Crimea: A Story of the Occupied Peninsula

October 30, 2020

Crimea, Ukraine, has a rich history. It has been GreekCrimean TatarTurkish, Scythian, Ukrainian, Russian. It is the home of three indigenous peoples: Crimean Tatars, Karaites, and Krymchaks.

Let's listen to Serhii Hromenko, a Ukrainian historian, and his contribution to our book Re-vision of History.

"Contrary to widespread myths, neither Crimea as a whole, nor any part of it, ever belonged to Rus'. Therefore, it makes no sense to seek any foundations here for the idea that Crimea "always" belonged to Russia. The Crimean Khanate was dismantled only in Spring 1783, and St-Petersburg annexed its territory, after which the peninsula remained in the Russian Empire for 134 years, until spring 1917. Then, during the 1917--1920 revolutionary mess, Crimea was controlled by various "Red" and "White" Russian governments. From Spring 1918 to Autumn 1919, Crimea was occupied by German or French armies. Then, for the next 34 years, until 1954, Crimea became a part of Soviet Russia, with a break for German occupation which lasted from Autumn 1941 to Spring 1944.

Hence, Petersburg and Moscow together possessed Crimea in total from 1783 to 1954, i.e. 171 years but, actually, taking into account the period of occupation, this period was 3.5 years shorter. Therefore, out of 3,000 years Crimea's written history (9th century B.C. --- 21th century), it was part of Russia for only 168 years, which accounts for 5.6% of Crimean  written history.

The "Russian Crimea", as we see, does not look very "deep" historically against the background of the existence of the Crimean Khanate, which existed for 342 years (1441---1783), i.e. 11.4% of Crimea's written history.

A permanent Slavic population appeared on the peninsula no earlier than in the 13th century. Before the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Empire it was barely noticeable; since, furthermore, not all these Slavs were Russians, it would be contrary to the facts to say that Crimea was "originally Russian land".

For nearly a century after Crimea's annexation by the Russian Empire (1783---1860), Crimea was the "Orient in miniature". That is, a typically Turkic-Muslim province of Russia, where the Russians accounted for only an insignificant part of the population. The Russians were represented mostly by government servants and soldiers (until the 1830s) and later also by landed aristocracy. At the same time, the Crimean Tatars, as the indigenous people, formed the overwhelming majority of the population, despite the unfriendly government and gradual emigration.

It was only after the Crimean War (unsuccessful for Russia), that the Russian government began to force the local population to move in large groups to the Ottoman Empire. There was a paradoxical situation in the 1860s: more Crimean Tatars were living in the diaspora than in their Motherland. At the same time, the number of Russian colonizers increased. But it was only at the beginning of the 20th century (no earlier than in 1901) that the share of Russians living in Crimea became bigger than the share of Crimean Tatars. And even in that situation, until the deportation of Crimean Tatars (1944) Russians did not constitute the absolute majority on the peninsula, as is the case now.

Therefore, the Russians in Crimea became the majority only as a result of administrative pressure on the part of the imperial and Soviet governments on the Crimean Tatars (from manipulations with statistics to genocide through deportation), and not because they were "originally" there. Out of three thousand years of the written history of Crimea (9th century B.C. --- 21st century), the Russians were a relative ethnic majority on the peninsula at only 4%, and an absolute majority for only 2.5% of entire Crimean history."

To summarize: contrary to Kremlin propaganda, Crimea was part of Russia only for 5% of 3,000 years of Crimean written history. Russians became an absolute majority on the peninsula only after 1944, when Stalin's regime deported more than 240,000 Crimean Tatars from their homeland. Crimea became Ukrainian in 1954, which created the opportunity for Crimean Tatars to return to their homes since the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Let's listen to Alim Aliev, a Crimean Tatar Ukrainian activist, and his interview to Ukraine in Histories and Stories:

"Before the first annexation of Crimea by Russia's Catherine ІІ in 18th century, Crimean Tatars accounted for 95% of the total population of Crimea. This figure has been falling  gradually since that time. In 2013, Crimean Tatars accounted for 13-15% of the peninsula's population.

Before the first annexation of Crimea by Russia's Catherine ІІ in 18th century, Crimean Tatars accounted for 95% of the total population of Crimea. This figure has been falling  gradually since that time. In 2013, Crimean Tatars accounted for 13-15% of the peninsula's population.

We have been always fighting for a place under the sun in our native land. I fully share the words of Myroslav Marynovych [a Ukrainian dissident who spent 10 years in Soviet camps -- Ed.] who said that the Crimean Tatars, when they were returning in the late 1980s-early 1990s, came back to Crimea through the back door. There were problems with work, housing, and the overall perception of them. After deportation, a lot of Russian citizens were brought to Crimea who expected that after the Crimean Tatars returned, they would be very aggressive and violent towards others. Therefore, now, it is very important for us to come back to our Motherland by way of a "grand entrance".

Since Russia's illegal occupation of Crimea in 2014about 45,000 people have been forced to flee the peninsula. Those who remain face daily threats. The Russian regime has imprisoned around 100 Ukrainian citizens, mostly Crimean Tatars, often under falsified charges of "terrorism". It has banned Crimean Tatar self-governance, curbed freedom of speech and jeopardized Crimea's unique heritage

Alim Aliev adds:

"At present, there are seven Crimean Tatar schools in Crimea. Even they can hardly be called Crimean Tatar schools. But before the occupation, there were fifteen.

These are schools with intensive study of the Crimean Tatar language and literature. The [Russian] occupation government, instead, is doing everything to expand the use of Russian.

They actively impose this simulacrum: the idea of the "Crimean people". During the Soviet era they were promoting the concept of "Soviet people". Now they do so with the "Crimean people".

During the Soviet era they were promoting the concept of "Soviet people". Now they do so with the "Crimean people".

But the "Crimean people" do not exist. This concept is needed for the creation of Russian political identity, but also in order to erase the ethnic identity of the Ukrainians and of the Crimean Tatars who live there.

In fact, Russian occupation of Crimea began much earlier than in 2014. It began through mass media outlets, through mass culture. Even in the guides for tourists, when they showed all those Catherine's paths, Chekhov's houses, Galitsin's grottos, Shaliapin's places -- this was an absolutely Russian cultural discourse. Instead, the Ukrainian cultural discourse in Crimea was completely absent. And the Crimean Tatars were only left with their Khan's Palace."

In fact, Russian occupation of Crimea began much earlier than in 2014.

In mainland Ukraine, Crimean Tatars form an essential part of Ukrainian political identity. They are present in public institutions, media and culture, making a valuable contribution to Ukraine's development."

Alim Aliev emphasizes:

"Look at me, at Jamala [a Ukrainian Crimean Tatar singer, winner of 2016 Eurovision Song Context -- Ed.], at Akhtem Seitablayev [a Ukrainian Crimean Tatar film director, who filmed, among others, 'Khaytarma' about Stalin's Crimean Tatar deportation in 1944, and 'Cyborgs', about the battle for Donetsk Airport in 2014 -- Ed.] or at Refat Chubarov [a Ukrainian Crimean Tatar politician and MP, chairman of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis -- Ed.]. We are so different....

We are Crimean Tatars by ethnic origin, but we are part of the Ukrainian political nation.

I think it's a very important element of Ukraine's development as a state that this political nation has been crystalizing on the basis of values and not on the ethnic basis.

What makes Crimean Tatars interesting for the world is that we have an understanding of two different contexts: the Muslim, Turkic world, and the context of the European world. We are connectors that understand these two languages."

What makes Crimean Tatars interesting for the world is that we have an understanding of two different contexts: the Muslim, Turkic world, and the context of the European world. We are connectors that understand these two languages.

So while Russia represses Crimea's heritage, Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars cherish it, and fight for its future together.

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