Ayshe Seitmuratova – a Crimean Tatar heroine at 80

Ayshe Seitmuratova

Ayshe Seitmuratova 

Analysis & Opinion, Crimea, Ukraine

A nation and those who care about it should know its heroes: and for Crimean Tatars, one of the greatest is Ayshe Seitmuratova, the only women of her nation the Soviets arrested and condemned twice, who yesterday marked her 80th birthday in her Russian-occupied homeland.

In an appreciation of her life so far, Crimean historian Gulnara Bekirova notes that she is “an individual with a complicated fate and with a complicated and very strong character” who began at an early age the struggle for her “much-suffering people” and “has never retreated from it” in all the years since.

At the age of 29, she was arrested in the place of her Samarkand exile by the KGB and brought to Moscow’s Lefortovo Prison. She spent seven months there before being found guilty of producing materials about the way in which the USSR treated the Crimean Tatars, for which she was sentenced to three years conditionally.

That was supposed to dissuade her from further “dissident” activities, but it didn’t. And three years later she was arrested again and this time sentenced to three years in the notorious Mordvin camps. After getting out, no one would hire her and her university wouldn’t allow her to study.

But with the support of family and friends, she continued with her efforts to bring to the attention of the world the plight of the Crimean Tatars not only by distributing materials via samizdat but also by producing stories of the great samizdat serial, “The Chronicle of Current Events.”

By the mid-1970s, it was obvious that she would either be sent back to the camps or could leave the USSR. “In the summer of 1978, Seitmuratova finally was able to get permission to leave” and at the age of 42, “she began a new life” in the United States but one that remained centered on her life’s mission.

She broadcast for Radio Liberty and Voice of America, she presented reports on the Crimean Tatars to the OIC, she read lectures at major Western universities, she testified before the US Congress, she met with the leaders of many countries, and she was twice invited to the White House by US President Ronald Reagan.

While in her second exile – the first was in Central Asia – Seitmuratova organized an international effort in defense of Mustafa Dzhemilyev, helping to set up branches of that committee in 12 countries and campaigning on behalf of other Crimean Tatars who remained in Central Asia and/or were being harassed by the Soviet authorities.

Ayshe Seitmuratova celebrating her 75th birthday in 2012 (Image: qtmm.org)

Ayshe Seitmuratova celebrating her 75th birthday in 2012 (Image: qtmm.org)

In November 1990, she was able to return to Uzbekistan to visit the graves of her family members. When she arrived, her fellow Crimean Tatars greeted her for what she had become: “a national heroine,” Bekirova says. And shortly after that, she was able to return to her real homeland, Crimea.

There she set up a foundation to provide humanitarian assistance to needy Crimean Tatars and since 2001 she has run a pension for the elderly. Asked why she continue to work at her age, Seitmuratova answers simply and directly: “I gave my word to the elderly.” She hasn’t betrayed them or her people.

Bekirova cites the earlier appreciation of Seitmuratova’s work by Mario Corti, director of Radio Liberty’s Russian Service between 1998 and 2003. In an essay entitled “The Righteous Belong to Everyone,” Corti pointed to the fact that the Crimean Tatar activist has distinguished herself by always focusing on specific individuals rather than some mythic idea.

“The righteous,” he wrote, “is the one who sacrifices himself on behalf of other people. Righteous people arise in all peoples; they can profess this or that religion or none at all, but they aren’t the exclusive property of their people or their fellow believers. [They] belong to all of us and reconcile us with humanity.”

“One of the righteous,” Corti says, “is Ayshe-khanum.” On this, her 80th birthday, she merits recognition as exactly that and the thanks of all who care about justice for what she has done and what she will do in the years to come.


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Edited by: A. N.

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  • Alex George

    So if the USSR couldn’t overcome this brave lady’s spirit, how does Putin’s much weaker Russia think it is going to crush the Crimean Tatar people?

    Better to learn to co-exist with them, as modern Ukraine is doing.

    • Xeroi Ato

      Modern Ukraine didn’t a flying fuck about Tatars, till Russia came to Crimea. Which made three officially languages, Russian, Ukranian and Crimean tatar. Now all government papers, builds etc have signs in all 3 languages.

      If Russia didn’t come to Crimea, it would never stay Ukranian anyways, it would eventually become a part of Turkey. It would become like North Cyprus, and the tatars would support their Turk/Muslim brothers.

      • Alex George

        Except modern Ukraine actually did care about the Crimean Tatars, which is why the Crimean Tatars so strongly support Ukraine. That fact alone refutes your post.

        And nice try about the signs, but sorry,blatant lies do not work. Same for the moronic idea that Crimea would have become turkish – this is simply a case of illegal theft by Russia, which is why it is now under sanctions.

        Even Russians in Crimea want to be back under kyiv’s control, and for good reason.

      • MichaelA

        So tatars can read sign on door saying torture chamber as they are dragged in
        All in their own language
        What a privilege

  • Xeroi Ato

    You mean the same Tatars that said “Give us 2 weeks and there won’t be a single Slav left in Crimea” when the Germans came?

    • Alex George

      Even if that were true, are you really so stupid to think that anyone is still alive from 1942?

      Incidentally, why did so many people in Russia hate the Russians in 1942? Do you have any idea, or are you just completely ignorant of history?

      If you oppress and kill people, of course they will hate you. That is why Russia today is a pariah nation, fit only to be spat upon.

  • MichaelA

    She is a brave woman and an inpiration all over the world