Asian History

The elimination policies of Crimean Tatars’ identity by the USSR and their consequences

This paper is a research paper for ENGL 112 (Academic Writing II). I owe a great deal to Dr. Greta Uehling from the University of Michigan for this research. Her works provided me an amazing ground for my thesis. The best part of this research is that when I sent an email to thank her, she answered with an impressive courtesy. I thank her again. 

Her link: https://ii.umich.edu/ii/people/all/u/uehling.html

The cover of Time: “Dictator Stalin: In Death’s Shadow, A Fight For Power.” (March 16, 1953). Joseph Stalin’s tough management oppressed different sorts of people due to their different identities or opinions about Socialism. One of these rebelled groups was Crimean Tatars and the steps taken by Stalin resulted in one of the horrible genocides within the 20th century.

Crimea was an autonomous republic belongs to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and composed of different ethnic communities. Tatars were one of these communities and they constituted nearly one quarter of the population. However, they gradually lost their rights under the leadership of Joseph Stalin. Ultimately, the World War II marked a turning point for their future since Stalin decided to deport the entire population of Crimean Tatars. Thus, within three days in May 1944, nearly 200.000 people were forced to leave and transferred to mainly Uzbekistan in cattle trains. Due to insufficient air, food, and clothes, hundreds of people died in journey. While a high number of Tatars proceeded to live in their new places in Central Asia, their problems did not end after settling their new places. On this issue, a number of historians have argued on whether this deportation paved the way for a massacre or not. Dr. Alexander Statiev argues that the deportation did not lead to a collective massacre since the USSR did not totally terminate the existence of Tatar communities. On the other hand, many writers opposed to this opinion for different reasons. To start with, their deaths did not halt after the arrival in Uzbekistan since the Soviet Union did not give Tatars enough houses and also forced them to work in factories for sixteen hours. Besides, the USSR banned Crimean Tatar language and burned their books in this language. The destroying of their buildings and the alteration of their city names were also some applications of the USSR in this epoch. Such policies demonstrate that the USSR aimed to eradicate Crimean Tatar identity and this gave rise to the ethnocide and the genocide of Crimean Tatars until the Perestroika era.

Is Stalin’s justification for deportation right?

As the leader of Iron Curtain, Stalin was portrayed like iron on the cover of Time (1950) 

The claim of Tatars’ mass betrayal to the USSR which Soviet management legitimized for genocidal policies cannot be true because Nazi regime oppressed Crimean Tatars and hence a high number of them rejected Nazis and fought against them in the ranks of the Red Army and Partisan Groups. Firstly, many Tatar people faced Nazi repression during the occupation years. Prof. Fisher points out that Nazi Germany considered Tatar people to be inferior. To illustrate, Nazi propaganda pieces emphasized that Tatars are “Untermenschen” (under human) since their physical types are Asiatic. This humiliating approach towards Tatar communities produced negative outcomes through the occupation of Nazi Germany. To give a remarkable example, Alan Fisher writes that

“the Germans removed a substantial number of Tatars from the Crimea and sent them to work in various labor camps and on various industrial projects.”1

Because of Nazi repression, nearly 20.000Tatars joined the Red Army and became the largest group of Soviet guerrillas with one in fifth. 2 Even women Tatars served the USSR as partisans like Nuriye Devletov, Ema Bekirov, Zahide Halidov who the Germans executed when they burned more than eighty Tatar villages.3These examples refute the claim of an entire betrayal, which was the main reason for the genocide of Crimean Tatar communities by the USSR.

Why were all Crimean Tatars deported from their motherland?

word-image-3

“The Train of Death” was drawn by Rustem Eminov to dedicate the expelled people of Crimean Tatars in 1944 under Stalin’s oppressive and totalitarian regime.

The main goal of Crimean Tatars deportation is to eliminate their existence because Stalin regime deported non-military groups like children and it also divided each Tatar family to prevent their meeting. It is apparent that family is the smallest but an important part of society across cultures. In this structure, children are quite important for the continuation of a family as well as a society. The Soviet regime regarded this continuation as dangerous as the existence of older people and added children into deportation without a clear reason. The USSR also needed to divide each family according to their gender to devastate the family structure in Tatar society. On the other hand, Dr. Statiev disputes that this deportation can be explained as a consequence of war conditions and the state did not have any kind of plan for ethnic genocide. To him, this decision did not lead to any genocide because the state did not completely destroy Tatars. He points out that

“the deportations were well-organized… Had the Soviet government wanted to exterminate these minorities, it would have done so.”

After highlighting Soviet’s unlimited capacity for the punishment he continues that the Soviet Union

“therefore could not be accused of intentional genocide.”4

Additionally, he states that the Soviet regime wanted to prepare a new life for Tatars by giving new homes. To provide this, before their arrival,  the USSR ordered regional authorities to prepare suitable places for accommodation.5On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence that shows the elimination policy of the USSR. For instance, Tatar people faced a great massacre during this journey in railcars. Ayshe Seytmuratova, who was a child in 1944, wrote that

“we call these railcars “crematoria” on wheels… For days on end, corpses lay alongside the living.”6

Moreover, Williams indicates that family members were divided as men were sent to Siberia to be cheap labor force and women to Uzbekistan for working to fulfill the needs of the regime. In exile, workers experienced harsh conditions. Abdülaziz İsapov, who was a witness, writes that

“we were not allowed to sleep for more than two hours a day…”7.

Unfortunately, after this separation, those Crimean Tatar men could not see their family again.8It is evident that a number of Crimean Tatars have the traces of this elimination during the journey and these records may prove the opposite of what Dr. Statiev claims about the deportation of Crimean Tatars.

Preparing tough conditions for deported people in Uzbekistan is one of the elimination policies of the USSR and this brought about the deaths among Tatar communities. For example, the USSR did not construct sufficient places for Crimean Tatars to live. Dr. Uehling states that these conditions are like a descent into hell because many people struggled for just survival. When she interviewed with local people, one of them spoke to that fifty families lived in every barrack in exile. In another account, a different person tells that

“we lived where animals had lived… I built this house with my own hands in 1951.”9

Other than the housing problem, the mortality rate was high after the deportation of Crimean Tatars. Soviet reports indicate that deaths among Tatars lasted and increased after exile. For example, while the death rate among Tatars was 7.5% in 1944,7.9% in 1945, this rate rapidly increased to 23.3% in 1950.10Oral accounts corrected this statistical data with their testimonies. As an example, a Crimean Tatar child spoke to Dr. Uehling that due to not finding clean water surrounding the area, people had to drink dirty water and this type of drinking spread deaths among them.11In short, after deportation, inappropriate conditions caused increased deaths in Crimean Tatar society that may prove this eradication process.

Devastating the memory of Crimean Tatar people through applying prohibition and restriction policies can be regarded as a sort of the elimination policies against the existence of Crimean Tatar identity and this movement paved way for the ethnocide of Crimean Tatars. Although Stalin regime carried out the deportation process, their cultural and social traces throughout the Crimean Peninsula remained the same. There were a considerable number of books written in the Tatar language as a sign of their cultural entity. Tatars also constructed buildings for social needs including religious places of worship and bazaars. In this respect, many Soviet policies widely damaged the social and cultural identity of Tatar people. To begin with, the USSR banned both speaking and writing of Crimean Tatar language in daily life. Accordingly, Tatars did not have any newspapers or magazines in their own language. Apart from this, the government officials burned Tatar-language text-books and destroyed many Tatar buildings including cemeteries, fountains, and tombs. As a clear instance, there is only one mosque stayed out of twelve in Simferopol after destroying.12 In the same era, Tatars deprived of schooling rights which made hard to sustain their cultural identities.13As a history student, Ayshe Seytmuratova tells that even though she successfully passed her all exams

“I was not accepted in the Institute of the History… I deeply understood that we were like homeless people…”14

The USSR also converted topographic names in Crimea from the Tatar language to Russian such as Malorichenskoe, Luchiste, Verkhorichia, Bilogirsk, Kirovske, and Oktiabrske replaced Küçük Uzun, Demirci, Biia Sula, Karasu Bazaar, Islam Terek, Büyük Onlar.15Murad, a witness of these devastations, argues that the regime did not want

“remembering our heritage. So that we would be ashamed of our ancestors, as though they were wild nomads and fool Tatars.”16

Taking these steps into consideration, the USSR committed the crime of ethnocide which refers to

“the eradication of an ethno-national group’s communal identity, spirit, collective memory, language, customs, and history.”17

by ruining social and cultural ties between generations due to those sorts of policies.

The aftermath of the Crimean Deportation

crimea tatars ile ilgili görsel sonucu

“An elderly woman cries as she and other Crimean Tatars rally in Simferopol, Crimea” from Daily Mail (https://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/ap/article-2631792/Ukraine-marks-1944-deportation-Crimeas-Tatars.html)

Though Khrushchev’s de-Stalinization policies alleviated the hardships of Crimean Tatars to some extent, Soviet’s repressive sanctions went on to annihilate Crimean Tatar communities. After Stalin’s death, Nikita Khrushchev became the new leader of the Soviet Union. He decided to remove Joseph Stalin’s political decisions to open a new page in both domestic and foreign policy within the Union. That is why he issued new decisions starting with 20th Congress of the Communist Party in 1956. Some of these novelties concerned also Crimean Tatar society. Thanks to new era, they regained to publish a newspaper in their own language. However, the new regime did not permit them to return to their motherlands. Many Tatars considered this as their most fundamental right and initiated to revolt against the state. Potichnyj underlines that in the 1960s

“the Tatars organized themselves for a long and difficult struggle aimed at resurrecting their national autonomy and returning Crimean homeland.”18

At the end of the 1970s, their struggle failed since Tatar leaders like Mustafa Cemilev were judged in courts and jailed for months. In this regard, some Soviet intellectuals supported Tatars’ basic rights against the State.19 Andrei Sakharov, who was a famous physicist and Nobel Laureate in peace, expresses his sorrow that

“Is it not disgraceful to continue to restrict the civil rights of the Crimean Tatar people who lost about forty-six percent of their population in the Stalinist repressions?”20

These cases reflect that the elimination policy towards Tatar people did not end with Stalin’s own death who ordered their deportation. That is, this elimination policy is a long-term process in which historical circumstances could not change Soviet’s negative viewpoints against Crimean Tatars.

Conclusion

On the whole, the USSR implemented repressive measures against Crimean Tatars in order to exterminate them which harmed their socio-cultural identity. Contrary to Statiev’s opinion, when Tatars struggled to survive the USSR did not assist them, which demonstrates that the objective of deportation is to slaughter them. Although Soviet policies did not utterly erase the existence of Crimean Tatars and their identities, these collective punishments have caused the crime of genocide and ethnocide. This is because tens of thousands of Tatars died during their deportation and the following years. In this process, Tatars also lost their many cultural traces in Crimea because the Soviet regime forbids their language and demolished their monuments. Nonetheless, the assistance of social and cultural consciousness among Tatars enabled them to preserve their identity despite the attitude of the Soviet regime.

 

Notes

  1. Alan W. Fisher, “Crimean Tatars and the USSR”, the Crimean Tatars, (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1987), 158.

     2.Brian Glyn Williams, “The Hidden Ethnic Cleansing of Muslims in the Soviet Union: The Exile and Repatriation of the Crimean Tatars”, Journal of Contemporary History, (2002): 329.

  1. Ibid., 160.
  2. Alexander Statiev, “Soviet ethnic deportations: intent versus outcome”, Journal of Genocide Research, (2009): 259.
  3. Statiev, “Soviet ethnic deportations”, 250.
  4. Ayshe Seytmuratova, “The Elders of the New National Movement: Recollections”, Tatars of the Crimea: Their Struggle for Survival, ed. Edward Allworth (Duke University Press, 1988), 27.
  5. Quoted in Edige Kırımal, Kırım’da Türk Katliamı, (Toprak Publications, 1962), 28.
  6. Williams, “the Hidden Ethnic Cleansing of Muslims in the Soviet Union”, 332.
  7. Greta Lynn Uehling, “Recalling the 1944 Deportation”, Beyond Memory: The Crimean Tatars’ Deportation and Return, (Palgrave Macmillan Publications, 2004), 96.
  8. Statiev, “Soviet ethnic deportations”, 248.
  9. Uehling, Beyond Memory, 97.
  10. Ahmet Kanlıdere, “Kırım Tatarlarının Kültürel Kimliklerini Yeniden İnşa Etme Çabaları” [The Efforts of Crimean Tatars for Reconstructing Their Cultural İdentities], Karadeniz Araştırmaları Dergisi [Journal of Black Sea Studies], (2016): 236.
  11. Tezcan Kireççi, “The Predicament of the Crimean Tatars, Past and Present”, Journal of Social Sciences of the Turkic World, (2016): 16.
  12. Seytmuratova, “Recollections”, 31.
  13. Ibid., 172.
  14. Uehling, Beyond Memory, 106.
  15. Williams, “the Hidden Ethnic Cleansing”, 336.
  16. V. Stanley Vardys, “The Case of Crimean Tatars”, the Russian Review, (1971): 109.
  17. Peter J. Potichnyj, “The Struggle of the Crimean Tatars”, Canadian Slavonic Papers, (1975): 316.
  18. Ibid., 198

 

Bibliography

Allworth, Edward. Tatars of the Crimea: Their Struggle for Survival. Duke University Press. 1988.

Kırımal, Edige. Kırım’da Türk Katliamı: Kırım’da Türklere Yapılan Korkunç Zulmün Hazin Hikayesi [The Massacre of Turks in Crimea: The Sorrowful Story of the Terrible Oppression over Turks in Crimea]. Toprak Publications, 1962.

Kanlıdere, Ahmet. “Kırım Tatarlarının Kültürel Kimliklerini Yeniden İnşa Etme Çabaları” [The Efforts of Crimean Tatars for Reconstructing Their Cultural İdentities]. Karadeniz Araştırmaları Dergisi [Journal of Black Sea Studies]. (2016): 233-243.

Kireçci, Tezcan. “The Predicament of the Crimean Tatars, Past and Present”. Journal of Social Sciences of the Turkic World. (2016): 1-26.

Potichnyj, Peter J. “The Struggle of the Crimean Tatars”, Canadian Slavonic Papers. (1975): 302-319.

Link: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40866872

Statiev, Alexander. “Soviet Ethnic Deportations: Intent versus Outcome”, Journal of Genocide Research. (2009): 243-264.

Uehling, Greta Lynn. Beyond Memory: The Crimean Tatars’ Deportation and Return. Palgrave Macmillan Publications, 2004.

Vardys, V. Stanley. “The Case of the Crimean Tatars”, The Russian Review. (1971): 101-110.

Link: http://www.jstor.org/stable/127890

  1. Fisher, Alan. The Crimean Tatars. Hoover Institution Press, Stanford University, 1987.

Williams, Brian Glyn. “The Hidden Ethnic Cleansing of Muslims in the Soviet Union: The Exile and Repatriation of the Crimean Tatars”, Journal of Contemporary History. (2002): 323-347.

Link: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3180785

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