Tatar Face of Ukraine

Nowadays the official aim of the Mejlis as a representative of the majority of the Tatars is national and cultural revival. However, according to its leaders - only as part of a democratic Ukraine

"Nowadays the only Ukrainians in Crimea are the Crimean Tatars", Dzhemilev says. He, of course, exaggerates, but not too much. Nowadays the Crimean Tatars, though as it may sound surprising, are the most loyal to Kiev community of Crimea. In fact, this is a merit of the Mejlis. It is sometimes called "The Tatar national parliament", sometimes - "illegal/ unregistered organization". Both definitions are incorrect.

The matter is that the Crimean Tatars do not have official authority in Ukraine. And they can not have, since the Ukrainian legislation provides for ethnic communities just national organizations. That is the union of educational and cultural rather than political nature. Nevertheless, after returning home and finding themselves in openly hostile to them surrounding of the "new Crimeans" (mostly Russians, who came to Crimea after the deportation), the Crimean Tatars were forced to organize themselves. In 1991 took place the so-called Kurultay - a popular meeting, in which course were elected the most respected individuals, who were to represent the Tatar community in negotiations with other communities and the formal authority.

Invariable leader of the Mejlis since its creation is Mustafa Dzhemilev. But he does not cling to power. Even since 2007 Dzhemilev, taking into consideration his advanced age, is trying to retire. However, the Mejlis for the second time denied him in this: the authority of a dissident of the sixties is very high and is very useful in the solution of many issues. Dzhemilev himself joked about this - saying, the Mejlis is the only council in Ukraine, where the leaders instead of competing for power constantly refuse from it.

"The Kurultay decided - subject to unstable situation in Ukraine and Crimea, it is better not to change the leader, - Shevket Kaybullaev, the only delegate of the Kurultay, who supported the resignation of the Mejlis chairman, said.

"The candidacy of Dzhemilev is the result of consensus among different groups of the Crimean Tatar society - Igor Semivolos, the director of the Institute of the Middle Eastern Studies explains. - Perhaps this is not the ideal choice in terms of progress and development. But he, as an experienced and respected politician, can keep the Mejlis from loosening. Other candidates have their opponents, and this may cause extra discord".

Since its creation the Mejlis is an ally of the national-democratic parties of Ukraine. Mustafa Dzhemilev and his deputy Refat Chubarov are members of the People's Movement (Rukh) of Ukraine. Mr. Kaybullaev denies the popular idea that the Tatars are gradually disillusioned with the authorities in Kiev. "Nowadays all Ukrainians are disappointed by the actions of the government - he says. - And we are also outraged by many things. Some problems for the Tatars are more relevant than others, but this does not mean that we have claims to Ukraine as a state or even distinguish ourselves from the Ukrainian people".

The main purpose of the Tatar national movement for now is restoration of its status in the historical homeland. Historically, the Crimean Tatar state existed for 342 years. Out of these, only during the first 34 years it existed as an independent state. Then - as a vassal of Turkey. Another 200 years the Tatars lived as a separate ethnic group within the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. Nowadays the official aim of the Mejlis as the representative of the majority of the Tatars is national and cultural revival. But, according to its leaders - only as part of a democratic Ukraine.

"We are the second indigenous people of the Ukrainian nation", Shevket Kaybullaev sums up.

Agrarian question

The Crimean Tatar national revival nowadays has two strong and conflicting aspects. The material and the spiritual - the issue of land and the issue of religion. They are systemic to any association of the Crimean Tatars.

Among the returnees there is a significant number of the "landless", who require the State to give them the land. Officially, the State must meet this requirement - according to the Land Code, every citizen of Ukraine has the right to receive a certain area of land. Just for the Tatars, as for the ex-deportees, this issue is more urgent than for other ethnic groups. The problem is complicated by many factors. First, the land market in Crimea is in general very opaque and corrupt, and besides since long time everything is divided. Secondly, there are no clear rules for obtaining land areas, each village can and likes to set their own orders. Thirdly, the Tatars are often forced to resort to self-trapping of the land, which causes resistance of local residents and organizations. The fourth factor is that the land in different regions of Crimea differs too much in the quality and price. And fifthly, there is no legislation that would limit speculation against resale of the land.

That is why there are a number of organizations which primarily defend the rights of the Crimean Tatars in land disputes. For example, "Azatlyk" (Freedom), "Arkadash", (Comrade), "Adalet" (Justice), "Koydeshler" (Villagers) and "Avdet" (Return). The nominal size of some of these organizations amounts to several hundred individuals. Real activists in each are just tens. About their activity one may always learn from the Crimean and the nationwide press.

Thus, "Koydeshler" is well-known by numerous protest actions on the southern coast of Crimea. "Avdet" picketed and pickets the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, demanding to pay more attention to land issues. Moreover, its activists sent letters of protest to the Council of Europe to stop the "genocide of the Crimean Tatars", which is committed by the Ukrainian authorities. "Arkadash" is famous for its struggle for the preservation and restoration of historical and religious monuments such as Aziz "Salgir Baba" - the tomb of the holy elder in Simferopol, honored by the Tatars. Sometimes all these organizations join their forces - so, after the mistaken attack of the Ukrainian detachment of special mission on the home of the Tatar Mustafa Hairov, most of the above mentioned associations organized a joint press conference with demand to punish the guilty immediately.

Separately operates the group of "Milli Firka" (People's Party), headed by Vasvi Abduraimov. Representatives of this social organization took the name of the Tatar nationalist party in the Civil War. But they are known for frankly pro- Russian views: in September, 2008, immediately after the Russian-Ossetian conflict, they issued "an appeal to the presidents of Russia and Tatarstan" with request to protect the brotherly Crimean Tatar people from oppression of the Ukrainians. In general, their actions can be characterized as openly provocative.

According to Nariman Dzhelyal, "Milli Firka" is an example of opposition of the Mejlis. Its leaders once came from is lavas, changing their political views to diametrically opposite.

There are no pro-Turkish organizations among the Crimean Tatars - this is just a favorite fable of some Russian and pro-Russian media. The only organization which is directly linked with Turkey is "Dyunya Kyrymtatar Congress" - World Congress of the Crimean Tatars. This is the alliance of derneks, emigrant associations. Its real impact on communities of Crimea is the same as that of the World Congress of Ukrainians in our society. That is insignificant.

Distorting mirror of the Crimean problems

The ordinary Ukrainians, not to mention the Russians, the news of events in the Crimea reach in a rather distorted way. Not to say - in disfigured. When the deputy of the ASU Andrew Senchenko argues that, according to his data, in Crimea live about 5-7 thousand of Wahhabites, whose centers are funded from abroad, the audience imagines stern, bearded men holding guns, who receive bags full of money from the men in black suits. But in fact we can talk about ordinary villages, to which once in a year comes a preacher from Saudi Arabia. And the figures may simply be exaggerated - the official census of the Wahhabites we, unfortunately, did not conduct.

Due to the constant repetition of a number of Crimean and Russian media of the thesis that "the Crimean Tatars are agents of Turkey", there is another myth. In fact, Turkey acts in Crimea only through the Ministry of Religious Affairs. They really organized a number of Islamic educational projects, and Turkish businesses invested in some of the objects in Crimea. But, according to Igor Semivolos, all the Turkish-Tatar partnership is realized exclusively through Kiev, in the general framework of Ukrainian-Turkish relations. "Turkish preachers even obtain a special visa with permission for religious and educational activities", the expert explains.

To these stereotypes are equally subject the ordinary Ukrainians and representatives of the politikum. Even those Ukrainians who are sympathetic to the Crimean Tatars do not want to exert considerable effort to understand them. Example of Viktor Yushchenko, who simply forgot about such an important bill for the Tatars, is not a sad exception. The fellow Ukrainian recalls the Tatars much less. That is the main problem between the two peoples. Fortunately, it can be solved. Regardless who will be supported by the Tatars in the second round of elections.

The most common myths about the Crimean Tatars:

1. The Crimean Tatars are the relatives of the Kazan, the Bashkir and other Tatars. They are relatives, but so distant and disconnected such a long time ago, that now they have in common just the name and a certain similarity of languages. At the time, "the Tatars" was the common name for all representatives of the nations of Turkic origin. Its contribution to the formation of nations of the Crimean Tatars made other ethnoses of Crimea - the Greeks, the Goths, and the Slavs. It is difficult to distinguish the Crimean Tatar from the Kazan one.

2. The Crimean Tatars want to create in Crimea national Islamic state. Even in proportional comparison there are not more of them than the Ukrainians, who seriously want to revive the Kiev Rus within the XIth century.

3. The Crimean Tatars are the agents of the influence of Turkey and are doing everything to back Crimea to its roots. Historically, relations between Crimea and Turkey in something like the relationship of Poland and Ukraine. Turkey subjected the young Tatar state by force, for several centuries making the Khanate its vassal. Of course, not all Tatars enjoyed it. Nowadays, the Tatars are cooperating with the Turkish Ministry of Religious Affairs; in Turkey operate organizations of the Crimean Tatar diaspora. But there is no among the Tatars such liking to Turkey, which could be compared with the one of the Crimean Russians to Russia.

4. The Tatars took part in the mass collaborationist movement during the occupation of Crimea by Germany.

5. The Tartars did not participate in the collaborationist movement during the occupation of Crimea by Germany. Both assertions are false. The number of the Tatars-collaborators was really noticeable - by various estimations, from several thousand to ten thousand persons. But, first of all, the collaborators were among all the nations of Crimea, including the Ukrainians and the Russians. And secondly, among the Tatars were the members of the Red Army, the red guerrillas, who in the end did not escape deportation, too. At the same time hardly collaborationism during the war can serve as a pretext for ethnic cleansing on the entire nation. We shall also note that in other cases, people generally were deported without any cause.

6. The Tatars are the only victims of deportations in Crimea. Not at all. The deportation experienced a number of Crimean "small nations": the Germans, the Bulgarians, the Romanians, the Hungarians, the Italians, the Armenians, the Greeks, etc. Just the number of these sub-ethnoses was significantly less than that of the Tatars. Of the once large community of the Crimean Germans nowadays left just single people - the Germans were deported back in 1941, in advance, as the Soviet authorities feared that they will support the Nazis. The number of the Crimean Greeks (the first Greek city appeared in Crimea in the VIIth century BC), is now measured in several hundreds. The only document which at least somehow argues deportation of the Greeks is the analytical note of Lavrenty Beria to Joseph Stalin. The "guilt" of the Greeks is stated in a few lines, "A lot of the Greeks, especially in coastal cities, with the coming of the occupiers took up trade and small industry. German authorities assisted the Greeks in trade, transportation of goods and so on".


By the "Glavred" magazine

Related Links:

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A Civilisational Dialogue in The Crimea

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