Emine Avamilyeva, the education commission head of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People (Image: social media)
Despite Russian laws specifying that Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian are state languages in Crimea alongside Russian, the Russian occupiers have used various means to reduce the number of pupils studying these languages and thus threatened the future of the two nations who speak them.
Among the most egregious are urging parents not to register their children for classes in these languages and then saying there are too few people who want them to justify such instruction, failing to provide new textbooks in these languages after confiscating most published in Ukraine, and not providing enough teachers for non-Russian schools and classes.
Complaints about all these actions have appeared ever since the Russian Anschluss of Crimea, evidence of the gap between Russian promises and Russian realities. But Emine Avamilyeva, the education commission head of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People, has now provided a comprehensive discussion of such problems.
In an interview given to Radio Liberty’s Khamza Karamanoglu, Avamilyeva describes the situation before the Russian occupation and compares it with the much worse situation now.
In the 2013/14 academic year [Russia occupied the Ukrainian peninsula in March 2014 – Ed.], there were 15 schools where Crimean Tatar was the language of instruction:
- one school with Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian,
- 20 with Crimean Tatar and Russian,
- 27 with Ukrainian, Crimean Tatar and Russian.
During that school year, 5551 pupils had all their classes in Crimean Tatar, 3.1 percent of the total student body, she continues. In addition, 12,707 studied Crimean Tatar as a language, of whom 6906 did so as an elective. Today, the situation is much worse.
Today, there are 586 general education schools on the peninsula, with a student population of about 185,000.There are no schools where Crimean Tatar or Ukrainian is the only language of instruction: all schools where students studied those languages are designated as dual-language with Russian, even if the names of the schools suggest otherwise. Moreover, the number of classes in Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian has been cut.
School administrators work to convince children not to request that their children be instructed in the non-Russian languages. In addition, the lack of instruction materials as well as qualified teachers in the places where they are most needed also constitute bottlenecks that prevent even those who still say they want instruction in Crimean Tatar or Ukrainian.
“Very often,” Avamilyeva says, administrators having convinced many parents not to request Crimean Tatar or Ukrainian language instruction then cite the low number of applicants as a reason why they can’t or won’t offer non-Russian language instruction even to those who want it.
She urges parents to demand instruction in Crimean Tatar or Ukrainian if those are their native languages, to report if their children are denied that opportunity, and to use their national languages on every possible occasion.
Training more teachers in Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian is very much needed, Avamilyeva says; but more immediately, classes in those languages require new Moscow-approved textbooks. These were promised for the start of the school year, but they haven’t been delivered. If the economic squeeze continues, it seems unlikely that they will be.