International Committee for Crimea

HOME ICC Reports, Statements, and Reviews SEARCH

Crimean Tatar Memorial Day of Deportation
Simferopol, 18 May 2002

By Idil P. Noyan-Izmirli
Simferopol, Crimea, Ukraine

On May 18 1944, the CrimeanTatars en masse, were deported from Crimea with the orders of the Communist Party of the USSR (CPSU). The ethnocide began without any warning during the early morning hours of on May 18 and lasted until the evening of May 20 1944. While most of the CrimeanTatar men were either taken by the Trudarmya (workers army) to work in the front, or drafted into the Soviet Army to defend the Soviet Union against the Fascist invaders, approximately 250,000 unsuspecting CrimeanTatars, mostly elderly, women and children were forcibly removed from their homes, loaded on trucks and taken to the nearest train station where they were loaded on cattle wagons and shipped off to the Urals, Central Asia, and Siberia. During the mass deportation, due to hunger, thirst and disease 46.2 percent of the total CrimeanTatar population perished. Unable to leave the trains and bury their dead, the CrimeanTatars had to throw the dead bodies of their parents, children and/or siblings from the trains and in some cases have witnessed the howling jackals devouring the remains of their precious loved ones as the trains left those areas of mass graves.

When the CrimeanTatars arrived in their places of exiles, either in the Urals or in the Central Asia (mostly in Uzbekistan), they were met by the fearful townspeople who were expecting to see some monsters called CrimeanTatars, who had tails, one eye in their foreheads, bloody teeth and other peculiarities non-humans will possess. Some of these citizens came to meet the trains with hammers and big knives in their hands, to defend their families and loved ones against these non-human creatures. This was the impact of the dehumanization of the CrimeanTatars people by the official Soviet propaganda. The aim was divide-and-conquer as usual, and dehumanization, as always, was a big part of this process. However, when the trains stopped and the towns people saw the half-dead people who were so weak to move from hunger, but still had the strength to kneel down on the ground and whisper, "Allaha sukur/Thanks to the God," their perception changed quickly. Now, most of those hands that were holding certain weapons against the socially constructed monsters, were reaching out to the hungry and the weak survivors and they were asking themselves and to one another the unexplainable question: How can some members of the human race do something like this to their fellow human beings?

Life was not always so easy in the lands of exile, but the CrimeanTatars tried to survive no matter what, and one idea helped their survival and their national will: Destination—Vatan Qirim (Homeland Crimea).

After living in exile for 47 years, this prophecy is fulfilled. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, at least for 260,000 CrimeanTatars were finally be able to return to their historical homeland, to their Altin Besik, or Vatan Qirim.

Today, on their 58th anniversary of this tragic deportation, 25,000 of the CrimeanTatar repatriates gathered in the city of Simferopol; remembered their painful past, mourned for their dead ones. Yet, they also celebrated life in their historical homeland. The meeting took place in front of the Verhovnaya (Upper) Soviet building in the Lenin Square.

Rally at Lenin Square, Simferopol

May 18 Rally at the Lenin Square, Simferopol

The 58th year anniversary of the mass deportation, in fact, started on 17 May 2002 with the official wreath-laying ceremonies. The CrimeanTatar Mejlis members placed flowers in front of the two CrimeanTatar memorials (stones) at the Simferopol train station and in the park Salgirka. After these ceremonies, they went to the Crimean Ukrainian Musical Theater, to attend a memorial program remembering all the deported peoples from Crimea.

At 10 am in the morning of May 18, groups of CrimeanTatars started to gather in six different locations of Simferopol. These locations were Park Salgirka near the Moscow Hotel, railroad train station, Kamenka, where most of the "samazaxvat" houses are located, Fontanov, Dubkov and ulitsa Zalesskoi. Around noon (12 pm), these groups started to walk towards the Lenin Square where today's general demonstration meeting took place. These groups were from different parts of the Crimea who traveled to Simferopol for the CrimeanTatar Memorial Day of Deportation. The long walk was peaceful and quiet under the gaze of the Ukrainian security (Oxran) officers who were even being helpful to the cars carrying elderly and the physically challenged, who had trouble with walking to the city's center. During these hours, most of the Simferopol streets were closed to the traffic.

The general meeting in the Lenin Square started exactly at 1 pm, with the CrimeanTatar National Anthem, Ant Etkemen. An opening statement was made by Refat Chubarov, who was standing at the balcony of the Ukrainian Theater, across from the Verhovnaya Soviet building. Next to him were Edip Gafarov; Ilmi Umerov; some members of the CrimeanTatar National Movement, including Arsin Alchik and Riza Ayredinov; the Ukrainain Patriarch Klimenko; the Vice-President of Ukraine Vladimir Seminojenko; Premier Minister Kunitson; the president of the Qirimchan Society Victor Lambrazula; The CrimeanTatar Mufti Emirali Ablaev; a representative of the Crimean Qaraims Galina Orneli and others. They were standing on the second floor balcony that was covered with a large blue banner that stated: "May 18 - Memorial Day of the Victims of Deportation."

Participants in the May 18 Rally, Simferopol

Participans in the May 18 Rally, Simferopol

The blue banners, and the blue CrimeanTatar National flags with yellow tamgas were flying in the air, reminding those present of the beautiful Black Sea known for its the most blue color. Next to the CrimeanTatar flags, were the blue and yellow Ukrainian and blue-white and -red Autonomous Republic of Crimea flags flying in the air, complementing one another in color and creating an image of "culture of tolerance." The CrimeanTatars aim for a future that consists of equal power-sharing in politics, economics and social spheres of Crimea vis-a-vis the other residents of the peninsula.

During the meeting, the deportation was recognized as a genocidal act by Ms. Galina Orneli, the Qaraim representative, who stated that these types of acts should be never repeated. The feeling seemed to be shared by some of the Ukrainian government members, who also recognized the CrimeanTatar deportation as an horrific act that should never be repeated. These officials declared that the Ukrainian people had no fault in this genocidal act of deportation, and in fact, for the last 10 years, they were doing their best to assist the CrimeanTatar repatriation and their integration into the Crimean society.

In their speeches, some members of the CrimeanTatar National Movement related their frustration about the adoption of pick-and-chose style of the Ukrainian lawmakers whom, in their opinion, were applying the Ukrainian constitution and law differently depending on which ethnic groups they were being applied to. These members also asked the Ukrainian officials to keep their promises and start working on the land reform that has been long overdue. The CrimeanTatar speakers mostly spoke in Russian for they declared that they wanted others who were present in that meeting and but did not speak the CrimeanTatar language, to understand what they were saying.

As the meeting was progressing, at one point Chubarov started reading out loud the various banners the demonstrators were holding. One banner was about the famous Grach, whose name actually means a type of small crow, a bird. One banner read : "Communists! The bird flew, please pick up your garbage and leave after him." The other banners read: "The law about the status of the indigenous people of Crimea should be recognized" and "If the CrimeanTatar language disappears in the future, I am ready to die today."

Close to the end of the ceremony, Chubarov reminded the crowd that this meeting could not even been imagined 15 years ago and that the success of the day was based on the hard work of CrimeanTatar people and their determination to return to their historical homeland. After this statement Chubarov chanted several times; Vatan - Millet - Mejlis and the crowd followed him.

At the end, Chubarov thanked the officials of the city of Simferopol for making this meeting so successful and peaceful. The meeting ended as it was started by Chubarov who thanked everybody for the peaceful demonstration and told the crowd to go in peace. After the Ant Etkemen and the Ukrainian National Anthem, the meeting ended as peacefully as it started, where people left in large groups. When they were leaving, some of the elderly CrimeanTatars had tears in their eyes (kartanalar-kartbabalar), who were still mourning for the past and the dead-ones, but others left the meeting with hope and determination for a peaceful future in Crimea, where they aim to promote their "culture of tolerance," originating from their long-term strength: the power of non-violence.

18 May 2002

Credits: Photos on this page and the ICC's Home Page were taken by Ms. Idil Noyan-Izmirli and scanned by Zarema Seydametova.

ICC Home Page