In 1944, on Stalin’s orders, the Crimean Tatar people were deported from Crimea to Central Asia in the space of three days. According to analyst Alexander Podrabinek, seventy years later, the Russian authorities are still putting pressure, if not on the entire Crimean Tatar people, then at least on their most prominent representatives, by banning leaders of the Crimean Tatar assembly (or Mejlis) Mustafa Dzhemilev and Refat Chubarov from entering Russia.
In today’s Russia, an empire is under construction. More specifically, we are witnessing the omnidirectional reconstruction of an empire, á la the Soviet Union. Russia’s domestic policy is continuously marked by an obvious crackdown that manifests itself in the emergence of new laws directed at restricting civil liberties in the country. In foreign policy, an anti-American course has become Moscow’s top priority. This is most apparent in Russia’s move to openly establish closer relations with Cuba, as well as promising to help Cuban Communists in their fight against American imperialism and supporting Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. The Kremlin seems to be shopping for any venture it thinks will conflict with American interests.
At the crossroads of Russia’s domestic and foreign policy lies the annexation of Crimea, as it creates problems for both Russia’s international relations and the country’s internal life. Incidentally, the takeover and occupation of Crimea clearly demonstrate the Kremlin’s unity of values and versatility of approaches in dealing with domestic and foreign issues. Disregard for the law, use of force, shameless propaganda, and prioritization of the interests of Russia’s ruling regime over national interests prevail.
In 1944, with the help of the Red Army and the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD), Joseph Stalin deported the Crimean Tatar people from Crimea to Central Asia in the space of three days. The result was a de facto genocide that almost destroyed a nation; 46 percent of Crimean Tatars died during the deportation and in the most difficult first years of exile.
However, despite the efforts of the Communist regime, the remainder of the population survived, recovered from the shock of deportation, and began its struggle to return to Crimea. A man named Mustafa Dzhemilev emerged as a leader in this fight. In 1944, a one-year-old Mustafa, along with his parents and his siblings, was deported from Crimea to Central Asia. As an adult, this exceptionally courageous man served about fifteen years in Soviet prisons and camps for dissident activity and participation in the Crimean Tatars’ national liberation movement.
Today, the Russian government is trying to deprive Russia of the most prominent representatives of the Crimean Tatar people—if not of the entire people, as it did in 1944. Last March, after the annexation of Crimea, Mustafa Dzhemilev was forbidden from entering Russia, and consequently, Crimea. One can be deprived of one’s homeland in different ways. This time, Dzhemilev was not deported from Crimea; rather, Crimea was taken away from Ukraine. Dzhemilev thus became a foreigner to his own Motherland. He cannot return to his family or his home in Bakhchisarai; he cannot go back to the homeland that he and his people had such a difficult time defending in the twentieth century.
Fundamentally, there’s no difference between the events of 1944, when people were made exiles from their own country, and what is happening seventy years later in 2014, when citizens of an occupied territory are being labeled as foreigners.
Dzhemilev’s case is not an anomaly. On July 5, the Russian authorities also banned chairman of the Mejlis Refat Chubarov from entering Russia, including the occupied territory of Crimea. Chubarov had left Crimea to go to Ukraine and was forbidden from crossing the border on his way back. No reasonable explanation was provided. The Russian authorities proceed from the idea that all Crimean Tatars, who denied Russia’s right to annex Crimea and refused to accept Russian passports, have become foreigners.
Fundamentally, there’s no difference between the events of 1944, when people were made exiles from their own country, and what is happening seventy years later in 2014, when citizens of an occupied territory are being labeled as foreigners. Rather, the difference between the events lies in the reaction of the international community to Russia’s lawlessness. Both the annexation of Crimea and the persecution of Crimean Tatar leaders are being condemned almost unanimously by various countries and on various levels.
Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu has expressed his personal concern over the actions of the Russian authorities with regard to Mustafa Dzhemilev. The United Nations General Assembly condemned Russia’s annexation of Crimea. And in his statement on the 70th anniversary of Joseph Stalin’s forcible deportation of Crimean Tatars, U.S. secretary of state John Kerry said, “For many Crimean Tatars, these abuses are still fresh in their minds and Russia’s occupation and illegal attempt to annex Crimea has reopened old wounds.... We commemorate the tragedy of 1944 with heavy hearts, even as we stand in solidarity with Crimean Tatars today against a new threat to their community.”
The reaction of the international community is clear and unequivocal; however, the Kremlin appears unimpressed. The truth is that, short of the threat of military force, the current Kremlin leaders are not inclined to consider anything the international community says or does a serious factor in Russia’s international policy. Such is their political psychology, passed down to them from Soviet times, and maybe even earlier.