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18 May, 2009 15:19

Crimea: a melting pot about to boil over?

It is 65 years since Soviet leader Joseph Stalin ordered 200,000 Crimean Tatars to be relocated to Uzbekistan from their homes. It took 45 years for Moscow to apologize, but not everyone is happy at their return.

85-year-old Gulsum Seidametova starts every day with a prayer. She sings praises to Allah for her life returning to normal. More than six decades ago, Gulsum says, it was one horror after another.

“When the war started, most of my village ran away to hide in forests. The rest were burned alive by Nazis. After the Germans were gone, soviet officers came and ordered us to get on some boat. We didn’t know where we were going to, but we were told that we’re being moved to the Caucasus,” Gulsun Seidametova said.

On May 18, 1944, within just 48 hours the entire Crimean Tatar community of 200,000 was relocated to Uzbekistan. Joseph Stalin accused them of collaborating with the Nazi forces, which allowed Germans to seize the Crimean peninsula.

The soviet leader said he wanted to prevent further threat and that’s why the Tatars had to be relocated. This is something the community’s leader Mustafa Dzhemilev still can’t forget.

And despite the Soviet Union is long-gone, he still points the finger at Moscow.

“Soviets told the locals that we were enemies. They evicted us and gave our houses to the others. We regard this as genocide – an attempt to destroy an entire nation. And Russia is directly responsible for those crimes,” Mustafa Dzhemilev, leader of the Crimean Tatars, said.

During Perestroika, the Kremlin openly admitted mistakes of the past. The governmental decree of 1989 allowed the Tatars to move back to the Crimea. Nowadays 260,000 of them –little more than 10% of the Crimea’s population – reside in the region, and they have their very own way of resettling.

Tatars of the Crimea use the scheme called the takeover. They find an unoccupied piece of land, build small houses and wait for several years, after which they claim rights for property and build bigger houses after that.

The fight over the land has been making noise in the Crimea for years. For the last five years – with Kiev officially supporting the Tatar minority – things have calmed down, but Oleg Rodivilov from the peninsula’s Russian community describes these resettlers as a threat.

“In 1992 the Crimean Tatars assaulted the parliament and prosecutor generals’ office here. They burned three floors of the building and injured more than a hundred policemen. And I have information that extremist organizations of Tatars are spreading across the Crimea nowadays. Organizations with ideas, which strongly differ from those of the society,” Oleg Rodivilov said.

Political analysts in Kiev also describe the Crimea as a powder keg, ready to explode should any incident involving national minorities happen in the region. Indeed, it could serve as a political weapon for some.

“The Crimea’s nationality issues are being used by certain political forces in Kiev to worsen relations with Russia. And not only between Ukraine and Russia, but also between Moscow and other countries, the US in particular,” Vladimir Kornilov said.

The Crimean Tatar leadership spoke of possible provocations on their deportation’s anniversary, but nevertheless it has been quiet, as all political forces in the Crimea have pledged to avoid bloodshed. In the turbulent world of Ukraine’s politics – where language, nationality and election ambitions are mixed in one pot – nobody can say for sure whether or not this is the silence before the storm.