A tragedy for the Crimean Tatars

 

Analysis & Opinion

American Writer Sara Paretsky shares her cousin’s story about Crimea

As some of you know, my cousin worked in Crimea for over 4 years with the Crimean Tatars, trying to help restore the library that was destroyed by Stalin, along with their homes, farms and many other cultural icons. She had to leave Ukraine when the current troubles started, but she’s been in daily contact with her Crimean family and I’m pasting her most recent update here.

“For the last two weeks—ever since the Crimean crisis began—I get up in the morning in my home in America, turn on the computer to check my news sources in Ukraine, and then call “my family” in Crimea. From 2009 to August of 2013, I lived and worked in the Crimean Tatar community in Simferopol and have maintained close contacts with the people there and visited them often from my new Peace Corps assignment in Kyiv. When the Peace Corps evacuated all Volunteers from Ukraine the weekend of Feb. 23rd, I was hesitant to leave without having the chance to say goodbye to my family in Crimea, but we talked on the phone, and I reassured them I would be back sometime soon.

But that was before the invasion of Crimea. Now our daily conversations are filled with the shock at what is happening there and their ever increasing fear. I mostly talk with the son of the family who speaks English and is a 4th year student at the Medical University in Simferopol. He continues to attend the university daily but is surrounded by students wearing Russian flags and tries to keep as low profile as possible.

He tells of groups of Russian provocateurs coming to the Crimean Tatar communities, such as Ak Mechet where he lives, trying to provoke violence from the Crimean Tatars. His father now participates in the self defense patrols organized among the people to protect their community. He talks of the shock and despair of his father, who lost his grandmother and uncle in the Deportation in 1944, who grew up in Uzbekistan with the sole dream of returning to Crimea to build a house for his mother and bring her back to her homeland. He returned in 1990, squatted on unoccupied government land when it was clear that the Crimean government was not going to allocate the Crimean Tatars land, and began to build his home and community. Twenty years later he still continues to work on the beautiful home he has created and is surrounded by a community of over 2000 Crimean Tatars.

But now he, and his family, and all the Crimean Tatars, are faced with the specter of once again losing their homeland, of once again living under the thumb of Russia. It is hard for them not to expect the worst—that they again will be deported from Crimea by the increasingly Stalin- like Putin. As the days inch toward the March 16th referendum which the Crimean Tatars will boycott, the fear in the voices of my family increases. But also does their anger and their resolve to do whatever they will be called upon to do to resist the Russian takeover, to keep their families safe, to remain strong and united.

As an American who has had the great privilege of living in the Crimean Tatar world for a period of my life and who now calls Crimea and its people my second home, I ask the world to stay focused on what is happening there, to know that beyond the photographs of joyous ethnic Russians welcoming the return of Crimea to Russia, that there are 300,000 people in Crimea—the Crimean Tatars—for whom this is an unspeakable tragedy. And whom, I believe, will not go silently into the night.”

https://www.facebook.com/SaraParetsky

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