The right of the Crimean Tatar people to self-determination in Crimea: questions and answers


Since the establishment of the UN and the adoption of the International Bill of Rights, the principle of equality and self-determination of nations and peoples has become an international norm of jus cogens, that is, obligatory to unconditional implementation by all existing states.

The process of self-determination and decolonization was quite painful and its consequences are ambiguous. However, as a result, from the courtyard of several colonial empires, the world has changed into a community of several hundred formally independent states. As it was expected, each of them arose as a result of people’s realization of their right to self-determination. At the same time, it gradually began to appear that there are stable ethnic or ethnopolitical communities in independent states where the independence of the country in which they live did not bring significant relief to their fate. Also, these independents did not open up prospects for their political, economic, social and cultural progress,

despite the fact that they are the autochthonous population of these states for centuries or have lived in their territories for thousands of years, and have contributed to the culture of this country. Moreover, these people often participated with the rest of the society in the anti-colonial struggle.

This is how the problem of the indigenous population was determined. The UN uses the following definition: “Indigenous people are indigenous communities, nationalities and nations that preserve historical continuity with societies that

existed before the invasion of the conquerors and the implementation of the colonial system and developed on their own territories, who consider themselves to be different from other sectors of society, currently prevailing in all the territory or in parts of it.

They are non-dominant strata of society and want to preserve, develop and pass on to future generations the territory of their ancestors and their ethnic identity 

as the basis for the continuation of its existence as a people in accordance with its

own cultural characteristics, social institutions, and legal systems”.

The most common features of the indigenous population are: “Preexistence (it means that the inhabitants are the descendants of people who inhabited any of that area before the arrival of another population); non-dominant role; cultural differences and consciousness belonging to the indigenous population ”.

Four ethnic communities can rightfully be attributed to the indigenous population of Crimea: Crimean Tatars, Karaites, Krymchaks, and Urums. They all inhabited Crimea before its annexation by the Russian Empire in 1783, having formed into special ethnic units with their specific cultural, anthropological, linguistic and political identity, maintaining cultural, racial and spiritual continuity for millennia, both with the most ancient autochthonous population of the peninsula (Taurus, Scythians, Sarmatians), and with later tribes and groups that settled here in the era of the Great Migration Period and in the Middle Ages (Huns, Khazars, Kipchaks (Cumans), Greek colonists, Byzantines, Genoese, Goths, Golden Horde, Turks, etc.).

Before the Russian conquest, they were politically united by the Crimean Khanate – a medieval state that took shape several decades earlier than Moscow. There was also a common language for these peoples in the Crimean Khanate.

Now it is called Crimean Tatar, because only the Crimean Tatars have kept it alive, functioning. However, the languages ​​of the Urums, Karaites and Krymchaks, while they actively existed, could well be designated as variants of the common Crimean language.

Krymchaks evolved over the centuries as more and more integrated into the all-Crimean The Jewish community, originally associated with the Khazar Kaganate. In this way, they have differed from later Hebrew, actually Jewish, immigrants who retained their isolation from the actual Crimean population. 

Karaites consider themselves to be the descendants of the Khazars, dominated in the Northern Black Sea region in the 7th – 9th centuries. Urums- consolidated in a special “Crimean” community, were the descendants of Greek colonists, starting with those who appeared here even in ancient times, and ending with the era of the Eastern Roman Empire (hence the name “Urum”, that is, “Roman”). Unlike the Rumee (Byzantines), the language of the Urums is Turkic.

Crimean Tatar people consider being an alloy of the autochthonous, Tauro-Scythian population of the ancient Crimea with the Turkic unions inhabiting the Black Sea region (starting with the Huns and Oguzes and ending with the Kypchaks (Polovtsians) and Nogai), as well as with some ethnic groups of non-Turkic origin

(Goths, Alans, Genoese, partly Greeks). Confessional differences also mattered –

indigenous peoples professed Judaism, Karaimism, Christianity, and Islam. The military-political defeat of the Crimean Khanate and the establishment of the Russian colonial regime became a common misfortune for all indigenous peoples of Crimea. Paradoxically, the first victims were Crimean Christians – Urums, they are also called Greco-Tatars, as well as Armenian communities of Crimean cities, which were deported from Crimea by Russian troops back in 1778 to the region of the Northern coast of the Sea of ​​Azov. It was they who founded there a city named

Mariupol, in honor of its old cultural center – Maryampolya. – near Bakhchisarai.

Now it is the territory of the Donetsk region of Ukraine. So Crimea lost one of its indigenous peoples.

Economic and cultural harassment and restrictions of  Karaites and Krymchaks also left their mark. The number of these peoples at Czarist, and subsequently under the Soviet regime, steadily declined. Mass execution Of Krymchaks by the Nazi in December 1941, partial deportation and post-war discrimination of Karaites put these two peoples on the brink of physical extinction.

Crimean Tatars also suffered terrible damage as a result of a two-century colonial

yoke. As a result of punitive actions and flight abroad, the gene pool of the nation was undermined, there were a total looting and destruction of cultural and religious monuments, land, and another property that was expropriated. Also. There was consistent

discrimination in the political sphere. The deportation of 1944 according to the plan of the highest Soviet leadership – had completely to wipe out the Crimean

Tatars as a people. In the past, the territory of Crimea was inhabited by ethnic communities that bore the names similar to the names of ethnic minorities deported from Crimea during the Second

World War. This is often used as an argument to challenge the status of Crimean

Tatars as an indigenous people of Crimea and call into question their right to self-determination. 

Superficial analogies based on ignorance or silence of historical facts are used.

Armenian, Bulgarian, Greek and German communities, whose descendants were deported in 1944, appeared in Crimea in different decades of the 19th century. Crimea became a colony of Russia, and the Czarist government pursued an active policy of seizing lands from the Crimean Tatars and target the colonists on them who were from Western Europe and emigrants from the Ottoman Empire.

Two goals were pursued: economic – to seize the land of Crimea, and political – populate the colony with a population loyal to Russia and according to Czarist officials, unfriendly to indigenous people. It was the time when New Greek, New Bulgarian, New Armenian and German colonists, whose descendants were deported by the USSR in 1941-1944 from Crimea appeared.

By this time, the historical Crimean Greeks and Armenians had been separated from the Motherland for more than one hundred and fifty years.  Crimean Goths (a German-speaking tribe that appeared here in the era Migration and settled in some mountainous regions) merged into emerging Crimean Tatar and Urum ethnic groups, leaving their mark on the external appearance, language, and culture of some groups of Crimean Tatars.  Historical Bulgars, Turkic-speaking a tribal association that lived in the Northern Black Sea region in the 7th-8th centuries have long been

divided into three parts. One of them went beyond the Danube and, being assimilated by the Slavs, gave name and first royal dynasty to modern Bulgarians and Bulgaria; the other, having migrated to the upper reaches of the Volga and merging partly with the local Ugro-Finnish tribes, partly by the Kypchaks of  Golden Horde, became one of the progenitors of the Volga Tatars; the third part left   was part of the Khazar Kaganate, and later, merging with another population that filled the Crimea, also

became one of the components of the emerging Crimean Tatar ethnos.

An interesting phenomenon of the Crimea was the so-called Armenians. In fact, they were Kypchaks, who lived in Shirvan for several centuries before that, adopted Armenian Christianity, but later, for various reasons, moved to Crimea, and, moreover, mainly to the district of historical Kafa (Feodosia). Their language is quite officially called Armenian-Kypchak and apart from some religious terms, it is completely Turkic. And they were using this language even before the settlement in Crimea and preserved it until the twentieth century, even after their forced withdrawal by the Russian authorities from Crimea. They did not mix with Armenians and wore

Turkic surnames until the beginning of the twentieth century, living in New Nakhichevan, which has now become part of Rostov-on-Don.

The Urum has been living outside their historical Motherland for more than two hundred years and, as far as is known, among them there isn’t any pronounced movement for the return to Crimea. To put a question about their self-determination in Crimea, apparently, is meaningless. Karaites and Krymchaks, left homeless as a result of countless violence against them by various regimes, need legal protection and patronage from the state. However, talking about their self-determination in the sense of the formation of any statehood is hardly possible. As for the Russian annexation at the end of the 18th century, as A. Herzen said, “the conquest is a fact, and not right. ” Catherine II proclaimed the annexation of Crimea and adjacent lands to Russia in unilaterally and contrary to the Kuchuk-Kainardzhi peace treaty. It’s the same colonial robbery, like any other. The so-called annexation of Crimea by Russia

was carried out against the will of its indigenous peoples through military capture and unrestricted violence, for which there is enough evidence, including documentary evidence, from eyewitnesses and participants in the events. Aggression more than two hundred years ago was absolutely illegal from the point of view of the international law that existed in that era. From the point of view nowadays it is the capture of the colony. Displaced people appeared as a result of it on the territory of Crimea and their descendants in no way have the right to self-determination in Crimea. Thus, legally and in fact, in Crimea, there can be only one question of self-determination – for Crimean Tatar people.

Author: Редакция Avdet