Staunton, May 18 – Seventy-six years ago today, Stalin ordered the deportation of the Crimean Tatars from their homelands to the wilds of Central Asia, an act of genocide that they, their survivors and people of good will around the world pledge every year must never be allowed to happen again.
But in making that commitment, all too many of them forget that there are many ways to destroy a nation. Mass murder and deportations are only the most dramatic, and simultaneously the least effective not only because they attract attention but because they mobilize people to oppose such crimes.
Other more insidious ways of destroying a nation, of engaging in genocide, are available. The homeland of a people may be flooded with outsiders to dilute and then smother its national culture and language. Occupiers may use carrot and stick approaches to lead members of a nation to give up.
And in taking these less dramatic actions, those who engage in them and those who are their victims will get less attention, allowing the victimizers to get away with a slow-motion genocide knowing they won’t be criticized and the victimized will not receive the consistent support they deserve.
That is the sad fate of the Crimean Tatars on this anniversary, Mustafa Dzhemilyev, the leader of that nation says. He argues that what is happening now is a repetition “in a somewhat distorted form of what happened in 1944” (obozrevatel.com/society/v-kryimu-proishodit-retsidiv-sobyitij-1944-goda-genotsid-kryimskotatarskogo-naroda-dzhemilev.htm).
The Russian occupiers of the homeland of the Crimean Tatars are not loading people into cattle cars as they did in Stalin’s time. “But they are creating conditions so that the Crimean Tatars will leave Crimea” both by bringing in Russian citizens and by repressing the Crimean Tatars who are still there.
After he annexed Crimea, Vladimir Putin had a Russian law passed “about the so-called rehabilitation of the peoples of the Crimea; but everything has moved in exactly the opposite direction” with Russification of the peninsula and the people there proceeding in a rapid and systematic way, Dzhemilyev says.
Indeed, the national leader continues, “the anti-Crimean Tatar psychosis at the highest levels [in Moscow] is much stronger than was the case during Soviet power.” Tragically, the Crimean Tatars, having succeeded in returning to their homeland, are now once again being forced to leave it. Thirty thousand or 10 percent of all of them have already left.
More are likely to because those who remain in Crimea “are being subject to persecutions just like under Soviet power,” he says. “Earlier, on May 18, we assembled at meetings in squares; now, this is prohibited, and we can only lay flowers at monuments to the victims and do that only under the control of the powers that be.” Anything else will lead to arrests.
Some keep track of the searches and arrests the Russian occupiers are inflicting on the Crimean Tatars, Dzhemilyev says; but what is more serious is “the total control over behavior and the thoughts of people.” The Internet is blocked, telephones are tapped, and online mail is monitored. Mere posting of a “like” on something the powers don’t can get one in trouble.
Russian occupiers monitor what goes on in the mosques, and they treat any Muslim meeting outside of it as a criminal activity. And they torture those they arrest: “I do not know of a single case when a detained Crimean Tatar is not being beaten,” the Crimean Tatar national leader continues.
Many governments properly called the 1944 deportation a crime against humanity and even an act of genocide, but today, few view what is going on now as the same thing, albeit in slow motion. The current Ukrainian government doesn’t treat this issue as being of primary concern or at a minimum doesn’t give it the attention it did. The same is true of others.
For justice to be restored and Crimea returned to its people, the international community must keep up the pressure, Dzhemilyev says. Vladimir Putin may never take that action because he won so much domestic support for the Anschluss, but “I think,” he continues, “that the next president of Russia will be much smarter than Putin.”
He or she will understand that it is not in the interests of Russia to remain isolated because of its violation of international law. For that to occur, sanctions must be increased rather than reduced. Already Russians are seeing that their earlier enthusiasm for the annexation was misplaced and that they would have been better off if it had never happened.
“Unfortunately, there are forces in the West who think that the longer Crimea will remain in Russian hands, the better because the peninsula will weaken this aggressive land. But for us, that is catastrophic since each day of occupation represents an enormous loss for our people,” Dzhemilyev points out. We are interested in the most rapid end to occupation possible.
The 1944 deportation was an act of genocide but so too is what is going on now when the Russian occupiers are shifting the ethnic balance of the peninsula and poisoning the consciousness of Crimean Tatar children, militarizing their environment, and Russifying them even more than did Stalin.