International Committee for Crimea

HOME Recent Studies on Crimean Tatars SEARCH

The following paper by Kurtmolla Abdulganiyev was presented at the annual meeting of the Association for the Study of Nationalities, at a session titled "Building the Crimean Tatar Nation," Columbia University, New York, 12 April 2002. Mr. Abdulganiyev is a Ph.D. candidate at the Warsaw based Graduate School for Social Research at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences. The author would like to thank Prof. Magda Opalski (Carleton Univiersity) and Krzysztof Stanowski for their advice and valuable comments on the earlier drafts of this paper. We are grateful to Kurtmolla Abdulganiyev for letting us publish this important paper on the Web, which is the slightly edited version of the paper that recently appeared in Krymski Studii. His e-mail is:

Institutional Development of the Crimean Tatar National Movement

Kurtmolla Abdulganiyev


This paper is part of a larger study dealing with the Crimean Tatar national movement, the oldest nationally-based and one of the best organized Soviet dissident movements. In the history of the USSR the movement stands out for its dedication to the principle of non-violence, the consistency and duration of its struggle for minority rights, and its unique institutional framework. In fact, Crimean Tatars have been the only Soviet nationality, which, through the process of defending its rights, developed a democratic, quasi-parliamentary system of self-government and political representation. The national movement originated and took shape in exile in Central Asia, where the entire Crimean Tatar population was forcibly deported by Stalin in 1944. In the final days of the Soviet Union the movement inspired a massive exodus of former deportees and their Asian-born offspring from Central Asia back to their ethnic homeland. Upon return to Crimea, which in 1991 became the southernmost province of independent Ukraine, the movement continued to lead Tatar resettlement and reintegration efforts or, as Tatar leaders frequently phrase it, head the struggle for "liquidation of the consequences of genocide."

This paper examines the development of self-governing institutions of the Crimean Tatars as they were shaped in response to anti-Tatar policies of successive Russian and Soviet governments and, since repatriation to Crimea, by rebuilding Tatar community in a predominantly reluctant and often hostile environment. The experience of Crimean Tatars raises a number of intriguing questions. How, in the first place, could democratic institutions be established in an intensely undemocratic environment marked by violence, discrimination, ban on cultural and political self-expression, and by dramatic demographic loses suffered during deportation and resulting from the inhuman conditions of "special resettlement" regime? What, in these trying conditions, enabled Crimean Tatars to retain and further strengthen their national consciousness? What historical, social, and political factors gave rise to Kurultai and Mejlis, representative bodies of the Crimean Tatars that have no equivalent in the Soviet history? How did these institutions evolve and adjust to deep changes transforming Crimean Tatar life in and after the exile? What role do they play today in articulating interests of the Crimean Tatar nation on the local (Crimean), national (Ukrainian) and international political scene?

In addressing these questions I will analyze the Crimean Tatar national movement as a primarily political phenomenon, focusing only marginally on its cultural, psychological and even deeper sociological aspects. At the center of my analysis will be Kurultai and Mejlis, institutions whose history I will attempt to trace. I see them as institutional emanations of the Tatar national movement which sought to achieve three objectives: (1) the return of Crimean Tatars to Crimea, their ethnic homeland from which they were expelled; (2) full public rehabilitation and official recognition that accusations leveled against them and providing a legal excuse for deportation, were false; and, finally, (3) liquidation of the consequences of genocide attempted against the Crimean Tatar nation.

For the sake of analytical clarity, I will divide the history of the movement into three periods in accordance with its predominant institutional modus operandi: (1) 1956-1987 - a period of struggle marked by informality and fluidity of organizational structure; (2) 1987-1991 - a period of institutional formalization marked by the appearance of Central Initiative Groups (CIG) and the Organization of the Crimean Tatar National Movement (OKND); and (3) 1991 to the present - a period after return, characterized by elective representative institutions, the Kurultai and the Mejlis. These periods are separated by watershed events opening and closing successive chapters in Tatar national and general Soviet history. These events include the 1956 beginning of post-Stalinist thaw; the advent of glasnost and perestroika in 1987; and the 1991 collapse of the USSR coinciding with the emergence of independent Ukraine. For Crimean Tatar leaders these historical events translated into decision-making situations, an occasion to reconsider their options and decide the future direction of the movement.

So far, the Crimean Tatar national movement, its programs, institutions and strategies, have attracted little scholarly attention.[1] This is regrettable given the potential of such research to deepen our grasp of Soviet and post-Soviet ethnopolitics and understanding of roots of minority problems in the region. In particular, such study could cast new light on the question of "deported nations" and, more generally, on long-term political consequences of forced migrations. There is little doubt that these consequences have yet to be adequately analyzed, and that they remain a source of political and social instability in the Soviet successor states. A more thorough study of Tatar nationalism would also help put the discussion of minority nationalism in a broader comparative perspective. This paper is intended as a step in the direction of filling this gap.

Crimean Tatar National Movement Prior to 1956

Crimean Tatars are Turkic-speaking Sunni Muslims. The estimates of the size of their population in the former USSR (where they are concentrated mostly in Uzbekistan and in Russia) vary between 400,000 and half a million. About 300,000 Crimean Tatars live in Crimea, Ukraine, while a large Crimean Tatar Diaspora estimated from 3 to 5 million reside in Turkey, Romania and the United States.

In the late Middle Ages the Tatars established the Crimean Khanate, a militarily strong polity which exercised a significant influence on Central Eastern European politics. It remained a regional power factor even after nominally accepting the supremacy of Ottoman rulers in 1478. The Khanate was abolished in 1783 as a result of annexation of Crimea by the expanding Russian Empire. Russia's Crimea policy aimed at inducing emigration of Muslims from the peninsula, a strategy that over time, resulted in a substantial reduction of the number of Tatars in Crimea, and of their share of total population. The revolutionary upheavals in Russia revived Tatar hopes for restoration of their statehood, but attempts to rebuild Tatar army and other political institutions (the First Kurultai was held in November 1917) were crushed by the Bolsheviks. However, some measure of Tatar cultural autonomy was preserved. As a result, to the end of the 1930s Crimean Tatar enjoyed the status of official language of the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, despite the fact that demographically Tatars were a minority. In the late 1920s and 1930s, the victorious Communists further consolidated their grip on Crimea as was evidenced by chistkas (purges) of the Communist Party, the progress of collectivization, and the intensifying attacks on "opportunists, Trotskyists and other enemies of the nation."[2]

The deportation of the Crimean Tatars took place on May 18, 1944. The decision of the State Committee no. 5859 "On the Crimean Tatars" provided formal basis for their expulsion from the peninsula. According to the document, Crimean Tatars, many of whom have allegedly betrayed their Fatherland by siding with the invading German army, were to be resettled under special regime (spetsposeleniye) in Uzbekistan.[3] Rounded up by Soviet army and security forces, and given 15-20 minutes to pack their belongings, the Tatars were placed in cattle cars and deported. They were allowed to leave the cars only upon arrival in Central Asia several weeks later, and were denied permission to bury their dead during the trip. It is estimated that out of 150 to 238 thousands deportees close to 50% perished during the deportation and the first months in exile.[4]

The "special regime" to which the Tatars were subjected upon their arrival in Central Asia followed the general pattern of prisoners control developed in Siberia. It combined hard labor without pay with a total deprivation of freedom of movement outside designated settlements. The conditions improved only in April 1956 when the "special regime" was abolished for selected national groups, including Crimean Tatars, Balkars, Kurds, Khemshils and USSR citizens of Turkish descent by the Decree of Presidium of the Supreme Council of USSR. The decree strongly emphasized that the lifting of "special regime" did not entitle deportees to reclaim their property and, more importantly, to return to their respective homelands.[5] Today, Crimean Tatars describe their history as a process of "genocide initiated by Catherine the Great's conquest of Crimea and culminating with the 1944 deportation."[6]

The Struggles of Post-Stalinism, 1956-1987

Only after the abolition of "special regime" restored the minimum of breathing space necessary for a meaningful social interaction of the Tatars among themselves as well as with other social actors, can one legitimately speak of the "Crimean Tatar question" in postwar USSR. From 1956 on, Crimean Tatar community faced, at least theoretically, five strategic options in their quest to win rehabilitation and the right to return to Crimea. (1) First, they could engage in full cooperation with the Soviet regime, resign to the situation and give up any idea of return (2) Second, they could opt for self - exclusion from broader Soviet society and face marginalization in the long run. The Tatars could also have chosen (3) violent action against Soviet authorities or (4) non-violent, political form of protest in order to achieve their objectives. Finally, (5) Crimean Tatars could have opted for emigration from the Soviet Union.

In the post-Stalinist period, however, at least three of these options: emigration, self-isolation and armed resistance lied clearly outside the realm of possibility. Emigration, however unlikely, could only be conceived as an individual process. Soviet authorities made it clear that no mass emigration from the country would be tolerated. Cultural and social isolation were difficult to achieve for a number of reasons, not least because of the dispersed nature of Crimean Tatar settlement. Self-exclusion from participation in common social institutions would have been a more realistic had the cultural distinctiveness of the Tatars been more pronounced. The harsh official policy of atheism ruled out playing the religious card. In addition, religious persecution and ceaseless anti-religious indoctrination combined to significantly decrease the presence of Islam in everyday life, particularly in the life of the younger generation of Tatars. As for armed resistance, prospects looked equally grim. Internal disorganization and dispersion of Crimean Tatar settlements seemed to rule out any violent action. So did the omnipresence of KGB and harshness with which it punished even the mildest forms of collective and individual dissent.

These circumstances left the Crimean Tatars with two politically viable options: (1) cooperation with Soviet authorities and (2) political struggle within limits of "legality" as defined by the Soviet system. How realistic was the prospect of Tatar involvement in a massive cooperation with Soviets authorities? In my view, the cooperation of Tatars with the Soviet system was doomed to failure for at least two reasons. The first factor was the state of deep and lasting trauma Crimean Tatars suffered as a result of deportation and profound feeling of victimization it produced. Deported on the basis of false accusations, Crimean Tatars have never been provided with an official explanation of their fate. The estimated 80 thousands Crimean Tatar war veterans, men who fought Nazis in the Red Army or Soviet guerilla formations, were not only barred from returning to Crimea, but eventually forced to join their co-nationals in exile.[7] During the deportation, Tatars were led to believe that they would be allowed to return home as soon as military circumstances permitted. A huge loss of life, approaching 50 percent of the deported population, made post-deportation trauma additionally difficult to heal. The profound feelings of victimization, humiliation and offense on the part of Crimean Tatars found a clear expression in countless petitions they submitted to the Soviet government.

The second factor precluding Soviet-Tatar cooperation was a high level of distrust between Tatar deportees (and, to a lesser extent, most Soviet Muslims) and the regime. The Soviets treated Tatars as traitors and remained deeply distrustful of them, thus perpetuating an old pattern of Tatar-Russian relations. This tragic "tradition" is reflected in the unfounded accusations of treason leveled against Crimean Tatars by Russians during the Crimean war of 1854-56.[8] The same attitude of suspicion and distrust was later adopted by the communist authorities of the Uzbek Republic, who saw Tatars as politically disloyal and as a security risk.

The distrust was mutual. Extrapolating from their past experience, Crimean Tatars saw no advantage of cooperating with the regime which, in their view, would jump on the first opportunity to scapegoat them. The Tatars, who traditionally valued knowledge and education, strongly resented their exclusion from educational opportunities open to other national groups, especially in the field of law, journalism and humanities. They regarded limits imposed on the academic advancement of the Tatars as a deliberate strategy designed to rob them of their social elite. In fact, the exclusion of "unreliable elements" from various sectors of education was a direct responsibility of the KGB, which controlled admissions to institutions of higher learning. Long-term consequences of this discriminatory policy became dramatically clear upon their return to Crimea, where Tatars confronted a desperate shortage of journalists, lawyers, historians and social scientists along with an overrepresentation of technicians, engineers, teachers and medical personnel.[9] (The problem of discrimination in education, still awaiting a thorough analysis, will be examined in greater detail later in this paper.)

Distrust leads to disloyalty or withdrawal from social life. In the case of the Crimean Tatars, distrust was largely responsible for Tatar perception of cooperation with the regime as an act of betrayal, a view that left little space for negotiation and compromise. In the post-Stalinist period cooperation with the regime amounted to surrendering Tatar group identity, and placing "socialist" values over those of the nation. Tatar deportees conceptualized this as choosing between being a persecuted nationalist and a KGB informant. Political attitudes of the Tatar deportees were, on the whole, shaped by the feeling of victimization and an acute awareness of being target of discrimination in most spheres of life. This created a vicious circle: while the Soviets distrusted the Tatars and discriminated against them, the latter reciprocated by rejecting Communist values and behavioral codes the regime sought to impose on society.

Thus, the policy of non-violent political protest adopted by the Crimean Tatar national movement in 1956, was to a large degree based on elimination of other options. During the first years of post-Stalinist period the prevailing strategy of the Crimean Tatars was to attract attention of Party and state leaders by flooding them with a steady stream of petitions.[10] In the 1960s, these petitions underwent a significant transformation, changing their tone from begging to making political demands.[11] At this stage, commitment to legality became the central feature of the Crimean Tatar movement. However, Tatar understanding of legality differed markedly from that underlying the Soviet justice system. Despite being acutely aware of the fictional nature of the latter, Tatars were determined to use the system to their advantage: as both shield and weapon in defending their rights. The huge petition campaigns of the late 1950s and the 1960s were, in fact, based on the "leninist" interpretation of the law. Petitions contained countless references to Lenin's works and repeatedly pointed to the Crimean Autonomous Republic (established in 1921) as the "right" and "just" solution to the Tatar problem.[12] The number of signatures collected under these petitions was outstanding. For example, over 120 000 signatures were collected under one single petition addressed to the XXIII Congress of the Communist Party in 1966. However, the number of signatures tended to go up and down depending on the intensity of repression of activists.

It is not uncommon for justice-seeking minorities to use international law in support of their demands. Traditionally, Crimean Tatars have heavily relied on this strategy which they still use today. For example, this is reflected by their insistence that Crimean Tatars are Crimea's "indigenous people" and therefore subject to international legal arrangements aimed at protecting this specific type of minority groups. From the 1960s to the late 80s, they focused on informing international as well domestic public opinion in order to find an ally in their struggle for the right of the free movement. The strategy of reliance on international law brought Crimean Tatar close to the all-Soviet dissident movement. In fact, the very first international appeal issued by the Moscow human rights activists drew attention to the plight of minorities in the USSR and the plight of the Tatars in particular.[13] Association with the all-union dissident movement was additionally reinforced by close personal friendship between Crimean Tatar leaders, especially Mustafa Jemilev, and such prominent human rights activists as Petro Grigorenko, Andrei Sakharov, Elena Bonner, Lyudmila Alexeeva, and others. Tatar information bulletins issued since the middle of the 1960s became an inspiration for and an important part of the collection of documents published underground in Moscow.

With the passage of time, as state authorities began responding to Tatar petitions with more severe forms of repression, new and more visible methods of protest were introduced. They included public meetings, street demonstrations, and other mass gatherings. As a rule, these meetings ended up with an intervention of the security forces, which was swift and brutal. To increase the safety of the participants, Tatars leaders began organizing such events on communist holidays, such as Lenin's birthday on April 22. In general, the history of the 1970s and the 1980s is a history of petitions followed by trials of their organizers. At the same time it is a history of dissident activity and trials of the movement activists, who organized demonstrations, wrote articles and international appeals. One of the early cases of arrests was the detention and subsequent trial of the activists of the Association of Crimean Tatar Youth.[14] The trials of dissidents became a significant arena for articulating national demands and sometimes offered an opportunity to attract domestic and international attention to the plight of Crimean Tatars.[15]

In 1967, the Soviet Supreme Council issued a decree invalidating the "unwarranted indictments hastily extended to the entire Tatar population of Crimea." Its publication generated a surge of optimism among Crimean Tatars, leading some deportees to pack their belongings and hastily return to Crimea. The euphoria quickly subsided as Crimean militia supported by the "local population" evicted Tatar returnees from the peninsula. The following passage describes the atmosphere surrounding the expulsions.

"On June 3 we were put on trial for "illegally" buying a house while we were going out of our ways to register the transaction. In the night of 28/29 June 1969 () we ware awaken by furious knocking at the door. In response to our question "who is it?" the door broke down and several men burst into the home. They were druzhinniki (civilian militia consisting of volunteers - A.K.) under the command of Novikov, the head of Belogorsk militia district They were all drunk. They bound my hands and they pushed me through the window. I started to scream for help but was gagged. Then they pulled out my sleepy children. The kids were scared and started to scream and cry. () We were taken to Krasnodar (in Russia, outside Crimea - A.K.) and left under open sky at the Ust-Labinsk station. They left us in an unfamiliar place, without a penny, without food, with four children. We starved for three days."[16]

The sheer number of administrative barriers established to prevent Tatar resettlement, combined with brutal evictions of the type described above, deepened anti-Tatar prejudice in Crimea. Deportations of returnees continued well into the 1970s.

In 1976, 46 Tatar returnees were put on trial for the "violation of passport regime." One of the most tragic episodes of this repatriation was self-immolation of Musa Mamut in June 1978.[17] Low-key expulsions resumed and continued till 1980 when the flow of returnees dried up. This sudden decrease in the flow of returnees was due, in addition to customary repression, to the introduction of a new administrative barrier. The unpublished Decree No. 221 of 25 April 1978 of the Ministry of Interior of the Uzbek SSR denied exit visas to Crimean Tatars without an officially-confirmed employment and accommodation offers from places where they intended to resettle. This restriction applied solely to Crimean Tatar nationals residing in Uzbekistan.[18]

During the post-Stalinist period, the activities of the Tatar national movement were based on a network of so-called initiative groups. Fluid organizational structure and a rotating leadership made their liquidation more difficult for Soviet security forces. In case of danger, group leader would immediately step down and be replaced by another member.[19] The initiative groups specialized in collecting signatures under petitions, sending delegations to Moscow (from 1965 onward, Tatar delegations stayed in Moscow on a more or less permanent basis), organizing manifestations, and distributing information to mass media and international organizations. This state of affairs persisted till the late 1980s when the political climate in the USSR underwent another dramatic change with the advent of glasnost and perestroika. These new policies widened the old and opened many new opportunities for the national movement of the Crimean Tatars.

Building New Organizational Structures, 1987-1991

In this turbulent period, the Crimean Tatars faced the same old strategic choices in dramatically altered circumstances. The leadership had to revisit the traditional options: emigration, self-exclusion, cooperation with the regime, violent action, and continuation of political struggle within the framework of legality and by legal means - and redefine its objectives.

It is interesting that Crimean Tatar leaders have never seriously considered emigration, even when the option became a real possibility. The legacy of Tatar migrations to Turkey which, under pressure from imperial Russia, continued throughout the 19th century, appeared to have no mass appeal. Emigration was certainly within reach of the Crimean Tatars at the time of perestroika when the outflow of Jews, Germans and other selected minorities was underway and gathering speed. The main reason why Crimean Tatars showed little interest in emigration was the deeply internalized tradition of struggle against Communist oppression. It played a crucial role in shaping their collective identity, as did their "sacred" image of Crimea, a "paradise lost" and a "promised land."

At the time of glasnost and perestroika Crimean Tatars were well integrated into social institutions of Uzbekistan and other republics, a fact that ruled out the option of cultural separatism. Religious practices of the Tatars remained very basic and were treated by them as one of the many aspects of group tradition -- an identity marker rather than a belief system. The Crimean Tatars lacked professional, well-trained mullahs (Islamic clergy). One can make a strong argument that during this period, and to this very day, group identity of the Crimean Tatars is primarily "political," based on common attitude toward history (e.g., anti-Communism), shared historic experience (e.g., deportation, involvement in the national movement, return to Crimea, and other elements), which do not necessarily have a common ethnocultural denominator. Tatar language skills among the young remain too limited to allow for participation in an academic or political debate. Most community members have a poor grasp of Crimean-Tatar history prior to the 1944 deportation.

After 1987 the violence option appeared as a real possible strategy of activity. However, it remained unclear who or what was to be primary target of its increased militancy. In the late 1980s, non-Russian nationalism was on the rise in Uzbekistan and other Central Asian republics. The 1990 outbreak of violence against Meshketian Turks in the Fergana Valley was indicative of the changing mood of Uzbek society. Radicalization of the Crimean Tatar movement would have undoubtedly lead to a clash of Tatar and Uzbek nationalisms At the same time Tatars were clearly aware that neither the Uzbeks nor other Central Asian nations could be blamed for their plight. In fact, everyday relations between Uzbeks and Tatars tended to be good. The Tatars realized that Moscow, not Uzbek Communist authorities or the Uzbek nation, was directly responsible for their grievances, and the right address for their demands. Violence against Uzbeks made no more sense in 1987 than it would have made in 1956.

In addition, engaging in terrorist action against the communist Soviet system, Crimean Tatars would have contradicted the basic tradition of the movement, that is, its the principle of non-violence. It is difficult to identify the exact source of this preference: was it embedded in Crimean Tatar popular culture, or was it a rational choice of Tatar elite that had a stake in a non-revolutionary approach? Both answers seem plausible. Physical survival of the nation was the ultimate goal of the Tatar national movement and to achieve it most Tatars preferred "bad peace to a good war." Rather than relying on temporary advantages that under the right set of circumstances could have been obtained through violent confrontation, Crimean Tatars sought to improve their lot gradually through educational effort and "enlightenment".

The central issue Tatars faced in the perestroika years was their prospective return to Crimea. How and by what means could this objective be reached? The ensuing discussion among Crimean Tatars was long and lively. It also lent itself well to manipulation by the Soviets who never tired in their efforts to split up Tatars in order to pursue the policy of "divide and rule." The tradition of the "Letter of Seventeen" was one of common strategy of communist authorities.[20] In the 1980s, there were also alternative proposals floated by Soviets officials who sought to weaken Tatar support for the idea of repatriation. They included the creation of an autonomous Tatar republic within Uzbekistan where Tatars would hold key administrative offices. However, the Tatars discarded the idea and continued to express their unwavering support for the return-to-Crimea option.

In the late 1980s, there were two main factions in the Tatar national movement: the NDKT (National Movement of the Crimean Tatars - Natsionalnoye Dvizheniye Krymskikh Tatar) and the OKND (Organization of the Crimean Tatar National Movement - Organizatsiya Krymskotatarskogo Natsionalnogo Dvizheniya), the latter representing the continuation of the Central Initiative Group (CIG yet to be introduced!) Neither organization was officially registered but differed in many respects, including scope of influence and geographic base. More popular and influential of the two, the OKND united in its ranks all best known political activists (including Mustafa Jemilev). It possessed a reliable network of activists who were well-known for their good communication skills and cooperative spirit. NDKT's influence prevailed in some areas of Fergana Valley and in some locations in Russia. In the 1990s the NDKT, more prone to cooperation with the regime and less experienced, was quickly losing its popularity. In political terms, the two organizations differed in their attitudes toward (1) Communism, (2) state-sponsored repatriation, (3) samozakhvats (that is, self-appropriation of unoccupied land by Tatar returnees to Crimea), and (4) responses to discrimination by the Soviet regime, in Uzbekistan as well as in Crimea. These four issues need be examined in the context of a broader debate conducted among the Tatars. It revolved around the interrelated questions of cooperation with the regime (what forms of cooperation were permissible and what amounted to the betrayal of Crimean Tatar national interest), and the unity of the movement.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, Soviet policy toward Crimean Tatars was ripe with contradictions. Three commissions headed, respectively, by Gromyko, Yanayev and Dogujiyev were set to examine the repatriation issue. Although unsuccessful in their efforts, and hopelessly outpaced by the events, these commissions nevertheless opened a new chapter in Crimean Tatar history, marking the end of 45 years of oppression. All plans and propositions made by Commissions became obsolete after collapse of the USSR and the establishment of independent Ukraine in 1991. As sovereign Ukraine emerged from the ruins of the USSR, it initially paid little attention to the Crimean Tatars. Ukraine was absorbed by its serious internal problems. In the Crimean context, it was concerned primarily with the Russian separatist movement that threatened the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Although the separatist challenge eventually sparked Ukraine's interest in the Crimean Tatars as a possible factor in the game, the Russian-Ukrainian-Tatar triangle will not be examined here in detail. Instead, I will concentrate on the more general aspects of the situation in Crimea, and on internal development of the Tatar national movement.

As political events began accelerating in the late 1980s, the Crimean Tatar national movement experienced a stunning revival. General liberalization made it possible for Tatars to experiment with new methods of organization and new institutional structures. The first All-Union Assembly of Representatives of Initiative Groups convened in Tashkent on April 11-12, 1987, and was soon followed by the Second, held two months later. The Second All-Union Assembly established a new body coordinating the activities of the movement, the Central Initiative Group (CIG). Its prime area of responsibility was organization of public demonstrations and petition campaigns, as well as collection of information on how the Tatar question was handled by the state and party apparatus. One of the spectacular achievements of the new body was a mass protest that took place in July 1987 in Moscow, the first public demonstration in Soviet history to be held on the Red Square.[21] As a result of consolidation and need for more coordinated activity, the Organization of Crimean Tatar National Movement (Organizatsiya Krymskotatarskogo Natsionalnogo Dvizheniya), (OKND) was formed on the recommendation of the Fifth All-Union Assembly. The Organization had a clearly defined membership, a statute, and a formally articulated program of political action.[22] From 1989 to 1991 the OKND was at the heart of the national movement uniting almost all its groups and activists.

The late 1980s and early 1990s were a time of impatience. Crimean Tatars started returning to Crimea spontaneously, without waiting for the decision of authorities. Living behind relative material comfort, they undertook the journey unaware of the approaching economic crisis which would leave them in partially-built houses, and often without basic supplies. By April 1989, having overcome most formidable barriers, 40,000 Crimean Tatars have returned to Crimea. According to the data of the Department of Interior of Ukraine from January 1, 1999, there were 253 076 Crimean Tatars living in Crimea. Other sources (State Department on Nationalities of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea) from the same period put their number at 263,755.[23]

Table 1. The dynamics of return. Source: Svetlana M. Chervonnaya, Problemy vozvrashcheniya i integratsii krymskikh tatar v Krymu: 1990-ye gody, Moscow 1997, p. 6. [24]

YearNumber of Returnees
1989 28,200
1990 33,800
1991 41,400
1992 27,600
1993 19,300
1994 10,800
1995 9,200
1996 3,600

The massive influx of Crimean Tatar returnees was doomed to generate fears among predominantly Russian residents of Crimea, a community known for their long-standing and deep Communist loyalties. The locals perceived returning Tatars as strangers claiming exclusive rights to Crimea and likely to rise property claims at their expense. On the other hand, confronting openly hostile attitudes of Crimean officials who were unwilling or unable to help them solve their problems, Tatars felt once more unwelcome, mistreated and discriminated against. Countless administrative barriers (such as near-insurmountable difficulties in obtaining building and residence permits) and hostility of the new surroundings, drove Crimean Tatars to step up pressure on Crimean authorities. The absence of good will, inaptitude, and discriminatory practices of the latter prompted the OKND to assume the role of intermediary between Tatar returnees and local authorities in an attempt to fight the abuse in an organized way.

Urgent needs of the returnees, combined with the lack of cooperation on the part of Crimean officials, forced the Tatars to stand up for their rights. This approach was shockingly new for the thoroughly Sovietized population of Crimea. They looked in disbelief and incomprehension at people staging demonstrations and publicly articulating their political demands. Demonstrations, pickets, hunger strikes and so-called "tent cities" [palatochniye gorodki, tents built nearby official buildings in order to bring their attention to the problems of Crimean Tatars] became the most frequently used tools at this stage of Tatar political struggle. During the first five years in Crimea, the main practical concern of the Tatars was allotment of building plots. To get the Crimean authorities to consider their demands, the Tatars picketed the building of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in Simferopol (the capital of Crimea). Confronted with refusals and excessive delays in granting them building plots, the Tatars staged samozakhvats, that is, unauthorized occupations of unoccupied and undeveloped parcels of land. The first samozakhvat took place in Sevastyanovka, a village in Bakhchisarai region, and quickly spread to other locations.[25] In general, from the Crimean Tatar perspective, years 1990-1992 are seen as history of tent cities and samozakhvats, and their subsequent demolition by militia forces. One of the first large-scale pogroms was conducted in Degirmenkoy village where after brutal beating six Crimean Tatars were arrested for "resisting the police forces." Another tragic page in the history of Tatar resettlement was the destruction of samozakhvats in Molodezhnoye (1992), where a mosque was demolished, and in Krasnyi Ray, Crimean militia and armed forces destroyed the already half-built houses.

According to the prominent Crimean Tatar leader, Mustafa Jemilev, shortage of land played no role in this conflict. "While refusing to allot land to the returnees, Crimean authorities conducted a feverish campaign of distribution of land among non-Tatars. In some cases land distribution took place in factories (such as Foton and Fiolent factories in Simferopol) and was compulsory. The authorities appealed to the "patriotic feelings" of workers saying that otherwise it would be given to Tatars and "the whole Crimea will be Tatar".;[26] To increase support for their rejection of Tatar demands, the authorities often fostered anti-Tatar feelings among locals, a strategy that could have easily produced an open ethnic conflict. The Crimean press was awash with accusatory and hostile articles about "Tatar extremists" and the OKND. Many Tatar activists were arrested for participation in unauthorized protests and demonstrations.

Crimean Tatars viewed this confrontation as a struggle for land in both the idealistic-symbolic, and the practical-material senses of the term. For Crimean authorities and militiamen, on the other hand, at the heart of the issue was the question of order and compliance with the existing law. These two conflicting views gave rise to many questions. For the Tatars and their leaders, the central question was limits of civil disobedience in conditions created by a legal system which Crimean Tatars and their leaders regarded as a bad law.

The main tasks of the OKND during this period included (1) monitoring the political situation in Crimea, (2) effectively defending human rights of the Tatars, as well as (3) conflict management and conflict prevention. Later on, when economic crises engulfed the peninsula, the OKND was forced to handle, in addition to political, a large scope of economic and social issues. In these depressed economic conditions, additionally aggravated by the subjective feeling of victimization harbored by most Crimean Tatars, the OKND began resorting to more radical methods in "extracting" the appropriate decisions from the administration. At the same time, it is important to emphasize that the fundamental principle of the Crimean Tatar National Movement - non-violence - remained unchanged. Regardless of the situation, Tatars never attempted to solve their problems by violent or terrorist means, and never blamed their predicament on any specific ethnic group.

Coming back to the differences between the NDKT and the OKND, the key areas of their disagreement can be summed up as follows. (1) Both groups demanded a state-sponsored repatriation program. The NDKT, however, supported the proposal of State Commission headed by Dogujiyev according to which an annual repatriation quota was to be introduced (400 families in 1991) and Tatars were to be resettled exclusively in the northern regions of the peninsula. OKND rejected these conditions as discriminatory. It argued that proposed limitations on Tatar resettlement amounted to creating a reserve system for Tatar returnees, and allowed the Commission to arbitrarily decide who would be repatriated, when and how. Such measures, OKND claimed, could lead to splits and corruption among Tatars, and encourage slave-like behavior on their part.

The two bodies also differed in their attitude toward Communism. The OKND was in essence an anti-Communist organization, regarding Communism as totalitarian system, adverse to independent thinking. One of the important decisions made by the Executive Committee in August 1991 was declaring the incompatibility between membership of the OKND and that of the Communist Party. The NDKT, on the other hand, was to a significant degree permeated by Communist rhetoric and behavior.

As mentioned above, the OKND stood out to defend the Crimean Tatars regardless of what course of action they took, advising them on strategy and trying to discourage radicalism. Leaders of the NDKT, on the other hand, rejected the policy of samozakhvats, and did not respond to pogroms and numerous administrative measures directed against the Tatars. Detached from the rank and file, the NDKT saw its popularity decline among the Tatars. Moreover, the NDKT joined Soviet officials in accusing the OKND of "extremism". The OKND, on the other hand, showed much less patience with authorities, an attitude that won approval of the rank and file.

The NDKT had no clearly defined structure. The main principle of the group which was hardly an "organization" in the strict sense of the term, was articulation and implementation of "the will of the nation" (nakaz naroda). "The will of the nation" was also the title of a document which in 5 points outlined NDKT's plan of political action. Although the manifesto did not discuss the question of membership, it seemed to indicate that everybody was entitled to represent the nation and act on its behalf.[27] However, disagreements over the manifesto automatically invalidated the dissenter's mandate to represent the nation. The vagueness of the program and poor definition of membership made it difficult to the NDKT to effectively address the problems of the Crimean Tatars. By contrast, OKND's statute featured 8 chapters systematically outlining its objectives, forms of activity, command structure, responsibilities of various subunits and their geographic distribution. In the organizational chart of the OKND, the first level consisted of delegates representing the lowest administrative units, districts or villages. At the second level, these "grassroots" delegates were organized into larger territorial entities, representing cities or rayons. Finally, at the third level, delegates from cities and rayons were selected to represent oblast, the largest administrative unit in Crimea. The Convention, OKND's supreme body, consisted of 'grassroots" delegates. It convened once a year to elect a Central Committee which acted as the highest organ of the OKND when the latter was not in session. Elected by the Convention, the Chairman was treated as a separate administrative body. Revision Committee was elected by the Convention. The tasks of the Committee were to control the Statute obedience and financial activity of all levels of OKND.

As we will see bellow, the structure of the Kurultai-Mejlis strongly resembled that of the OKND, the only difference being that membership of the Kurultai at the "grassroots" level was decided in general elections, a fact that clearly affected its function and modus operandi. Due to the lack of space, the activities of the OKND cannot be discussed here in detail and I will limit myself to name some of the items that figured prominently on its agenda. They included (1) free return of the Crimean Tatars to their ethnic homeland and restoration of the Crimean Republic within the borders defined by the VTsIK and SNK decrees [28] of October 18, 1921; (2) Revocation of all legal acts infringing on the rights of Crimean Tatars; (3) Compensation for material and moral damages they suffered during the 1944 deportation, and legal recognition of the latter as an act of genocide and a crime against humanity; (4) Invalidation of all court sentences based on membership of the Crimean Tatar national movement, full rehabilitation of (including posthumous rehabilitation) and restitution to the victims of repression; (5) restoration of the official-language status of the Crimean Tatar language, and (6) state support for Tatar returnees to Crimea.

As for the principles of the Crimean Tatar National Movement the statute specifically mentioned non-violence, appeals to the court of public opinion (both domestic and international); cooperation with other democratic movements in the USSR, and protests against persecution of the activists; supporting the religious revival among Crimean Tatars and others.[29]

From 1991 to Present: Period of Elected Representative Institutions*

Crimean Tatars soon realized that the OKND did not guarantee adequate representation of the Tatar nation seen as a political entity. Its membership was decided by the Central Committee and based on paying a membership fee. Members elected a chairman. The Tatar National Movement was frequently accused of usurping the right to represent the nation. There was a need to legitimize its activities and its right to speak on behalf of all Crimean Tatars. In order to achieve this it was decided to create institutions that would represent the full scope of political views among Tatars, and in this way assure their massive support. One important function of these institutions was political mobilization, and the increased involvement of the Tatars in a widening large scope of civil and political activities. Democratic elections were thought to be of crucial importance to this process as a means of conceptualizing and articulating "national interest," and better balancing the needs and the expectations of the Crimean Tatars. For all these reasons, the first election to Kurultai and Mejlis opened yet another chapter in the history of the national movement.[30]

In Crimea, Tatars found themselves in a new political environment. Emerging from the ruins of the USSR, the independent Ukraine was now in the process of nation building, defining its own statehood and the shape of Crimean autonomy. The question of autonomy for Crimea was finally decided in 1991, the same year Crimean Tatars held their second Kurultai, and debated their traditional options: the extent of accommodation with local powers and forms of political protest. This time, it was no longer question of rejecting cooperation but of defining the extent to which cooperation was permissible. Likewise, the choice between violent and non-violent forms of political action was no longer purely theoretical but practical and very real.

Kurultai [meaning assembly] is a body elected in general election by all adult Tatars. Mejlis [meaning council] is a permanent executive body elected by the Kurultai from among its members, and implementing its decisions. In practice, the Mejlis is more important than the Kurultai in deciding direction of concrete political action. The Mejlises, in fact, form a system of self-government. It functions at three territorial-administrative levels. (1) The first is Milli Mejlis which, as mentioned above, is elected by the Kurultai. It is followed by (2) regional Mejlises representing the territory of a rayon, and (3) a network of Mejlises representing the lowest administrative units, towns and villages. Regional and local Mejlises are elected by all Crimean Tatars. (Unless it is clearly stated, the term "Mejlis" is used in this paper to refer to Milli Mejlis).

Crude and ineffective state institutions and their frequently obvious unwillingness to address the problems of Tatar returnees, prompted Crimean Tatars to establish a structure that would mediate between them and the Crimean and Ukrainian power centers. In many respects, the Kurultai and the Mejlis were successors of the OKND. Their main function was articulation of Tatar political demands and "professional" negotiations with the authorities. Another crucial function of the Kurultai and the Mejlis is to inform their constituency about political events and explaining them. The two institutions are also responsible for "internationalizing" the problems of the Crimean Tatars, that is, keeping the international public opinion beyond the borders of Crimea and Ukraine informed about their fate.

Today, the Kurultai and the Mejlis are the only bodies providing an institutional framework for the Tatar national movement. They enjoy the support of an overwhelming majority of Tatars. The strength of this support was best demonstrated during the 1994 parliamentary elections in Crimea, when 14 Tatar candidates were elected from the Kurultai list. The legitimacy of the Kurultai is unquestioned among the Tatars and its internal political discussions revolve around other things such as concrete political solutions or issues of personal policy.

The Kurultai and the Mejlis are independent national institutions. However, they are not officially recognized by the Ukrainian state and therefore lack a judicial status or, to put it in other words, they do not exist de jure. Moreover, when the newly established institutions issued a rather radical Declaration of Sovereignty of the Crimean Tatar People, they were denounced as "illegal," "unconstitutional" and attacked for "creating parallel power structures". With time, the Crimean and Ukrainian authorities seem to have de facto recognized the Mejlis as they took steps to formally register it as a social organization or political party. This initiative, however, met with resistance of the Tatar leaders who argued that "Mejlis is not an organization but a representative body of Crimean Tatars, a national parliament. The authorities propose that we register as a social organization or a party, on par with the Society of Beer Lovers. We will not do this".[31] Finally, in 1999, some form of legalization of Mejlis was achieved when an Advisory Council to the President of Ukraine on Crimean Tatar matters was formed. It included all the 33 members of the Mejlis as its sole members.[32] Simultaneously, Advisory Councils for Regional Representatives were created in all regions of Crimea.

The Kurultai and the Mejlis System

Kurultai consists of 200 members elected in indirect, two-staged, first-pass-the-post (majoritarian) election, and 50 members elected from the list of social organizations, NGOs and their coalitions.[33] Crimean Tatars have no permanent political parties, although Kurultai is characterized by a level of internal political diversity.[34] The length of the term in office is 5 years. At the first stage of the elections, representatives of the smallest administrative units (districts and villages) elect the electors. The vote is regarded as legal if at least 50 percent of the eligible voters (individuals over 18 years of age) take part in the election. In practice, minimum 50 signatures are required for the election to be considered legal. An elector needs at least 50 votes to be elected. The second stage of the electoral process is a conference during which electors elect from among themselves the delegates to the Kurultai. One delegate is elected by 20 electors representing a total of 1,000 votes. Electors attending the conference are under no obligation to vote for a particular candidate.

Electoral districts follow the general administrative divisions of Crimea. However, by the decision of the Central Electoral Committee (CEC) two or more additional constituencies can be created in any region at the request of the regional Mejlis. An identical procedure is applied outside Crimea with the difference that the borders of constituencies there overlap with state borders (e.g., Uzbekistan).[35] The number of seats for each constituency changes depending on the number of Crimean Tatar residents. The Central Electoral Committee, which is appointed by the Kurultai, sets these quota based on population statistics provided by the statistical department of the Mejlis.

The main functions of the Kurultai is to appoint members of the Mejlis, its chairman, and the Supervision Committee; approving the report of the Mejlis; adopting decisions.[36] The Kurultai convenes at least every second year, but acts as a supreme body of the Crimean Tatars only when in session. Between sessions this role is reserved for the Mejlis. At the request of one-third of the members and the chairman of the Mejlis, an extraordinary session of the Mejlis can be summoned. According to its statute, the main objective of the Mejlis is "liquidation of the consequences of the genocide perpetrated by the Soviet state against the Crimean Tatar nation," and the implementation of the right of Crimean Tatars to self-determination on its national territory. The statute specifies several ways in which Mejlis seeks to achieve these general objectives. They include: (1) implementation of measures aimed at the fastest possible resettlement of Crimean Tatars in their historic homeland; (2) taking steps to define the status of Crimea in accordance with the principle of self-determination of the Crimean Tatars, and respect for the rights and freedoms of all peoples of Crimea; (3) taking measures to revive language, culture, religion and the education system of the Crimean Tatars; (4) adoption of programs aimed at protecting the economic rights of the Tatars and compensating them for loses suffered as a result of deportation; (5) taking steps aimed to provide relief to the needy and protect mothers and young children; (6) participating in activities aimed at protecting the environment and restoring historical landscapes in Crimea.[37]

The Mejlis consists of 33 delegates elected from among members of the Kurultai. The chairman of the Mejlis, who can stay in office no longer than for two consecutive terms, is accountable to the Kurultai. He is elected by absolute majority and has to win a vote of confidence at every ordinary session of the Assembly. Decisions of the Mejlis are made by absolute majority with a quorum of 2/3 of its members. The internal architecture of the Mejlis is in state of flux. Among its most important sections are political-legal, economic, and statistical departments, as well as departments of information, international relations, education and cooperation with the NGOs.[38] Kurultai membership does not involve any material rewards.

Let us now return to the choices the Tatars have traditionally faced throughout their post-deportation history: emigration, self-exclusion, cooperation, and use of violent versus non-violent approaches to political struggle. I will try to assess their place in Tatar politics today, and the role they may play in the foreseeable future. Generally speaking, as in the previous periods, emigration and self-exclusion are unlikely to dominate the political agenda of the Tatars. On the other hand, the last decade has witnessed a growing role of religion which, in the long run, could lead some Crimean Tatars to withdraw from political life and move towards self-isolation. However, at this point in time, it is too early to talk about a genuine religious revival among the Crimean Tatars. The overwhelming majority of them remain committed to secularism and the average level of religious practices continues to be low. Although Tatars celebrate religious holidays, observance of prayer (salat) 5 times a day is rather exceptional. Low-level drinking of alcohol is widespread.

After 1991 the use of violence in inter-ethnic relations became a real strategy. The inability (or unwillingness, as some Tatar leaders would be quick to point out) of the authorities to protect the population was at least partially due to their ties to the local Mafia and other state-sponsored criminal cliques. It should also be kept in mind that the experience of previous clashes between the Tatars and the so-called "forces of order" in Molodezhnoe, Krasniy Ray and other locations, have led the Tatars to believe that they cannot rely on police and security forces for protection. On the contrary, Tatars strongly suspect that the "forces of order" would turn against them regardless of circumstances and always side with their "enemies" Acting on this reading of the situation, Tatars formed their own forces of self-defense, the Adalet party. Declaring itself a radical brunch of the Tatar national movement, the group adopted an ultra-nationalist rhetoric and a gun-totting posture. To this day, however, there has been not a single instance of active use of Adalet and their future use is unclear. In this context it is important to note that the Mejlis was the only institution in Crimea to publicly raise the question of police corruption and to respond to the actual abuse of power by police.[39] It is also important to keep in mind that, since 1991, all cases of Tatar involvement in violent action have occurred spontaneously, with the Mejlis trying to cool down rather than encourage the mob. This is to say that despite the existence of Adalet (which has since lost much of its original dynamism) the current political leadership continues to discourage the use of violence as an instrument of political struggle.[40]

As already mentioned, the Crimean Tatar national movement had to reassess the concept of "cooperation" with authorities, which prior to 1991 was overwhelmingly equated with betrayal. Cooperation with Communists meant collaboration with the descendents of people directly responsible for the deportation, and placing Communist values above those of the nation. In previous periods, collaboration also meant endorsing the assimilatory policy of the Soviet state. "Cooperation" was never partial, that is, it was impossible to collaborate and protest at the same time. Neither did "collaboration" mean the inclusion of potential "collaborators" in the decision making process.

The period after 1991 was marked by the appearance of a new option as "co-operation" supplemented, and partially replaced, "collaboration." Some Tatars were now able to enter state institutions and defend Tatar national interests from within, playing a more active role in the decision-making process. These trends clearly came to the fore with Tatar participation in the 1994 election, as a result of which 14 Crimean Tatar MPs were elected to the Crimean Parliament. Four years later two Crimean Tatar leaders won seats in the Ukrainian Parliament. At present, party membership became compatible with simultaneous participation in the Tatar national movement. Another case of increased political participation of the Crimean Tatars is the Advisory Council to the President of Ukraine, and the corresponding Advisory Councils to the heads of regional administrations in all regions of Crimea. At present, the Kurultai and the Mejlis tend to support political carriers of those Tatars who engage in the advocacy of Tatar interests. However, the dividing line between "advocacy" and "betrayal" of the Tatar cause is becoming more and more blurred, as Tatars active on the broader political scene struggle to balance their loyalty to public institutions they represent, with loyalty to Mejlis.

Meanwhile, the Kurultai and Mejlis continued their non-violent protests. Their activities centered on the following four issues: (1) the status of Crimea (object of particularly lively debates in the early 1990s); (2) the acquisition of Ukrainian citizenship by Tatar returnees to Crimea (partially resolved in 1998); (3) privatization and land reform; and (4) political representation. Of these, citizenship and political representation issues generated the largest mass-protest actions. A wave of demonstrations conducted in 1998 and 1999 led President Leonid Kuchma to get personally involved in the conflict, and was instrumental in a rapid, if partial, resolution of both problems.[41] The Advisory Committee to the President of Ukraine will be providing the institutional framework for future efforts to complete the task. At present, the issue of land reform is possibly the most urgent for the Crimean Tatars, 73 percent of whom live in rural areas, and 115,000 of whom are unemployed.[42] According to regulations presently in place in Crimea, the unemployed are not eligible for the allocation of land. This problem may deepen as Tatars remaining outside Ukraine decide to return to Crimea.


The essence of Crimean Tatar predicament since 1987, when the process of repatriation started, is that their expectations have been higher than the means to meet them. Historically traumatic experiences gave the Tatars a sense of entitlement, and of being the rightful owners of Crimean land. At the same time, neither the population nor the authorities were prepared for a mass resettlement of Tatars in Crimea. Distrust and often hostile attitudes of the locals, combined with overt discrimination, made the Tatars realize that they were outsiders in Crimea. This is why, to this very day, they insist on being "the indigenous people of Crimea" despite the vagueness of this claim. The most commonly used word in Crimean Tatar political discourse is "discrimination." To fight discrimination and to defend their rights, they established representative institutions, the Kurultai and the Mejlis.

Crimean Tatar National Movement at three crucial moments of history after 1944 - in 1956, 1987 and 1991 - had five options: emigration, exclusion, violence, non-violent political struggle and cooperation. As my review indicates, four factors have played a crucial role in giving them their current shape and forms of action.

First, formal democratic institutions helped assure massive support of Crimean Tatars for the Tatar national movement and mobilized them for political action.

Second, functioning democratic institutions provided a convincing argument against a claim frequently made by groups hostile to the Tatars, that Mejlis was an extremist group usurping the rights to represent political interests of the Tatar population.

Third, the tradition of non-violence strengthened democratic traditions among the Tatars. It is difficult to preserve democratic tradition in conditions of violent conflict. To this day Crimean Tatar leaders adhere to the view, expressed in a proverb, that "bad peace is better than good war." Crimean Tatars are a small nation placing physical survival at the top of their system of values. This makes them deeply aware of the destructive potential of a violent conflict and motivates them to search for non-violent means of conflict resolution.

Fourth, the tradition of legalism and appeals to international law had a deep impact on the political modus operandi of the Tatars. Their strong historical ties with the Soviet dissident movement additionally reinforced their preference for non-violence. Also of great importance was personal continuity of Tatar political institutions. Public personalities play a huge role among Tatars, especially when their involvement in public life are known to gain them no material benefits. The dynamics of past conflicts clearly show that the role of the charismatic chairman of the Mejlis, Mustafa Jemilev, cannot be overestimated. Montesquieu's observation that "first institutions are made by personalities, and only later personalities are made by institutions," fully applies to the representative institutions of Crimean Tatars. On the other hand, this rises question of political succession in the national movement. Will Tatar institutions continue to be so stable and democratic when a new generation of political leaders replaces the "founding fathers"?

This paper has described an institutional change of the Crimean Tatar national movement. There was a change of institutions understood as norms (modes of thinking), which manifested itself in a transition from a reality where the choice was to be an activist or betrayer, to a world of more complex relations with authorities and broader integration into Ukrainian society. At the same time, it was a change of institutions understood as organizations: from flexible initiative groups in the 1960-1980s, through organization in 1987-1991, to the elected representative institutions after 1991. The present article has also indicated an evolution of methods of protest: from petition, through protest towards cooperation with Ukrainian authorities. On the whole, the extent of political involvement of the Tatars has increased considerably since the mid-1990s. Alongside with protest campaigns the Mejlis began to have some impact on the decision-making process of the authorities. Direct consultations of Tatar leaders with the President and security officials at the regional level have mitigated the radicalism of street protesters.


* From this point on, the paper focuses solely on Tatars residing in Crimea, passing over in silence Tatars living in other parts of the former USSR (mainly in Uzbekistan and Russia, numbering 100 000 and 20 000, respectively). Although Mejlis operates an office (predstavitetl'stvo) in Uzbekistan, since 1991 its activities have overwhelmingly centered on Tatar residents of Crimea. This was due not only to their huge problems, but also due to the rapidly decreasing means and opportunities to influence Uzbek policy towards the Tatars. In addition, members of the Tatar political elite have resettled to Crimea, depriving the Uzbek and Russian communities of their most active and dynamic element.

1. For literature regarding specifically the Crimean Tatar National Movement, see Edward Allworth (ed.), The Tatars of Crimea. Return to the Homeland, Duke University Press, Durham and London 1998; Svetlana M. Chrevonnaya, Mikhail Guboglo (eds.), Krymskotatarskoye natsionalnoye dvizheniye [Crimean Tatar National Movement], vols. 1-2, Moscow 1992, vol. 3, Moscow 1996, vol 4. Moscow 1997; Lyudmila Alexeeva, "Krymskotatarskoye Dvizheniye za vozvrashcheniye v Krym" [Crimean Tatar Movement for the Return to Crimea], Krymski Studii, Nos. 5-6, 2000, p. 4-16 (written in 1982); Mustafa Jemilev, "Natsionalno-osvoboditelnoye dvizheniye krymskikh tatar" [National-liberation movement of the Crimean Tatars], in: Krymski tatary: istoriya i suchasnist' (Do 50-richchya deportatsii kryms'kotatarkoho narodu). Materialy mizhnarodnoyi naukovoyi konferentsiyi [Kyiv 13-14 travnya 1994], Kiev 1995, pp. 5-20.

2. For the general history of the Crimean Tatars see: Alan W. Fisher, The Crimean Tatars, Hoover Institution Press, Stanford 1978, p. 264; Valeriy E Vozgrin, Istoricheskiye sud'by krymskikh tatar, Moscow 1992, p.446.

3. For the full text of the decision see: "Postanovleniye gosudarstvennogo Komiteta Oborony SSSR o krymskikh tatarakh, 11 May 1994", Avdet, 16 May 1991, p. 2 and 4.

4. The number of casualties need to be reexamined by historians. This figure ("more than 46.2%") is based on the estimates of CTNM (see, for example petition to the XXIII Party Convention). It is used by Alexeeva and several other authors.

5. For the text of Decree see Chervonnaya, Krymskotatarskoye..., vol. 2, Moscow 1992, p. 50-51. It is important to note that the document did not use the term "Crimean Tatars" but "persons of Tatar nationality formerly lived in Crimea", thus denying the existence of Crimean Tatars as a distinct ethnic group.

6. See Mustafa Jemilev, Natsionalno..., passim.

7. Data after Alexeeva, Krymskotatarskoye..., p. 4.

8. G. Levitskiy, "Pereseleniye krymskikh tatar iz Kryma v Turtsiyu", in: Nariman Ibadullayev (ed.) Zabveniyu nie podlezhit... (Iz istorii krysmkotatarskoy gosudarstvennosi i Kryma) [Not to be Forgotten.. Studies from the history of Criman Tatar statehood and Crimea], Kazan 1992, p. 125. The article was written at the end of XIXth century.

9. Remzi Ilyasov, "Kryms'kotatarska problema: realiyi i perpektyvy" [Crimean Tatar problems: today and perspectives], Kryms'kotatars'ke pytanniya [Crimean Tatar Issues], No. 4 (8) 1999, p. 79.

10. For the petition campaign see Alan Fisher, The Crimean..., pp. 175-176

11. Alexeeva, "Krymskotatarskoye..., p. 6.

12. Jemilev, "Natsionalno..., p. 10.

13. For the text of appeal see "Khronika tekushchikh sobytiy" [Chronicle of Current Events], Issue 1, 30 April 1968, p. 14-15 - reprinted in Krymski Studii, Nos. 5-6, 2000, p.17-18

14. Mustafa Abduljemil (Jemilev), "Delo o "Soyuze krymskotatarskoy molodezhi", Avdet, 15 December 1990, p. 2, January 1991, p. 4, 22 January 1991, p.4.

15. See Shestoy protsess Mustafy Jemileva. Materialy sledstviya i zapis' sudebnogo protsessa. 1983-1984 gg. Tashkent., Simferopol 2001; Rossiyskaya Federatsiya protiv Mustafy Jemileva: Omskiy protsess. Aprel 1976 g., Kiev 1998.

16. Alexeeva, "Krymskotatarskoye..., p. 8.

17. For the analysis of this event and its subsequent interpretations see Greta Uehling, Squatting, Self-Immolation, and the Repatriation of Crimean Tatars, Nationalities Papers, vol. 28, No. 2, 2000, pp. 317-341.

18. Alexeeva, "Krymskotatarskoye..., p. 14.

19. Jemilev, "Natsionalno..., p. 11.

20. "The Letter of Seventeen" refers to a document signed by seventeen Crimean Tatars in 1968. The document condemned the activists of the Crimean Tatar national movement and called on Tatars to integrate with the "inclusive Uzbek society" and giving up the idea of repatriating to Crimea. For the text of the Letter see Avdet, 15 March 1991, p. 3; also reprinted in Chervonnaya, Krymskotatarskoye..., vol. 2., p. 186-189.

21. For the description of the campaign, see Mustafa Jemilev, Krymskiye tatary v Moskwe. Leto 1987 goda, Yangiyul 1988, passim.

22. Although it was not a registered organization. For the "Statute of OKND," see a special insert to Avdet, 12 April 1991.

23. Remzi Ilyasov, Krymskotatarskaya..., p. 67.

24. The table is based on the data provided by the deputy Prime Minister of the Crimean Autonomous Republic Ilmi Umerov in his report for the First session of the III Kurultai on 27 June 1996.

25. Jemilev, "Natsionalno-..., p. 18.

26. Ibidem, p. 17.

27. For the text of Nakaz see "NDKT: politicheskiy portret", Avdet 15 February 1991, p. 2-3; or "Mandat predstavitelya krymskotatarskogo naroda", in: Chervonnaya, Krymskotatarskoye..., vol 2, p. 252-253.

28. VTsIK - All-Russian Central Executive Committee (Vserossiyskiy Tsnetralniy Ispolnitelniy Komitet), SNK or Sovnarkom - The Council of State Commissioners (Sovet narodnykh kommisarov). The decree of 1921 established the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic as a part of the Russian Federation. This rhetoric, widely used by the OKND in Soviet times, was quickly abandoned after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

29. See Statute of the OKND, a special insert to the "Avdet" newspaper on 12 April 1991. Reprinted in Chervonnaya, Krymskotatarskoye..., vol. 2, pp. 60-68.

30. The OKND still exists, but does no longer play a central role in Crimean Tatar politics. It remains one of the many forces within the Crimean Tatar national movement, its membership overlapping to a significant degree with those of Kurultai and the Mejlis. The OKND itself is in a state of identity crisis. Among the ideas emerging from heated debates about its future conducted by its members, is to convert the OKND into a Tatar political party. Characteristically, the proposed name for the party is "Milli Firqa" a reference to the most influential Tatar political party in the early 20th century. On this subject see Nadir Bekirov, "Ot OKND k "Milli Firka", Avdet, 11 June 1992, p. 2; "OKND - bez viny vinovataya", in: Chervonnaya, Krymskotatarskoye..., vol. 4, pp. 109-116.

31. Mustafa Jemilev's interview in Komsomolskaya Pravda v Ukrainie, 17 March 2000. Cited after Oxana Shevel, "Crimean Tatars and Ukrainian State: The Challenge of Politics, The Use of Law, and the Meaning of Rhetoric", Krymski Studii, No. 1(7) 2000, p. 114.

32. For the Decree of the President Leonid Kuchma, see "Ukaz Prezidenta Ukrainy O Sovete predstaviteley krymskotatarskogo naroda", in: Krymskiye tatary - Kampaniya grazhdanskogo protesta protiv diskriminatsii korennogo naroda Kryma (1998-200), Simferopol 2001, p. 58. For the acitivy of Advisory Committee for the President of Ukraine, see an Official Information in Krymski Studii, No. 1(7) 2000, pp. 4-10 (for Ukrainian version) and pp. 103-109 (English version). See also Krymski Studii, Nos. 2-3 (8-9) 2001, pp. 4-5 (for Ukrainian language version) and 132-133 (for English language version).

33. The latest amendments to the electoral system were adopted in January 2000. Before, all Kurultai delegates were elected according to first-pass-the-post rule. Among other crucial amendments were: first - the possibility to elect candidates from a list of non-governmental organizations, and, second - new eligibility criteria for delegates and voters. Now only Crimean Tatar - citizen and residents of Ukraine can be voters and delegates. In addition, delegates have to demonstrate their ability to speak the Crimean Tatar language. The first amendment reflected the increasing role of non-governmental organizations in Tatar society. The second reflected the "Ukrainization" of the Mejlis and Kurultai and the process of "diasporization" of Crimean Tatar communities outside Crimea.

34. One of the most important structural features of the Kurultai is the lack of provision for a formal opposition. It is linked directly with the problem of unity within Crimean Tatars Mejlis members are nominated according to their personal authority and charisma, not to their political views. This, in turn, makes only a "hidden opposition" possible within the body. This shortcoming, in my view, led to a crisis in 1997 (see below).

35. It is estimated that about 7,000 voters live in Uzbekistan.

36. I do not use word "law" in reference to documents adopted by the Kurultai, because of their distinct character: compliance with these rules is not guaranteed by force, but based solely on the prestige of the institution.

37. Statute (Charter) of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People adopted on 28 June 1996, article 2.1. in: Dokumenty Kurultaya krymskotatarskogo naroda prinyatiye na yego sessiyakh i konferentsiyakh v 1991-1998g., Simferopol 1999, p. 90. Later amendments did not change this declaration of goals.

38. Based on 'Reglament Kurultaya krymskotatarskogo naroda and Polozheniye Mejlisa krymskotatarskogo naroda," in: Dokumenty Kurultaya...., pp. 81-93.

39. See numerous statements of Mejlis and its chairman e.g., Report of the Mejlis Chairman to the III Kurultai: " Blackmail and beating of arrested Crimean Tatars by militia had become almost commonplace. Of course, not only Crimean Tatars are subjected to beatings and humiliations, but beatings of Crimean Tatars go as a rule along with wretched insults to their national dignity", Avdet, 18 January 2001, p. 4.

40. For the development of Adalet party, see chapter of Chervonnaya, "Askery partii "Adalet": mif ili realnost'?", in: Krymskotatarskoye..., vol. 4., pp. 90-109; For further internal events in Adalet party especially in regard to 1997 crisis see, Svetlana M. Chervonnaya, Krym' 97. Kurultay protiv raskola., Moscow 1998, passim.

41. See Krymskiye Tatary: kampaniya grazhdanskogo protesta protiv diskriminatsii korennogo naroda Kryma (1998-2000), Publication of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, Simferopol 2000, passim.

42. Raiet Abdullayev, "Pravo na zemelnu vlasnist' korinnoho narodu", Kryms'kotatars'ke pytannia, N 5(21) 2001, pp. 86-95.


  1. Abduljemil Mustafa (Jemilev), "Delo o "Soyuze krymskotatarskoy molodezhi", Avdet 15 December 1990 p. 2, January 1991, p. 4 and 22 January 1991, p.4.
  2. Abdullayev Raiet, "Pravo na zemelnu vlasnist' korinnoho narodu", Kryms'kotatars'ke pytannia, No. 5(21), 2001, pp. 86-95.
  3. Alexeeva, Lyudmila, "Krymskotatarskoye Dvizheniye za vozvrashcheniye v Krym" [Crimean Tatar Movement for the Returning to Crimea], Krymski Studii, Nos. 5-6, 2000, p. 4-16 (written in 1982).
  4. Allworth, Edward (ed.), The Tatars of Crimea. Return to the Homeland, Duke University Press, Durham and London 1998.
  5. Bekirov, Nadir, "Ot OKND k "Milli Firka", Avdet, 11 June 1992, p. 2.
  6. Chervonnaya, Svetlana M., Krym' 97. Kurultay protiv raskola., Moscow 1998.
  7. Chervonnaya, Svetlana M., Problemy vozvrashcheniya i integratsii krymskikh tatar v Krymu: 1990-ye gody, Moscow 1997.
  8. Chrevonnaya, Svetlana M., Guboglo, Mikhail, Krymskotatarskoye natsionalnoye dvizheniye [Crimean Tatar National Movement], vol. 1 and vol. 2, Moscow 1992, vol. 3m Moscow 1996, vol. 4, Moscow 1997.
  9. Chubarov, Refat, Tishenko Yulia, "The Crimean Autonomy. Origin and New Beginnings (1991-1992)", Krymski Studii, Nos. 2-3 (8-9) 2001, pp. 153-163.
  10. Dokumenty Kurultaya krymskotatarskogo naroda prinyatiye na yego sessiyakh i konferentsiyakh v 1991-1998g., Simferopol 1999.
  11. Fisher, Alan W., The Crimean Tatars, Hoover Institution Press, Stanford 1978.
  12. Hromads'ki ta politychni lidery kryms'kotatarkoho narodu, ed. by S. Konopchuk, G. Mykhailichenko, V. Prytula, Y. Tishcehnko, O. Tkachuk, UNCPD, Kiev 1999.
  13. Jemilev, Mustafa, Krymskiye tatary v Moskwe. Leto 1987 goda, Yangiyul 1988.
  14. Kandym, Yunus, "Kurultay, kak eto bylo", Avdet 29 March 1991, p. 1, 12 April 1991, p. 2-3.
  15. "Khronika tekushchikh sobytiy" [Chronicle of Current Events], Issue 1, 30 April 1968, p. 14-15 - reprinted in Krymski Studii, Nos. 5-6, 2000.
  16. Krymskiye tatary - Kampaniya grazhdanskogo protesta protiv diskriminatsii korennogo naroda Kryma (1998-200), Publication of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, Simferopol 2001
  17. Levitskiy G., "Pereseleniye krymskikh tatar iz Kryma v Turtsiyu", in: Zabveniyu nie podlezhit... (Iz istorii krysmkotatarskoy gosudarstvennosi i Kryma) [Not to be Forgotten... Studies from the history of Criman Tatar statehood and Crimea], (ed. Nariman Ibadullayev), Kazan 1992, p. 110-140.
  18. Mustafa Dzhemilew, "Natsionalno-osvoboditelnoye dvizheniye krymskikh tatar" [National-liberation movement of the Crimean Tatars], in: Krymski tatary: istoriya i suchasnist' (Do 50-richchya deportatsii kryms'kotatarkoho narodu). Materialy mizhnarodnoyi naukovoyi konferentsiui [Kyiv 13-14 travnya 1994], Kiev 1995, pp. 5-20.
  19. "NDKT: politicheskiy portret", Avdet 15 February 1991, p. 2-3;
  20. "Otchet predsedatelya Mejlisa krymskotatarskogo naroda" [Report of the Mejlis Chairman to the III Kurultai], Avdet 18 January 2001, p. 4.
  21. Ozenbashli A., "Rol' tsarskogo pravitel'stva v emigratsii krymskikh tatar", in: Zabveniyu nie podlezhit, (Iz istorii krysmkotatarskoy gosudarstvennosi i Kryma), ed. Nariman Ibadullayev, Kazan 1992, pp. 69-74.
  22. "Postanovleniye gosudarstvennogo Komiteta Oborony SSSR o krymskikh tatarakh, 11 May 1994", Avdet, 16 May 1991, p. 2 and 4.
  23. Remzi Ilyasov, "Kryms'kotatarska problema: realiyi i perpektyvy", Kryms'kotatars'ke pytanniya [Crimean Tatar Issues] No. 4 (8) 1999, p. 79.
  24. Rossiyskaya Federatsiya protiv Mustafy Jemileva: Omskiy protsess. Aprel 1976 g., Kiev 1998.
  25. Shestoy protsess Mustafy Jemileva. Materialy sledstviya i zapis' sudebnogo protsessa. 1983-1984 gg. Tashkent, Simferopol, 2001.
  26. Shevel, Oxana, "Crimean Tatars and Ukrainian State: The Challenge of Politics, The Use of Law, and the Meaning of Rhetoric", Krymski Studii No. 1(7) 2000, pp. 109-129.
  27. Uehling, Greta, "Squatting, Self-Immolation, and the Repatriation of Crimean Tatars", Nationalities Papers, vol. 28, No. 2, 2000, pp. 317-341.
  28. Vozgrin Valeriy E., Istoricheskiye sud'by krymskikh tatar, Moscow, 1992.

© 2002 Kurtmolla Abdulganiyev.
No part of this paper may be reproduced without the author's permission.

Posted: 21 November 2002

ICC Home Page