March 25, 2008
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You may also find a link to UNPO's timeline of recent events in Crimea here.
Status: Autonomous Republic
Population: Crimea: 2.5 million Crimean Tatars: 300 000
Capital City: Simferopol Area: 27 000 km²
Language: Ukrainian, Crimean Tatar and Russian
Religion: Islam (Sunni)
Ethnic Groups: Crimean Tatars 12%, Russian 62%, Ukrainian 23%, Belorussian, Armenian, Greek, German and Karaim 3%
UNPO REPRESENTATION: Milli Mejlis
The Crimean Tatars are represented at the UNPO by their elected representative body, The Crimean Tatar “Milli Mejlis” They were a founding member of the UNPO in 1991.
Crimea is located on the northern coast of the Black Sea on the western coast of the Sea of Azov, bordering Kherson Oblast from the North. Originally, the region was occupied by the Crimean Tatars, who now make up only 12% of the population. This stark decrease in the number of Crimean Tatars living in Crimea is the result of repeated forceful expulsion to Central Asia by Joseph Stalin’s government when the area was part of the Soviet Union. After the fall of the Soviet Union, some Crimean Tatars returned to the region. However, they are still not treated as free and equal citizens in the area.
Crimea is a parliamentary republic which is governed by the Constitution of Crimea. Under the official rule of the Government of Ukraine, the administrative seat of the republic’s government is Simferopol, which is located in the center of the peninsula. Crimea covers an area of 27 000 square kilometers.
The main branches of the Crimean economy are tourism and agriculture. However, land generates a lot of tension between the Crimean Tatars and other local populations, who are often better represented than the non-participating Crimean Tatars. As a result, Crimean Tatars often face problems with unemployment, access to language, housing, sanitation and overcrowding.
Since 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, Ukraine became an independent state. Then, the Crimean Tatar leadership founded the Qurultay— the National Assembly. Forming the sovereign body over the Crimean Tatars, this Parliament, on the 30th of June 1991, adopted the Crimean Tatar's national anthem, the national flag, and, remarkably, the Declaration on national sovereignty of the Crimean Tatar people in Crimea.
The Parliament was intended to act as a representative body for the Crimean Tatars which could address grievances to the Ukrainian central government, the Crimean government, and international bodies. Among others, this is done by allowing the Crimean Tatars to elect 14 Deputies to the Verkhovna Rada of Crimea, which is the unicameral parliament of the Autonomous Region of Crimea. For the first time in over 50 years, the Crimean Tatars have representatives in this 100-member body.
GOVERNMENT OF THE AUTONOMOUS REPUBLIC OF CRIMEA
The status of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea is regulated by the Constitution of Ukraine and Constitution of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. Crimea is an integral part of Ukraine but is the only region which has the autonomy status. Unlike other oblasts of Ukraine, the head of Council of Ministers of Crimea is appointed by the parliament of Crimea with agreement of the President of Ukraine. Crimea also enjoys more discretion in dealing with some socio-economic and cultural issues autonomously from the Ukrainian government.
Verkhovna Rada is the 100-member unicameral Parliament of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. The Verkhovna Rada of Crimea is regulated according to a legislation passed by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on February 10, 1998.
The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature branches. It is the responsibility of Ukraine.
The Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People or Parliament is the supreme executive body underpinned by a network of district and local “mejlises”, which are formed in every settlement where the Crimean Tatars live. The Mejilis are elected for 5 years through nationwide voting based on a mixed electoral system. In 2006, the Chairman of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, Mustafa Dzhemilev, was re-elected.
UNPO has a resolute commitment to the peaceful and nonviolent campaign for recognition of the Crimean Tatar people as an indigenous people of Crimea, for the full restoration of rights, including their inalienable right to restore the national-territorial autonomy of the Crimea within the borders of an independent Ukraine.
UNPO believes that the Ukrainian government should proceed immediately towards the full restoration of the rights of Crimean Tatars in accordance with universally recognized principles of international law and in dialogue with the Mejlis of Crimean Tatar People.
UNPO promotes the engagement of the international and particularly European community to support the process of restoring the rights of the Crimean Tatars.
UNPO MEMBER PERSPECTIVE
The Crimean Tatar people represented by the Milli Mejlis were cofounders of UNPO and continue to maintain an active, nonviolent struggle for their rights. The Crimean Tatar people believe that the situation of indigenous people as a part of Ukraine can be enhanced significantly by means of effective usage of UNPO’s capabilities. Given that Ukraine has chosen a course to European integration, the Crimean Tatar people believe that UNPO is an important platform for representation and advocacy of the interests of their people in the international arena.
The Crimean Tatar people - who were brutally deported by Stalin's regime in 1944 and kept in exile till the collapse of the Soviet Union - are still trying to overcome the lack of understanding of their needs and aspirations by many state actors of independent Ukraine. Under such conditions it is imperative to use international standards on the rights of oppressed indigenous peoples. The Milli Mejlis hope that in the long run UNPO would become a significant factor in promoting the improvement of Ukrainian legislation in regard to securing the rights of Crimean Tatars on their Homeland in Crimea.
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.
1. Return to Crimea
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe passed a recommendation in 2000 for the return of the deported Crimean Tatars. The Assembly states that ‘the problems confronting returnees remain complex and multifaceted. They include difficulties in securing citizenship, employment, housing, social protection, and cultural revival. Until these problems are solved, the full national identity of returnee Crimean Tatars cannot be restored’. In short, the authorities allow the return but do not facilitate a social re-integration into society.
Indeed, the integration programs that were set up by the Ukrainian Government had to be scaled down significantly and were underfunded as a result of an economic crisis in Ukraine. Consequently, many of the returnees have long lived without access to basic needs such as housing and infrastructure. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe states that ‘to avoid social erosion of the returnee Crimean Tatar community, education and job creation schemes need to be launched and intensified’.
Indeed, on 11 May 2006 a program of the settlement of the deported Crimean Tatars and persons of other nationalities returning to Ukraine, their adaptation and integration into the Ukrainian society until 2010 was approved by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine. This happened after a veto issued by the President of a draft law adopted by the Ukrainian Parliament in June 2004. The Ukrainian parliament still has not passed laws which would regulate the status of the Crimean Tatars.
Return to Crimea is slow mainly due to the individual costs concerned and only 250 to 4,000 Crimean Tatars return every year. As a result, 100,000 of the 260,000 deported people still remain outside Ukrainian borders. On a more positive note, 98% of the Crimean Tatars who returned to Ukraine have received citizenship.
2. The Role of Russia
Ironically, the Crimean Tatars are a minority in a country where ethnic Russians also feel themselves to be a minority. That means that Russia takes an aggressive stance towards the protection of Crimea’s interests. The aggressive take of the Russians on the culture of the Crimean Tatars is important in light of tensions between Russia and the West following the war between Russia and Georgia in August 2008. During this unrest, the Ukrainian president Yuschenko was vocal in support for Georgia. Some analysts are highlighting the presence of pro Russian naval fleets on the peninsula as a potential threat to stability in the region. The lease is due for renewal in 2017 but Ukraine say they are determined not to renew it despite admonishment from Russia. Some commentators wonder whether Crimea is the next target for Russia to display military and sovereign force.
The Crimean Tatar population is understandably nervous, since 60% of the peninsula support Russia’s actions. In a recent poll, 47% of Ukrainians said to believe conflict between Ukraine and Russia is possible. Some say Russia is looking for any excuse to exercise its vastly superior military might in Crimea and that the peninsula is effectively occupied territory as it is. As it is, the Crimean Tatars live in shanty towns and have been the victim of violence and discrimination. Crimean Tatar community leaders have noted that foreign Islamic groups have made attempts to radicalize disaffected Crımean Tatar youth. If they do turn violent, that too may be the excuse needed by Russia to protect its “citizens”.
The potential for a South Ossetia/Abkhazia situation to unfold is becoming more real with various different possible triggers. The major difference is that Crimea already harbours a strong Russian military presence.
3. Access to education and protection of language
The Crimean Tatars suffer from a shortage in the number of schools and limited access to education. The OSCE pointed out in 2007 that 3,472 pupils study in 15 schools in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, where the language of instruction is Crimean. Besides this, in 33 general educational institutions with Russian as the main language of instruction, 1,029 pupils study in Crimean. This leaves a significant portion of the 40,000 children of school age who are not able to study the Crimean language. There are only 14 centers for children offering extracurricular activities in the Crimean Tatar language.
Use of Russian as the language of instruction is increasing. Indeed, calls and pledges have been made to make Russian an official language of Ukraine. In Crimea, 80% of the media outlets are in Russian (even though the only full time media outlet in Crimea is Crimean Tatar owned and run). Children are taught in Crimean Tatar for only 4 years before they are then exclusively instructed in Russian. In Simferopol, there are only two universities in which teachers can train to teach Crimean Tatar literature.
The UNDP Crimea Integration and Development Programme has been active in trying to ensure the protection of Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar languages and there are two state-funded newspapers in the Crimean Tatar language “Kyrym” (Crimea) and “Yany diunia” (New world). The state television company, “Crimea”, reserve 7% of the total broadcasting time for Crimean language programmes. However, the deficiency in education opportunities dissuades political participation. A vicious circle forms whereby the Crimean Tatar minority are subsequently less likely to exercise their rights to increase the provision of instruction in their native language.
1. What is the situation of human rights in Crimea?
In September 2007, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights published a report following a visit to the Ukraine the previous December. In this report, calls are made for increased protection of minorities. The Council also stressed that racism and xenophobia need to be addressed. The same concerns were raised by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 5th periodic report of the Ukraine in November that year. In the report, concerns were voiced over discrimination and ethnic violence towards ethnic and religious groups including the Crimean Tatars.
Strikingly, in May 2008, the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council gave a favourable impression of the human rights situation in the Ukraine in respect of ethnic minorities. In the report, it says that “Ukraine now has the appropriate legal mechanisms for preventing manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, intolerance, and prejudicial treatment on the basis of national or ethnic identity”.
2. What is the position of the Crimean Tatars within the peninsula?
Since the deportation, more than 270 thousand Crimean Tatars and other formerly deported persons (FDP) have returned to Crimea. However the measures adopted by Ukrainian Government for facilitating integration and adaptation of the repatriates are insufficient. As a result, the Crimean Tatars are in left in a disadvantaged position. For example, only about half of repatriates have a permanent dwelling and a permanent job. Up to 60% of the Crimean Tatars are unemployed. According to Rustem M. Ablyatifov, who wrote The Adaptation and Integration of Formerly Deported Crimean Tatars in Ukraine, the unemployment level among Crimean Tatars is three times higher than the average level in Crimea.
The Crimean Tatars also face land disputes and housing issues. Land generates a lot of tension between the Crimean Tatars and other local populations, who are often better represented than the non-participating Crimean Tatars. In many cases, the Crimean Tatars are living in the slum areas of the peninsula with dilapidated housing, bad sanitation and overcrowding. Ablyatifov found that in more than 300 compact resettlement areas, engineering and social infrastructure is either minimal or does not exist. For the Crimean Tatars, medical services are insufficient both in quantity and in quality. The Crimean Tatars are at high risk of chronic disease and also experience high mortality rates. The level of peripheral nervous system disease is three times higher than the average.
3. What are implications for Crimean Tatars following the January 2010 elections in Ukraine?
One of the main ways in which parties opposed each other in the recent Ukraine elections, was by siding with either Europe or Russia. Now the results are clear: Victor Yanukovych, in favor of pro-Russian socio-economic political developments, has won the run-off in early February.
Crimean Tatars support pro-European national politics, as they feel that a move towards the EU better serves their political, economic and social objectives (e.g. language, education, religion and land use rights), and as that puts most pressure on the Ukrainian State to become more democratic.
This result has various implications. In terms of language, while Russian will become the Second State language, chances of Crimean Tatar to reach a similar status are minimized. Education, infrastructure and housing issues will not be targeted and subsidized specific to minority needs. The move away from democracy means that distribution of land rights will more often follow an arbitrary logic. In terms of religion further, it will not be possible to build the Cathedral Mosque in Simferopol after all, as Yanukovych is at the front line of opposition. The most pressing issues however, as Abduraman Egiz pointed out in an interview, are open discrimination and the implementation of constitutional rights. Democracy in the Ukraine is weak and the election result is expected to worsen the situation.
CULTURE AND ENVIRONMENT
The Crimean Tatar language, which is also known as Crimean or as Crimean Turkish, is the language most often spoken by Crimean Tatars. It is spoken in Crimea as well as in the Crimean Tatar diasporas, largely concentrated in Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria.
According to the constitution of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Crimean Tatar has ‘protected’ status. This means that every citizen is entitled, at his request, to receive government documents, such as a passport or a birth certificate in Crimean Tatar. However, according to the constitution of Ukraine, Ukrainian is the only official language in all of Ukraine. So, the recognition of the Crimean Tatar language is a matter of political and legal debate.
The principal religion of the Crimean Tatars is Islam. As Muslims, they are Sunnis of the Hanafi school. The Crimean Tatars adopted Islam during the tenth through twelfth centuries and it became the state religion under the Crimean Khanate.
However, during the Stalin era, hundreds of mosques were closed, clergy were executed, and celebrating Muslim holidays was banned. Because the alphabet had been changed, many Crimean Tatars lost the ability to read the suras or verses in their Qur'an. Crimean Tatars nevertheless resisted the repression of religion. At the moment of deportation, many Tatar families thought to take their copies of the Qur'an.
NATURE AND ENVIRONMENT
The Crimea is a unique region of Ukraine in geographical, climatic, geological and historical respects. The main resources are coal, iron, manganese, oil, gypsum and alabaster. However, the environment is severely suffering from economic inefficiency in accounting for natural resource use and the Soviet focus on increasing the gross national product and achieving industrial and military targets at any cost. This resulted in low industrial and agricultural efficiency, the absence of effective environmental regulation and significant pollution.
Still, food production remains the main economic activity in the Crimea. The economy is based on farming, fishing, metallurgical industries and coastal tourism. Under the czars, the Crimean Tatars already concentrated their economic activity in animal husbandry and vegetable farming. Some began to plant grain, especially wheat, in the north, whereas others took up viticulture and tobacco growing in the south.
UNDP Crimea Integration and Development Programme:
Rustem M. Ablyatifov, The Adaptation and Integration of Formerly Deported Crimean Tatars in Ukraine:
UNHCR, Minorities at Risk Project, Chronology for Crimean Tatars in Ukraine, 2004http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/469f38ec14.html Last Updated December 2009