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7 myths driving Russia’s assault against the Crimean Tatars

Russia’s assault on Crimean Tatars culminated in the ban on their representative organ, the Mejlis
7 myths driving Russia’s assault against the Crimean Tatars

Russia continues its assault on the Crimean Tatars. On Wednesday, 13 April 2016, the so-called “prosecutor” of Crimea Nataliya Poklonskaya suspended the activities of Mejlis, the representative body of the indigenous people. According to Poklonskaya, these actions were taken “in order to prevent violations of the federal laws.” Earlier she demanded to recognize the Mejlis as an extremist organization, the case is under consideration now. Now, the representatives of the body are forbidden to hold mass public events, to use state and municipal media, use bank accounts and conduct any type of work. So what is the real reason for such actions?

During the last two years representatives of the Crimean Tatars have undertaken the most effective actions against the regime of occupation in their native Crimean peninsula. This vociferous opposition has a visible reflection on the actions of the Russian side.

The occupation “authorities” suppress the opposition by political prosecution and the creation of myths.

Read also: Crushing dissent. Timeline of repressions against Crimean Tatars in occupied Crimea

Together with the court ruling on the prohibition of the Mejlis, there is also another ongoing court case called “The Case of February 26.” On February 26, 2014 a demonstration for Ukraine’s territorial integrity took place in Simferopol. After the occupation, the so-called “Crimean authorities” started a criminal procedure against the participant in this demonstration for organizing civil unrest. It is noteworthy that only Crimean Tatars are accused in the case. Ahtem Chiygoz, Ali Asanov and Mustafa Degermendzhi remain in custody.

One of the Russian strategies for squashing dissent on the peninsula is to depict Crimean Tatars as extremists and to split the Crimean population.
Tamila Tasheva, Crimea SOS founder

In this regard another case against the indigenous people of Crimea has appeared. Activists call it the case of Hizb ut-Tahrir. In the summer of 2015, four young people were detained and accused of extremists activity and membership in the organization Hizb ut-Tahrir, which was forbidden in Russia in 2003. Tamila Tasheva, a Crimean Tatar and one of the founders of the NGO Crimea SOS, explains the details of the case:

There is no  fixed membership in Hizb ut-Tahrir. It is not an organization, it is the Islamic Renaissance Party. It is forbidden in some countries, mainly in post-Soviet countries with a dictatorial regime. However, in Crimea, Islam has never been radical, in principle, this party Hizb ut-Tahrir is not radical. They tell about the Islamic Caliphate through peaceful preaching. However, there was not many supporters of the party in Crimea. In general, no more than one percent of Crimean Tatars are orthodox Muslims. All the rest are secular Muslims. And now through this case of Hizb ut-Tahrir Crimean Tatars are being depicted as extremists. On February 11th, a series of home searches and arrests of faithful Muslims took place. Not all of them have any relation to Hizb ut-Tahrir, perhaps some of them, but not all. It should be noted that Hizb ut-Tahrir leaders knew that the party was banned in Russia at the beginning of the occupation and hurriedly left Crimea, so there are no (Hizb ut-Tahrir) leaders in Crimea now. Not long ago, one of the representatives of the “occupational authorities” said that indeed there is no extensive organization of this party on the territory of Crimea, however, the persecutions are still ongoing.”

According to Tamila, Russian myths about Crimean Tatars are actively broadcasted by propaganda and already gaining influence. Crimean Tatars are experiencing a rising hostility towards them from other people living in Crimea. Check out the most common myths on the indigenous people of Crimea to avoid falling into the trap of propaganda.

Myth 1. The deportation of the Crimean Tatars was a punishment for mass desertion and collaborationism during WWII
Crimean Tatar deportation, 1944

Reality: In May 1944 the Soviet authorities accused the Crimean Tatar people of mass desertion at the beginning of World War II and of mass collaborationism during the German occupation of the peninsula. Similar charges were later brought against other groups in Crimea as well.

The Soviet propaganda machine created and perpetuated the myth that there had been “20,000 deserters” among Crimean Tatar soldiers of the Red Army. Actually, 23,000 Crimean Tatars were mobilized to fight for the Red Army during the war and 9,000 of them were demobilized in 1946, so there could not possibly have been so many deserters. Recruits of all national backgrounds fled from Crimea in 1941 when the 51st Army was defeated there, not only Crimean Tatars. Five Crimean Tatars received the title of “Hero of the Soviet Union” for their military services during the war, twice in the case of pilot Amet-Khan Sultan.

Amet-Khan Sultan, Crimean Tatar pilot who received  the title of “Hero of the Soviet Union” twice

Soviet propaganda also emphasized the Crimean Tatars’ supposed “all-encompassing cooperation with the enemy.” It was alleged that “nearly every adult” collaborated with the Germans. Research has revealed that the maximum number of collaborators among the Crimean Tatars did not exceeded 15,000 to 16,000 people, or 6.5-7% of the total population. This is certainly a lot, but this number was exceeded by the number of Crimean Tatars who served in the Red Army during the war. Moreover, collaboration with the Germans in one form or another was common among many different peoples who lived in occupied territories during the war. Therefore, it is ridiculous to speak of the Crimean Tatars as a singular “traitor nation.”

Despite the falsehood of both charges, the first wave of the Crimean Tatar deportation began on May 18th, 1944. Within two days more than 194,000 Crimean Tatars were sent to a variety of special settlements, and 6,000 others were sent to the Gulag. The second wave of deportations began on June 27th, when 3,000 additional Crimean Tatars and more than 40,000 Bulgarians, Armenians, Greeks, Turks and Romani were also forcibly removed from the peninsula. Despite their military service, demobilized Crimean Tatar soldiers and officers were also sent to exile.

Many different nationalities in the Soviet Union were subjected to deportation, each time under a different pretext. For example, in February 1944 the Chechen and Ingush peoples were also deported from their native land. The Chechen-Ingush ASSR had not been under occupation during the war, so the official reason for their deportation was “terrorism.”

The Balkar people were also evicted from the Kabardino-Balkaria ASSR between the 8th and 9th of March, 1944. This territory fell under German occupation from August 1942 to January 1943, but the official reason for the Balkars’ deportation was not “collaborationism,” but rather “the failure to protect Mount Elbrus.”

Soviet authorities also deported the Meskhetian Turks from the territory of the Georgian SSR. It was impossible to accuse the local population of collaborationism, as this area was far from any frontline. This perhaps expains why a reason for their deportation was never given.

By the way, the Kurds and Hemshines were also deported from the border regions of the Georgian SSR on the basis of this same resolution.

Myth 2. The Crimean Tatars could have initiated an armed resistance during the Russian occupation of Crimea and beat the aggressors back
Thousands Russian soldiers came to Crimea to “prepare” for the occupation

Reality: According to data presented by Boris Nemtsov in his report on Russia’s war in Ukraine, there were about 35,000 Russian soldiers in Crimea at the time of the annexation. While the Ukrainian census of 2001 indicated that there were 243,000 Crimean Tatars in Crimea, the number of Crimean Tatar men between the ages of 18 and 60 was only about 73,000.

So it came down to 35,000 trained soldiers against a population of 73,000 unarmed, peaceful men.

Myth 3. Almost every Crimean Tatar family owns a weapon
Crimean Tatars took part in Orange Revolution of 2004 and Euromaidan protests of 2013-2014 to stand for democratic values

Reality: The Crimean Tatar national movement was founded from the beginning on the principle of non-violent resistance, and it was with this strategy that they ultimately won them the right to return to their homeland. Perhaps the most notorious act of violence inscribed in the history of this movement was self-inflicted: the self-immolation of Musa Mamut in the summer of 1978.

Furthermore, among Crimean Tatar political and social organizations in Crimea, there was never a single one that used firearms in the 23 years following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Myth 4. The Crimean Tatars are aggressive Muslims
The Mosque of the Bakhchysarai palace in Crimea

Reality: In February 2014, Crimean Tatars allowed christians of Kyiv Patriarchate pray in mosques.

The Crimean Tatars are traditionally Sunni Muslims who follow the Hanafiyah school of Islamic law. It is widely believed among those who are unfamiliar with Crimean Tatar culture that they are comparable to Muslim groups in the North Caucasus in terms of their religious militancy. However, this is not true.

The vast majority of Crimean Tatars favor a Soviet model of behavior. Their culture is oriented more towards trade than militarism, and the degree of religiosity among most Crimean Tatars is comparable to that of average Ukrainians.

Myth 5. Even before the illegal annexation, there were plenty of ethnic conflicts involving Crimean Tatars
Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars demonstrate unity during the Euromaidan events

Reality: In the 23 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the number of conflicts in Crimea that could be labeled “ethnic” in nature could be counted on one hand. The most high-profile conflict reported by journalists as “interethnic” were not actually struggles between Crimean Tatars, Russians and Ukrainians, but rather confrontation between Crimean Tatars and local authorities, typically concerning the struggle for access to land.

When one party in a given conflict can be singled out by his or her nationality, it is often difficult to resist labeling the conflict as ethnic in nature. Such an interpretations is beneficial to the authorities because it creates the impression that they are not party to the conflict.

Myth 6. Other Crimean Tatar public organizations stand in opposition or as an alternative to the Mejlis
The Kurultay and Mejlis are representative bodies of Crimean Tatars. The former is elected by Crimean Tatar population

Reality: Such public organizations cannot act as opposition or alternative institutions. The Mejlis and the Kurultai are not “public organizations” and have never held this status.

These are the bodies of national self-government for Crimean Tatars.

More precisely, the Kurultai is the national parliament and the Mejlis is the national government. True, they are currently not incorporated into the framework of Ukrainian law, but they are nevertheless recognized by the Ukrainian Parliament and – most importantly – by the Crimean Tatar people themselves, who regulary elect Kurultai delegates and members of their local Mejlises.

Any attempts to put the Mejlis and any other type of Crimean Tatar public organization into the same category is unfounded.

Myth 7. 'Crimean Tatar' should be spelled in Russian with a hyphen (i.e., 'крымско-татарский')
Crimean Tatars are indigenous people of Crimea, so the division between the words “tatars” and “crimean” is not possible

Reality: No, definitely not! In Russian it is spelled as a single word (i.e., «крымскотатарский»).

Under the current “Rules of Russian orthography and punctuation,” the word «крымскотатарский» – “Crimean Tatar” – must be written together as a single word when used as an adjective. In Russian, hyphens are used to spell adjectives where the word “and” could be placed between the two words being combined to form a single adjective, However, “Crimean Tatar” is the only name for this national group, and it therefore can not be divided into “Crimean” and “Tatar”.

The myths were 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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