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Day of Trauma, Day of Mourning, Day of Rememberance:
Simferopol, 18 May 2009

On May 18, 2009, the 65th anniversary of the Crimean Tatar deportation from their ancestral homeland Crimea was commemorated in Crimea. This was a memorial meeting for the victims of the 1944 ethnocide of the Crimean Tatar People .

On May 18, 1944, the entire population of the Crimean Tatars was deported from Crimea by Stalin's orders to locations in Central Asia and Siberia based on false claims that the Crimean Tatars had cooperated with the Germans during Second World War. Of their entire population, 46.2 percent of the Crimean Tatars perished during and after the deportation. In places of exile, they were denied basic cultural rights and even an ethnic identity. Although the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet promulgated a decree on September 5, 1967, and absolved Crimean Tatars from false accusations of wartime collaboration with Germans, this decree was not widely publicized. Moreover, it referred to the Crimean Tatars as the "citizens of the Tatar nationality formerly resided in Crimea" who were settled and had taken root in the Uzbek and other Union Republics. As a result, Crimean Tatars were able to return to Crimea only after the demise of the Soviet Union.

Speakers at Memorial Meeting, Simferopol

Speakers at Memorial Meeting, Simferopol

Since their mass return to their historical homeland, each year on May 18, Crimean Tatars gather at Simferopol's Lenin Square and remember their horrific trauma of deportation. They mourn for the dead and pray for the souls of their grandfathers, grandmothers, relatives, sisters and brothers who were labeled as "traitors" even before they were born. They also come to this meeting to pray for a peaceful and secure future in Crimea.

Since 2001, I attended these memorial meetings for six times. As I experience the emotions of the memorial meeting with the Crimean Tatars, I also attend these meetings as a participant-observer based on my research/academic background. Consequently, I pay attention to emotional shifts in the crowd, to spoken words, and to any changes (if any) that take place during the course of these meetings. On May 18, 2009, as a participant-observer, I noticed that although the structure of the meeting was similar to previous years, this memorial meeting was somewhat different and unique.

The first noticeable difference was the fact that the commemorative banner that was placed on the balcony of the Ukrainian Academic Musical Theatre clearly recognized the Crimean Tatar deportation as a genocidal act. Moreover, it was written in Ukrainian and not in Russian as it had been in the past years.

"18 Travnya - Den Pamyati Jertv Genosidu Krimskotatarskogo Narodu"(1)

The second evident difference was the spoken language of the speakers. During this particular meeting, although some of the organizers/speakers spoke in Russian, there were many other speakers who preferred to speak in Ukrainian. In any case, the language of the meeting was in Crimean Tatar, which is increasingly becoming popular among the Crimean Tatar folk.

Participants at Memorial Meeting, Simferopol

Participants at Memorial Meeting, Simferopol

The most significant event of this meeting was the gesture of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) toward the Crimean Tatars that provided the Crimean Tatar leadership the recently declassified archival information in regards to the repression, persecution, and execution of the 63 Crimean Tatar elites (Milli Firka members). These archival materials contained the photos of the victims who were accused of being bourgeois nationalists and the hand-written material of the persecutors about the so-called crimes. These photos and materials were presented to Mustafa Cemilev, the head of the de facto Crimean Tatar National Mejlis, by the director of the Ukrainian SBU (Security Service) Valentin Nalivaychenko (2) before the May 18 commemorative meeting. Because the documents were presented in a large folder that had a picture of a big Taraq Tamga (Crimean Tatar flag and seal) on its cover page, it entailed the recognition of the Crimean Tatar nation by the Ukrainian State.(3)

On May 18, 2009, the memorial meeting started with prayers for those who lost their lives due to inhumane conditions the exiles had to endure during and after the deportation. Once the meeting was launched off by the prayers of the Crimean Tatar Mufti Aci Emirali Ablayev and Murat effendi, Mufti from Romania, Anatolii Gritsenko, the head of the Upper Parliament (Verhovna Rada) of Crimean Autonomous Republic, came to the microphone. During his speech, he stated that Crimean Tatars were deported from their "ancestral" homeland in 1944 and lived in exile until the collapse of the Soviet Union. Because Gritsenko used the word "ancestral homeland," this was a de facto recognition of the Crimean Tatar people's claim that they are the indigenous people of the Crimean peninsula. Gritsenko's message was positive, and he mentioned that since 1993, 14 Crimean Tatar schools (there are only 4 Ukrainian language schools in Crimea) were opened in Crimea and that in 63 elementary schools education was bilingual (Russian and Crimean Tatar). He talked about the Crimean Tatar university KIPU (Crimean Engineering and Pedagogical University), and promised that in the 21st century all Crimean inhabitants were going to feel themselves more secure than ever.

A Banner at Memorial Meeting, Simferopol

A Banner at Memorial Meeting, Simferopol

The next speaker was Leonid Junko, the permanent representative of the Ukrainian president Yushchenko in Crimea. Junko was followed by Celal Icten (the head of the Crimean Tatar organization "dernek" in Istanbul), Vyachesav Koval (the second deputy of the Ukrainian Rukh party), Ayreddin Amet (member of the Romanian Parliament), Mubeyyin Batu Altan (Crimean Tatar Research and Information Center, USA), Ayder Bariev (member of the Crimean Tatar National Movement), Abduraman Egiz (Crimean Tatar Youth Organization), Yuri Demchoglu (the head of the Gagauz Association of the Ukraine), and Dr. Hakan Kirimli (historian, Turkey). Consequently, Mustafa Cemilev (the head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis and the deputy of the Ukrainian Upper Parliament), and Refat Chubarov (the second deputy of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis) took their turn. They spoke extensively on the current, unresolved Crimean Tatar problems and suggested that all Crimean Tatars should unite and work together for a better future in Crimea. The need for unification of the Crimean Tatar people was a common call from their leadership throughout the memorial meeting.

Meeting ended with the Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian national hymns as it started. Many local Crimean Tatar folk went home to their routine lives. For the majority of the Crimean Tatar leadership and for some 850 members of the Crimean Tatar Diaspora from 12 different countries attending the memorial day meeting, however, the end of the memorial day meeting initiated the beginning of the Crimean Tatar World Congress that was going to take place between May 19-May 22, 2009.

Overall, 35,000 Crimean Tatars attended the meeting that took place on Simferopol's Lenin Square.

Idil P. Izmirli
Fullbright Research Fellow
Simferopol, Crimea
ICC President

For additional photos of the Simferopol memorial event, taken by Idil P. Izmirli, see the International Committee for Crimea's collection "Simferopol, 18 May 2009"

End Notes

(1) In English, "May 18 - the Memorial Day of the Victims of Genocide of the Crimean Tatar Nation."

(2) As he handed the documents to the Mejlis leadership, the director of the SBU Nalivaychenko also stated that, although SBU inquired the classified documents from the Russian Federal Security service (FSB) in regards to the deportation of the Crimean Tatars from their ancestral homeland in 1944, they had received no response to their request.

(3) This investigative act was an end-result of a special investigation unit of the SBU in Crimea based on a decree by the Ukrainian President Yushchenko, who ordered the exploration of the Soviet crimes vis-à-vis the Crimean Tatars, Greeks, Bulgarians, Armenians and Germans during the late 1930 and in first half of the 1940s. For more information about this topic, see Taras Kuzio's article, "Ukrainian Intelligence Promotes Lustration in Ukraine," 5 June 2009.

Updated: 11 June 2009

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