ANKARA (AA) – Russia continues its policy of persecuting Crimean Tatars nearly three-quarters of a century after the infamous exile ordered by dictator Josef Stalin, according to academics and Crimean NGOs.
Hakan Kirimli, a history professor at Ankara’s Bilkent University, told Anadolu Agency that the May 18, 1944 deportation of Crimean Tatars by the Soviet Union was not just a black day for the Crimean Tatars themselves, but for all of humanity.
"What we are commemorating is not only a crime against humanity committed 72 years ago. What is more important is the fact that there is a strong possibility that this crime may be repeated in some sense today,” Kirimli said, referring to the Russian annexation and subsequent repression.
On 18 May 1944, tens of thousands of Crimean Tatars were deported to Central Asia by Joseph Stalin’s Soviet regime, which accused them of collaborating with occupying Nazi forces.
Around 180,000 people were deported to various regions within Soviet territory, in particular Siberia and Uzbekistan. Almost half of the exiles, who endured long months of dire living conditions, are thought to have died of starvation and disease.
This 30-year exile continued until 1987, when the Soviet government allowed 2,300 Crimean Tatars to return to their homeland. Another 19,300 people followed in 1988.
Noting that Vladimir Putin’s administration “has not shown any remorse” for the 1944 event, Kirimli went on to say that Russia still "advocates that legacy”.
Kirimli said that commemorating the deportation was banned in Crimea, and urged the international community to stop recognizing Crimea’s 2014 annexation by Russia, followed by repression, including arbitrary arrests and detentions, of the region’s Tatar minority.
“Even the words ‘Crimea’s annexation’ amount to indirect acknowledgment and encouragement [to the Russian authorities],” Kirimli said, calling for the continuation of sanctions against Russia until the occupation ends.
Since the annexation, Russia has been reeling, in part due to Western sanctions.
The Russian economy contracted 3.7 percent in 2015, while the World Bank 2016's growth projection for Russia was minus 1.2 percent.
“Otherwise, Russia will become a grave danger for the whole world, and current attempts to exterminate the Crimean Tatars will gain speed,” warned Kirimli.
Tuncer Kalkay, a spokesman for the Turkish-based Platform of Crimean Tatar Organizations, said the Russian policy of “wiping out” the Crimean Tatars remains in effect.
"This centuries-long occupation started again with Russia’s annexation of Crimea on February 24, 2014. Until that date, Crimean Tatars used to be able to commemorate their national day of mourning, but they cannot even do that today,” Kalkay said, adding that Crimean Tatars are being subjected to regular raids on their homes and mosques.
“Their radio and TV operators are not allowed to broadcast. Their leaders are not allowed in the country,” he added.
Kalkay praised Crimean Tatar singer Jamala’s Eurovision victory last weekend, saying that the Ukrainian musician helped the whole world learn about May 18.
Jamala won the 61st Eurovision Song Contest on Saturday with her song, 1944.
However, Russia objected to this victory and called it a political move, Kalkay said.
“But this is not political. It was just the plight of Jamala’s family. A plight which every Crimean Tatar went through,” he said, calling for the international community to protest such Russian moves in the form of tighter sanctions.
Zafer Karatay, a representative in Turkey of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, an assembly banned last month by a Crimean court, echoed the same sentiments, calling Jamala’s victory a “turning point” in Crimean history.
“Thanks to her, the Crimean Tatars had the chance to commemorate the deportation in front of the whole world. This also raised their spirits,” Karatay said.
Karatay warned against the Crimean issue remaining a “frozen conflict”.
“Right now we don’t have a state in Crimea. We are a minority.
“This frozen conflict will only lead to the long-term wiping out of a people, [a people] which could not be wiped out on May 18, 1944. Therefore, Russia must be promptly stopped,” he said.
The Crimean Tatars’ Mejlis assembly was banned by the Supreme Court of Crimea in April as an "extremist organization" following a prosecution application lodged in February.
*Anadolu Agency correspondent Hale Turkes contributed to this story from Ankara.