Ostryakova’s research concerns Crimean Tatars and how well they are re-integrating back into the political canvas of the Russian Federation, after Crimea’s reunion with Russia in 2014.
First some backstory: The Crimean Tatars are a Turkic-based ethnic group who hail back at least as far as 10th-century steppe-dwelling tribes from Central Asia. These tribes, which blended various ethnic groups including Cumans, mastered the horse and became highly mobile nomads. Cuman/Tatar warriors were able to travel great distances and conquer much territory. As early as the 12th or 13th centuries they were all over Crimea and reached as far as what is now Western Ukraine. The famous Russian medieval poem, “The Story of Igor’s Regiment” deals with the ensuing clash of cultures: Turkic tribes vs Slavs. The military clashes often resulted in inter-marriage, the prime example being Prince Igor’s son Volodimir marrying the Cuman Princess Konchakovna. The military and cultural clashes also induced both sides to engage in state-building. Because only a strong centralized state which collects taxes, is capable of building an army professional enough to compete in the ensuing realities of medieval life.
At some point the Turkic tribes, now called Tatars, converted to Islam. The Crimean Khanate became a vassal state to the Ottoman Empire between the 15th to 18th centuries. During the same period of time, those Eastern Slavic tribes who later became known as “Russians” were building their own statehood, with the capital in Moscow and the state religion Byzantine Orthodox Christianity.
As these two competing civilizations developed side by side, the differences between them were not just religious philosophies, but also the class system. The medieval Russian economy was based on serfdom; whereas the Crimean Tatars enjoyed a slave-based economy. Quoting wiki:
Until the beginning of the 18th century, Crimean Tatars were known for frequent, at some periods almost annual, devastating raids into Ukraine and Russia. For a long time, until the late 18th century, the Crimean Khanate maintained a massive slave trade with the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East which was the most important basis of its economy. One of the most important trading ports and slave markets was Kefe. Slaves and freedmen formed approximately 75% of the Crimean population.
There is a lot of complicated history here, including the formation of the Cossack regiments and a series of bloody wars, the rise and fall of various Tsars, the decline of the Ottoman Empire, yada yada, which I have neither the time nor the expertise to go into. Suffice it to say that eventually, over a long period of time, Russia was able to eke out a strategic long-term victory over Turkey and the Turkic tribes.
Russia’s decisive victory was the annexing of the Crimean peninsula in 1783. Wiki describes the various stages of ethnic cleansings which followed, resulting in a smaller Tatar population in Crimea itself; and a much larger Tatar diaspora. The fact is, that no Russian ruler, be it Catherine the Great or Joseph Stalin, ever fully trusted the Tatar people as such (not to accuse all individual Tatars, to be sure), to be loyal to Russia. And not to defend ethnic cleansing, yet Russian distrust of the Tatar people was often borne out. Because some Tatar political leaders truly did subvert the system and support any invader who might come barging into Russia, be it Tom, Dick, Harry, Napoleon or Hitler.
Stalin’s deportation of the Tatars from the strategic Crimean peninsula to Uzbekistan in 1944 he justified based on known facts of Tatar sabotage and support for the Nazi invaders, for example the Tatar Legion in the Nazi Army. But there were other Tatars who provided counter-examples by fighting bravely on the side of the Red Army. In his secret speech to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1956), Party Chairman Nikita Khrushchev argued that it was wrong to punish an entire ethnic group for the crimes of a few:
Comrades, let us reach for some other facts. The Soviet Union justly is considered a model multinational state because we have assured in practice the equality and friendship of all [of the] peoples living in our great Fatherland.
All the more monstrous are those acts whose initiator was Stalin and which were rude violations of the basic Leninist principles [behind our] Soviet state’s nationalities policies. We refer to the mass deportations of entire nations from their places of origin, together with all Communists and Komsomols without any exception. This deportation was not dictated by any military considerations.
Thus, at the end of 1943, when there already had been a permanent change of fortune at the front in favor of the Soviet Union, a decision concerning the deportation of all the Karachai from the lands on which they lived was taken and executed.
In the same period, at the end of December, 1943, the same lot befell the [Kalmyks] of the Kalmyk Autonomous Republic. In March, 1944, all the Chechens and Ingushi were deported and the ChechenIngush Autonomous Republic was liquidated. In April, 1944, all Balkars were deported from the territory of the Kabardino-Balkar Autonomous Republic to faraway places and their Republic itself was renamed the Autonomous Kabardian Republic.
Khrushchev, himself an ethnic Ukrainian, went on to crack a joke, the point being that if people are to be punished for the acts of their leaders, then Ukrainians should have been first in line for deportation:
Ukrainians avoided meeting this fate only because there were too many of them and there was no place to which to deport them. Otherwise, [Stalin] would have deported them also.
(Laughter and animation in the hall.)
The joke about deporting the Ukrainians sounds even funnier today, since the Ukrainian Nationalist government currently in power, which traces its own pedigree back to Nazi collaborators, are the ones who cry the most crocodile tears about the Tatar deportations. And it is no secret that Ukrainian Nationalists and Tatar collaborationists shared a common friend — Nazi Germany; and a common enemy: Russia.
Without getting into any further details of the long and difficult history of this misbegotten relationship between Tatars and Russians; and skipping over all the “he said – she said”, it is possible to make just a quick summary: That this forced joining of Slavs and Tatars, living together in a single statehood, has proved to be a tough and complicated marriage, filled with bitter tears and reproaches. Not to mention squabbles over property and who gets to keep the dog. And yet divorce is not really an option. In which case, what is to be done?
Well, apparently the situation is not hopeless, from the Russian point of view. As we shall see, the current Russian government, has implemented wise and enlightened policies in regards to the Crimean Tatars. And I say that without an ounce of sarcasm. Since the Reunification of 2014, the Russian government has bent over backwards to reassure Tatars that they will not be a persecuted minority. The policies have brought good results, as sociological surveys show, which we will discuss in the next installment of this post. Also, in the religious sphere, the Russian authorities have adopted a cunning strategy of supporting traditional Islam over the wacky and violent sects which are promoted by Ukrainian and Western interests.
[to be continued]