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The Arabat Tragedy: Another Page from the Surgun

By Mubeyyin Batu Altan

The mass deportation of Crimean Tatars from their ancestral homeland is a unique event that deserves the attention of the world public. The Crimean Tatar Diaspora in the United States has been working to disseminate as much information as it can on the Surgun (deportation) of May 18, 1944, which took place under very difficult conditions, politically as well as economically. There is a lot of work to be done because Surgun is not yet widely known even by those who are responsible teaching Soviet history at the high school level. When I visit schools to present the plight of the Crimean Tatar people, it is the teachers who are more surprised than the students that such tragedy has occurred in the Soviet Union and they did not know anything about it. This situation will hardly change until we succeed in teaching young students that Surgun is to Crimean Tatars what holocaust is to Jews. The survivors of "Surgun," even call it the "Holocaust on wheels." This brief article was written to present a very little known incident of the "Surgun," the Arabat Tragedy.

The Soviet leaders responsible for the mass deportation, "Surgun," of the Crimean Tatars exchanged the following telegrams, which were obtained later from the KGB archives, and printed in the Yani Dunya (15 May 1991, p. 7) and translated by the author of this article:

TO STATE DEFENSE COMMITTEE
Comrade I. V. Stalin
TO USSR's Sovnarkom
Comrade V. M. Molotov
1944-May 19

The NKVD of USSR reports on the current situation of the Special Operations of Crimean Tatars' Deportation. By the end of May 19, 165,515 persons were brought to different train stations. 136,412 persons of were loaded on trains, and sent to their destination of exile. The operation continues.

L. Beria
People's Commissar of USSR
Internal Affairs

On May 20, 1944, Beria's deputy in Crimea, Khabulov, sends him the following telegram:

TO USSR's Internal Affairs
People's Commissar L.P. Beria

We are notifying you that the operation of the Deportation of Crimean Tatars which began on May 18, 1944, as you demanded, is concluded today on May 20,1944 at 16.00 hours. Altogether 173,287 persons were deported by loading them on sixty seven (67) different trains. Sixty three trains loaded with people are on their way, the remaining four trains will depart today.

In addition, six thousand Crimean Tatars of draft age were summoned, and are ready to be activated and sent to military bases at Guriev, Rubinsk, and Kuchishiev. The eight thousand Special Work contingent summoned to be sent to Moscow-Ugol Trest per your request, has five thousand Crimean Tatars. Thus, altogether 191,044 Crimean Tatars were deported.

Unfortunately for the Crimean Tatars, this was not the end of the "Surgun." There was a group of Crimean Tatars forgotten by the planners of this mass deportation. The following is an eyewitness account of what happened to these forgotten Crimean Tatars:

...The entire population who fought bravely to defend the motherland was slandered with the allegation of being traitors, and deported from their place of birth. I am a witness of this tragedy....

I want to touch upon an incident of mass deportation of Crimean Tatars. One of the leaders of this genocide, Bogdan Kobulov, reports to L.P. Beria that 'the Crimea is cleaned of Tatars.' Beria relates this to Stalin right at that moment. Thousands of participants of this "successful" operation were being decorated with medals on July 19, 1944. During this "victory" banquet Kobulov was told: "we forgot to deport those Tatars in the villages on the strip of Arabat." They were fisherman and salt miners living in those villages on the strip that separates the Sivash from the Azov Sea. It was obvious that men of the villages were fighting in the fronts. The majority of these villagers were women and children. Kobulov orders: "If a single Tatar remains alive in two hours, your heads will roll." Beria's fascist henchman was told that it was impossible to round up all the Tatars in two hours in an area that stretches hundred kilometers. Stalin's henchmen were finally given twenty four hours to accomplish their "mission".(Crimean Review, Vol.V, No.2, pp. 13-14).

They took an old boat from the port of Genicsek, rounded up all the Crimean Tatars from the Arabat and loaded them on this old boat. Then they took them to the deepest section of the Azov Sea and opened the kingston (the cap of the hole). The boat full of our fellow Tatars sank to the bottom. The murderers were waiting with their machine guns, waiting for the survivors....

The Arabat Tragedy is one of the saddest pages in the history of the Crimean Tatar people. It should be remembered as such. People and nations should learn from this incident, but they haven't. The Crimean Tatar tragedy, fifty three years after the Surgun continues. Fifty three years later, the victims of the Surgun are still fighting to be recognized as victims of such tragedy by the entire world.


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