Crimean Tatars in Istanbul gathered outside the Russian Consulate in Turkey to honor those who died during their forced deportation in 1944, after they were banned from marking the occasion with their traditional memorial demonstration.
“Anyone who has a conscience will never forget the pain and cruelty caused by the exile,” Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement commemorating the 71st anniversary of the Crimean Tatars’ mass deportation under Soviet rule, Anadolu Agency reported on May 18.
“Turkey will continue to stand for [the] Crimean Tatar people’s struggle to live in prosperity and security in their homeland,” Erdogan added.
Outside the Russian Consulate in Turkey, hundreds solemnly gathered to mark the anniversary.
"Practically no compensation for material and moral damage has been provided to the Crimean Tatars in connection with the genocide of 1944, nor have their national rights been restored in their native land," a member of the Crimean Tatar Association of Culture and Mutual Aid read from a statement, as reported by Crimean News Agency (QHA) on Monday, May 18.
The statement also pointed to the pressure being exerted on the Crimean Tatars, including killings, beatings, arrests and bans on entry to the peninsula for Crimean Tatar activists.
This May marks the 71st anniversary of one of the gravest crimes perpetrated by the Soviet regime, Forbes reported.
In 1944, on the pretext of false accusations of state treason, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin ordered that 238,500 Tatars be forcibly deported from their homeland in Crimea as a form of collective punishment for their alleged collaboration with the Nazis.
The entire ethnic Crimean Tatar population, about one-fifth of the total population of the Crimean Peninsula, as well as a smaller number of ethnic Greeks and Bulgarians, were taken from their homes and transported mostly to Uzbekistan.
Between July 1944 and January 1947, almost 110,000, or 46% of the deportees, died of starvation and disease.
The Soviets confiscated their homes, destroying their mosques and turning them into warehouses. One was converted into a Museum of Atheism.
The anniversary’s woes were revived by Russia's current policies of pressure on the Crimean Tatars.
“Those deported by Stalin’s USSR suffered unspeakable misery, hunger, death, and disease on the long journey to the Urals, Central Asia, and Siberia, which was followed by decades of persecution and false accusations by Soviet authorities,” the US Department of State said in a press release issued on May 18.
“While their grandparents were forced to live in exile and repression, many of their descendants never to return, today’s Crimean Tatars also face repression and discrimination in Russian-occupied Crimea, with no representation and no recourse.
“We join the Crimean Tatars and all the people of Ukraine in commemorating this solemn anniversary, and we remember those who lost their lives or who suffered under repression, whether in 1944 or in 2015.
“We condemn Russia’s illegal attempt to annex Crimea, which we do not recognize, and call for an end to Russia’s occupation. We also reaffirm our support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and our deep commitment to the human rights of all the people of Ukraine, including those in Crimea,” the statement added.
The 300,000-strong Muslim minority makes up less than 15% of Crimea's population of 2 million and has so far been overwhelmingly opposed to Russia's annexation of the peninsula.
The Russian move to annex Crimea followed an earlier vote in March on the peninsula’s future.
The referendum, approved by 96%, was followed by several steps from the pro-Moscow Crimean parliament, resulting in issuance of a law that allows Russia’s annexation of the disputed peninsula.
The hastily organized March 16 referendum was boycotted by Tatars who rejected it as they were held at gunpoint under the gaze of Russian soldiers.
After Russian annexation of Crimea, fears of Muslim Tatars were doubled, voicing concerns over losing freedom and reviving the memories of exile and prosecution they faced in 1940s.