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The processes of “indigenization” in the Crimean ASSR in the 1920s and parallels with today’s realities


In the winter of 1918, the Bolshevik occupation of the Crimean peninsula erased all the achievements of the Crimean Tatar national movement, which had been made in less than a year, including the formation of the first political party, the holding of the Kurultay, the declaration of the Crimean People’s Republic (which lasted only three months, but in fact on paper) and the formation of its Directory , adoption of the “Crimean Tatar Basic Laws”, etc.

On March 19-21, 1918, the Bolsheviks proclaimed the Tavrida Socialist Soviet Republic by a voluntary decision. In April, the peninsula was occupied by German troops and the Crimean group of the UNR Army: the leaders of the “republic”, which existed for 32 days, were shot as a result of the uprising. In June, the Crimean regional government created with the help of the Germans took control of the peninsula under the leadership of Matvyi Sulkevich, a descendant of the Crimean Tatars who called himself Suleiman. In May 1919, the Bolsheviks, having reoccupied the peninsula, proclaimed the “Crimean Soviet Socialist Republic”, which lasted 75 days. In the same year, the Crimean Tatar Mejlis was elected, which took over the functions of the national government and was dissolved by the Denikinians in August.

After the defeat of the Ukrainian National Liberation Struggle of 1917-1921, the Ukrainian Bolsheviks, who intended to include the entire former Tavria province in Soviet Ukraine, received a warning from their “elder brothers” from the RCP(b): Crimea must belong to Russia. On January 21, 1921, a joint meeting of the Crimean Revolutionary Committee and the Crimean Regional Committee of the RCP(b) was held, at which the issue “On the political relations of Crimea with the RSFSR and the USSR” was considered. The adopted resolution was short: “To recognize that it is most desirable to subordinate Crimea directly to Moscow in the position of an autonomous unit, to give it the name “Crimean Autonomous Region.” Given the goal of the revolution in the Muslim East, it was decided to create the appearance of an independent Crimea.

In May 1921, a regional conference of Crimean Tatar communists met in Simferopol. Most of the delegates expressed solidarity with the decisions made by the local organizations of the RCP(b) in January 1921. Some of them put forward a demand to declare a Crimean Tatar republic on the peninsula with the right to communicate independently with other countries and resolve the issues of emigrants’ return. People’s Commissar of Foreign Affairs of the RSFSR, Georgy Chicherin, reacted to these demands extremely nervously: “Crimea is not an independent state, but a republic within the federation. The idea that Crimea should pursue an independent revolutionary policy towards Turkey is so harmful and dangerous that it is enough to resolutely reject this project.” Subsequently, he prepared a draft decision of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the RCP(b) on the refusal of the Crimean Revolutionary Committee to create an independent Commissariat of Foreign Affairs, gaining the support of the “leader of the revolution” Vladimir Lenin: together with the “All-Union Elder” Mikhail Kalinin, on October 18, 1921, he signed the decree on the formation of the Crimean ASRR. In November, the republic was constituted at the founding congress of Crimean councils.

Fundamentally important is the question of the nature of Crimean autonomy – national or territorial. Lenin’s Council of People’s Commissars initially created autonomies of both types, but over time only national ones remained. KrARSPR became a unique autonomous entity that continued to retain its territorial character.

The local population census of 1921 showed that the total population of Crimea in 1921 was 719.5 thousand people. 5 large national groups stood out on the peninsula, the combined number of which approached 90% of the entire population: Russians, Ukrainians, Crimean Tatars, Germans and Jews. The majority of the population of the peninsula consisted of Russians and Ukrainians – 51.5% (the census counted them as one national group). The specific weight of the Crimean Tatars during this census increased significantly to 25.9% due to the mass emigration of the Russian population during the war years.

Considering the ethnic composition of the population, Crimean autonomy could only be territorial. However, the Kremlin created the appearance that the KrARSSR has, like all other autonomies, a national character by nominating figures of Crimean Tatar origin to leading positions in the republic. However, the Bolsheviks only tried to use the Crimean Tatar issue with the highest efficiency to ensure their own political ambitions, and the autonomy they created on the peninsula had a territorial, not a national character. Moreover, in Crimea, the creation of separate national districts of the titular people, uncharacteristic of national autonomous republics, was practiced: for example, in the 1930s, 6 Crimean Tatar national districts were created (Balaklavskyi, Foti-Salskyi / Kuibyshevskyi, Bakhchysaraiskyi, Yaltaskyi, Alushtinskyi, Sudatskyi), as well as 2 German (Biyuk-Onlarskyi and Telmanivskyi), 2 Jewish (Freidorfskyi and Larindorfskyi) and 1 Ukrainian (Ishunskyi).

In November 1921, the secretary of the Crimean regional committee, Ivan Akulov, admitted: “We took into account the sentiments of the Tatar part of the population, that the announcement of the autonomous republic was interpreted by them as the announcement of the Tatar republic. If we built our policy in this way, it would be wrong.” Therefore, the situation at that time reflected the forced compromise of the Bolsheviks with the Crimean Tatar national movement, which was based on Moscow’s desire to protect itself from renewed attempts by Ukraine to gain control over Crimea.

In 1925, in No. 200 of the Lviv magazine “Dilo” under the initials “H.” the article “Republic of Crimea: who is it made up of and who rules it” was published. At that time, the processes of “indigenization” took place in Crimea, which was called “Ukrainization” on the mainland of Ukraine, and “Tatarization” on the peninsula. “There is obviously nothing against the fact that the handful of Tatars remaining in Crimea are now starting to live their national cultural life, that the Tatar language has full citizenship rights and can be used not only in the mosque and school, in Tatar villages, but also in governments of those areas where the Tatar language is introduced alongside Russian in the regional governments of the Crimean Republic. It is spoken at council meetings, laws and regulations are issued in it, even though 77% of the population of the region had nothing to do with this language, have not and will not have anything to do with it. Instead, the Ukrainian language is nowhere to be seen, although the Ukrainian population of Crimea is equal to the Tatar population. It goes without saying that this whole Tatarization is not terrible: it will be reduced to its own area of ​​the internal cultural life of only the Tatar part of the Crimean population. It is impossible to Tatarize Crimea, in which Tatars do not even make up a quarter of the population. But under the cloak of that Tatarization, the denationalization of the Crimean population in favor of Russian culture takes place: primarily, this applies to the Ukrainian population. In fact, the Russian language still dominates in the Republic of Crimea, although there are almost no Russians here, with the exception of a certain number of sailors and workers in port areas, especially in Sevastopol, and government officials in the cities. Meanwhile, a disappearing group of Russians actually rules the Crimean Republic and imposes its cultural stain on the entire region,” the Lviv columnist expressed his vision of the situation in Crimea.

Also “X.” reminded that for the manifestations of the allegedly Crimean Tatar character of the KrARSSR, Crimean Tatars Veli Ibraimov and Osman Deren-Ayerli were placed at the head of the Central Committee and the People’s Committee, however, at the same time, most of the representatives of the governing structures of the KrARSR were Russians and Jews. As of May 1, 1925, the Crimean organization of the leading RCP(b) included 5,700 members, of whom 67.7% were Russians, 9.8% Jews, 6.2% Ukrainians, and 5.9% Crimean Tatars. “So, although the Crimean Republic is headed by Tatars, it is ruled by Russians. The two largest local nationalities – Tatars and Ukrainians, old natives of the region and very old immigrants who have already acquired the right of natives – do not play any or almost no role in the administration of the region,” the author concluded.

The already mentioned policy of indigenization of the Communist Party and Soviet administrative apparatuses in the 1920s is cited as the arguments for the national foundations of the creation of the KrARSSR. To the Council of the KrARSSR – actually 36%) and students (up to 20% of places in educational institutions) for Crimean Tatars, etc. However, there is an opinion that the policy of “Tatarization” in Crimea was carried out by command-administrative means and corresponded to the interests of the “absolute minority of the Crimean population to the detriment of the interests of the majority”, and also did not give the authorities the desired results and “only contributed to the aggravation of inter-ethnic relations”. A certain national entourage of the KrARSSR does not give grounds for asserting that it was a state formation of indigenous peoples.

Already after World War II, the Ukrainian Orientalist Vasyl Dubrovsky noted that the Bolsheviks, taking into account the exceptional geopolitical importance of Crimea for the USSR, aimed to Russify its “non-Russian” population. In particular, in 1938-1939, the Crimean Tatar language of instruction, despite its “official” status, was present in only 29.3% of 1223 schools; 20% of students studied it. In 63.3% of schools, the language of instruction was Russian: more than 74% of students studied it. In grades 8-10, 85.5% of students studied in Russian, 10.2% in Crimean Tatar, and 1.2% in other languages. In 1926, there were only 17 Crimean Tatars out of 670 students at the pedagogical institute in Simferopol, in 1927 – 14, in 1928 – 7; at the same time, there were two Crimean Tatar graduates each year. Ukrainian-language education in Crimea at that time was more of a sporadic phenomenon with isolated cases.

Dubrovsky also called the “indigenization” of the state apparatus in the republics of the USSR “more a propaganda slogan than a reality”: in particular, according to his data, in 1930, in the People’s Commissariat of the Crimean ARSP, despite the mentioned quotas, there were only 7 Crimean Tatars for 107 employees, in the People’s Commissariat – 46 out of 606, in Soyuzkhlib – two (couriers) out of 66 employees. In 1932, Crimean Tatars made up 18.4% of the regional administrative apparatus of the Crimean ASSR; in 1933, 17.9% of them were in the apparatus of district executive committees, while 42.4% were members of district executive committees. In the central bodies of the Crimean ASSR, 17.6% of employees were Crimean Tatars; at the same time, their share among CEC members was 50.4%. “Forcible adaptation of the Tatars to Russian rule only partially gave them a way to participate in self-government,” the researcher concluded.

1929-1941 in Dubrovsky’s writings were described as a period of “Sovietization” and forced collectivization of Crimea, accompanied by famine, suppression of peasant uprisings, persecution and liquidation of “bourgeois nationalists”, “kurkuls” and leading cultural forces, closure and destruction of religious centers, arrests and executions of party figures who protested the looting of Crimea by Moscow, etc.

The fate of Veli Ibraimov and the subsequent consequences of his case are indicative in this aspect. In 1917, he was a delegate to the First Kurultai of the Crimean Tatar people and a member of the national party “Milli Firka”, but in 1918 he defected to the Bolsheviks, becoming a member of the Communist Party of Ukraine (b). From August 1924 to January 28, 1928, he held the position of chairman of the Central Executive Committee of the KrARSSR – until his expulsion from the party and his arrest on charges of a terrorist attack, participation in a “gang” and embezzlement of state funds. On May 9, 1928, Veli Ibraimov was executed together with Mustafa Abdullah, the former secretary of the Crimean Society for the Promotion of Resettlement and Settlement of Tatars. After the execution of the sentence, Vyacheslav Molotov, chairman of the Soviet People’s Committee of the USSR, and Stanislav Kosior, secretary of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of Ukraine (b), accused the already dead Ibraimov of being a “nationalist who promoted national interests to the detriment of the class.” In the same year, the investigative case started in the fall of 1927 about the “Milly Firka counter-revolutionary organization” was completed, according to which 58 people out of 63 defendants were convicted, including 11 people who were shot.

In the 1930s, ideas of Crimean independence and the creation of a Crimean Tatar state on the peninsula spread among the Crimean Tatar emigration movement, particularly in Poland. Jafer Seydamet, Selim Ortay, Edige Shynkiewicz (also known as Mustafa Edige Kyrymal or Kyrymly Yigit) and others became the inspirers of these dreams. The young lawyer and political scientist Bohdan-Tadei Halaichuk debated with them on the pages of “Dila”. In particular, in the article “The only possible solution: the autonomy of Crimea under Ukrainian supremacy”, he referred to the quantitative ratio of the ethnic communities of Crimea as of 1926 and noted that Ukrainians will take them into account in the event of the creation of their state with Crimea as part of it and ” will try to put Crimean autonomous bodies in the hands of the Tatars so that the local administration of such a strategically important region as Crimea does not fall to an uncertain Russian element,” however, noted that in such a case “both the Ukrainian state interest and the Tatar national interest require that in military affairs, Crimea was connected with Ukraine.”

In the article “A concept that does not withstand criticism”, Bohdan Halaichuk cited Edige Shynkevych’s theses, which denied any dependence of Crimea on Ukraine and even their geographical connection, instead trying to prove the reality of the concept of an independent Crimean Tatar state. Referring to the right of peoples to self-determination and relying on Soviet publications, Shynkevych argued that the Crimean Tatars constitute the majority of 81% of the rural population of Crimea, and in the future will gain an absolute majority. In response, Halaichuk noted that Crimean Tatars, according to the results of the Soviet census of 1926, made up 36.6% of the rural population of Crimea and 11.7% of the urban population; in total, Crimean Tatars on the peninsula then numbered 179,382, which accounted for 23.1% of the total population. “We only know the reality: not quite 180,000 Tatars live in Crimea, i.e. 25% of the population of the peninsula. These numbers overrule all controversy,” he added.

During the cruelest wave of repressions – the “great terror” of the NKVD in 1937-1938, almost half of the Crimean Tatar population of the peninsula was destroyed, presented by political, public, cultural and religious figures and ordinary citizens. The history of the Red Terror of the beginning of 1918 was repeated on a much more terrible scale, when the Bolsheviks defeated the armed forces of the Crimean Directory near Sevastopol and executed its leader Noman Chelebidzhikhan, after which pogroms of Crimean Tatar families began.

During the Second World War, Ukrainian underground workers in Crimea noted in their reports that the Crimean Tatars “managed to stand up under every scrutiny during the Bolshevik rule”, in particular, by raising large cadres of the intelligentsia. However, they hated the Bolshevik regime as “coming from the hatred of Moscow.” With the arrival of the troops of Nazi Germany on the peninsula, the Crimean Tatars “at first were sympathetic to the Germans.” The national committee organized in 1941 mobilized 15,000 volunteers, who “much more successfully exterminated the red partisans in the Crimea.” From November 1941 to the summer of 1942, the Red partisans, mainly under the leadership of Mokrousov, terrorized the civilian population of Crimea, especially the Crimean Tatar population, slaughtering entire families “for family exchange.” In the summer of 1942, when the inhabitants of Crimea began to escape by fleeing to the partisans before being deported to Germany, the representatives of the partisan movement stopped accepting “non-Russians” into their ranks and even killed volunteers as alleged “German provocateurs.”

The center of the Crimean Tatar movement became Bakhchisaray, the ancient capital of the Crimean Khanate. Muslim committees, help desks, schools, mosques were organized in the city and beyond; the cultural, educational, religious and economic life of the Crimean Tatars developed. However, later their optimism dissipated due to the incompetent national policy of the occupiers, who failed to use the initial sympathies of the local population, put a lot of effort into the separation of all the national communities of Crimea and continued to hold the leading positions exclusively by force of arms and coercion. “In words, the Germans preach the equality of all nationalities of Crimea, in practice they use antagonism and expediently subvert them. SD (security service – author) on the one hand harasses the Tatars against the Russians, on the other hand makes concessions to the Russians in everything. Muscovites are taking advantage of this, consolidating their positions and waging an open struggle against Ukrainians,” one of such reports said.

After the extermination of nationally conscious persons, the Crimean Tatar volunteers stopped fighting the Red Partisans – “obviously not out of sympathy for the Bolsheviks, but only out of hatred for the Germans.” In addition, disappointment in the occupiers also arose when they “did not fulfill their promises about the “Tatar state” in the Crimea and spoke louder and louder about the fact that the Crimea with the whole of Tavria would be annexed directly to the Reich and that all non-Germans would have to leave Crimea”. Therefore, the Crimean Tatars began to focus on Turkey, which sent its secret emissaries to the Crimea. The ethnonym “Crimean Turks” became relevant: one of its active propagandists was the already mentioned Edige Shynkiewicz, who arrived in Berlin in December 1941, where he tried to create a national government loyal to Nazi Germany from Crimean Tatar emigrants, and in the late autumn of 1942 under during his stay in Crimea he became a member of the Simferopol Muslim Committee. It is noteworthy that the Germans reluctantly allowed the members of this committee to contact the Crimean Tatar emigrants in Germany and even made arrests in both environments.

When representatives of the Crimean Tatar movement broke off relations with the Germans, the Ukrainian underground cautiously started communication with them. One of them, Ivan Yantsyshyn, noted in his memoirs that in all his conversations with the Crimean Tatars, “I did not meet a single person who would deny Crimea’s dependence on Ukraine under economic, economic, and even political scrutiny, and they all admitted that in independent Ukraine will ensure their interests.”

In May 1944, Crimean Tatars, accused of “treason to the motherland” and “collaboration with the Nazis”, were forcibly deported from their native land mainly to the republics of Central Asia; during the eviction and in the first years after it, from a third to about a half of the population died. In Crimea, their very name and any mention of them was erased. In the summer of 1950, one of the informants of the Ukrainian underground under the code “24.A.” presented his impressions after visiting Bakhchisaray: “This is an old Tatar city, and there is not a single Tatar anywhere [to be seen]. <…> We inspected the mosque. The tour guide said: “We will take it apart soon, so that it does not smell like the Tatar spirit.” There are still many houses and streets in the Tatar style: the streets are narrow, the houses are one-story with narrow high windows. But now I have seen that these houses are being torn down or rebuilt with European-style windows and doors.”

The mass return of Crimean Tatars from places of deportation to Crimea took place only after Ukraine regained its independence: on January 1, 1992, there were about 166,000 returnees, almost all of whom automatically received Ukrainian citizenship in accordance with the law.

During the occupation of Crimea by Russia in 2014, there was an opportunity to see with my own eyes the same processes as during the “indigenization” of the 1920s. The puppet “head of the republic” Serhiy Aksyonov offered representatives of the Crimean Tatars to take a number of positions in the new “government”. . Therefore, the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people delegated two persons to the “guiding bodies” – Zaur Smirnov and a citizen of the Russian Federation, former Russian businessman Lenur Islyamov, who was not a member of the Mejlis. The latter stated during the session of the Kurultay on March 29, 2014 that “the whole people cannot be dissidents” and the Crimean Tatars cannot do without cooperation with the authorities of the occupying state and its puppets in Crimea. From April 2 to May 28, 2014, Islyamov was “Vice Prime Minister of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Crimea”, he was dismissed from his “position” due to “improper performance of duties.” In 2014-2015, pressure was put on Islyamov with the demand to sell the only Crimean Tatar TV channel ATR in the world at the time, which was closed by the “authorities” of Crimea after refusing, its property was seized, and “criminal cases” were initiated against its journalists and owner. Islyamov moved to the mainland of Ukraine, where he received Ukrainian citizenship after some time.

Only on July 7, 2014, the Mejlis decided to recall its representatives from the occupying “authorities” of Crimea – after its head, Refat Chubarov, was banned from entering the territory of the Russian Federation and occupied Crimea. In 2016, the aggressor state banned the activities of the Mejlis in occupied Crimea, which was deprived of its premises in 2014, and over time was classified as an “extremist” organization. Since then, various “councils of elders”, “community councils” and “national-cultural autonomies” have unsuccessfully and incompetently played its role, while outspoken collaborators presenting them are alternately appointed as “leaders of the people”. However, it is quite obvious that not only they themselves will be used as waste material, but also their cooperation with the occupying power will not bring anything good to their people – as was the case in the first half of the last century.


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