamily: the settlement areas of Turkic-speakers spans from the Black Sea and the Middle Volga in the west to Chukotka in the east. The Turkic-speaking peoples of the Volga region include the Chuvash, Tatars, and Bashkirs: large groups of Tatars, differing in their origin from the Volga Tatars, live in Western Siberia and in some other parts of the country” (ibid., p. 30). As they say, any comment is superfluous here.
At the same time, earlier works contain ample historical and ethnographic information about the Crimean Tatars.1 These works describe the Crimean Tatars as a people that evolved as a result of a long and complex historical process, going far back into past centuries.
The basic anthropological type is constituted by the west-Asian race of the great European race with some groups featuring Mongoloid elements. They speak Crimean Tatar, a northwestern (Kipchak) language of the Turkic subfamily of Altaic languages. The main dialects are Northern (Steppe), Middle (Mountain), and Southern (Coastal).2
The Crimea’s geopolitical situation favored mass migration of large groups of people, facilitating intercommunal contacts. Sources note that the Crimean Tatars included three sub-ethnic groups: steppe Tatars (Nogai Tatars), Mountain Tatars, and Southern Coast Tatars. Sometimes a sub-ethnic group of Nogai descendants, intermixed with the Steppe Tatars, is singled out. Thus, the Crimean Tatars evolved from the merging of predominantly nomadic Turkic-speakers who migrated to the Crimea, and local residents of mountain and coastal parts of the peninsula. Turkic-speaking groups penetrated the northern part of the Crimea from the steppes bordering the Black Sea coast (Khazars from the 7th century, Polovtsians in the 11th-12th centuries, and various groups of Tatar-Mongols in the 13th century), including the Nogais (in the late 13th century)—a group of nomadic tribes under the control of Khan Nogai. The southern coast was brought under Turkish domination as a result of the Seljuk conquest in the first half of the 13th century. The Turkic-speaking group incorporated Byzantine Greeks, who lived there before the arrival of Turkic-speakers or who came later; Armenians; Genoa Italians; Goths (who settled in the Crimea in the 4th century and remained isolated until the 7th century); Ottoman Turks; people from the North Caucasus, Georgia, and from Slavic lands, Moldavia. Turkish culture had a considerable influence: the Crimean Khanate, which emerged in 1443, was from 1475 until 1783, when it joined Russia, a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire while the southern coast of the Crimea was part of it.
Under Soviet rule, as part of the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Crimean A.S.S.R.), established in 1921 (the Crimean Tatars accounted for approximately one-fifth of its population), the Crimean Tatars underwent an intensive process of ethnic consolidation with cultural and ethnic differences between their sub-ethnic groups gradually disappearing.3 The Crimean Tatars are a people with an ancient culture and written language. Here is what the Bolshaya Sovietskaya Entsiklopedia, published in 1937, had to say about the ancient literature of the Crimean Tatars: “Crimean literature is extremely rich in fairy tales, legends, folk songs, and proverbs. Both in its subject matter and diversity and in its linguistic peculiarities, the Crimean Tatar literary folk-lore is of great value.”4 Next, it cites some statistics about the public education system of the pre-war period in the Crimean A.S.S.R. “In the 1936-1937 academic year, the Crimean Tatar people had 866 primary schools with 59,684 students; 214 incomplete secondary schools with 56,933 students; and 83 high schools with 47,817 students. In 1940 alone, there were 3,215 native language teachers. In the same year, 218 book titles were published. The Crimean Tatar people had five institutes, including a science research institute for linguistic and literary studies; technical colleges and schools; a theater where plays by Eastern classics were staged; clubs, libraries, a national state folk and dance ensemble, and so forth. Dozens of newspapers and magazines and journals in Crimean Tatar were published in the Crimea.
Deportation of, among others, the Crimean Tatar people, interrupted their natural historical evolution. Fifty years ago, on 18 May, 1944, Crimean Tatars were exiled en masse from their motherland, the Crimea. The deportation was accompanied by unusual cruelty.
After the deportation of the Crimean Tatars, bulldozers and tractors were used to destroy their ancient cultural landmarks. In Bakhchisaray, whole architectural ensembles were razed: Gazi-Mansur, Aziz-Jami, and others. In 1945, the Bureau of the Crimean Communist Party Regional Committee issued a decree to rename Tatar towns and villages. Thus, the town of Karasubazar became Belogorsk; Eski Krym, Old Krym; the village of Besh, Terek Donskoi, and so forth.
True, in pursuing self-seeking political and ideological aims, leaders of the Crimean Tatar nationalist movement seek to portray the whole period that the Crimean Tatars were part of the Russian Empire and of the U.S.S.R. as a period of their gradual annihilation. Aishe Seitmuratova contends that “this disastrous process began with the so-called annexation of the Crimea by Russia, in 1783.”
To be sure, the history of the Crimean Tatar people points to its hard lot. Yet it is wrong to go to another extreme, denying everything positive that was achieved during the period of its existence as part of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union.
Crimean Tatars in Uzbekistan
On 18 May, 1944, pursuant to an order by the U.S.S.R. Defense Committee, the Crimean Tatars were deported en masse to Uzbekistan as “traitors to Motherland.” Predictably, life for the deportees in new areas was far from being a bed of roses, what with many harsh limitations and restraints imposed on them. Uzbekistan received them with compassion, if not with an open heart. By the time, the republic had seen up to 500,000 people, evacuated from the front line zone during the war period, return home, which to a certain extent eased the housing problem. The deportees were accommodated and given jobs at state and collective farms and at industrial enterprises in the republic. This is not to say, however, that there were no conflicts between them and the locals on the day to day level. Despite the fact that Tatars from the Crimea and the Volga region and most of the Caucasians living in Central Asia (Azeris, Meskhetian Turks, Karachais, Balkars, and Kumyks) are Turkic-speaking Muslims, the Central Asian Muslim Turks did not recognize them as their brothers. One factor was the differences of sub-regional cultures within the Islamic civilization.
One of the main reasons for the negative attitude toward the Crimean Tatars on the part of other ethnic groups was national prejudice. But, in the admission of Crimean Tatars, Germans, Koreans, Chechens, Ingush, and Meskhetian Turks themselves, the local population also displayed deeply human feelings: compassion and friendly support. It took several decades for the exiled people to be effectively integrated into the republic’s, and the country’s, mainstream production and political activity. The bulk of the Crimean Tatars was concentrated in the republic’s large industrial centers: Almalyk (approx. 1,000 families), Begovat and the Begovat region (8,000), and in Chirchik (over 10,000).
How were the problems of the Crimean Tatars addressed? It has to be said that even amid the far from easy conditions at the time, Uzbekistan authorities sought, as far as possible, to take the deportees’ material and cultural needs into account. That was not at all an easy task, considering the difficulties of the post-war period. In the face of the restrictions and limitations in force at the time, the migrants worked hard to preserve their traditions, customs, and beliefs.
The 1950s and 1960s are characterized by an evolution of ethnic (national) movements of deported peoples aiming to regain their civil rights. Communist Party agencies were seriously concerned by that course of events. Closed party sessions discussed the problem of the Crimean Tatars with thinly veiled threats made against activists of the Crimean Tatar ethnic movement..
In the 1950s, after Stalin’s death, the problem of rehabilitating the deported peoples and the responsibility for the crimes that were committed in the process of deportation became a focus in the power struggle that ensued within the C.P.S.U. Central Committee.
This struggle puts in the right perspective the moves made by the party and state leading bodies with respect to the demands of the peoples that had suffered from reprisals and acts of repression. In early 1954, the republican authorities asked the U.S.S.R. Council of Ministers to consider the “question of lifting all restrictions on some categories of deported people.”5
The Crimean Tatars, largely spontaneously, under the pressure of circumstances, started demanding to be allowed to return to the Crimea. Soon the Crimean Tatar national movement acquired a mass character. It was not directed against the republican authorities. The Crimean Tatars had been working in good faith, making their contribution to developing Uzbekistan’s economy and culture. Their activities, however, created tension in the republic, affecting the growth of a national-democratic mood among some sections of the Uzbek population.
The debunking of the Stalin cult of personality and the recognition by the 20th C.P.S.U. Congress that the Crimean Tatars, among others, had been treated unjustly, strengthened the movement for the return to the Crimea. In the face of such pressure, on 3 January, 1956, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan (C.P.U.) directed Central Committee Secretaries N.A. Mukhitdinov, R.E. Melnikov, and Z.R. Rakhimbabaeva to meet with representatives of Crimean Tatars. On 5 January, an 80-member delegation was received at the Central Committee.6 The content of the discussion was not disclosed in official documents, but quite obviously it concerned the political rehabilitation of the Crimean Tatars and their return to the Crimea.
On 13 January, 1956, a session of the C.P.U. Central Committee Bureau discussed the situation of deported people in Uzbekistan. In the wake of the 20th C.P.S.U. Congress, Uzbek authorities were paying increasing attention to their status. On 13 April, 1956, the C.P.U. Central Committee Bureau once again discussed the Crimean Tatar problem. A special commission that was set up under the chairmanship of Melnikov, second secretary of the C.P.U. Central Committee, was instructed to study “how many Crimean Tatars understand Russian and Uzbek, and to consider the possibility of publishing a newspaper in the Tatar language and setting up radio programs in their native language… It is essential to find ways of broadcasting in Tatar and ending any discrimination in this sphere.” M. Mukhitdinov, secretary of the C.P.U. Central Committee, and Abdurakhmanov, chairman of Uzbekistan’s Council of Ministers, stressed the need to address the problem of ethnic Koreans.7
The fact that even after the 20th C.P.S.U. Congress, the Soviet Union state and party leadership did not risk cutting the knot of contradictions all at once points to the inconsistent and conflicting character of its policy course. Whereas the majority of the Crimean Tatar population was treated with leniency, harsh measures were used against national movement activists, designed to isolate them from the bulk of the Crimean-Tatar population.
Demonstrations by Crimean Tatars and their political activism made the Soviet authorities realize that it was impossible to confine themselves to empty promises and talk about successful adaptation of the Crimean Tatars in their settlement areas, and that it was urgent to give the Crimean Tatar problem the due attention that it deserved. Pursuant to the 19 April, 1956 Resolution of the C.P.S.U. Central Committee On Lifting Restrictions on the Crimean Tatars, Balkars, Meskhetian Turks, Kurds, and Khemshids and Their Family Members, the C.P.U. Central Committee made it incumbent on regional, city, and district party committees to conduct “special information, political, and education work among the displaced persons and members of their families to ensure that they stay in areas of their current residence and to prevent their mass exodus from the area.”8
On 23 April, 1956, the Secretariat of the C.P.U. Central Committee, pursuant to the 12 March, 1956 Resolution of the C.P.S.U. Central Committee On Lifting Restrictions on the Kalmyks and Their Family Members, ordered the Karakalpak, Tashkent, Namangan, Fergana, and Samarkand regional party committees to conduct the necessary information and political and education work among the Crimean Tatars to ensure that they stay in places of their current residence.
On 5 September, 1956, the C.P.U. Central Committee Bureau mapped out a number of practical measures to rectify the shortfalls in the organization of mass political and cultural work among the ethnic Tatars as well as Balkars, ethnic Turks, Kurds, and Khemshids who had arrived in Uzbekistan during the war years. It was planned to conduct person to person briefings, providing the necessary working and living conditions in their settlement areas.
Under the 24 November, 1956 Resolution of the C.P.S.U. Central Committee On Restoring the Autonomy of the Kalmyk, Karachai, Balkar, Chechen, and Ingush Peoples, the C.P.U. Central Committee Bureau drew the attention of party and state bodies to the fact that the return of these peoples to the territory of the newly formed autonomies should proceed on a strictly voluntary basis and did not mean that all citizens with temporary residence status must necessarily move to these areas… It was decided to provide incentives for these people to stay in areas of their current residence and to prevent their chaotic return to their original settlement areas … so as not to cause serious damage to the economy, specifically to those enterprises, and state and collective farms where they are currently employed.”9 These documents show the local authorities realized that the mass departure of deported peoples was detrimental to Uzbekistan’s economy. The authorities highly evaluated the deportees’ efficiency, professionalism, and work ethics.
Amid the difficult conditions that existed at the time, in a bid to cool passions, the authorities had to make some concessions. Thus, in line with the 22 January, 1957 Resolution of the C.P.S.U. Central Committee, on 5 March, 1957, the C.P.U. Central Committee decided to start, as of 1 April, 1957, the publication in Tashkent of the Leninskoye Znamya newspaper in the Crimean Tatar language.
The Crimean Tatars saw the launch of the publication as a victory in the struggle for their civil rights, reviving hopes for positive changes among the Tatar public. During that period, the print and other mass media were increasingly talking about the Crimean Tatars’ life and their contribution to the development of Uzbekistan. Yet as the much expected decision to grant their aspirations never came, that, among other things, precipitated practical moves on the part of Crimean Tatar leaders to return to the Crimea as soon as possible.
Spontaneous and then organized public rallies with the participation of representatives of deported peoples began spreading in the republic. R. Melnikov, second secretary of the C.P.U. Central Committee, recognized the acuteness of the situation that had emerged in the republic, noting that “considering the situation in our republic, international education work among the people requires the most serious attention. This matter has become pressing like never before.”10
The republic’s leaders had to use threats and punitive measures not only with respect to these people but also against local party and government leaders. Thus, the 25 March, 1959 Resolution of the C.P.U. Central Committee Bureau dismissed S. Nurutdinov, first secretary of the Tashkent regional party committee; Abdalin, second secretary, and Mirzabekov, a secretary of the regional party committee. What was their guilt? The Central Committee Resolution On Serious Mistakes in the Work of the Tashkent Regional Committee of the Communist Party of Uzbekistan indicates that “one serious omission in the education work among the working people in the region (Tashkent.—S.G..) is the inadequate international education work, especially among such sections of the population as Crimean Tatars, ethnic Greeks, Bulgarians, Koreans, and others, as a result of which both individuals and whole groups of these peoples are asking to leave the Tashkent region.”11
Meanwhile, activities by leaders of the Crimean Tatar national movement for restoration of their autonomy and return to the Crimea were classified as nationalist and provocative, pursuing their own selfish ends. It was stressed that this was being done contrary to the will and aspirations of the Tatar population as a whole. That was obviously a case of wishful thinking. Even though the Crimean Tatars had well adapted to the republic’s conditions, it was the coveted desire of many of them to go back to the Crimea. For example, in the town of Bekabad and the Bekabad district of the Tashkent region, most of them worked in industry and agriculture, enjoying basically the same living conditions as did representatives of other ethnic groups.
The official view of the activism by Crimean Tatar leaders can be illustrated by the following excerpt from a report by Gulamov, first secretary of the Tashkent regional committee of the C.P.U.: “…Some nationalists among former Crimean government officials, hungry for power and pursuing selfish ends, contrary to the will and aspirations of the Tatar population as a whole, are fanning nationalist sentiments, calling for return to the Crimea. These individuals—covertly, without the knowledge of party organizations—are deceiving and pressuring people into putting their signatures on all sorts of petitions, raising funds, and appropriating these funds for their own personal gain. These people are trying to influence the Tatar youth by spreading nationalist slogans. We must resolutely—regardless of who or what they are—expose these dirty provocateurs who are encroaching on the holy of holies—the friendship of the peoples.”12
One such “provocateur” was Mustafa Jemilev (Mustafa Abduljemil), an activist of the Crimean Tatar national movement, born in 1943. He was arrested and sentenced to three years in a high security prison for his attempt to have his father buried in the Crimea and for disseminating unofficial publications (Art. 190-1 of the RSFSR Criminal Code: “slandering the Soviet state and social system”). He had worked loyally and consistently to uphold the interests of the Crimean Tatars.
Other participants in the Crimean Tatar national movement were also subjected to reprisals. This includes Aishe Seitmuratova, who was arrested twice—in 1966 and 1971. Other leaders of the movement also suffered from acts of repression.
The authorities pursued a “carrot and stick” policy. Representatives of deported peoples began to be promoted to senior managerial positions at state and collective farms and in industry. Thus, local soviets, elected on 3 March, 1963, included 18 Kabardins and Balkars, 2,847 Tatars, two Chechens and Ingush, four Karachais, and 133 ethnic Germans. As early as the 1950s, it was decided to create a Crimean Tatar music and drama ensemble attached to the Uzbek State Philharmonic Society, to begin publication of literary works in Crimean Tatar, and so forth.
Yet, many problems connected with their rehabilitation and return to their motherland were never addressed, which caused a certain measure of socio-psychological tension in areas of their concentrated settlement.
One important landmark in the consolidation of the Crimean Tatar National Movement was the first conference of the National Movement of the Crimean Tatars, in 1956, in Margilan, the Fergana region of the Uzbek S.S.R. It proclaimed the demand by the Crimean Tatar people in the form of mandate to its representatives: to restore the national integrity, their concentrated settlement areas, their statehood, and the political and legal status of the Tatars in the Crimea.
On 4 September and 8, 9, and 10 October, 1966, in the industrial city of Bekabad, Crimean Tatars came out with the demand to be allowed to return to the Crimea. Their action was stopped by police.
At the same time, while upholding the legitimate rights of deported ethnic groups, leaders of organizing committees sometimes acted rashly, which led to destabilization of the socio-political situation in some parts of Uzbekistan, especially in the cities of Tashkent, Chirchik, Bekabad, and some other places. In response to that, on 17 August, 1967, the C.P.S.U. Central Committee issued a Resolution |On Citizens of the Tatar Nationality, and analogous resolutions were adopted by the C.P.U. Central Committee as well as by regional and city party committees. Party committees and primary party cells at enterprises and institutions were directed, by ostensibly intensifying ideological and political work among the Crimean Tatar population, in effect to ensure that Crimean Tatars stayed in their current settlement areas, fighting hard against all those promoting and upholding the idea of returning to the Crimea.
In the run-up to the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the U.S.S.R., on 5 September, 1967, the country’s leadership had to issue a decree on political rehabilitation of the Crimean Tatar people. That decree, however, effectively legitimized the lawlessness with respect to the Crimean Tatars, stating, in particular, that they had “settled” in areas to which they were banished and describing their representatives as “citizens of Tatar nationality who earlier lived in the Crimea.”
Enlarged party conferences and sessions were held in areas of Crimean Tatar concentrated settlement to discuss measures to normalize the situation. In the wake of the September 5, 1967 Decree and Resolution of the Presidium of the U.S.S.R. Supreme Soviet On Citizens of the Tatar Nationality Who Formerly Lived in the Crimea, on 8 September, 1967, the Bekabad City Party Committee held an enlarged conference of the party and state aktiv (active members) to consider in detail the status of the Crimean Tatars in light of the Decree. Members of the activ were assigned to work at industrial enterprises, establishments, and schools to explain the rationale behind the documents that had been adopted. On the same day, a meeting with 23 representatives of Crimean Tatars working at the city enterprises and institutions took place in the conference hall of the city party committee.
Despite the agitation and propaganda work to explain and promote the Decree, the situation remained tense. There was unrest among Crimean Tatars in Bekabad, but party organizations and law enforcement agencies managed to bring the situation under control.
Later on, the situation in the region was assessed as follows: “The September 5, 1967 Decree of the Presidium of the U.S.S.R. Supreme Soviet On Citizens of Tatar Nationality Who Formerly Lived in the Crimea had a positive response among majority of these citizens… The education work among the population and individual meetings with Crimean Tatar activists helped localize the anti-social activity of ‘autonomy advocates’ and weaken their influence on citizens of the Tatar nationality who formerly lived in the Crimea.”
Local authorities used reprisals against some nationalist movement leaders. Thus, the Tashkent Regional Party Committee Bureau of the C.P.U. confirmed the decision of the Bekabad City Communist Party Committee of 13 October, 1966 on expelling D.A. Akimov for “conduct, unworthy of a member of the Communist Party, with respect to Tatar deportees from the Crimea.” On 7 February, 1969, a physical culture instructor at the Samarkand Teacher Training College, was disciplined “for unworthy, anti-social conduct, which manifested itself in his participation in a Crimean Tatar steering group.”13 According to conservative estimates, in 1969, 23 people were prosecuted in the Tashkent region for “nationalist anti-Soviet activities.”
It was not until 1972 that the Presidium of the U.S.S.R. Supreme Soviet issued a decree lifting restrictions on deported peoples. Yet despite the decree, spontaneous demonstrations, rallies and meetings continued, with thousands of Crimean Tatars taking part. According to some researchers, in the 1965 through 1975 period, there were more than 20 mass actions with their participation. The subsequent period saw a waning of the Crimean Tatar national movement, which was to do not so much with reprisals as with fatigue and the sense of hopelessness among its participants.
In the 1980s, the movement begins to pick up pace once again. Crimean Tatars appeal to party and state agencies demanding that the acts abolishing the Crimean A.S.S.R. be revised. In July 1987, a special commission was set up, headed by A.A. Gromyko, chairman of the Presidium of the U.S.S.R. Supreme Soviet. The commission addressed the problems of the Crimean Tatar population.
In the 1990s, the measures taken in the 1930s and the 1940s against some ethnic groups, including the Crimean Tatars, were once again deemed erroneous. The Law On Rehabilitation of Peoples Who Suffered from Acts of Repression, of 26 April, 1991, signed by the president of the Russian Federation, opened new opportunities for rehabilitation of such citizens regardless of their ethnicity.
Return to the Crimea. What Next?
As is known, favorable opportunities for the mass return of the Crimean Tatars to their motherland emerged in the late 1980s, when the Soviet Union proclaimed its perestroika policy. According to a 1990 report by the Uzbekistan State Committee for Statistics, 19,700 Crimean Tatars—or 9.2 percent of the total number of people leaving Uzbekistan—left the republic.14 Incidentally, the breakup of the Soviet Union effectively marks the exodus of Crimean Tatars from the republic. In the subsequent years it slowed down to a trickle, one of the main reasons being the difficulties of settling down in the Crimea.
When they returned to their motherland, the Crimean Tatars did not find the much coveted peace there either. They found themselves in the thick of developments arising from the clashing geopolitical interests of Russia and Ukraine over the Crimea. The Crimean Tatars as an ethnic factor are being used by Kiev in asserting the status of the Crimea as part of Ukraine as well as in its struggle with the Russian community which constitutes the bulk of the population on the peninsula. Kiev is playing a double game. When Ukraine adopted a line toward isolation from Russia, a pro-Russia movement emerged in the Crimea, where more than 80 percent of the population consider themselves to be Russian. The administration of Ukrainian President Kravchuk decided to expedite the return of the Crimean Tatars to the peninsula, which began back under Gorbachev. Kiev needed the Tatars as an active ethnic ally in the struggle with the Russian-speakers living in the Crimea. While the problem of Russian separatism existed on the peninsula (it is still alive), the Crimean Tatars’ demands that the Crimea be granted the status as an autonomy were not rejected outright. For the sake of achieving its aims, the Ukrainian leadership even forgave the Crimean Tatars the disturbances and the illegal seizure of land in the 1992-1995 period. Kiev was skillfully playing on the hatred that Crimean Tatar leaders felt for Moscow. In those years they turned out to be good allies who effectively stood up to ethnic Russians in the Crimea. The Crimean Tatar National Movement had to go through some serious trials amid the involved socio-economic and political situation that existed in Ukraine at the time. Friction began within the movement, which intensified especially in the wake of the assassination of the movement leader, Yurii Osmanov, in November 1993. The Mejlis-Kurultai’s positions were visibly shaken, affected by an internal split. Mustafa Jemilev (driven not by common sense but by sheer hatred) and with him the Mejlis-Kurultai led the Crimean Tatars to a deadlock.
The decapitated movement went through a serious crisis, dropping out of big-time politics for years to come, which was also precipitated by the unlawful action by Nikolai Bagrov, chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the Crimea at the time (representatives of the Crimean Tatar National Movement garnered approximately 6 percent of the vote in republican parliamentary elections and the movement could have secured one of the 14 seats allocated to the Tatars under the established quota, but the bashful speaker gave in to pressure from the Mejlis, which demanded that all seats be ceded to it).
The situation with the Crimean Tatars is rather complex. By playing on contradictions within the Crimean Tatar National Movement, Kiev managed to neutralize movement leader Mustafa Jemilev and his deputy at the Mejlis, Refat Chubarov, electing the former to Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada (parliament) on the Rukh movement ticket and the former, in a single-mandate constituency. There is an awareness that a Crimean Tatar Republic could be established as part of Russia—a federal state where the civil rights of ethnic minorities would be reliably protected by the Constitution (e.g., Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, and so forth). Meanwhile, with the Crimea as part of Ukraine, where the ethnic and cultural rights of Russian-speakers are grossly violated, a Crimean Tatar Republic is impossible by definition.
In light of this, the Crimean Tatar National Movement’s top body—an information working group comprised of 12 members—in June 1998, at its 53rd National Conference, called on the Ukrainian authorities to revise the provision of the republic’s Constitution on the unitary character of the state, to sign a power sharing agreement with the Crimea, and to give the Crimean Tatars an opportunity to realize their right to self-determination.
It will be recalled that by the time Ukraine had managed to abolish the old Crimean Constitution. In 1998, the Crimean Supreme Soviet adopted a new Constitution that was well in line with Kiev’s strategic aims. This is highlighted by, among others, Vyacheslav Lebedev: ....The Crimean Constitution contains an article establishing that Ukrainian laws take precedence in the event of a conflict arising between Crimean and Ukrainian laws... Any other matters that Ukraine deems as falling within its jurisdiction will be excluded from the Crimean Constitution and from the jurisdiction of the Autonomy’s official bodies. 15
The new Constitution for the first time recognizes Ukrainian as the state language in the Crimea, thus giving any other language just a secondary status. This comes into conflict with reality. The fact is that most residents of the Crimea, regardless of nationality, communicate in Russian. This Constitution can be used to suppress Russian and Russian culture in the Crimea. The State Duma of the Russian Federation regarded the decision to grant Ukrainian in the Crimea the status as the sole state language is an attempt to resolve Ukraine’s internal geopolitical problems through severe discrimination against the Russian-speakers in the Crimea.16
The situation in the Crimea is also aggravated by the fact that more than 100,000 Crimean Tatars living there do not have Ukrainian citizenship. Of that number, more than 60,000 are citizens of Uzbekistan and therefore not eligible to vote: dual citizenship is prohibited in Ukraine. Despite the Crimean Tatars’ demands, the Ukrainian authorities, under various pretexts, are dragging their feet on legalization of repatriates. As a result, the Tatars cannot get official residence registration in the Crimea, get a job, or qualify for social security benefits and allowances. This discrimination against a substantial number of Tatars is dangerous. It should not be forgotten that there are between 250,000 and 300,000 ethnic Tatars living in the Crimea, who have 14 out of 98 seats in the Crimean Supreme Soviet and also hold a number of key posts in the Autonomy’s government. In March 1998, Simferopol witnessed a large show of force on both sides. At the time Verkhovna Rada Speaker Alexander Moroz arrived in the Crimea to campaign for his Socialist Party in the run-up to parliamentary elections in Ukraine. At a public rally organized by Crimean Tatars, Moroz had to pledge that on 24 March the Rada would decide on the Tatars’ participation in elections. Yet on that day, the Rada, citing the Constitution, refused to grant suffrage to non-citizens. The Rada chose not to set a precedent of dual citizenship which could be used by millions of ethnic Russians living in Ukraine. Having lost hope to settle in their historical motherland, many Crimean Tatars had to return to their former residence areas. According to Uzbekistan’s State Committee for Statistics, as of 1990, 600 people arrived in the republic.
Be that as it may, Kiev’s rationale is that a considerable part of Tatars do not have Ukrainian citizenship, and should the conflict aggravate, they could be deported to Uzbekistan whose citizens they formally are. Yet times have changed: Ukraine will now hardly be in a position to do this since the Crimean Tatars have become in effect the sole ethnic counterbalance to the ethnic Russians living in the Crimea: destruction of their movement will automatically force Kiev to contain “Russian separatism with its own resources.”
1 P. Dudurov, Krym i krymskiye tatary, Moscow, 1911; B.A. Kuftin, Zhilishche krymskikh tatar v svyazi s istoriyei zaseleniya poluostrova, Moscow, 1929; G. Bodaninsky, Arkheologicheskoye i etnograficheskoye izucheniye tatar v Krymu, Simferopol, 1930.
2 See: Narodu mira (istoriko-ethnograficheskii spravochnik), Moscow, 1988, p. 434.
3 Ibid., pp. 434-435.
4 See: Aishe Seitmuratova, O polozhenii krymskikh tatar (Presentation at an OSCE session in Madrid, Nov. 1980).
5 Party Archives of the Uzbekistan Branch of the Institute of Marxism-Leninism, rec. gr. 58, inv. 171, f. 187, pp. 112, 113.
6 Ibid., inv. 182, f. 31, p. 7. Record No. 40 of the session of the C.P.U. Central Committee Bureau, 3 January, 1957.
7 Ibid., inv. 175, f. 55, p. 24. Record No. 6 of the session of the C.P.U. Central Committee Bureau.
8 Ibid., inv. 57, p. 30. Record No. 7 of the session of the C.P.U. Central Committee Bureau, 28 April, 1956.
9 Ibid., inv. 113, p.. 20. Record No. 33 of the session of the C.P.U. Central Committee Bureau, 26 November, 1956.
10 Ibid., rec. gr. 58, inv. 201, f. 14, p. 9. The 11th Plenary Meeting of the C.P.U. Central Committee. Verbatim Report, 14 March, 1959.
11 Report by R.E. Melnikov, second secretary of the C.P.U. Central Committee, 25 March, 1959.
12 The 11th C.P.U. Tashkent Regional Party Conference. Verbatim Report, 2-3 February, 1960.
13 Party Archives of the Uzbekistan Branch of the Institute of Marxism-Leninism, rec. gr. 58, inv. 276, f. 402, p. 103. Record of the session of the C.P.U. Samarkand City Committee Bureau, 7 February, 1969.
14 See: O. Ata-Mirzayev, V. Gentshke, R. Murtazayeva, Uzbekistan: mnogonatsionalnyy istoriko-demograficheskii aspekt, Tashkent, 1998, p. 74.
15 Vyacheslav Lebedev, Osnovnoi Zakon dayet kozyr natsionalistam, Nezavisimaya gazeta, 4 November, 1998.