This is a humble supplement to the letter from Mr. Hunt on the Russian-Ukraine conflict. It was a great read and I just wanted to outline some more of the historical context.
There’s been a lot of discussion about the ownership of the Crimea. Who is really the owner of this piece of land on the verge of a war?
Crimea is a peninsula on the Black Sea north off Ukraine, in the East covered by mountains and vast woodlands, in the north by steppes that create most of the land.
It’s on these steppes, practically until the end of 15th century, that it was under control of the Tatars of the Golden Horde, then it was under the reigns of the Great Horde and Crimean Khanate. At that time their weapons were quite advanced – all warriors had bows, swords, and horses and fought in full armor. Their riding skills proved much better any other riders in this region. On the other hand, the Crimean Khanate, although powerful, was waging numerous wars; its economy was based mainly on invading their neighbors at the same time, not having their own production.
Until a balance in this region of Europe between three monarchies – Turkey, Russia and Rzeczpospolita (Polish State) was kept, the Khanate could always count on support, but when the Ottoman Empire and Rzeczpospolita collapsed that fragile balance had been destroyed and the Crimea eventually became a part of Russian Empire.
Crimean Tatars have been living in Crimea since the 13th century and come from North-West Mongolia and Baikal region. They had their own language, and Islam was their religion. In 1850, the Crimean Tatars were 75% of the population, nowadays the number is only 10%. When in 1920 Russia finally invaded Crimea, the Tatar community was subjected to massive killings.
In the following year, the Crimean peninsula suffered from hunger caused primarily by the incompetent rules of the Bolshevik government. Almost 100,000 people lost their lives and 50,000 left Crimea. The future did not turn out much better, unfortunately. From 1931 to 1933, another hunger wave struck, accompanied this time by an attack on Muslim clergy and mass Russification of the Tatar community.
It did not come as a surprise when the Tatars welcomed the German invasion on the USSR in 1941, seeing in this an opportunity to end the Bolshevik terror and a chance to gain independence. Germans used the situation to create Tatar defense battalions. Some were drafted into the Wermacht Army, and the evacuated Crimean-Tatar soldiers in 1944 became a mountain group Waffen-SS.
Between 10,000 and 20,000 Tatars served in the Third Reich army. Obviously, not all Crimean Tatars supported the Nazi occupation. More than 50,000 of them fought in the Red Army. However, it seemed that it did not mean much for Stalin. For him, the fact that the majority collaborated with Germany was unforgivable – Tatars suffered executions and rapes at the hands of Soviet soldiers.
After the invasion of the Crimean peninsula by the Red Army in May 1944, Marshal of the Soviet Union and State Security Administrator Lavrentiy Beria sent a plan to displace the Tatars to Stalin. His proposition was to move them to Uzbekistan and use them as workers in agriculture. During this process, around 44,000 people died. Some sources claim that in total, by the end of 1945 almost 112,000 of them had died. Overall, during the war and just after the end of it out of 300,000 people were displaced – 200,000 were Crimean Tatars.
Those who were not displaced faced even worse fate. One of the more drastic examples of how Soviets dealt with them was the now-forgotten deportation of people near Arabat Spit. NKVD soldiers were told to board them on boats as far into the Azov Sea as possible, then sink the boats.
This lead to the situation we have today. Out of 2 million inhabitants, 55% are Russian, 24% Ukrainians, and only 11% Crimean Tatars and other minorities. Not until 1989 could the Tatars officially come back to Crimea, although illegal returns started in the 1970s. The returns caused many problems with then permanent residents – Russian settlers. To this day, many Tatars live in temporary settlements on the outskirts of towns and villages.
So who does Crimea really belong to? Who can say that this is their home?
(Featured Image Courtesy: NBC News)