Why Crimea is not Russian and never was
“Crimea is ours,” the Russian invaders shouted when they occupied Crimea on February 20, 2014. But was the Crimean peninsula ever really Russian?
Let’s find out in a collaborative piece with EdEra.
The history of Crimea dates back to ancient times, when the ancient Greeks colonized the southern coast of the peninsula.
In Ukraine there are numerous monuments of ancient Greek culture — such as the Olvia, the Panticapaeum, and the Chersonese Taurica, to name a few. In the XIV-XV centuries there was even the Greek principality Theodoro. A unique Greek community was formed on the Crimean peninsula, which became known as the “Mariupol Greeks” after they moved to the north of the Azov Sea area in the 18th century.
From 1441 to 1783, the Crimean Khanate existed on the peninsula, a state that was under the protectorate of the Ottoman Empire for the vast majority of its existence.
But, in the 18th century, Crimea was annexed by the Russian Empire. Since then, by 1864, the number of the indigenous to the peninsula Crimean Tatars within the peninsula’s population decreased from 90% to 50%, while Russians and Ukrainians came to constitute 28.5% of the total population.
If we look at how long Crimea has actually been under Russian occupation, we see that it is only 5.6% of the entire Crimean history.
However, during these 168 years Russia managed to not only forcibly deport the Crimean Tatar people twice and erode the peninsula’s demographic makeup but it also radically changed and rewrote the history of the peninsula.
For example, after the capture and liquidation of the Khanate, Catherine II sent its historians and archaeologists to the Crimea. They were especially interested in the Greek heritage on the territory of the peninsula. The focus on the Greek past as well as on the Christian relics later firmly entered travel guides to the Crimea.
The Empire downplayed the role of the traditions of the Crimean Khanate and presented the peninsula to be the heir to the Byzantine Empire, as this suited the doctrine of the Russian Empire.
In 1917 the Crimean Tatars proclaimed the formation of the world’s first democratic Muslim state – the Crimean Democratic Republic at the Qurultay of the Crimean Tatar People.
However, the White Guards and the Red Army tormented the peninsula for several years until the Crimean Autonomous Socialist Soviet Republic within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic was established on October 8, 1921.
In 1944, Joseph Stalin ordered the genocide of the Crimean Tatar people which resulted in thousands of Crimean Tatars being forcibly deported from the peninsula to, mostly, the Uzbek SSR. After the expulsion of the Crimean Tatars, the Crimean Autonomy was liquidated. In 1945, the Republic was transformed into a province.
A large-scale campaign was launched on the peninsula to Russify the area and erase Crimean Tatar history – towns bearing Crimean Tatar names were renamed in Russian and history textbooks were rewritten.
In 1954, the transfer of the Crimean region from the RSFSR to the Ukrainian SSR took place.
This decision was explained by the territorial attachment of the Crimea to Ukraine and by the common economic and cultural ties. The Crimea, which at that time had not yet recovered from the war and deportation and was in ruins in some places, needed resources for its restoration and development. That was put on the shoulders of the Ukrainian SSR government. As was the problem of the return of Crimean Tatars to their homeland in the future.
The Crimean Tatars now have the official status of an indigenous people of Ukraine and have a number of special rights set out in Ukrainian legislation. These include the right to self-determination and self-government within the framework of the Constitution of Ukraine, the right to participate in the political, economic and cultural life of the country and the freedom to renew spiritual and cultural traditions.
The representative of the Ukrainian President in Crimea, Tamila Tasheva, stressed that Crimean Tatars do not see themselves as separate from the Ukrainian state and have always fought for Ukrainian independence. They recognize themselves as an indigenous people of Crimea and Ukraine.
Today, the Crimean Volunteer Battalion, created back in 2014 by Isa Akayev, is fighting the Russian invaders in the ranks of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
The battalion consists mainly of Crimean Tatars. Fifty crimean fighters participated in battles for the Kyiv region, and now they want to be relocated to the southern front to fight in the Kherson region, closer to their homeland.
You can learn more about the history of Crimea and the Crimean Tatars in Ederа’s free online course “Crimea: History and People.”