ANKARA (AA) - Turkey's presidential spokesman condemned on Wednesday the World War II-era Soviet deportation of some 200,000 Tatars from the Crimea peninsula.
"We condemn this ethnic cleansing, which is a dark page in history," Ibrahim Kalin told reporters in the capital Ankara.
"Turkey will never forget the pain of the Crimean Tatars. We are determined not to let future generations forget this pain," he added.
Kalin reiterated that Turkey also rejects a recent top Crimean court decision to prohibit the activities of the Tatar Mejlis, an assembly of Tatars.
He said Turkey will continue to stand in solidarity with Crimean Tatars.
On May 18, 1944, tens of thousands of Crimean Tatars were deported to Central Asia by Joseph Stalin’s Soviet regime, which accused them of collaboration 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 many months of harsh 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 followed in 1988.
Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in March 2014. Since then, the region’s Tatar minority has complained of repression, including arbitrary arrests and detentions.
- Top general's attendance at wedding of Erdogan's daughter
The spokesman defended the attendance last weekend of Gen. Hulusi Akar, Turkey’s chief of General Staff, at the wedding of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's daughter.
"Exploiting such an issue like this is actually an unfortunate situation," Kalin said.
Akar was criticized for serving as a witness at the wedding of Sumeyye Erdogan and Selcuk Bayraktar on Saturday, a day after eight Turkish soldiers were martyred by PKK terrorists in the southeastern Hakkari province.
Kalin said he would let the public decide on the merit of "reckless attacks" on Akar and Erdogan.
"As if they are not the generals and soldiers who are fighting terrorism and resisting the threats..." he added.
The General Staff released a statement on Monday saying that Akar attended the wedding "within the framework of state protocol".