Why Crimean Tatars are afraid when Russia invades Ukraine

Like ’s strengths wage a brutal war against , the Crimean Tatars living in Russian-occupied Crimea and on the Ukrainian mainland feel particularly threatened by the recent invasion of their historical enemy.

Some have promised to defend Ukraine, a country many fled to in 2014 after Putin’s forces invaded the Crimean peninsula and began oppress the local Crimean Tatars.

Despite the risk of 15 years in prison for protesting Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, the Crimean Tatar World Congress has went public against the invasion and said in a tweet“Our Congress recognizes its humanitarian and moral obligation to stand in solidarity with the … so help them in any way they can.”

From 1997 to 1998, I lived with Crimean Tatars – both in their places in Stalin – forced exile in Uzbekistan, where many are still living, and in their ancestral Crimean homeland – while researches two books on this resilient ethnic group. I found a people who had witnessed centuries of genocide, but who emphasized their nonviolent attitude to challenging Russian brutality.

Crimean ancient inhabitants

The Crimean Tatars were formed as a distinct ethnic group from the 1000s to the 15th century. This ethnic formation began when nomadic Turkish horsemen, known as the Kipchaks, arrived from the great Eurasian steppe, which stretches from present-day through Ukraine to Moldova. They mingled with the long-standing population of Crimea southern beachessuch as the Germanic Goths.

The final consolidation process as an ethnic group was completed when the nomadic Mongols conquered Crimea in the 13th century and their descendants converted to Sufism, a mysterious form of Islam, after mingling with the peninsula’s original population.

The Mongolian golden horde, a state founded by Genghis Khan’s grandson Batu Khan, then ruled Crimea and Russia for 240 years. When the golden horde was dissolved in the 15th century, the Tatars came to the Crimea created its own Khanate – a state ruled by descendants of the Genghis Khan dynasty.

The Crimean Khanate continued control the region that extends from the Caucasus Mountains to Moldova for centuries, even after the collapse of the Mongol Empire in China, Russia and the Middle East.

While the Crimean Tatars came to be feared by the Russians as looters and slaves of the Russian people on horseback, carried out their daring expeditions, in part to prevent Orthodox Slavic settlers from encroaching on their ancestral pastures. In the centuries after Tsar Ivan the Terrible’s conquest of the Tatars in Siberia in the 16th century, Russian settlers had begun an inexorable advance south to the Tatar steppe, which in Russian is called Ukraine, or the border.

Soviet historians later tried to define the Crimean Tatars as “a crowd of wild, barbaric bandits“But in my visits to their former capital Bakchesaray, Garden Palacelocated in a scenic gorge in the Krimbergen, I found imperial mosques and minarets in Turkish style, beautiful medieval marble fountains engraved with Arabic and a palace that hinted at a lost splendor.

1774, , uses very superior numbers and new gunpowder technology, finally crushing the Crimean Tatar cavalry-based army and annexing their kingdom nine years later.

Genocide under Stalin

The Russian conquest of their homeland almost destroyed the Crimean Tatars as a distinct ethnic group. The once free Tatar peasants were turned into serfs by their new Russian masters, their common land was confiscated and their hundred-year-old mosques, bazaars and cemeteries were destroyed

As hundreds of thousands of Crimean Tatars abandoned their southern mountain villages and nomadic herb camps to flee to Ottoman , the remnants of this ancient people in Tsarist Crimea diminished. became a largely landless and oppressed minority in a recently Slavic majority country.

Worse was to come under the tsars’ heirs, the Soviets. The Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin decided to ethnically clean the remaining Tatar population of the peninsula during World War II after accusing them of being a race of nazist collaborators.

Crimean Tatar women, children and men, including those who fought in the Soviet army against , were brutally deported in KGB cattle trains to the depths of Soviet in May 1944. Approx. 1 in 3 Crimean Tatars died in an ethnic cleansing like Ukraine and several other countries later recognized as a genocide.

Widespread from the land of their ancestors in the Central Asian deserts among a hostile local population, the surviving Crimean Tatars may have disappeared as a nation under communist programs designed to obliterate their distinct identity. But they persistently managed to keep their collective identity alive and fought a decade-long, intergenerational struggle to return to the romanticized “yeshil ada” or the “green island” of Crimea.

When Soviet rule weakened and collapsed from 1989 to 1991, about 250,000 Crimean Tatars, about half of the country, migrated back to his homeland on the shores of the distant . By that time, the Russian-dominated Autonomous Republic of Crimea had become part of Ukraine.

In the late 1990s I lived in one residence with the Shevkievs, a Crimean Tatar family who had returned to the then Ukrainian territory of Crimea from exile in Uzbekistan. I still fondly remember eating their famous Chiborek-fried meatballs, hearing ancient folk ballads about the brave, horse-drawn Tatar warriors who fought against the Russians, and being welcomed with open arms by this poor but resilient family and people.

At this point, the Russians accounted for 58% of Crimea’s autonomous population and the native Tatars only 12%. Anti-Tatar feelings among the dominant Russians were widespread. I saw crowds in the Crimea marching with placards of Stalin as an open message of hostility towards the Tatars.

The return of the Russians

In 2014, Putin annexed Crimea to punish Ukraine for their efforts to forming closer ties with Western Europe and the United States For the Crimean Tatars who had rebuilt their devastated nation in democratic Ukraine, conquest of their homeland of their historical nemesis, now ruled by an increasingly autocratic Putin, was a nightmare that came true.

Among the first measures taken by the new Russian authorities after the annexation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea was to ban the parliament of the Crimean Tatars, known as Mejlis, which had given women the right to vote in 1918. They also arrested, tortured and killed Crimean Tatar activists.

Thousands of Crimean Tatars fled Russian repression in Crimea after its annexation in 2014. Many settled in the Ukrainian capital, , or nearby Kherson, a city of Putin’s forces claimed that they had captured on March 2, 2022.

A displaced Crimean Tatar, who fled the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014 to Ukraine, declared at the end of February 2022“We have nowhere to run, so we have to fight.”

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Author: Brian Glyn Williams – Professor of Islamic History, UMass Dartmouth The conversation

Source: sn.dk

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