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Mass Deportation of Crimean Tatars: American Children's View

By Mubeyyin B. Altan

Once again on May 18, 2003 the Crimean Tatars around the world will gather to commemorate the 59th anniversary of the mass deportation of 1944. Speeches will be made; declarations will be promulgated in the Crimea and in the Crimean Tatar Diaspora. Those of us who have dedicated our lives to tell our tragic story to any one who cares to listen, will try to tell the world how the entire Crimean Tatar Nation was unjustly uprooted by the Soviet authorities from their homeland in one day, loaded on trucks, taken to the nearest train stations, where they were loaded on cattle wagons like animals and deported thousands of miles away. We will also try to inform the world how hundreds and thousands of innocent Crimean Tatars, mostly women, children and elderly, perished during this mass deportation because of hunger, thirst and disease while their loved ones were defending their Soviet motherland. We will, attempt to inform those who are kind and patient enough to listen how, after fifty nine years, more than half of the Crimean Tatars still remain in their places of exile, waiting to return to the land of their fathers and grandfathers, the land where they want to spend the remaining years of their lives with their children and grand children. This has been the usual routine for Crimean Tatars around the world to commemorate the saddest day in their national history. I have often wondered, however, how informed the outside world is about the plight of the Crimean Tatar people, about Surgun, the mass deportation of an entire nation, who was systematically uprooted not only from their homes but also from their ancestral homeland. What do non-Crimean Tatars feel about this blatant violation of human and national rights perpetrated against of a small nationality, who happened to be Muslim and Turkic? On this anniversary of Surgun, therefore, I wanted to share with you the impressions of some seventh grade students from Massachusetts, who several years ago patiently listened to my presentation about a topic and a people of whom they had never heard before.

Your presentation on the Crimean Tatars certainly struck the 'right cord' among my students, as you will see in reading their responses. I myself cannot thank you enough for sharing with us the story of your people, stated their seventh grade Social Studies teacher who mailed in the letters written by her entire class after my presentation. Here are some of the responses from these students:

I think that it's important to learn about all cultures, and educating is the first step to understanding. I, personally, learned a lot, and felt that your presentation was very beneficial to our class. Sincerely, SB.

I found your history very interesting. It made me wander why I had never heard about any of it. I think that it is a shame that the history of your people is not more widely known, Your story should be told all over the world so that people know what unjust things are still happening to minorities in Russia. Sincerely, JZ.

I also learned a lot about it. It was nice to hear about Russia from a different point of view. Thanks again for the great presentation. From CC.

I had never known that a group of people such as the Crimean Tatars existed before your presentation. What this group went through and is going through now seems to be like what some ethnic groups around the world are going through as well. However, the reason I probably haven't heard of the Crimean Tatars before is because they are a relatively small ethnic groups out of so many in the former Soviet Union. This also makes me realize that there may be more ethnic groups around the world which are struggling for equality. So, from your presentation I have not only learned about the Crimean Tatars, I have realized more about what kind of struggle for power exist throughout the world. Sincerely, NM.

It was very nice of you to come in and talk about the Crimean Tatars. Their story was very sad but informative. I could never imagine going through so much in one lifetime. The part about your presentation I liked the most were the paintings. They were so real in displaying the pain of the people. The painting I liked a lot was the one with all of the turned up graves and the bulldozers. At first I wasn't sure what it was, but when explained it to us, I immediately saw it. That was awful what they did. It was very depressing to look at the paintings nevertheless I liked it. Thank you so much! We all appreciated it! Sincerely, CR.

Thank you very much for your pleasant and informative lecture about the history of the Crimean Tartars. I had no idea about any of the tragic events that went on. It was shocking. I am glad that I now know more about the world around us. I am not so glad though that these people have not much national or international support. It is a shame. I sincerely wish and hope that the Crimean Tartars are victorious in their battle very soon and eventually are no longer a minority. Thank you very much for coming! Yours, SD.

It was extremely interesting and gave me a chance to find out more about these forgotten people. I think it is very sad how they are forgotten. Many people should know more about this sad but educational history. THANKS! SY

Your lecture on Crimean Tatars was very interesting to me. I now have many ideas on the ways the former Soviet Union tried to improve their country. In the case of the Tatars, the Russians wanted to kick them out to get their needed land. I was very interested in the paintings you brought in. They not only helped me see what the conditions were like for the Tatars, but also the pain and sorrow they went through. Now, I know about the history of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Thanks o lot! Sincerely, DO.

It was very informative. What I think is the saddest part of the story is that people are still held in Central Asia and nobody knows about it. It has never been in the newspaper or on TV. After all this talk of un-biast world, people are unaware of the dillema in Central Asia. It is good of you to spread the word. Thank you so much. Sincerely, KH.

I had never known of your people, but I have heard of similar tragedies occurring in different places of the world. It touched my heart to hear how your people were driven out of their homeland, and I hope that someday you and your people will have your home back without any inconveniences. Sincerely, AF.

I was really glad that you came to our school and talked about the history of your country. I was really surprized that we don't have anything on your country in our S.S. books. I thought that history of your country is really sad, but it is very important to know. I came to America from Russia in October 5, 1994. I think that it is very important to know about not only large countries, like Russia and China, but small countries too, like your country. AZ.

Thank you so very much for coming to talk to us about your people. I am a history nut, and loved your presentation. I feel that unless my generation hears what really happened from a survivor, we don't tend to believe or understand what really went on. I don't think that we understand how fortunate we really are. Thanks Again! Sincerely, RSG.

I believe it opened a lot of eyes to what is really happening in the world. It was interesting to hear about all the troubles (of) the Crimean Tatars. I guess I probably take things like my home and country for granted. I thought the paintings were interesting. They expressed many emotions. Once again I would like to thank you for coming in. Sincerely DA.

Thank you very much for coming in on Tuesday to speak to my class and the G block class following ours. It really helped me to understand what we had been studying when you spoke about the struggle of your family and your people. I also enjoyed the paintings. They were very expressive of the plight of the Crimean Tatars and I really liked seeing them. Once again, thank you for all you did for my class. Sincerely, AC.

It is embarrassing to say this, but I knew only a few facts about the Tartars, even less about Crimea, and about nothing about the tragic plight of the Crimean Tartars. Hearing about the genocide and the deportation made me wonder why had I heard so little about a topic that is so touching. Now I know more about the Crimean Tartars, but I still would like to know more. The subject is one that should be part of our studies of the former Soviet Union. I would like to thank you for giving your time to educate us. I will not forget it. Sincerely, JT.

We will continue to try to inform the American and world public about the tragic mass deportation of the Crimean Tatar people until Surgun becomes a familiar word. We want to make sure that a lesson is learned and tragedy such as Surgun never happens again. This is what the seventh graders in Massachusetts wished after hearing about it for the first time, and we will work very hard to accomplish it. But our efforts alone are simply not enough to take on such an enormous task, we need the help of the readers of this article to disseminate as much information about the tragic history of the Crimean Tatar people as possible. If you are a parent you can ask your children's school to have a program on Crimean Tatars, or you can encourage your community leaders, local and national political representatives to look into the Crimean Tatar problem. The plight of the Crimean Tatars is an ongoing human rights issue, which deserves the attention of all people of goodwill. We owe it to the victims of Surgun whose bodies were thrown out from the cattle wagons they were forced to ride in, and did not have even a decent burial. We owe it to humanity. When, with everyone's help, this is accomplished, the world will be a better place to live for us, for our children and for the generations to come.

(1) The views of seventh grade students in Acton, Massachusetts, are from the letters sent to the author of this article after his presentation of a brief history of the Crimean Tatar tragedy to their Social Studies class. The quotations included here are unedited.

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