Deportation of Crimean Tatars
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
ww2dbaseWhen the Soviet Union was initially established, the Crimean Tatars were given semi-autonomous rule with a constituent country under the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Although collectivization and famine caused much death and suffering, between the late 1920s and 1930s the population nevertheless grew from about 150,000 to over 218,000 people.
ww2dbaseDuring the war, German troops occupied the Crimea region of Russia between late 1941 and mid 1944. During this period, while the Soviet leadership organized armed partisan resistance in Crimea, Joseph Stalin's mistrust of Crimean Tatars meant that this entire ethnicity was excluded from the resistance, and this led to the false sense of entitlement by the ethnic-Russian resistance fighters to confiscate food and other supplies from the non-combatant Crimean Tatars. While the Soviets excluded them, the Germans did the opposite, recruiting more than 1,600 of them into self-defense battalions by Feb 1942; the number would ultimately grow to about 20,000. Even though about 15% of the adult male Crimean Tatar population would remain active in the Soviet military throughout the war, the fact that some of them joined the Germans gave Stalin and NKVD chief Lavrentiy Beria the excuse to expand his ethnic cleansing programs to yet another group of people.
ww2dbaseOn 11 May 1944, as the Soviet campaign to recapture Crimea was coming to a close, the Soviet State Defense Committee issued Degree 5859ss, ordering the deportation of the Crimean Tatars to Central Asia; the deportation was to be completed by 1 Jun. The deportation began on 18 May, with 32,000 NKVD troops rounding up large populations of Crimean Tatars (along with some ethnic Greeks and Bulgarians) into rail cars designed for cattle. Most of them were briefly deposited at Simferopol and Bakhchysarai before boarding trains, whose doors were bolted shut from the outside, that would take them to Central Asia. Estimates of total number of Crimean Tatars being deported was generally accepted to be between 180,000 and 190,000, with about 150,000 to Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic, about 9,000 to Mari Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, about 4,000 to Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic, and the remaining about 30,000 to various locations in the Central Asia regions of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Soviet officially reports noted that 7,889 people died during transit, but some historians argued that the death rates were much higher since many of the guards neglected to provide food and water for entire journeys. Additionally, Soviet reports showed that between May and 10 Nov 1944, 105 Crimean Tatars died of starvation in Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic; NKVD reports showed that 30,000 Crimean Tatars died in Central Asia by the end of 1945. Reports from data collected by Crimean Tatar activists in the mid 1960s claimed that 109,956, or more than 40% of the Crimean Tatar population, died between Jul 1944 and Dec 1947 due to starvation and disease.
ww2dbaseWhile the deportations took place, almost all Crimean Tatar troops in the Soviet military were disarmed, arrested, and sent to forced labor camps.
ww2dbaseBetween 1944 and the late 1940s, the Soviet Union embarked on a concerted effort to eliminate Crimean Tatar cultural identity by suppressing the use of its language, destroying monuments and artifacts, and renaming towns and villages.
ww2dbaseMost Crimean Tatars were finally released from gulags and various camps in 1956, but demands for further restoration of rights were suppressed, sometimes violently. In 1968, 300 families were allowed to return to Crimea, but no large scale return took place until the 1980s. Crimean Tatars today generally agreed that the 1944 actions against them was an act of genocide. In 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree that officially rehabilitated Crimean Tatars (and other ethnicities). In 2015, the Parliament of Ukraine recognized the 1944 actions as a genocide.
Last Major Update: Nov 2016
Deportation of Crimean Tatars Timeline
|2 Jan 1942||Germany authorized the formation of Crimean Tatar self-defense battalions.|
|15 Feb 1942||As of this date, 1,632 Crimean Tatars were fighting in self-defense battalions under the German banner.|
|22 Apr 1944||Bogdan Kobulov and Ivan Serov sent a message to NKVD chief Lavrentiy Beria, claiming without substantiation that 20,000 Crimean Tatars had deserted during the retreat of the 51st Army from Krym (Crimea), Russia in 1941.|
|11 May 1944||The Soviet State Defense Committee in Moscow, Russia issued Decree 5859ss, ordering the deportation of Crimean Tatars to Central Asia within the next 20 days.|
|18 May 1944||The deportation of Crimean Tatars began.|
|19 Jul 1944||Soviet NKVD troops allegedly murdered entire inhabitants of a number of villages on the Arabit Spit in eastern Krym (Crimea), Russia; the main ethnicity of those villages was Crimean Tatar.|
|20 Oct 1944||The Soviet Union ordered all Tatar, Greek, and German-language place names in Krym (Crimea), Russia to be given Russian names.|
|14 Dec 1944||The Supreme Soviet Presidium of Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic ordered all non-Russian-language district names in Krym (Crimea), Russia to be given Russian-language names.|
|18 May 1948||Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic leaders ordered all non-Russian-language village names in Krym (Crimea), Russia to be given Russian-language names.|
|28 Apr 1956||Supreme Soviet Presidium of the Soviet Union released Crimean Tatars from the gulags in Central Asia.|
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Winston Churchill, 1935