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This interview with Gulnara Bekirova, author of a book on Crimean Tatars, was conducted by a reporter from Avdet, a newspaper published in Simferopol, Crimea. The text of the original interview in Russian is available at the Moscow-based Crimea and Crimean Tatars Web site. We are grateful to Kemal Seitveliev for translating the interview into English. — Ed.

A Book That Reflects the Tragic Episodes in the History of Our Nation

An Interview with Gulnara Bekirova

Recently, the Odjak publishers printed a book by Gulnara Bekirova, The Crimean Tatar Problem in the USSR (1944-1991). In the foreword, Refat Chubarov, a member of the Ukrainian parliament and first deputy chairman of Crimean Tatar Mejlis, called the book "a convincing evidence for the professionalism of the new generation of Crimean Tatar historians."

Gulnara Bekirova is a member of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology of the Russian Academy of Sciences and a member of the "Institute of Inakomisliye in the USSR" of the Memorial Center (Moscow), as well as the founder and editor of the "Crimea and Crimean Tatars" Web site [in Russian].

During a recent trip to Crimea, Gulnara Bekirova visited the office of Avdet for a brief talk about her new book:

A: Is it true that it took you 14 years to write this book?

Gulnara Bekirova

Gulnara Bekirova

G.B.: Yes, the first essay on this topic was written for the information bulletin of the Melitopol "Memorial" in 1990. I was studying at the Moscow State Institute of History and Archival Research, and my graduation thesis was also about the Crimean Tatar question. At that time I was interested in an earlier period in the Crimean Tatar history – late 18th century through the 1940s. For my PhD thesis I had a slightly different topic – the formation of the national ideology of Crimean Tatars in the late 19th century. I had to interrupt that research because the sources were in Crimea and it was difficult for me to travel here from Moscow. In 1999-2001, I was lucky to become an editor of the international project, "The Dictionary of the Dissidents in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe." By the way, we worked together with our colleagues from the Crimean Tatar Initiative [a Crimean Tatar NGO – transl.]. During that work I found a new rationale to extend the framework of my research because the Dictionary was a bibliographical source. I went to the Moscow archives and discovered there a very sizable amount of materials and documents related to this topic. Then I checked the registers of the Ukrainian archives, which were published several years ago. Crimea was not very rich in terms of available sources, however, the files of the Crimean obcom (oblast committee) survived pretty well, and they were unclassified, which is very important. Thanks to the support of the MacArthur foundation, I could completely dedicate myself to the research, which resulted in this book.

A.: In your book, you have used sources which are published for the first time....

G.B.: What distinguishes my archival research is that the documents were concentrated in the archives of the top Soviet authorities, which are preserved in the Moscow state archives. In that sense, I was in a somewhat advantageous position as an author – I understand that historians in Crimea may not have such an opportunity. I was able to spent three years in the archives. As a result, about 250 documents were included in the book, even though in total there were more than 1200 of them. Those were the documents from the Moscow and Ukrainian archives, documents from the "Memorial" archive, and of course the documents from the State Archives of the Crimean Autonomous Republic relating to the deportation. Besides, the book uses materials from the dissident movement, documents from the Crimean Tatar samizdat and verbal testimonies.

A. Are there still a lot of documents that remain classified in the archives of Russia?

G.B. I write about this issue in the book. Still classified are many documents from the Archive of the President of the Russian Federation, where materials from the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the Communist Party and those of the Central Committee are. Still classified are the decrees of the Central Committee of the CPSU, including the classic decree from 17 August 1967, which preceded the famous Ukaz of 1967. Still secret are the records in other archives as well. For example, the files of the Department of Special Settlements of NKVD-MVD in the State Archive of the Russian Federation are declassified by one third only. A registry is preserved, which shows that it contains very interesting documents. Some of them are classified because of the ‘privacy’ issues, meaning there was someone who was cooperating with the authorities, but because of the ‘privacy’ issue we cannot read what happened to him, even though it is entirely possible that such episodes are the most interesting ones. Unfortunately, the declassification process in Russia came to an end as fast as it started.

A.: By the way, on the cover of the book there is a picture of a secret dossier....

G.B. This is the photo of the authentic cover of the "Special dossier of Stalin". By the way, only a part of the documents that prepared the deportation of the Crimean Tatars was declassified, including the famous Decree about the deportation of the Crimean Tatars.

A.: What goal did you set for yourself when you were writing the book?

G.B.: My goal was to highlight as much as possible the history of the Crimean Tatar problem after the Second World War, based on the documentary sources. This period was relatively little researched, even though there were several well-known works on it. And then, I am a Crimean Tatar, and I could never understand why Crimean Tatars are denied entry to Crimea, and on the basis of what legal documents my family could not move to Crimea for good, even though living in Melitopol, we went for holidays to Crimea every year. My father, whenever he would bring this subject up, was always told – "You are a Crimean Tatar – what is so surprising that you cannot move to Crimea?"

A.: Do you continue your research on the Crimean Tatar problem?

G.B.: During the 18th of May meeting, I met some of the people I talk about in my book. And now I want to set up meetings with them, write down their stories. In case there is a second edition of this book, I am thinking about expanding some of the themes there, the theme of the political persecution. The heroes of my book deserve further treatment; more can be written about them.

A.: Your book covers the period from 1944 to 1991. How would you assess the current status of the Crimean Tatar problem?

G.B. I think that the situation in Crimea is pretty tough, if not critical. This could be related to the increased activity of certain forces, or, possibly to the still unresolved land, housing and other problems. I am not talking as an expert here – just as an observer. Unfortunately the Crimean Tatar problem is still not resolved. First and foremost, the land problem must be solved because the situation is threatening to pass the threshold of no return. This is why my book is for the politicians, who should understand that there is a limit to the patience of even such peaceful nation as Crimean Tatars.

The interview was conducted by Elmas Sedvaapova and published in Avdet (Simferopol), No.9-10 (338-339), 31 May 2004, p.6.

The Crimean Tatar Problem in The USSR (1944-1991)

Table of Contents

Section I. "All that was left behind..."

  • Chapter 1. "Deported everybody"
  • Chapter 2. "And who sent parcels to the Kalmyks? To the Crimean Tatars? Walk around the graves, ask them"
  • Chapter 3. "Did the reader understood that the ‘special settlers’ were deprived of all rights"
  • Chapter 4. The nostalgia. Post-war Crimea.
  • Chapter 5. The mood among the special settlers. The first attempts to resist the regime

Section II. De-Stalinization and the opposition of the Crimean Tatars (1953-the first half of the 1960s)

  • Chapter 1. The death of Stalin and the solution to the problem of the "punished nationalities" (1953-1956)
  • Chapter 2. Crimean Tatar Communists: Ideology vs. Ethnicity.1956-1958
  • Chapter 3. The emergence of the youth movement in the Crimean Tatar movement in the second half of the 1950s
  • Chapter 4. The lawsuits of the first half of the 1960s: the trial of Enver Seferov and Shevket Abdurakhmanov (1961); case about the "Union of the Crimean Tatar Youth" (1962); the first trial of Mustafa Djemilev (1966)

Section III. The long-expected decrees of the authorities: declarations and the realities (mid 1960s and the 1970s)

  • Chapter 1. The revival of the national movement in the second half of the 1960s.
  • Chapter 2. Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR from 5 September 1967 "About the citizens of Crimean Tatar nationality, living in Crimea": preparation, adoption and implementation
  • Chapter 3. Repatriation: "Battle for the Perekop"
  • Chapter 4. New events in the development of the movement. Rapprochement with the Moscow dissidents; repressions and lawsuits, 1968-the 1970s

Section IV. Political moves seeking the resolution of the Crimean Tatar problem in the 1970s-first half of the 1980s

  • Chapter 1. The official decrees in the 1970s
  • Chapter 2. The Crimean Tatar movement: difficult times (tendencies, events, attempts to rationalize the movement)
  • Chapter 3. Legal persecution in the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s (review of the political persecutions): the trial of Aishe Seitmuratova and Lenur Ibraimov (1971); the trial of Djeppar Akimov (1972); trials of Reshat Djemilev (1973 and 1979); the trial of Eskender Kurtumerov, Ebazer Khalikov and Regaet Ramazanov (1973); the trial of Mustafa Djemilev (1974, 1976, 1979, 1984, 1986); trial of Yurii Osmanov (1983)
  • Chapter 4. "The Crimea will be cleaned of the Crimean Tatars…"
  • Chapter 5. The role of the Soviet dissidents and the foreign diaspora of the Crimean Tatars in the national movement for the return to Crimea

Section V. Return home... (1985-1991)

  • Chapter 1. Crimean Tatar movement in 1985-1987. Events in Moscow in Summer 1987
  • Chapter 2. "... We would think it would be reasonable in the nearest future to take some decisions on the problem of Crimean Tatars" (summer 1987-winter 1988)
  • Chapter 3. The squall of the national resistance (1988)
  • Chapter 4. The return. Kurultay of 1991

Archival sources

List of documents

List of abbreviations

List of names

Translated into English by Kemal Seitveliev.

Posted: 1 March 2005

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