Crimea’s Geopolitics and the Plight of Crimean Tatars

    The dramatic history of Crimea unveils a region that has been persistently plagued by conflicts among various factions throughout its timeline. Of notable mention is its involvement in both World Wars when control over its territories exchanged hands between different parties, namely the Bolsheviks and Soviets during WWI. This shift had dire repercussions, including what is known as the Tatar exile, whereby Crimean Tatars were unjustly accused of treason. Two world wars profoundly impacted Crimea’s demographic makeup, as many were forced to flee their homes.

    During the last five years of the Soviet Union, exiled Crimean Tatars stepped up efforts to return to their historical lands, taking advantage of Gorbachev’s political reforms. A group of Tatars even held a demonstration in Moscow in 1987 to influence the decision making. Some Tatars were fortunate to return to Crimea at that time. However, their numbers were very low. Hundreds of thousands of exiles returned to Crimea after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    But obtaining their rights under the Ukrainian administration was not easy, and many Tatars were victims of legal, political, and economic discrimination. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, after nearly 25 years of independence (under Ukraine), exacerbated the problems already faced by the Crimean Tatar community, resulting in nearly 200,000 people at risk of leaving their homeland again. Since the end of the Soviet era, the quasi majority of Crimean Tatars have always sided with Ukraine, opposing the annexation of Crimea.

    Crimean Tatars encountered even greater difficulties with the start of the war between Russia and Ukraine in 2022. Many were coerced into military service through forced mobilisation and faced deployment towards fighting against Ukraine on battlefronts. Some reports say that the number of people enlisted was 5,000 in Crimea in the latest mobilisation, with 90% being Crimean Tatars.

    This community had undergone a traumatic exile experience in 1944, and it was only after decades could the Crimean Tatars regain access to their ancestral land and asserted their rights only after the mid-1980s. Tragically, the new wave of turmoil has paved the way to heightened pressures after the annexation.

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