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Remembering the deportation - SÜRGÜN

25 May 2000 - kpnews - Sergey Gnedoy - Elmira Ablyamirova returned to Crimea nearly six decades after she was deported along with hundreds of thousands of other Crimean Tatars. Story of a Crimean tree of life. By Evgenia Mussuri, Post Staff Writer

      KAMENKA, CRIMEA – In 1944, when Elmira Ablyamirova was 12, she lost her entire family. When she married
                           five years later, she made a decision never to be alone. Today, the 68-year-old Crimean Tatar woman has five daughters, five
                           sons and 18 grandchildren. 
                           Before losing their home and being deported, Ablyamirova's family was prominent and wealthy in Yalta, the famous Black Sea
                           resort town in Crimea where she was born. 
                           “My grandfather was the Mufti [interpreter of Islamic religious law] of the region,” she said. “When Russian
                           Tsar Nikolas II came to Crimea, my grandfather was the first to greet him on Crimean soil.” 
                           The family's comfortable life came to an end in 1937, when the authorities decided that its wealth and steadfast belief in
                           Allah were incompatible with the Soviet lifestyle. 
                           Police first came for Ablyamirova's grandfather, then the father, sending both to Siberia. When the German Nazi Army invaded
                           the Soviet Union in 1941, Ablyamirova's only siblings, two brothers, were conscripted by the Red Army and sent to fight the
                           invaders. Ablyamirova was left with only her mother. 
                           But this too was not to last long. 
                           In May 1944, Ablyamirova and her mother went to visit distant relatives in another Crimean town, Alushta, for several days.
                           Again, the military men came. This time they were here to execute a brutak order by then Soviet dictator Josef Stalin to exile
                           the entire population of Crimean Tatars to Central Asia. 
                           At the time, Ablyamirova did not realize that this was a forced deportation, organized under fabricated accusations that Tatars
                           had collaborated with Nazis. 
                           “During the war it often happened that the military came and took civilians further away from the front line,”
                           she said. “We kept thinking that they'd bring us back home.” 
                           Instead, Ablyamirova, her mother, and hundreds of thousands of other Tatars were deported to the Central Asian republic of
                           Uzbekistan. They were housed in shabby shacks, without water, a stove, or even the simplest conveniences. Soon other nationalities
                           were added to the settlement, and Ablyamirova remembers each praying to his own God in his own language. 
                           “We all, Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Orthodox Christians and others prayed side by side,” she said. 
                           The living conditions were dismal, and many people died from cold and hunger. The dead were buried in a mass grave on the
                           fringe of the shack settlement. Twelve-year-old Ablyamirova worked day and night at a textile plant to support herself and
                           her mother. 
                           “We were starving, and only now I realize what my mother did,” she said. “Most likely she gave all her food
                           to me and that was the reason for her disease. She died shortly after.” 
                           Ablyamirova, who now believed she was an orphan, continued to work at the factory. Shortly, an Uzbek man adopted her, and
                           the girl soon became almost like a native Uzbek. 
                           “I looked and spoke like any other Uzbek girl, I wore their clothes, and only my face was different,” Ablyamirova
                           Years passed. One day, on her way to work, Ablyamirova saw an old man trying to board a tram. 
                           “He was very thin and looked sick, he had a big backpack and could not make it in,” she recalled. “I helped
                           him in and when I looked back, he nodded to me and said, ‘Thank you, girl.'” 
                           Ablyamirova did not realize she had just met her father. 
                           “I came from work and saw the backpack of the old man I met in the morning,” she said, wiping away her tears.
                           “And I knew right away that he was my father even before he came out of the room to tell me the truth.” 
                           Ablyamirova's father had been released from prison shortly before, and, after learning of the deportation of his wife and
                           daughter, had started searching for them. He came to the Uzbek capital Tashkent, where he was told his family would be. There
                           he ran into a former school colleague, who led him to Ablyamirova's home. 
                           From that day on, the two never lived apart. When Ablyamirova turned 17, her father arranged a marriage for her, and she decided
                           to raise a large family. 
                           “I wanted many relatives, so that they would never feel lonely, like I did,” said Ablyamirova, whose name in her
                           native tongue means “the tree of life.” 
                           In the late 1980s, when the Soviet authorities allowed Crimean Tatars to return to their homeland, Ablyamirova's huge family
                           of 33 people was one of the first to come back. 
                           Although her old house in Yalta, where her family had lived for 50 years, still existed, Ablyamirova had to settle in Kamenka,
                           a village just outside the Crimean capital Simferopol, which was designated by the local government as one of the settlements
                           for the returning Tatars. 
                           These days she often travels to Yalta to have a look at her once gorgeous house, she said. 
                           “I have all the documents stating it belongs to my family, but it is very difficult to get compensation,” Ablyamirova
                           said. “And my husband forbade me to deal with it. He says we have a home already.”

Part of " Open Letter from the Russian friends of the Crimean Tatars" and a brief statement from one of the survivors of the mass deportation: " ... It was a journey of lingering death in cattle trucks, crammed with people, like mobile gas chambers. The journey lasted three to four weeks and took them across the scorching summer steppes of Kazakhstan. They took the Red partisans of the Crimea, the fighters of the Bolshevik underground, and the Soviet and Party activists. Also invalids and old men. The remaining men were fighting at the front, but deportation awaited them at the end of the war. And in the meantime they crammed their women and children into trucks, where they constituted the vast majority. Death mowed down the old, the young and the weak. They died of thirst, suffocation and the stench.. . On the long stages the corpses decomposed in the huddle of the trucks, and at the short halts, where water and food were handed out, the people were not allowed to bury their dead and had to leave them besides the railway trucks" ("The Crimean Tatars, Volga Germans and Meshketians" by Ann Sheehy, p.10 ) Nuriye Ismailova is a 69-year-old pensioner. In May 1944, she was a young newlywed whose husband was in the army and fighting at the front. Back then, as now, she lived in Belogorsk, a town about 30 miles east of Simferopol. Remembering the deportation brings tears to her eyes: "At 3.00 am (May 18,1944) two soldiers knocked on the door. I was the oldest daughter. I had four younger sisters. The soldiers told us: you've got 15 minutes and then we are going to take you away. Our father reminded us about the Germans, and how they had gone around collecting the Jews and then shooting them. He was convinced that the soldiers were going to do the same to all of us. so he told us not to bother taking anything with us- that we were all going to be shot. So we left with only the clothes on our backs. It was only that night that they put the people of our village into trucks and took us to the railroad. When we arrived in Uzbekistan it was 110 degrees Fahrenheit- unimaginable heat. I was the only one to survive. My father, mother and sisters all perished from the ordeal." ("Crimean Tatars: Repatriation and Conflict Prevention" by Open Society Institute, p.13)

Report from Forced Migration Projects of the Open Society Institute For those who lived through them, the events of May 18, 1944, have been seared into memory as if by a branding iron. One such survivor is Shavki Anafiev, a pensioner who now lives in the Tatar settlement of Kamenka, on the outskirts of Simferopol. When the deportation occurred he was 16, and although more than five decades have passed, his recollections remain vivid: It was early in the morning-still dark-when they came and knocked on the door. I answered because my mother did not speak Russian. They told us that some kind of resolution had been adopted and that we must leave. They gave us a half-hour to gather some possessions and food. . . . Everyone began to cry as we gathered our things. There were five of us in our family, and together with our neighbors, they loaded us into a truck and drove us away. They took us to a muddy field, which they were using as a collection point, and they made us stand there. All the while a light rain was falling. We were surrounded by soldiers armed with machine guns, and we were not permitted to move. . . . We waited and waited in the rain. People were afraid and they cried. We were aware of what the Germans had done to the Jews. . . . Eventually trucks arrived and we were taken to a spot were two long freight trains were waiting. We were thrown into the ninth car of one of the trains. In our car, there were about 85 people. We spent the whole night in the car, but the train never moved. Only in the early morning [May 19] did the train begin to move. During the journey [to Central Asia] one woman gave birth right in the car. A young boy also died, and they just took the body away and would not allow us to properly bury him.

Unfortunately for the Crimean Tatars, this was not the end of the Surgun, there were some Crimean Tatars forgotten by the planners of this mass deportation. The following is the eyewitness account of what happened to these forgotten Crimean Tatars {from the Crimean Review Vol.V.No.2, pp. 13-14) “...The entire population who fought bravely to defend the motherland, was slandered with the allegation of being traitors, and deported from their place of birth. I am a witness of this tragedy... I want to touch upon an incident of mass deportation of the Crimean Tatars. One of the leaders of this genocide, Bogdan Kobulov, reports to L.P. Beria that ‘the Crimea is cleaned of Tatars.’ Beria relates this to Stalin right at that moment. Thousands of participants of this “successful” operation were being decorated with medals(on July 19, 1944). During this “victory” banquet Kobulov was told: ‘ we forgot to deport those Tatars in the villages on the strip of Arabat’. They were fisherman and salt miners living in those villages on the strip that separates the Sivash from the Azov Sea. It was obvious that men of the villages were fighting in the fronts. The majority of these villagers were women and children. Kobulov orders: ‘ If a single Tatar remains alive in two hours, your heads will roll’. Beria’s fascist henchman was told that it was impossible to round up all the Tatars in two hours in an area that stretches hundred kilometers. Stalin’s henchmen were finally given twenty four hours to accomplish their “mission”. They took an old boat from the port of Genicsek, rounded up all the Crimean Tatars from the Arabat and loaded them on this old boat. Then they took them to the deepest section of the Azov Sea and opened the kingston (the cap of the hole). The boat full of our fellow Tatars sank to the bottom. The murderers were waiting with their machine guns,waiting for (survivors)...”

Here are some excerpts from Vladimir Polyakov's "Crimean Tatars." ON POLYAKOV'S FAMILY Before the communist revolution broke out in 1917, my grandfather, Matvey Petrovich Polyakov, worked as a technician at the Simferopol Telegraph Center. My father was an officer in the Red Army, a fighter pilot. My father was fluent and spoke Crimean Tatar like a native because Crimean Tatar was at the time the principal spoken language in the region. Among his friends there were many Crimean Tatars. And, those friendships lasted throughout his entire life. ON THE BOLSHEVIKS IN CRIMEA The relations with Bolsheviks were not easy due to Bolshevik ignorance of the national question, which was so painful for Crimean Tatars. Once Bolsheviks adopted the policy of terror, they were bound to cross some lines. Crimean Tatars even tried to resist against the deadly punitive brigades of Bolsheviks that raged over such cities as Sevastopol, Simferopol, and Evpatorya. There they executed, without any courts, anyone who was identified as a non-working person. My father told me how he witnessed people getting shot just because they were wearing reading glasses or did not have any scars on their hands from hard labor. ON WORLD WAR II The Soviets found out the most stunning fact that many people, common people, were not sorry at all that the communists had left. Some of Crimean Tatars shared the same feelings with the rest. May be things would end up differently if the partisans had not run out of food. Due to mishandled plans for provisions, the partisans began making the so-called "Provision raids," which in reality, were pure robberies of the local population. In their memoirs Soviet partisans admit to taking food and live stock from persons, who were collaborating with the Germans, but during those hasty attacks they were not so sure who was who, and innocent people might have been targeted too. AN EXCERPT FROM A REGIONAL COMMUNIST PARY DOCUMENT Mistakes that were made in regard to Crimean Tatar population, and measures needed to eliminate mishandling of situation among Crimean Tatar population. November 18, 1942. .... We also can not ignore the cooperation of Crimean Tatar population when a group of 300 partisans coming out of the enemy’s encampment waited for three days near the villages. But none reported to the Germans their whereabouts. In addition, a Crimean Tatar shepherd let his animals go over the partisan’s footprints in order to cover them up.

Please see the attached list of Crimean Tatar villages destroyed by the Nazi Forces, prepared by Fikret Yurter, the President of the Crimea Foundation in New York. Mr. Yurter compiled this list through interviews with the Crimean Tatars who returned to Crimea from exile in Uzbekistan. The destruction caused by the Nazis is also documented by Alexandr M. Nekrich in a highly informative work on deportation of nationalities, The Punished People. He quotes Dr. Edige Kirimal: "Toward the end of occupation, in December 1943 and January 1944, the Germans burned down and destroyed 128 mountain villages in the southern and northern Crimea. In January 1944 the inhabitants of Argin, Baksan, and Kazal - the Crimean Tatar villages burned to the ground by the Germans - together with the inhabitants of Efendikoi, Kutur, and Neiman - Russian villages similarly burned - fled into the hills to join the partisans." (pp.23-24) Crimean Tatar Villages Destroyed by the Nazis During World War II A - G H - P S - Z Acibulat Hocasala Sahmirza Argin Kamisli Savatka Armutluk Kandor Selen Arpat Karalez Sirli Köprü Asagi Çorgun Karasubasi Soyun-Aci Asagi Taygan Kalintay Star-Suli Avci Köy Kaymak Stila Ayan Kaynavut Suri Aylanma Kesek-Karatuk Suvuksu Aytodor Ketaut Suyu-Aci Badrak Kermençik Tama Bahçeli Kilsadik Taskora Bahsan Kislav Tatar-Köy Bakatas Kizilkoba Tatar-Osman Bakes Kobazi Tavbadrak Baydar Kokköz Tavdayir Besuy Kokluz Tav-Eli Biyesala Konrat Tav-Kipçak Bora Koktas Temirci Burunca Kos Degirmen Teskondu Büyük-Laka Köprülü Köy Ters-Kondu Büyük-Onlar Kovus Toban-Eli Büyük-Özenbas Koyüs Totay-Köy Büyük-Yanköy Kozi-Eli Ulakli Cafer-Berdi Küçük Özenbas Ulu-Özen Cansaray Kuçka Ulusala Çardakli Kutlak Urkusta Çavke Kutluk Uppa Çerkez-Kermen Kumüslük Uppi-Köy Çirmalik Maltoy Veyrant Çokrak Mambet-Ulan Veyrat Çorgun Mangus Yanci-Köy Çorgun-Yukari Mamut-Sultan Yanibardak Çormalik Molbay Yani-Köy Deren Ayir Navdayir Yeni-Sala Ekitas Ortalan Yeni-Saray Elbuzlu Payli-Yar Yukari Taygan Eskisaray Piçki Yüzümlük Fotsala

Interestingly enough, the most important monument to the deportation was actually built in Long Island New York by Crimean Tatar architect, Fikret Yurter. This large marble edifice is located in the center of Crimean Tatar Muslim cemetery in the town of Comack and consists of a 9 foot tall marker in the shape of the tarak tamgha. The tarak tamgha, originally the dynastic seal of the Crimean Khans of the Giray lineage, was adopted by early Crimean Tatar nationalists as the symbol of this people's new found national identity. It is singularly sad that the largest monument to the event that saw the Crimean Tatars scattered from their homeland by Stalin lies not in the Crimea itself but a world away on one of the many shores this diasporic people have found themselves. [MAY 18TH 1944 - THE CRUCIBLE OF MODERN CRIMEAN TATAR NATIONAL IDENTITY BY BRIAN GLYN WILLIAMS, University of Wisconsin, Madison - from TN 18.05.1999]

Turkistan Newsletter - Turkistan Bulteni - Thu, 18 May 2000 08:14:29 - ISSN:1386-6265 Volume 4:103 MAY 18TH 1944 THE CRUCIBLE OF MODERN CRIMEAN TATAR NATIONAL IDENTITY. BY BRIAN GLYN WILLIAMS It has been said that one must know a nation's tragedies and the way its people commemorate them to know its soul. To understand the Russians one has to visit its memorials to the more than 20 million members of that nation who gave their lives fighting in the Great Patriotic War against Nazi Germany, to understand Serbian aggression of today one has to visit the sacred monasteries of Kosovo commemorating that people's defeat Kosovo in 1389 at the hands of the Ottomans, the Armenians cannot be understood today without understanding the role of the collective memory of the year 1915 assault on their community by the Ottoman government, the Palestinians are defined by their trans-generational narratives of their expulsion from Israel in 1948, the Jews of today, regardless of their level of religiosity, are shaped by the collective memory of the Shoah, The Holocaust etc. Those who underestimate the importance of these national tragedies in shaping these nations' identities and relations to their neighbors do so at their own risk. The defining event in 20th century Crimean Tatar history is the brutal deportation and exile of this entire people from their peninsular homeland on the Black Sea (Ukraine) to the deserts of Central Asia and Siberia in the closing days of World War II. On May 18, 1944 the entire Crimean Tatar people, men, women, children, the elderly, unarmed civilians and those fighting for the Soviet Rodina (Homeland) in the ranks of the Red Army were arbitrarily accused of 'mass treason' by Soviet leader Josef Stalin and deported from their villages located in the Crimea's Yaila mountains and on the warm southern shore of the Crimea. The official explanation for this action was announced at a later date in the Soviet paper Izvestiia which declared: During the Great Patriotic War when the people of the USSR were heroically defending the honor and independence of the Fatherland in the struggle against the German-Fascist invaders, many Chechens and Crimean Tatars, at the instigation of German agents joined volunteer units organized by the Germans and together with German troops engaged in armed struggle against units of the Red Army...meanwhile the main mass of the population of the Chechen Ingush and Crimean ASSRs took no counteraction against these betrayers of the Fatherland.(1) There are some grounds for this accusation. As many as 20,000 Crimean Tatars did serve in the Wehrmacht in varying capacities as Hiwis (German, literally 'volunteers') but most of these were prisoners of war captured by the German army as it surrounded and captured whole Soviet armies in 1941 and 1942. Another 20,000 Crimean Tatars actually fought for the Soviet homeland in the Soviet army. Others fought in the ranks of the partisans who launched guerrilla raids on the German occupying forces during the war. The eyewitness testimonies of Russian officers offer us an invaluable account of the anti-Nazi guerrilla activities of a Crimean Tatar partisan brigade: The Commissar of the Eastern formation was named captain Refat Mustafaev (prior to the war he was secretary of the Crimean regional party). Here is one episode of the military actions of his formation. In the end of the 1943 the divisions of the second and third brigades destroyed the fascist garrison in Stary Krym (Eski Kirim) destroying on that occasion two tanks, 16 vehicles with gasoline and ammunition. The partisans occupied the building of the commander of the city police and threw grenades into the restaurant where the Hitlerites banqueted. One of the group seized the Gestapo jail and freed 46 Soviet patriots.(2) As the Crimean Tatars joined the partisans their villages suffered heavily from German reprisals. The following account is typical: Dozens of Crimean Tatars were shot in Alushta on the banks of the Demerci, in the foothills of the Kastel in dozens in the villages of Ulu -Sala, Kizil Tash, Degirmen Koy, Tav-Bodrak, Saly and many others. In July 1988 the country learned from information in Tass that in= the partisan regions in the mountainous part of the Crimea all villages were burnt and a 'dead zone' was created. Yes it actually happened. More than 70 villages were destroyed. In them dwelt more than 25% of the Tatar population of the Crimea. In these villages, in remote woodlands, in the mountains lived only Tatars.(3) Seen in this light, the official charges leveled against the Crimean Tatars of 'mass treason' are obviously spurious. The real reason for the deportation may in fact lie in Stalin's plans to invade Turkey at this time. In particular, as the Red Army moved into a collapsing Germany, Stalin contemplated the annexation of the Turkish vilayets (provinces) of Kars and Ardahan on Turkey's north-eastern border with the USSR (these were lost to Russia during World War I). The Soviets commenced a broad propaganda campaign at this time designed to lead to an Armenian uprising in this region and Turkey in return planned a full mobilization.(4) As Stalin prepared for this operation he, as a Georgian, must have been keenly aware of the existence of several Muslim, traditionally pro-Turkish ethnic groups located on the invasion route through the Caucasus. The "Crimean Turks" occupied the USSR's main naval base facing Turkey across the Black Sea and other small, distrusted ethnic groups, such as the Karachai, Balkars, Chechens, Ingush and the Meshketian Turks, occupied the frontier with Turkey or the two main highways running to Turkey--the Georgian military highway and the coastal highway. All these suspect Muslim groups were deported after they were accused of blanket treason against the Rodina during the German invasion except for the Meshketian Turks who were not accused of mass betrayal. The homeland of this small conglomerate ethnic group, made up of Turkic Karapapakhs, Muslim Armenians (Khemshils), Turkicized Kurds and the Meshketian Turks proper, located far to south on the Turkish border in the Georgian SSR, had never been close to the scene of combat. The fact that this patently innocent ethnie was chosen for group deportation lends the strongest credence to the claim that the deportation of the Crimean and Caucasian Muslims had more to do with Soviet foreign policy priorities than any real crimes of 'universal treason' committed by these groups. As Mehmet Tutuncu surmised "The only thing all of these peoples have in common is religion and that they inhabit areas that would be sensitive in an invasion of Turkey. And this seems the only reason for the collective punishment of all these people."(5) Regardless of the reasons, the results were terrifying for the targeted nationalities. Just as the anti-septic term 'ethnic cleansing' fails to capture the true horror of rape camps, mass slaughter, brutal expulsion, and destruction of homes, welfare and culture, the term 'deportation' fails to capture the true horror of this event which befell the Crimean Tatars and several other small nations. Tens of thousands of NKVD (the progenitor of the KGB) troops surrounded the Crimean Tatar hamlets in the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Crimean ASSR) and began to expel their startled inhabitants on the eve of May 18 1944. Thousands deemed guilty of collaboration with the Germans, who had occupied the Crimea during the war, were shot on the spot, those who were resisted were beaten or shot. Traditionally tight-knit Crimean Tatar families and villages were divided as the well armed troops gathered them and drove them to local rail heads for deportation in various directions. In many cases the men were divided from their families and shipped to lumber and gas camps in Siberia where they were forced to do physical labor. The death rate in the harsh conditions in these camps meant that many Crimean Tatar men never again saw their families again.(6) The deportees remember the weeks spent on the trains in cattle cars, whose only modification for human inhabitation was a pipe fitted in the corner for defecating, with particular horror. For efficiency's sake the deportees had been crammed on to the locked train cars and the packed, unhealthy conditions led to outbreaks of disease such as typhus, which swept away many, especially the young and the old. A survivor of the deportation recalls: The doors of the wagons were usually opened in stations where the train stopped for a few minutes. The panting people gulped fresh air, and they gave way to the sick who were unable to crawl to the exit to breath it. But along the length of the wagon one officer in a blue hat hastily strolled with soldiers and, glancing into the wagon, asked the same question. "Any bodies? Any bodies?" If this was the case, they pulled them out of the wagon; they were mainly children and the old. There and then, three meters from the rail embankment (the bodies) were thrown into hollows with dirt and refuse. The trains carrying the bulk of the Crimean Tatar population (civilians and the wounded) trundled across the hot plains of the northern Caucasus and Kazakhstan and, after two weeks, most made their way to Tashkent, the capital of the dry Central Asian republic of Uzbekistan. According to N.F. Bugai, a specialist on the deportations, a maximum of 191,088 Crimean Tatars were deported from the Crimean autonomous republic in that May of 1944. Another account also based on conflicting NKVD sources from 1944 claims that only 187, 859 Crimean Tatars were deported from the Crimea.(7) Of these, N. F. Bugai claims 151, 604 were sent to the Uzbek SSR and 8,597 to the Udmurt and Mari Automous Oblasts (Ural mountain region, part of the Russian Federated Socialist Republic).(8)B. Browhevan and P. Tygliiants support this claim and reference a telegram sent from Beria to Stalin which proudly proclaims that "all the Tatars have arrived in the places of resettlement and 151,604 people have been resettled in the oblasts (districts) of the Uzbek SSR and 31,551 in the oblasts of the RSFSR (Russia)."(9) Although Soviet records do not record the 'resettlement' of Crimean Tatars in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan several thousand were eventually transferred or migrated to these regions and especially to the Khojent (Leninbad) region in Tajikistan as well according to the overwhelming testimony of those I interviewed in Uzbekistan in the Spring of 1996. Approximately 7,000 Crimean Tatars died during the actual deportation= process. Tashkent served as the main dispersion center for the majority of= the Crimean Tatars who were sent to Uzbekistan (other deported groups, such as the Chechens and Ingush, were sent to Alma Ata, the capital of the Kazakh SSR(10)) who were then scattered throughout Eastern Uzbekistan, from the Fergana valley in the north to the deserts of the barren Kashga Darya Oblast (district) in the south. According to records sent to NKVD head Lavrenty Beria in June of 1944, the Crimean Tatars were settled in Uzbekistan in the following oblasts: Tashkent--56,632, Samarkand--31,540, Andijan--19,630, Fergana--16,039, Namangan--13,804, Kashga Darya--10,171, Bukhara--3,983.(11) Little or no preparations had been made in in advance for the arrivees and most were forced to live in barracks outside factories, in dug outs, or huts. The death rate continued to rise at this time and as many as a third of the Crimean Tatars may have died during the resettlement period in special camps in Central Asia. More than any other event, the removal of this small nation from a land it had come to define as its natsional'naia rodina (national homeland) under the first two decades of Soviet rule and its atavatan (fatherland) on the eve of the Russian revolution has shaped this people's contemporary national identity. For several generations the Crimean Tatar people worked in the factories, mines and industrial centers of a Central Asian landscape that was in every way different from their peninsular homeland on the Black Sea. From 1944 to 1957, the Crimean Tatars worked in Central Asia's= cotton gulag or served as a helot class working in the many factories transported to Central Asia from European Russia to put them beyond the reach of the invading Germans. In 1957 new Soviet leader Krushchev allowed the Crimean Tatars and other deported peoples to leave their hated Spetskommandantskii camps (Special Commandant) camps and he exonerated the deported nations of their charges of mass treason. While the deported Chechens, Ingush, Kalmyks, Karachais and Balkars were allowed to return to their reconstituted homeland-republics, the Crimean Tatars, Meshketian Turks, and Volga Germans were not allowed to return to their natal territories for reasons that probably had to do with the value of their former homelands. For the next thirty years the Crimean Tatars launched the Soviet Union's first ethnically-based frontal challenge to Moscow's authority demanding the right to return to their homeland. During the long exile years the Crimean Tatars began to commemorate the Deportatsiia on May 18 and, symbolically, they commemorated Lenin's birth date (Lenin was the founder of the Crimean ASSR and was considered much more tolerant of displays of ethno-national identity than his successor Stalin). The exiled Crimean Tatars used these commemorative events as an opportunity to demand the right to return to their homeland. Wreaths were laid at the foot of statues of Lenin, banners were carried demanding the right to return to the Crimean peninsula (which had been demoted to a regular province in the Russian Federation and Slavicized during the Crimean Tatars' absence). The MVD (Ministry of Internal Affairs), militia and KGB often broke up these commemorative rallies, with the most spectacular attack on Crimean Tatars happening in the year 1967 in the city of Chirchik. On that occasion hundreds of Crimean Tatars were arrested, attacked by club wielding troops, or sprayed with acidic substances. In addition, Crimean Tatar parents and grandparents kept the memory of the deportation alive in the minds of new generations who grew up on stories of this tragedy. These trans-generational transfers of grievance are in many ways similar to the narratives of the Palestinians who, like the Crimean Tatars, were dispelled from their homeland in the 1940s (more than three quarters of a million Palestinians were expelled from Israel to Jordan, Egypt, the Gaza, Lebanon and the West Bank in 1948). Whole generations of Palestinians growing up in camps in the Middle East considered their real home to be Palestine. Unlike the Palestinians who gave up the real dream of regaining their lost lands, the Crimean Tatars continued to think of their people's total repatriation in a real sense. The stories of the deportation served as one of the primary vehicles for keeping this dream alive during the exile years. Lilia Bujorova, perhaps the most famous Crimean Tatar writer and poetess to emerge from the exile has had her poems of the Crimean homeland published throughout the former Soviet Union and provides the following poem entitled "Speak" (Govori) which captures her experience growing up in Central Asia with stories of the deportation and her lost homeland. Speak father speak, Speak until the dusk! Speak of the cruel war, Speak of the terrible day, In my veins let the tragedy flow, How salty is the sea water, Don't spare me, don't spare anything, Go again out of your native home, Again lose your relatives on the wagons Again count who remains among the living! I want to know about everything, So that I can tell it to your grandchildren, Your pain cries to me, I will bring every moment to life in them! It will also become a homeland for them The word 'Homeland' and the word 'Crimea'! Speak father speak, Speak father until the dusk!(12) It was only in 1989 that a decree was published in Izvestiia allowing the Crimean Tatars to return to their homeland. Since that date roughly 250,000 of the Former Soviet Union's 500,000 Crimean Tatars have returned to a homeland that most, who grew up in Central Asia, have never seen. While the jubilant Crimean Tatar repatriates had grown up on stories of the romanticized Yeshil Ada (Green Island) of the Crimea, these idealized notions of the homeland were crushed by the bitter realities of life in the post-Soviet Crimea. The Crimean Tatars' return was resisted by the local Communist nomenklatura (entrenched Soviet-era bureaucratic elite) which destroyed Crimean Tatar samozakvat (self seized) settlements, refused to allow the Crimean Tatars to settle on their cherished southern coast (known as the Yaliboyu) and culturally, economically and politically marginalized the destitute returnees. Most Crimean Tatars have been forced to live in what can best be described as squatter camps outside the cities of the Crimea. All Crimean cities are surrounded by distinctive Crimean Tatar settlements made up of simple rough hewn houses, with corrugated tin roofs usually lacking running water, often with no electricity and only dirt roads linking them to the highway (these roads prove impassable in the winter months). The Crimean Tatar returnees, many of whom overcame the obstacles against them in Central Asia and became white collar professionals, cannot find jobs, over 80,000 Crimean Tatars cannot obtain Ukrainian citizenship due to bureaucratic hurdles placed in their way (one needs citizenship to get a housing permit, job permit, to use hospitals and to send one's children to school). Not surprisingly, the Crimean Tatar repatriates have once again begun to use commemorations of 'The Deportation' as a forum for not only keeping the memory of their nation's national tragedy alive in the minds of new generations, but for stating their current socio-political grievances. Every May 18th, a day known as the Kara Gun (Black Day) thousands of Crimean Tatars from the settlements throughout the Crimea converge on two simple monuments erected in the early 1990s in the Crimean capital, Simferopol. Those from the southern Crimea gather at a monument erected on the banks of the Crimea' s main river, the Salgir (which flows through Simferopol), while those from the north gather at a monument erected opposite Simferopol's main train station. I lived with a Crimean Tatar family in 1997 in a samostroi (self= built house) in the settlement of Marino just outside Simferopol and the father of this household, Nuri Shevkiev, gave the following answer as to why he takes his family to this commemorative event every year: Every May 18th when I was a child growing up in Uzbekistan far from the Crimea my parents, grandparents and aunts and uncles used to tell stories of the our family losses suffered during the deportation. I know everything about those who were lost at this time, I know the name of all my father's friends killed in the deportation. Now that we have returned to the Crimea and have begun to rebuild our lives there is a danger my boy and girl will not remember our national tragedy. That they will forget those who died on the trains or in the special settlements in Uzbekistan. By taking my children to the monument on May 18th I am reminding them of the deportation and reminding them of who they are.(13) This source described the commemorative gatherings of May 18th as the most important annual event in the year for Crimean Tatars. Prayers are said for the shehitler (victims) of the deportation, commemorative speeches are given by top Crimean Tatar political and religious leaders, such as Mustafa Dzhemilev Kirimoglu, Nadir Bekirov and the Mufti of the Crimea, and at noon the two groups march from the monuments to the central square in Simferopol carrying banners, singing traditional Crimean Tatar songs and showing their unity in the face of the militia which guards the march path. In the Central square thousands of Crimean Tatars listen to prayers and speeches demanding more rights for their people. The 50th anniversary of the deportation on May 18 1994 saw a particularly large turnout as tens of thousands converged on Simferopol celebrating their new found political assertiveness. I visited these simple memorials to a people's suffering and found these stone edifices to be powerful in their simplicity. Both are about 6 feet in height with plaques mounted on them which read in Tatar and Russian "On this spot a monument will be erected to the victims of the genocide against the Crimean Tatar people." While visiting one of the memorials, a Crimean Tatar Red Army veteran pointed out to me that vandals had spray painted swastikas and anti-Tatar graffiti on this modest memorial. Crimean Tatar cemeteries in the Crimea are also routinely defaced with Nazi graffiti. Long after the Soviet Union has ended and World War II has been largely forgotten by most of Europe, the Crimean Tatars of the late 20th century continue to be saddled with the stigma of izmeniky rodiny (traitors to the homeland) by their detractors and those who wish to see them disenfranchised in their own homeland. Last years celebration of the deportation turned violent as frustrated Crimean Tatars clashed with militia troops and demanded citizenship and governmental assistance to assist in the repatriation of the roughly 180,000 Crimean Tatars still languishing in exile in Central Asia (most families are divided between the Crimea and Central Asia). This year the commemoration of the deportation began on April 8th and began with a commemoration of the April 8 1783 Russian annexation of the Crimean Khanate by the Russian Empire. Commemorative events will continue right through to May 18th. Last week for example a march which began in the eastern Crimean city of Kerch wound its way through the Crimea and called for greater rights for the Crimean Tatars. The 55th anniversary of the deportation will also have considerable emotional symbolism for the generation who remember the actual event are dying off. These living memorials to this tragedy will soon disappear it will be left to those who grew up on the stories of the deportation to keep this event alive. The commemorations of the deportation are not limited to the Crimean Republic. During the 18th and 19th centuries as many as half a million Crimean Tatars emigrated from their Russian-dominated homeland to the Ottoman Empire and today Crimean Tatar activists claim there are 5 million descendants of these emigrations living in the former Ottoman provinces of Romania, Bulgaria and, most importantly, Turkey. On past occasions prayers have been said in Istanbul's Fetih Mehemed Cami (Mohammed the Conqueror Mosque) for those killed in the deportation, Mustafa Dzhemilev Kirimoglu , the 'Nelson Mandela' of the Crimean Tatar people, has met with Turkish president Suleiman Demirel, and commemorative ceremonies have been held in Ankara, Eski Shehir and smaller towns with Crimean Tatar-Turk populations. The small Crimean Tatar enclaves found in the Dobruca region of Bulgaria and Romania (the coastal strip on the Black Sea of these countries extending from Constanta to Varna) also commemorate the Kara Gun. As these small diaspora enclaves become increasingly aware of their Crimean Tatar identities in the post-Communist setting, this commemoration serves as a catalyst for rediscovering and transmitting a sense of Crimean Tatarness to new generations experiencing assimilative trends (there are about 40,000 Crimean Tatars in Romania and only 5,000 left in Bulgaria). The small Crimean Tatar community of the USA, located mainly in the New York area, which consists of approximately 5,000 post-World War II forced =E9migr=E9s, also commemorate the deportation. Leaders of the American Crimean Tatar community, such as Fikret Yurter and Mubeyyin Batu Altan give speeches, traditional Crimean Tatar cooking (such as that delightful representative of Crimean Tatar cuisine, chiborek ) are served, prayers are said and an effort is made to keep the importance of this day alive for a new generations of American Crimean Tatars who are feeling the lure of assimilatory Americanism. Interestingly enough, the most important monument to the deportation was actually built in Long Island New York by Crimean Tatar architect, Fikret Yurter. This large marble edifice is located in the center of Crimean Tatar Muslim cemetery in the town of Comack and consists of a 9 foot tall marker in the shape of the tarak tamgha. The tarak tamgha, originally the dynastic seal of the Crimean Khans of the Giray lineage, was adopted by early Crimean Tatar nationalists as the symbol of this people's new found national identity. It is singularly sad that the largest monument to the event that saw the Crimean Tatars scattered from their homeland by Stalin lies not in the Crimea itself but a world away on one of the many shores this diasporic people have found themselves. While visiting this monument this winter, the author was told that most of those who were born in the Crimea have begun to die out and that generation with direct memories of the Green Isle of the Crimea in America must pass on memories of this homeland to those who have never seen it. As the victimized Crimean Tatars commemorate their people's national tragedy on May 18th this year and use it as an opportunity to gain the world's attention. it is hoped that the world will not only remember this people's long history of expulsion, ethnocide and oppression during the Soviet period, but they will also be aware of the fact that the 'Crimean Tatar problem' has still not been solved. Half the Crimean Tatar nation are still living in the pitmegin surgun (the unfinished exile), those who have returned find themselves in truly stark economic conditions in their 'Zion', and both the Ukrainian authorities and local Crimean Republican authorities continue to display a shocking lack of concern (one might even call it antagonism) to the Crimean Tatars' plight in the Crimea. The world has witnessed the spectacle of the return of a long suffering exiled people to their traditional homeland but the struggle for the Crimean Tatars is far from finished. As Mustafa Dzhemilev Kirimoglu, the political head of the Crimean Tatar community told the author during a 1997 interview in the Mejlis (Parliament) building in Simferopol "Our people were forced from their homes once before and for 50 years we have been discriminated against. While we are a pacifist people, even we have a breaking point. If we continue to be arrested, attacked by the Crimea mafia, and discriminated against by the local authorities in our own homeland we are not going to take it lying down anymore. The fight for true rehabilitation from Stalin's lie still goes on." As a postscript it should be mentioned that the office where this interview was held was bombed by unknown assailants in January of this year. While inter-ethnic violence has not reared its head on any large scale form in the Crimea, one has but to look at the topple minarets of Bosnia, the war blackened villages of Kosovo and the bombed ruins of Grozny Djohar to see examples of the danger to Muslim communities situated on the always uncertain fault line between the Islamic and Orthodox worlds.

Five thousand Tatars were brought to Moscow to work in coal mines.

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