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The 62nd Anniversary of the Day of Mourning (Matem Günü) in Crimea:
18 May 2006

By Idil P. Izmirli

In Stalin's times, I as a child, then as an adult, felt that this machine was a bulldozer, or lighting, that could strike you, whether you were guilty or not guilty….Stalin for the country was something of a huge catastrophe, like a tsunami. [1]

May 18, 1944, was a dark, cloudy day in Crimea and it brought its own dark clouds when the entire Crimean Tatar population was deported under Stalin's orders. On the other hand, May 18, 2006, was a sunny day in Simferopol (Aqmeschit). The bright blue skies were the reflection of the collective feelings of the Crimean Tatars, although most of them were filled with mixed emotions. For them, this was a day of mourning but also a day of celebration.

On this sunny day, the older Crimean Tatars recalled how the armed NKVD soldiers went from door to door, woke up Crimean Tatars and gave them only 15 minutes to get ready to leave for unknown destinations from the designated train stations of Crimea. They remembered their exile that was carried out at gunpoint [2] by 5,000 agents of the Soviet state security services, supported by 20,000 interior ministry troops and thousands of regular army soldiers. [3] They remembered the mass deportation in guarded and sealed cattle-trains [4] without food, water, and inferior sanitary conditions that resulted in the loss of 46.2 percent [5] of the total Crimean Tatar population.

Participants walk to the Lenin Square, Simferopol

Participans walk to the Lenin Square, Simferopol

The middle aged Crimean Tatars who were born in exile thought of the pain their parents had endured, as they were forced to live and die in exile. Yet, they also celebrated this day because they were now back in their homeland, where they were raising their own children. They were sad for the ones who did not have a chance to see these days in Crimea, but they were happy because after living in exile for 47 years, they were back in their Altin Besik [Golden Cradle] or Vatan Qirim [Homeland Crimea]. The younger Crimean Tatars were proud to be here on the central square of Simferopol, to be in their homeland by persistent and nonviolent struggle.

The rally organized to mark the 62nd anniversary of the Crimean Tatar deportation started in Simferopol at 10 o'clock in the morning in 5 different locations, with 5 different rows (groups) of people. The first row (kolonna) of Crimean Tatars gathered near the train station under the supervision of Eredjep Hayreddinov; the second convened at Park Salgirka under the supervision of Emine Avamileyeva. The third, fourth and the fifth rows were in Simferopol's three micro-districts: Fontan under the leadership of Ahtem Chiygoz; Kamenka under Server Tanishev; and Dubkyi under Mamotov Bekir. At 12 noon, these five rows of people, who were carrying blue banners and the blue Crimean Tatar National flags with yellow "tamgas," started to walk towards the central Lenin Square in Simferopol. At 12:45 pm, they were all joined with other Crimean Tatars who arrived from different parts of Crimea on busses to commemorate this day collectively. Around 12:50 pm, participants had gathered in front of the Crimean Verhovnaya Rada (Qirim Yuqari Shurasi) building.

The meeting itself started at 1:00 pm with the Crimean Tatar national anthem (Ant Etkemen), the Ukrainian national anthem, and a prayer offered by Emir Ali Abdlayev Efendi (Crimean Tatar Mufti or religious head). All speakers of the day were standing at the second floor balcony that was covered with a large blue banner that stated: "May 18 - Memorial Day of the Victims of Deportation."

Speakers at the May 18 Rally, Simferopol

Speakers at the May 18 Rally, Simferopol

Refat Chubarov introduced the first speaker of the day, Anatoli Gritsenko, the newly elected chair of the Verhovnaya Rada of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea (ARC) and a member of the Party of Regions. The second speaker was Viktor Pavlyuk, the representative of President Viktor Yushchenko, who read a letter to Crimean Tatars from the Ukrainian President. After him, Sergei Rudik, the first deputy chief of the Republican Committee on Nationalities and Deported Citizens of the Council of Ministers of the ARC, and the State Committee of Nationalities (Kiev), addressed the crowd. The next speakers were Celal Içten and Saladdin Acalay from the Crimean Tatar centers in Turkey and Romania, respectively, who emphasized the unity between the Diaspora and the Crimean Tatars in Crimea.

When Leonid Pilunsky, the head of the Crimean National Rukh party, started his speech in Crimean Tatar language, he received the enthusiastic applause of the crowd. The next were Aziz Abdullayev, deputy prime minister of the ARC (who was elected at the March 26 elections), Gennadi Udavenko (leader of the National Rukh Party) and Gennadi Babenko (newly elected mayor of Simferopol), who spoke about the deported peoples of Crimea in general and specifically about the Crimean Tatars. After these speeches, Abdurahman Egiz, the head of the Our Crimea (Bizim Qirim), a Crimean Tatar youth group, took the podium, followed by the Vladimir Orneli, the head of the Crimean Qaraims; the Crimean Tatar historian Gulnara Bekirova; and the Ukrainian Patriarch Bishop Klimenko.

Participants at the May 18 Rally, Simferopol

Participans at the May 18 Rally, Simferopol

After these speeches, Mustafa Jemilev, the head of the Crimean Tatar National Mejlis, addressed the crowd. He stated that the politics of assimilation still continues in Crimea and that the outside forces are trying to break the unity within the Crimean Tatar returnees. He mentioned the divisive party politics during the March 26 elections, when a group that called itself the Crimean Tatar Block (under the leadership of Edip Gaffarov) worked against the Rukh party and supported the Soyuz party. As a result, they won 3% of the votes, taking votes from the National Rukh Party, supported by the Crimean Tatars. If they had not separated from the Rukh party, today in the Crimean parliament there could have been more than 10 Crimean Tatar deputies, instead of the current 8 deputies.

After Jemilev's speech, Refat Chubarov called on the crowd to unite and chanted: "Vatan - Millet - Mejlis" and the crowd followed him. The meeting ended with a prayer offered by Emir Ali Abdlayev for the lost lives of the deportation. The Ukrainian national anthem and the Crimean Tatar anthem were played one more time, and the meeting ended as quietly as it had started.

The meeting organized to commemorate the 62nd anniversary of the Crimean Tatar deportation lasted for 2 hours. During this time, most of the Simferopol streets were closed to the public. Lenin square was filled with the Ukrainian security officers, who silently stayed in their places and observed the meeting. Approximately 30,000 Crimean Tatars and 4,000 Ukrainian military officers participated in the rally.

End Notes

[1] Bonner, Elena (2006). Action Ukraine Report # 658, Article 1, "Unmasking Stalin: A Speech that Changed the World." February 13, 2006. (Elena Bonner is the widow of Nobel laureate and human rights activist Andrei Sakharov. She grew up in Stalin's Russia.

[2] According to Ismail Noyan (1967), during the process, 86.1 percent of the deportees consisted of the elderly, invalids, women and children. "Kirimli Filolog-Sair Bekir Cobanzade: Hayati ve Eserleri," [Crimean Philologist-Poet Bekir Cobanzade: His Life and His Work]. (Istanbul: University of Istanbul), Unpublished Masters thesis), p.11

[3] Burke, Justin, (1996). Crimean Tatars: Repatriation and Conflict Prevention, New York: The Open Society Institute, The Forced Migration Projects, p 12.

[4] The deportees were put on 70 train echelons/cattle transport carts. Each echelon had 50 wagons. Ilyasov, Remzi (1999). "Krimskie Tatari: Kratkii Obzor Proshlogo i Analiz Sotsialnogo-Ekonomicheskogo Polojenia Nastoyashego," Informatsionnii Byuletten Altin Besik, Vipusk 5.

[5] According to USIP Peaceworks, 240,000 Crimean Tatars died in the process or shortly thereafter.

18 May 2006
Simferopol, Crimea

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

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