KUALA LUMPUR, May 18 -- Every year on May 18, Crimean Tatars around the world remember the victims of the then Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s eviction of their ancestors from their homeland, which became one of the most tragic pages of the nation’s history in the 20th century, said the Embassy of Ukraine in Malaysia in a statement to Bernama.
"On 18 May 1944, following the direct orders of the Government Committee of Defence of the USSR approved by Joseph Stalin, NKVD (KGB) officers have coordinated and conducted the operation aimed to evict the entire Tatar population of Crimea into secluded regions in Central Asia," the statement said, recalling the painful incident.
According to the statement, that fateful night saw approximately 250,000 people – including the elderly, women and children – forced into boxcars designed to carry livestock, "where 7,900 would never make it to the destination due to harsh conditions, lack of basic supplies and rapidly spreading diseases".
"And 46.2 per cent of those relocated will perish during the first two years of exile. The exile lasted for 43 long years. Only in 1987 during the Mikhail Gorbachev’s (former Soviet leader) policy, ‘Glasnost’, the Crimean Tatars were allowed to return to their homes," it said.
The same year (1987), the Mejlis – which represents a single highest executive-representative body of the Crimean Tatars – was formed, it said.
The Tatars are the indigenous people of Crimea – a peninsula surrounded by the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov in Ukraine, and is little known to many. However, they are one of the most ancient Muslim nations in Europe.
Crimean Tatars are the descendants of many different ethnic groups that were converging in the Crimean Peninsula. The Tauri, Scythians, Sarmatians, Alans, Greeks, Goths, Romans, Khazars, Pechenegs, Italians, Circassians and Turks have influenced the development of the Crimean Tatars, the statement explained.
"It took centuries to consolidate such a diverse ethnic unity in a single Crimean Tatar nation. The consolidating factors were, first of all, common territory, Turkic language, and Islam. Now there are over five million Crimean Tatars, most of them living in Ukraine, Turkey and Central Asia," the statement pointed out.
The embassy said that since Ukraine’s Independence in 1991, the majority of (Crimean Tatars) deportees have returned under a government-supported repatriation programme, comprising 12 per cent of the overall population in Crimea.
The statement further explained that on December 12, 2015, the Ukrainian Parliament passed a resolution recognising the 1944 eviction as genocide, and declared May 18 as a Day of Remembrance for the victims of the Crimean Tatar genocide.
It said that in April 2019, the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People made an appeal to the Parliaments and Governments of the United Nations to recognise the Genocide of the Crimean Tatar People.
"In March 2014, the Crimean peninsula was annexed by the Russian Federation. The international community, including Malaysia, did not recognise the annexation," according to the statement.
The 18th May of 1944 will always have a special place in the long history of horrific crimes and atrocities conducted by the Soviet regime.
In 2016, Jamala – a Ukrainian singer of Crimean Tatar origin – won the Eurovision Song contest with her emotionally-charged ballad ‘1944’, highlighting the tragic story of Crimean Tatars, the statement said.