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Today, on May 18, 2000, the Crimean Tatars throughout the world will commemorate the fifty-sixth anniversary of SURGUN, the tragic deportation of the entire Crimean Tatar nation by the Soviet authorities.

Shekure Yusufova, a survivor of SURGUN, who now resides in the United States, with teary eyes and trembling voice, not long ago told her audience how the Soviet soldiers, armed with machine guns arrived at her house early in the morning to uproot her family as well as all the other Crimean Tatars. Every Crimean Tatar, just like Mrs. Yusufova, was brutally awakened, loaded on cattle wagons and shipped off mainly to Central Asia, Siberia and other remote areas of the Soviet Union. Other survivors vividly remember the screaming cries of their cows, dogs, sheep in anticipation of what was going to happen. All these horrifying testimonies of the survivors end with one wish: "Bizim korduklerimizni Allah kimsege kostermesin!" (Let no one experience what we have experienced!) Unofficial records kept by the Crimean Tatars show that 46.3 % of the Crimean Tatar population perished during this mass deportation.

It is unfortunate that half of the survivors of this tragic mass deportation still remain in Central Asia, their original place of deportation. Those who were able to return to Crimea continue to struggle with local authorities to regain their human and national rights. As we enter a new millennium, the Crimean Tatars want nothing more than to be welcomed to their ancestral homeland both by the local authorities and the people who now occupy their homes that they left behind, and peacefully coexist with them. The Crimean Tatars want nothing more than to look back and say: "We have struggled for so long, but at least we are home now, safe and sound."

It is interesting to note that the mass deportation of the Crimean Tatars constitutes the last phase of the Crimean Tatar Tragedy which officially began with the annexation of the Crimea by Tzarist Russia on April 8,1783. Thanks to Catherine II and her successors' oppressive policies, the Crimean Tatars were forced to abandon their ancestral homeland in massive numbers. Because of these mass emigrations, by the end of the nineteenth century, Crimean Tatars became a minority in their own homeland, a status that still haunts them today.

Considering that they were treated as non-people until the Gorbachev era, the Crimean Tatars have, indeed, come a long way. Half the Crimean Tatar population, despite all the difficulties they face, was able to return to Crimea. For a short period in 1993 the Crimean Tatars for the first time since the mass deportation had fourteen deputies elected to the Crimean Parliament. Currently, they have two members of Parliament in Kiev; Mustafa Jemilev and Refat Cubarov representing the Crimean Tatar interest in the Ukrainian Parliament. Thanks to a long and hard fought lobbying, the Crimean Tatar problem gained enough attention to be discussed in the Ukrainian Parliament as well as in the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe (PACE) on the same day, April 5,2000.

On the surface, these are significant accomplishments, indeed. But when one looks at them closely, one concludes that the Crimean Tatars still have long ways to go to become a nation and regain their human and national rights. Just to mention a few problems:

  • The Crimean Tatar National Mejlis, elected by the Crimean Tatar people, is yet to be recognized as the de jure representative of the Crimean Tatars.
  • The Crimean Tatars are yet to be recognized as the indigenous people of the Crimea.
  • The Crimean Tatar language is yet to be recognized as one of the official languages of the Crimea.
  • The Crimean Tatars yet to have equal rights under the Crimean and Ukrainian laws.
  • Most of the returning Crimean Tatars are yet to qualify for land in their own ancestral homeland.
  • Most importantly, the governments of Ukraine and Russia as well as the local Crimean authorities still lack the "political will"' to help resolve the Crimean Tatar problem. The deep rooted "anti-Crimean Tatar" sentiment remains strong in the Crimea.
As long as these problems exist, the Crimean Tatars will remain "Strangers" in their own homeland. The Crimea will remain as one of the "political hot spots" in the world waiting to explode. As we commemorate the fifty-sixth anniversary of the tragic mass deportation of the indigenous people of the Crimea, it is our sincere hope that the Crimean Tatar problem is taken seriously by the governments involved. We sincerely hope also that the Crimean Tatar problem is resolved peacefully and resolved soon.

Mubeyyin B. Altan

International Committee for Crimea