The content and opinions expressed in this blog are mine. They do not represent the US Government or US Peace Corps - Jud Dolphin

Thursday, March 13

Crimean Tatars - Lest We Forget

I admit it.  Before going to Ukraine, I had no real knowledge of the Crimean Tatar people. 

Then my good friend Barb was placed in Crimea to work at the Crimean Tatar Library.  She lived with a Tatar family and ended up serving for nearly 4 years. 

Barbara has many deep and lasting friendships.  Since the Russian invasion, she has been on the phone daily, sometime for hours, trying to listen, console, and reassure them that they are not forgotten.

I think, if truth be told, they are mostly invisible.  Their stories get scant coverage in the West although a few articles are beginning to come through about the terror being reigned down upon these people.   

Thugs roam the cities and villages.  They mark doors with racial slurs identifying Tatar homes like the Soviets did 60 years ago in the forced deportation.  They intimidate families by demanding passports.  They talk about "killing those people."  

The dark-side of the pro Russia rallies we see on TV is this violence that is brewing against Tatars.  They are a vulnerable 13% of the population.  

The nightly news - even PBS - simplifies and fails to give us texture and complexity of what is going on.  I hope this will change.  

Recently, Barb was interviewed by WBEZ Radio in Chicago. She was able to give historical context and present examples of the situation.  

Click here  and scroll down to the podcast "Tatars in Crimea."  

I'm indebted to Barb for educating me.  In turn, I share what I have learned so that you might come to know the warm and generous people who are Crimean Tatars. 

Maybe someone with more social media savvy than I will post and help educate others too.     

Adapted from Presentation of Barbara Wieser

The Crimean Tatars are a Turkic Muslim people who have inhabited the Crimean peninsula for over seven centuries. They are a mixture of the descendants of the Golden Horde (the western part of the Mongol empire of Genghis Khan) and the many ethnic groups of Crimea.

They are considered the indigenous people of Crimea.

From 1441 and for 300 years, the Crimean Tatars ruled the peninsula.  Then in 1783 Crimea was annexed by Russia even though these indigenous people comprised 98% of the population.

Over the next century, Russian oppression grew.  In waves of emigration the Tatar population decreased.  Some fled to the Balkans and Turkey while others were deported to Siberia by the tsarists deliberate policy of annihilating the Crimean Tatar existence.    

After the Russian Revolution and the rise of Stalin, there was an intensification of repressive policies and terror that further devastated the Crimean Tatar people and culture. 

These practices culminated on May 18, 1944.  The Soviets carried out a plan to forcefully removed Tatars in a mass over-night deportation.  They were carted into box cars and taken to  Uzbekistan and other distant Soviet Republics.  Many ended up in Gulags with as many as 46% dying along the way.  It's been called the Crimean Tatar Holocaust.  

Through all this suffering, the people kept alive the dream of returning to their homeland.  They formed a national movement and for fifty years of nonviolent struggle in the Soviet system, they kept this hope alive.  

In 1985 as the Soviet system started to collapse, the Crimean Tatars saw a chance to realize their dreams.  As more and more restrictions were lifted, their movement gained momentum. They could return to Crimea.  

In a 4-year period from 1989 to 1993, over 200,000 Crimean Tatars came back to Crimea.  Today, an estimated 350,000 Crimean Tatars live in Crimea, constituting 13% of the population.

When the Crimean Tatars began to return to their homeland, their requests for land on which to build their homes to replace the land and homes taken from them in the Deportation were denied. Seeing no other option, they squatted on vacant land and built homes without permits.  This, sometimes, lead to personal violence against them and destruction of their property.

Eventually land was allocated to the Crimean Tatars in “compact settlements” in Simferopol and other cities and in remote locations across the peninsula. Today the land reparations question still remains largely unsolved.

The Crimean Tatars are a cultured people.  They have established a vibrant society. They have an active political organization--the Mejlis, representatives in the Crimea and Ukraine Rada, 15 national schools that teach all subjects in Crimean Tatar, a university that educates Crimean Tatar language teachers, art and history museums, theater, library, radio and TV stations.

A link for more information on  The Deportation and Fate of the Crimean Tatars

I can’t help but think of that phrase – “Lest we forget…”   

Maybe in the reading of this blog in some small way, we'll know and remember.   

They say that when something goes viral on the Internet millions of people make an individual decision to pass it on.  Isn't it important that more people begin to know about the Crimea Tatars and the terror they are facing?  

The current crisis is more than Geo-political posturing, more than invasion and western response.  It's about a people with a history and a present danger who just want to live their lives and care for their families.  Lest we forget...

Thursday, March 6

Ukraine in Crisis

Here in America we get a matter-of-fact feel for crisis events.  From far away, some development flashes across the media. 

PBS News Hour silently shows photos of  soldiers killed in Afghanistan.   Regrets are felt for another drone that misfires on innocent life.  Demonstrations flare in Bangkok, Venezuela, Cairo, Myanmar.  Name the continent and something seems to be happening there.  So many many events…oh well.

Inspired by my Peace Corps service in Ukraine
And then there’s Ukraine.  Suddenly, the blurs of world events become personal.  I know Ukraine – its history, places and most importantly its people.  They are part of me and I believe that I’m a small part of them.    

A Skype call with a friend in Kiev starts with the telling of a murder.  “My colleague was killed by one of Yanukovych’s snipers.  He leaves a wife and a small child.  Only 32 years,” he tells me.  We stare at each other for a long time – separated, yet electronically close.  I’m so sad.  He looks tired or maybe worn out from the horror of it all. 

I ask him if people were targeted by the snipers up on the roofs.   “No,” he continues, “my colleague wasn’t even on the front lines of the demonstration.  He had no battle gear, no helmet, nothing.  He was killed taking a few medical supplies to help others.”

My friend tells me about joining a million on the Maidon (Independence Square) and being hit by a rubber bullet.  “Damn, it hurts real bad.” 
Scaring on the Maidan, Kiev's central square, displayed in a spliced photo

I remember the numerous times we made pizza and drank piva.  I think about how grateful I am that it was not a sniper bullet and then remember a 100 who weren’t as fortunate.  

I ask about Konotop.  “How is it going for people there?”  He tells me that the huge statue a Lenin is gone – pulled down.  “You mean the huge one that looked out upon the Square? “ I ask incredulously. 
Lenin tumbles in front of Konotop's Mayor's Office
I wonder if any of my friends were involved and what about the civic leaders who were part of my Leadership English classes.   Obviously they allowed this action to happen.  So many people were there.

Konotop is not alone.  I understand that the Lenin is disappearing from town squares across Ukraine.  In some places, the statue is severed at the chest and the face is taken away.  In its place a bust of Ukrainian poet and hero, Shevchenko, is cemented into place.  It’s a powerful patriotic statement. 

We end our chat hoping for the best, yet aware that the situation is so volatile.  

A few hours later I get word that Peace Corps is evacuating Ukraine - 240 volunteers back in America.  I make plans to welcome my friend, Barb who’s been serving for nearly 4 years.  We’ll hang out for a few days and try to make sense of what’s happening and worry about the people we love.