Crimean history. What you always wanted to know, but were afraid to ask

Russian myths about Crimea (Image: Ganna Naronina, EUROMAIDAN PRESS)

Collage by Ganna Naronina 

2016/04/11 • Analysis & Opinion, Crimea, Featured

Article by: Olena Makarenko

In fact, similar propaganda really did take place at that time. Russia had been rewriting history books centuries ago, as it now rewrites Wikipedia pages about MH 17, Kyivan Rus, Crimea, and others. As the Russian Empire always had more resources on nurturing myths and rewriting history, guess whose versions became mainstream?

In 1783, Russian empress Yekaterina II established the Commission on Creating Notes on Ancient History, Primarily of Russia. The task of the Commission was to “create” the history of the Empire. The following generations of Russian historians also labored to create myths about the great Russian nation.

Swiss historian Valentin Getermann wrote in his work, Studying the History of the Soviet Union:

“Historians in democratic countries are always free to criticize the prevailing philosophy in their own countries…But in the Soviet Union there is, according to all the indications, virtually no scope for the expression of unorthodox opinions. It is even likely that many Russian historians are compelled to suppress utterances which they consider to be absolutely correct, and to declare themselves in favor of opinions which run counter to their convictions.”

Recently Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the creation of the Fund of Popularizing Russian History. The “popularization” will be aimed at Russia, as well as other countries.

Censorship and myths in Russian history are created and propelled on several topics. Crimea is one of them.

The most outrageous of the myths is that Crimea is “primordial Russian land.”

Vladimir Putin has repeatedly exploited the myth. Just after the illegal annexation of the peninsula in one of his statements he said: “In Crimea, everything is penetrated by our common [Russian and Crimean] history and pride.”

Crimean historian and publicists Serhiy Hromenko, unmasks the myth of the “primordial land” in his article and quotes the book Crimean Gothia by  Igor Phioro, another historian:

Of all the current hypotheses about Slavs in Crimea, the most probable is probably the  opinion of Jacobson and Korzukhina, on emigration of some groups of the population from the ancient Rus in the XIII century during the Mongol invasion … About early Slavs there was no convincing evidence yet – either written or archaeological. All the attempts to find them were biased, and sometimes even with a pseudo-scientific character. Leading Soviet researchers have already given up the majority of the proposed concepts of the early colonization of the Crimea by the Slavs.”

Dynamics of the populations of Russians and Crimean Tatars in Crimea. Image: RFE/RL

A permanent Slavic population appeared in Crimea after the ХІІІ century. Prior to the first annexation of Crimea by the Russian Empire in 1783, it was extremely small.

We see how the population of the Crimean Tatars steadily decreased after the annexation. This happened as a result of their oppression by the authorities of the Russian Empire. The majority of Crimean Tatars fled their homeland and resided in the neighboring Turkey, Romania, and Bulgaria, where large numbers of Crimean Tatar diaspora currently lives. So we can conclude that the Russian population appeared in Crimea because of permanent pressure on the indigenous people of the peninsula. The steep drop in Crimean Tatar numbers in 1941 is their deportation to Central Asia after being accused of “collaborationism” by Stalin.

Another event which is actively exploited by Russian propagandists now is the transfer of Crimea to Ukraine by Nikita Khruschev in 1954, then First Secretary of of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

Disregarding the details who exactly decided to transfer the peninsula, it is worth mentioning that the propaganda outlets usually don’t state the reasons of such a step. This step was initiated by Russia itself: almost ten years after the World War II, the peninsula was still devastated and exhausted. This is how in February 1954 the situation was described by Mykhil Tarasov, the Head of the Presidium of the Supreme Council of the RSFSR:

Considering community of the economy, territorial proximity (the Crimean Oblast, according to the speaker ‘takes up the the entire Crimean peninsula and territorially adjoined to the Ukrainian Republic, being like a natural extension of southern steppes of Ukraine’), and close economic and cultural ties between Crimean region and the Ukrainian SSR, and also having an approval of the Presidium of the of Ukrainian Republic, Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Ukrainian Republic, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR considers that it is appropriate to transfer the Crimean Oblast to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.”

Check out how much efforts it took from Soviet Ukraine to rebuild Crimea from ruins (infographics in 5 languages available here).

Occupying Crimea in 2014, Russia forgot about the “territorial proximity and the economic and cultural ties” between Ukraine and Crimea became a priority for the Russian Federation in another way – as a military base.

So, let’s assemble all the myths together.

 Russian myths about the history of Crimea.

Myth 1. Crimea is 'primordial Russian land'

Propagandist billboard in Crimea saying: “What is next? Doesn‘t matter, even if stones fall from the sky! We are in our Motherland!”

Reality: Being “primordially Russian” evokes the idea that Crimea has belonged to Russians since the time immemorial. However, this is not true. The first known ethnic group in Crimea – the Cimmerians – appeared nearly three thousand years ago, in the 9th century BC. Russia established its sovereignty over Crimea only in 1783 after the Treaty of Kuchuk-Kaynarca. According to Russian censuses, Russians became the ethnic majority in Crimea only in 1917. It turns out that the peninsula became “Russian” only in the early 20th century, and the period of Russian ethnic domination in Crimea accounts for only 3,5% of its entire history.

Myth 2. Crimea has always belonged to Russia

Karasu-Bazar, the second most important city in the Crimean Khanate

Reality: Contrary to popular opinion, the campaigns of Kyivan Rus princes in Chersonese (the most famous of which was the campaign of the Kyiv prince Volodymyr the Great) did not lead to the Kyivan Rus’ subjugation of Crimea. Similarly, despite erroneous maps appearing in school textbooks, the Kerch Peninsula was never a part of the Tmutarakan Principality of the Kyivan Rus, and therefore can’t be considered Slavic territory, and moreover Russia.

Russia first gained control of Crimea in 1783, when it eliminated the Crimean Khanate and annexed its territory during the reign of Catherine the Great. The peninsula remained part of the Russian Empire until 1920, with a break in 1918-1919 German and Anglo-French occupations. Crimea became a part of the Russian SFSR in 1920 and remained there until 1954, again with a break during the Nazi, occupation of 1941-1944.

Even if you ignore these “gaps,” Russia’s nominal subjection of Crimea lasted only 170 years. Just see this visualization by Mariana Pashchuk (full size here).

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Myth 3. Ukraine has no relation to Crimea

Tugay-Bey, Crimean Tatar commander (left) stands next to Ukrainian Kozak Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky (right)

In reality, military and political alliances between Ukraine and Crimea were established regularly between the 17th and 20th centuries. In 1624, Khan Dzhanibek Geray and his Ottoman Janissaries attempted to seize the throne of Crimean Khan Mehmed Geray III, but the Ukrainian Kozaks intervened on the side of the Crimean Khan, defeating the enemy near Karasu-Bazar (Bilohirsk).

The first ever Kozak-Crimean alliance was signed in January of the following year. In 1628-1629 the Kozaks participated in another civil war in Crimea, supporting their old ally Mehmed Geray III against his enemies. Hetman Mykhailo Doroshenko died in the battle near the Ama River in 1628 for the sake of the Kozak’s alliance with Crimea.

From 1648 to 1654, the Crimean Tatars allied with Ukrainian Kozak Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky, and although the Hetman did not always approve of their behavior on the battlefield, together they managed to achieve a range of victories. Crimean troops assisted the Kozak Hetmans in their struggle for independence from Poland and Muscovy until the Treaty of Bakhchisarai in 1681, and between 1692 and 1734 they supported Ukrainian political emigration in a number of ways, including by military force.

During the course of the 1917-1921 revolution, various Crimean authorities established different types of relationships with mainland Ukraine, ranging from alliances to oppositions.

Myth 4. The transfer of Crimea to Ukraine is illegal – it was a 'gift' from Nikita Khruschev

Nikita Khruschev, First Secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR from 1953 to 1964

Reality: First of all, Nikita Khruschev did not wield such singular authority in 1954; the transfer of Crimea was a collective decision of the Soviet leadership. Georgiy Malenkov, the leader of the Soviet government at the time, was an ideological Stalinist and opponent of Krushchev, and it was he who organized this transfer of power. Furthermore, it was the formal head of the Soviet Union – Kliment Voroshilov, head of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR – who signed the documents.

Secondly, although there were real legal disputes concerning the transfer of Crimea, they were all extinguished in 1954 with the introduction of amendments to the effective Constitution of the constitutions of the USSR of 1936 and to the constitutions of the Russian SFSR and Ukrainian SSR of 1937, and again in 1978 with the introduction of new Russian and Ukrainian constitutions under Leonid Brezhnev. In all these documents, each bearing supreme legal authority, Crimea and Sevastopol were designated constituents of the Ukrainian SSR.

Myth 5: Sevastopol was never transferred to Ukraine

A Russian military base in Sevastopol

Reality: Yes, it is true that in 1948 Sevastopol was separated from the rest of the Crimean Oblast and given the status of a federal city under direct republican subordination. It is also true that in 1954 no specific document was issued declaring Sevastopol’s new status as a Ukrainian city. However, this is irrelevant, because in the old Constitution of the Russian Federation SFSR of 1937 – which was amended in 1954 – there was no mention of any cities of direct republican subordination, while the new constitution of 1978 stated that there are only two such cities – Moscow and Leningrad.

Kyiv and Sevastopol were specified as cities of direct republican subordination in the 1978 Constitution of the Ukrainian SSR. So, even if Soviet legislators had somehow ‘overlooked’ something in 1954, any such flaws were corrected through amendments to the republican constitutions.

These myths are gathered in the Anthology of Modern Crimean Mythology which is a civic initiative of Internally Displaced Peoples from Crimea. The brochure is printed of the support of the Ministry of Information Policy of Ukraine.

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Edited by: Alya Shandra

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  • wooly bully

    The vote for annexation was a farce, just like any vote in Russia. Throughout history, Russia has broken about every treaty and agreement they signed. Let’s give Ukraine their nukes back.

    • Turtler

      There was no putsch in Kyiv. Yanukovych was found in violation of the Ukrainian Constitution and he was removed from office in accordance with it.

      Or do you SERIOUSLY want to get technical and back up your claims by saying which articles of the Ukrainian Constitution the “Putsch” violated?

      “Look at what they have done.”

      You mean fight to prevent their country being diced up and annexed piecemeal ala China in the 1930′? What a truly horrible crime. Surely they must concede to annexation into the greater Rossiyan Motherland.

      Good God, i fucking hate Obama but if you want to make the Hitler analogies the end result is not going to be flattering to you.

      • Alex George

        “If the removal of Yanukovych was legal; the referendum in Crimea was also legal.”

        Rubbish. There is no comparison between the two.

        And no, the green men did not deter anyone – they helped to kill and enslave the people of Ukraine, like the criminals they are.

        And no, there are no polls indicating that the “referendum” was free and fair.

        You are, however, correct that it is the safety of the Crimean people that really matters – that is why Russian rule over Crimea will never be accepted. Thieves have no rights.

        • Alex George

          If there is no comparison, why did you try to create one?

          Crimea was taken over by force, against the will of the population. Now it is being destroyed by incompetent and corrupt Russian rule.

          The reason that the Ukrainian economy went down was because of Russian aggression against Ukraine.

          The previous polls you refer to do not assist your argument. If the Kremlin really believed that they were indicative of how the people of Crimea would vote in a referendum, then it wouldn’t have held the referendum at gunpoint. But it knew that it wasn’t – its entirely different when people are asked to accept the reality of rule by the Kremlin, then they vote no.

      • Turtler

        “If the removal of Yanukovych was legal; the referendum in Crimea was
        also legal. ”

        No you fucking asshole.

        Reality is not a subject of compromise between what is accurate and what is inaccurate.

        The removal of a head of state for his crimes against the constitution *by the legal organ empowered to do so* is different from a foreign power invading a different country and subverting the regional government of an occupied process to annex it outside of Any concept of the law.

        If you can’t understand that, then why are you trying to lecture on legality?

        “You can say Yanukovych was corrupt, and that’s right. I have
        no objection to this assertion.”

        I don’t give a flying fuck about what objections you do or do not have to an assertion, the fact is it is true.

        And he was not Merely corrupt. Plenty of people in the Ukrainian government are corrupt.

        The difference is that Yanukovych was not merely corrupt, he was tyrannical and aggressively hostile to the Ukrainian constitution. That is why removing him from power was urgent in a way that Poroshenko is not.

        “Also I can say the Referendum in Crimea showed the democratic will of Crimean people to go away from a Banderas-ruled basket-case state. ”

        Bandera’s been dead for half a century, get a new rhetoric.

        And a bunch of armed thugs from another country invading, lying about the fact that they invaded, and then *not even managing to get the sham elections in a way that are even remotely believable* says about as much about the democratic will of the Crimean people as it does about my last bowel movement.

        Nothing.

        “Green men were useful just to deter maidanuts hordes wanting to kill, sack and burn (like in Odessa).”

        A: Then why did Putin lie about their existence? It’s not fucking like major powers can’t position troops in times of unrest to protect foreign nationals on another nation’s soil. The USMC did it all the time in the 19th century.

        They then LEFT, rather than annexing Nicaragua’s Bluefields into the Union by an act of sham legality. What prevented Putin from doing the same?

        B: If this were true, why were the Ukrainians who died during the takeover those cornered by the “Green Men” and forced to surrender?

        And finally

        C: If the Maidenites were so giddy about sacking and destroying, why are the LEAST devastated parts of the country the places where they are the majority, and the MOST the areas where the Green Men have been?

        “There are several polls indicating that the Referendum was free and fair. ”

        Firstly polls monitor popularity. They do not monitor objective facts.

        You do not determine how free an election was by a show of hands.

        What they did was false certifications by a bunch of useful morons saying it was free and fair.

        These morons apparently overlooking the fact that I could see half the world away, about the fact that the election’s results were announced *before voting was even done.*

        If these groups cannot notice that or appreciate what a problem it is, they have no more credibility than the gullible morons and fifth columnists who lined up to laud Hitler’s Anschluss Plebiscite.

        “You don’t like the result? It doesn’t matter.”

        Indeed, it does not. In a free and fair system it does not.

        The key is how that result was obtained. Which in this case was by hostile occupation and tyranny.

        Making it completely illegitimate.

        “Safety of Crimean people is what really matters.”

        I am sure the Crimean Tartars would be thrilled to know that they no longer count as Crimean People.

        • Turtler

          “Clam down, loser.”

          No, I will not.

          You know why?

          for one, I’m not the loser here, as shown by the fact that the “Donbas Separatists” can hardly hold on to the Don part of the title at all. And I am also not the one who was resorting to feeble “If-Then” fallacies to try and make my point.

          For two: Righteous anger might have the possibility to lead to bad things, but it itself is important.

          “Crimean people doesn’t want to go back to former Ukraine.”

          Again, the Crimean Tartars- who have lived on the peninsula as a community longer than anyone else- and who are loyal to the Ukrainian Government- do not count as Crimean People?

          In fact, the ancestors of those Tartars committed some chilltastic crimes against the Russian people centuries ago that made the Peninsula a place of horror for Eastern Slavs in the 16th and 17th centuries. So much for it being an immortal part of Russia…

          “Just tnink a minute?”

          The irony of someone trying to tell me to Think while misspelling the word “think”

          “Why Crimean people woud want to ga back to misery, repression, maidanut hordes and corruption?”

          For one: any Fucking Idiot who thinks that Putin’s Russia is not a place of repression, corruption, and misery has not been to the place. Period.

          As for maidanut hordes, some of them exist but they have notably not committed a fraction of the atrocities that first Yanukovych’s government and then your Little Green Men did.

          Who I note you have not given a single reason for why Putin lied when he invaded them if his goal was truly to protect ethnic Russians and/or the Crimean people. AS I SAID before, this kind of deployment is not unusual for major powers.

          But it does mean you have to avoid annexing the place.

          Thirdly: the truth is that Crimea is more riddled with corruption, misery, and repression than it ever was under the post-Soviet Ukrainian government. Which is no small feat since I know a lot of the problems in Kyiv. But Putin isn’t willing to invest in the peninsula and it’s becoming obvious that being cut off from trade with most of the world sucks.

          “Crimeans are not so dumb.”

          Apparently, you forget that the Tartars exist…

    • Alex George

      Yes, they have led Ukraine away from the corruption that is Russia.

      They are currently in trouble because they haven’t led it far enough or fast enough, but that will be fixed.

      Ukraine doesn’t want to be ruled by the corrupt, extremely wealthy oligarchs in the Kremlin, who only rob their own people and drive them into poverty, as well as driving the Russian state into the ground.

  • wooly bully

    There has over the past 100 years, a concerted effort to populate Crimea with Russians. Once a majority of ethnic people are anywhere, there runs a chance of change. And when the little green men without insignia were pirating the peninsula, this was the time for international response to intervene. Someone should have seen this coming. Now, the best option is to economically devastate Russia to take back Crimea.

  • wooly bully

    The ethnic Ukrainians and Tatars boycotted the vote. How quickly facts are twisted in the Russian mind.

  • Turtler

    Unless you mean the people in the Moscow Kremlin (who had no grounds to decide it) you’re wrong. The outcome was announced BEFORE the polls that were supposed to allow the people to decide were scheduled to close.

    It’s a classic propaganda move, not unlike Hitler’s own. The difference is that Hitler was at least moderately competent and remembered to announce the results AFTER the stated time.

    But go on, tell us about how an obviously bogus show election is grounds for anything.

  • Lev Havryliv

    The Crimean referendum was a complete sham conducted under the barrel of Russian guns.

    Face up to it. Russia consistently lies and steals. Proud of that are you?

    • Lev Havryliv

      Don’t kid yourself. Russia and its apologists like you have no regard for the truth. The truth for you is what your fuehrer Putin says it is.

      As for Ukraine and Yatsenuik. Ukraine is a functioning if not perfect democracy unlike Russia which has descended into a fascist dictatorship.

      The truth cannot be suppressed forever, just as the lies and crimes of another Russian dictator Stalin were exposed in time.

      • Lev Havryliv

        Just speaking Ukrainian or Tatar in Crimea will get you harassed, beaten up or worse.

        Your comment about ” maidanuts burning, killing and sacking” is totally absurd but consistent with the stale Russian propaganda we hear ad nauseum from Putinistas.

      • Alex George

        The word “fuehrer” is particularly appropriate to Adrian (and Putin).

      • Alex George

        *LOL* What a joke. At the very time that dissidents are being arrested or killed in Crimea, Adrian makes claims that he knows are rubbish.

        And then he asserts that there are “no power cuts” and “the cable via Kerch is perfectly working”, when it is the Russian media that tell us these things are not so!

        Clearly nothing whatsoever that Adrian writes can ever be relied upon.

        • Lev Havryliv

          Top comment.

        • Alex George

          No, actually I repeat what even Russian media admits. You are so out of touch you do not even know what your Fuehrer’s media is saying.

    • Alex George

      In other words, you have no response to make to the very reasonable points that Lev made, so you resort to mere abuse. Thank you.

  • Alex George

    Ha ha, anyone who believes the “90%” outcome in a “vote’ is utterly naive.

    In any case, that gives no basis for a transfer of ownership – on the same basis, China and several other countries would be entitled to slice of pieces of Russian territory where Russians are in the minority!

    But in fact, pseudo-voting or even real voting has never been a basis for transfer of land. Russia has no right to be in Crimea, and whether it takes months or years, it will be evicted from it.

  • Ukrainian girl

    There is one very important fact this article didn’t mention, and Russian somehow fail to remember : when the Crimean Peninsula got transferred to Ukraine, in return Russia received equal by territory to Crimea a Taganrog Region in the South-East of Ukraine, the region rich in fertile black soils. Alas, Russians have traditionally suffered from selective laps of memory.