Crimea: A Short History

Ukraine FlagIt’s good to have an idea of a country which is the subject of great discussion. It’s also nice to read about it prior to the present days when people may have reasons for putting a spin on it.  A group calling itself the Unrepresented Nations and People Organization put out this history about eight years ago. 


The Crimean Tatars are the indigenous people of Crimea. The Crimean Tatar ethnicity was formed in the process of synthesis of many Turkic and non-Turkic speaking tribes, which inhabited Crimea centuries ago.  In 1441, The Crimean Tatars emerged as a nation for the first time, bringing together a variety of ethnic groups together to constitute a single nation. Haci Giray Khan, a direct descendent of Ghengis Khan, established the independent Crimean Khanate as part of the Ottoman Empire. This was a Turkic-speaking Muslim state which was among the strongest powers in Eastern Europe until the beginning of the 18th century.

On 8 April 1783, Russia officially annexed Crimea. Being part of the Autonomous Soviet Republic, the Crimean Tatars were subject to oppressive policies. Consequently, hundreds of thousands of Crimean Tatars left their homeland in waves of mass emigrations. The Crimean Tatar population, which was estimated to be over five million during the Crimean Khanate rule, decreased to less than 300,000 and became a “minority” in their ancestral homeland.  

More than a century later, in November 1917, the tsar was overthrown in Petersburg and an independent Crimea was established under the leadership of Noman Chelebijihan. However, this independence did not last as the Republic crumbled following Bolsheviks’ offensive in January 1918.

In October 1921, the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (Crimean ASSR) was established.  With a special order from V.L Lenin, the Crimean Tatars lived the ‘golden age’ under Veli Ibrahim. The years between 1923 and 1927 were remarkable for the vigorous renaissance of culture and education of the Crimean Tatars. However, in 1927 this sense of nationalism ended when the leader and his colleagues were arrested and executed for being “Bourgeois nationalists”.

In the time following the execution of the leaders, thousands of Crimean Tatars perished during the mass deportation of rich peasants. The Crimean Tatar alphabet was changed twice, in 1928 from Arabic script to Latin script, and in 1938 from Latin script to Cyrillic script. Also, much of the Crimean Tatar political elite and intellectuals were marginalized and exiled.  

Hardship peaked in 1944, when Stalin deported the entire Crimean Tatar population from Crimea to the Urals, Siberia and to Uzbekistan in Central Asia. Due to hunger, thirst and disease, around 45% of the total population died in the process of deportation. Only in 1956, many were released from the “Special Settlement Camps”. However, when thousands of Crimean Tatars attempted to return to Crimea in 1967, following an official decree that exonerated the Crimean Tatars from any wrongdoing during World War II, many found that they were not welcome in their ancestral homeland. Thousands of Crimean Tatar families, once again, were deported from Crimea by the local authorities. Only in 1988, was the ban on return lifted. When the Crimean Tatars returned, it was to an independent Ukraine.


June 26-30, 1991, the Second Crimean Tatar National Qurultay (Parliament) was convened in Simferopol for the first time since 1917. A 33-member executive board, the Crimean Tatar National Mejlis, was formed and Mustafa Dzhemilev was elected as its first chairman. The Crimean Tatar’s national anthem and national flag were adopted. Also, in a special declaration, the Mejlis appealed to all the citizens of Crimea, regardless of religion and nationality, to join them in building a new Crimea.  

Two years later, a special Qurultay was convened to decide on participation in  upcoming parliamentary elections and in presidential elections. They decided to participate in both elections and elected 14 Crimean Tatar Deputies to the Crimean Parliament.  In 1996, the Ukrainian constitution stated that Crimea would have autonomous republic status, but that legislation must be in keeping with that of Ukraine. Crimea is allowed to have its own parliament and government.

In April 2000, a recommendation was passed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for the return of the deported Crimean Tatar people. The authorities allow the return but do not facilitate a social re-integration into society.   

In June 2004, the Ukrainian Parliament adopted a draft law which included provisions for facilitating the social reintegration of the Crimean Tatars but it was vetoed by the President.  In the same year, elections were held in Ukraine. The two main candidates were Yanukovych and Yushchenko. Yanukovych was pro-Russian and strongly supported by the national government. Yushchenko, on the other hand, leaned towards the West. He was supported by the European Union and the United States.  

There was a stark contrast in voting patterns between the eastern and the western regions of Ukraine. The Crimean Tatars voted predominantly for pro-West Yushchenko, 82% Crimea voted for Yanukovych (pro Russia) due to large number ethnic Russians on the peninsula. Yanukovych won the election, but following great international pressure and accusations of vote rigging, a repeat vote was held which Yushchenko won and is the current President of Ukraine.  In May 2006, the Program of the settlement of the deported Crimean Tatars and persons of other nationalities returning to Ukraine was adopted by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine. This means that the adaptation and integration of Crimean Tatars deported in earlier centuries into the Ukrainian society will be safeguarded until 2010.   

In June 2006, elections took place in Crimea. Anatoliy Hrytsenko (Party of Regions) was elected for Chairman of Supreme Council, Viktor Plakyda (Party of Regions) for Prime Minister.”

I added the emphasis. Yanukovych is a member of the Party of Regions that has governed Crimea. A look at the 2004 Ukrainian vote is here. The 2010 vote is here.  The Tatars have the most to fear from Putin’s takeover based on the historical Russian treatment of them.

One other note: The British Charge of the Light Brigade took on Crimea.