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SON OF CRIMEA: STRUGGLE OF A PEOPLE
A TV documentary in 9 parts (270 minutes)
The Soviet government exiled the Crimean Tatars from their historic homeland in 1944. Accused of cooperation with the occupying Nazi forces during World War II, they were sent to Central Asia and the Urals. This documentary tells the story of Crimean Tatars' long and arduous campaign to return to their homeland without recourse to violence. Mustafa Jemilev (also known as Mustafa Kirimoglu or Dzhemilev), was merely six months old at the time of the deportation. At a young age, he came into contact with nationalist movement activists and devoted his life to this ideal, eventually becoming a symbolic name in his people's struggle for repatriation. A Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Jemilev is one of the most important human rights activists in the former Soviet Union. He served six prison terms, spending over 15 years in the Soviet GULAG, and survived the longest hunger strike in the history of human rights.
Part I. Deportation
On May 18, 1944, the entire Crimean Tatar population in Crimea, mostly women and children, was subjected to forced relocation, while the men fought in the Soviet Army or with Soviet partisans. The Jemilev family, with baby Mustafa, survived the 22 day-journey and ended up in Uzbekistan. Interviews with survivors of the deportation reveal mistreatment of the deportees by Soviet soldiers, unsanitary conditions in the cattle wagons used to transport the people, and inhumane handling of bodies of those who died during the long journey.
Part II. Survival
Nearly half of the deported Crimean Tatars died during transit or in places of exile within two years. Eye-witness accounts detail the horrible conditions that the deportees found themselves in--scarcity of food, lack of potable water and substandard shelters. People died of hunger, disease and exposure to cold and harsh environment, and lost many family members. Commentators explain the true reasons for deporting the entire population of Crimean Tatars: eliminating the Tatar element from Crimea and removing Muslim populations from the areas bordering with Turkey.
Part III. Rebirth from the Ashes
Crimean Tatars were forced to live in Special Settlement Camps, where their movement and rights were restricted. After the death of Stalin in 1953, eventually ethnic groups deported from the Caucasus were allowed to return but not Crimean Tatars. The authorities released the Tatar population from the Special Settlement Camps in 1956 and relaxed the rules somewhat. Crimean Tatar activists launched a campaign to gain their rights and clear the charge of treason leveled against their people. A series of petition drives gathered thousands of signatures and marked the beginning of the Crimean Tatar National Movement. If Stalin and his associates had dreamed of ethnic cleansing of Tatars from Crimea, they would be proven wrong.
Part IV. A Nation That Flourished in Exile
Crimean Tatar activists went door to door to explain the national movement that aimed at the rehabilitation and repatriation of their fellow Tatars and continued to collect thousands of signatures. The first political trial of Crimean Tatars took place in Tashkent in 1961. They established a permanent lobby in Moscow in 1964 and sought contacts with Soviet human rights activists there. A delegation Crimean Tatars delivered a 33-page petition with over 130,000 signatures to the 23rd Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1966. The same year, Mustafa Jemilev was sentenced to 18 months in a work camp for refusal to serve in the Soviet Army.
Part V. Courageous People Oppose the Kremlin
Crimean Tatars continued to stage demonstrations in various cities of Uzbekistan, 1966-1968. Following the invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968 by Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies, a small group of Soviet dissidents demonstrated on the Red Square. The apartment of General Petro Grigorenko became a place of meeting for Moscow human rights activists. Also in 1968, Grigorenko gave his famous speech at a gathering of Crimean Tatars, urging them to take a more aggressive stand. He traveled to Tashkent to defend the Crimean Tatars at a trial in May 1969, but he was arrested and eventually confined to a psychiatric hospital. Soviet authorities also arrested Mustafa Jemilev for his activities in the Initiative Group for the Defense of Human Rights and sentenced him to three years in strict-regime camps in January 1970. His third sentencing came in June 1974, another year in a strict-regime camp in Omsk Oblast.
Part VI. A Hero in the Soviet Prisons
Mustafa Jemilev's struggle against Soviet authorities and his life in prison in Omsk are detailed in this Part. He declared a hunger strike which lasted 303 days, but survived due to forced feeding. This event is known as the longest hunger strike in the history of human rights movement. The news of Jemilev's strike spread throughout the world, focusing on human rights violations in the Soviet Union. He was defended by well known Soviet dissidents such as Andrei Sakharov, Petro Grigorenko and Pavel Litvinov. Jemilev's fourth sentencing involved 2.5 years in hard labor camp in Primorsky Krai in the Far East.
Part VII. Despite Exile, There is still Crimea, Always Crimea
In response to widespread protests and agitation by Crimean Tatars, the Soviet government issued a decree in September 1967, "On Citizens of Tatar Nationality Formerly Living in Crimea," lifting charges of treason. Crimean Tatars took this decision to mean that they were free to return to their homeland. However, those who returned in the late 1960s and the 1970s were not allowed to stay and brutally driven out of Crimea once again. In this Part, survivors of the second deportation tell about the animosity of local administrators and cruelty of police. Mustafa Jemilev's fifth imprisonment of four years began in February 1979 in Zyryanka, Yakutia.
Part VIII. Either Homeland or Death
In July and August 1987, Crimean Tatars from different parts of the Soviet Union demonstrated in Moscow, demanding their right to return and settle in their homeland. These events were the largest demonstrations held on Red Square since the Bolshevik Revolution. Eye-witness accounts by Crimean Tatar returnees and local Crimean officials reiterate the difficulties faced by the Tatar population in their homeland. Just as Mustafa Jemilev was completing his 6th prison term in a hard labor camp in Magadan, the Soviet authorities charged him once again in October 1986. This episode coincided with the Reagan-Gorbachev summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, in October 11-12, 1986. The American President asked that 5 Soviet political prisoners be released as part of the negotiations. In December 1986, Jemilev was finally set free.
Part IX. Give Us Back Our Home
When Crimean Tatars began moving to Crimea in the late 1980s, they found Russians and Ukrainians living in the houses they had left behind. They did not ask that their property be returned to them but wanted land on which they can build their own houses. They faced an uphill struggle and many had to live in tents and makeshift shelters. Callous attitudes of local administrators sometimes led to clashes with the police. Today, there are 300,000 Crimean Tatars living on the peninsula, but inadequate housing and lack of jobs have been the main obstacles to their full repatriation. For over 20 years, the Ukrainian government failed to pass the special legislation for the resettlement of deported people from Crimea, demanded by the Tatar returnees. Despite social prejudice and harassment by a segment of the Slavic population, Crimea has remained relatively peaceful because of the non-violent principles adopted by Mustafa Jemilev and the Crimean Tatar leadership.
* "Son of Crimea: Struggle of a People" was directed by Neşe Sarısoy Karatay, known for her award-winning documentaries, and produced by Zafer Karatay, who also wrote the script for the Turkish version. A veteran producer at the TRT, Mr. Karatay is known for his documentaries relating to Crimean Tatar history and culture. Filmed in Turkey, Ukraine, Russian Federation, Uzbekistan, Belgium and the United States, "Son of Crimea: Struggle of a People" incorporates interviews with hundreds of eye-witnesses or survivors, politicians and experts ; documents from former USSR archives and other sources; and thousands of related photographs from private and public collections.
The official Web site of "Son of Crimea" is in Turkish and includes many photographs from the documentary: http://www.kirimoglu.org/
English summary of "Son of Crimea" was written by Inci Bowman, International Committee for Crimea, Inc., Washington, DC.
Posted: 23 May 2014; Revised: 12 June 2014