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The Crimean Tatars

The Crimean Tatars are Turkic people who inhabited the Crimean peninsula for more than seven centuries. They are descendants of Tatars who moved west with the Mongols and other Turkic groups (Khazars, Petchenegs, and Kipchacks) who had settled in eastern Europe as early as the 7th century. The Crimean peninsula itself was inhabited by various peoples. The ancient Greeks established colonies on the coast in the 6th century B.C., and later the control of the sea ports passed on to the Romans and eventually the Byzantines. After the invasion of Crimea by the Golden Horde forces in the 1230s, the Genoese who had been trading in the Black Sea began paying tribute to the new rulers and were allowed to maintain their colonies along the coast.

Following the disintegration of the Golden Horde, Crimean aristocrats established their own Khanate under the leadership of Haci Giray in the 1440s. However, the young Khanate became subject to the Ottoman rule in 1475, following the capture of the Genoese ports on the Crimean coast by the Ottoman naval forces. In the next three hundred years, the Crimean Khanate remained an important political power in eastern Europe, continuing to raid Muscovy and making alliances with Poland, Lithuania, and Sweden. The Ottoman influence on the Crimean society was profound. Early political conflicts within the ruling Giray family were often settled by the appointment of the Khan by the Ottoman court in Istanbul, and in the 16th century Ottoman appointments became a standard policy.

In 1783, Russian forces occupied the Crimea, officially ending the rule of the Khanate. Under oppressive Tsarist policy, the Crimean Tatars began leaving their homeland, and emigrations to the Ottoman lands continued thru the 19th century, especially after the Crimean War (1853-56). (See, for example, "Emigration" by M.B. Altan.) Additional information about the history of the Crimean Tatars is found in "Crimean Tatars" by H.B. Paksoy, and the Chronology prepared by M.B. Altan. Ismail Gaspirali (1851-1914), publisher and editor of the influential newspaper Terjuman, and Numan Çelebicihan (Çelebi Cihan) (1885-1918), the first president of the independent Crimean Republic, are important figures in the history of Crimean Tatars.

With the 1944 deportation of the entire Crimean Tatar population by Stalin, it seemed that the Tatar presence in the Crimea was completely eliminated. The text of the Soviet decree and descriptions of the ensuing horrible events (Three Answers and Arabat Tragedy) as well as Statistical History of Deportation and Exile by J. O. Pohl are included here. The chapter on Crimean Tatars from J. O. Pohl's recent book, Ethnic Cleansing in the USSR, 1937-1949 (1999), describes the process of deportation and the tragic outcome, based on information from Soviet archives. Although the Soviet government withdrew the official accusations against Crimean Tatars in 1967, it did nothing to facilitate their resettlement in Crimea or to make reparations for lost lives and confiscated property.

After forty years of forbearance and persistent struggle, Crimean Tatars began returning to their homeland. Several documents on file at this Web site detail the hardships endured by the Crimean Tatars in exile and the sacrifices they have to make to return to their native land. See, for example, "Crimean Tatar National Movement" by M.B. Altan, and "The Crimean Tatars' Thorny Path to Their Homeland" by M. A. Kirimoglu, who is the leader of this remarkable movement, as well as the interviews with Kirimoglu (also known as Cemiloglu or Jemilev) and N. Bekiroglu, and the presentation by R. Chubarov. The various activities at the grass-roots level are described in Criman Tatar Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs).

Today, more than 250,000 Crimean Tatars are living in the Crimea and another 250,000 are still in exile in Central Asia. There is an estimated 5 million people of Crimean origin living in Turkey, descendants of those who emigrated in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Smaller Crimean Tatar communities are also found in Romania, Poland, Finland, the United States, and Central Asia, especially Uzbekistan.

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