Tatars claim property rights on Crimean Peninsula

On Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula thousands of Tatars are taking action to redress what they consider to be a historical crime. In the 1940's, Stalin deported over 200,000 Tatars, claiming they were Nazi collaborators.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, they returned to their homeland to find their land occupied by others. Tatars are now struggling to reclaim land they consider to be theirs despite the fact they were traditionally nomadic.

Land in Crimea is some of the most expensive and sought after in Ukraine. It has no gas, water or proper roads but it overlooks the Black Sea.

Edae Rasimova was among 200,000 Tatars deported to Central Asia on the orders of Stalin.

“The soldiers came. They told us to pack up and leave. We started crying. So many people died during that journey,” she remembers, crying.

Edae Rasimova’s family seized a field as a retribution for being exiled in the Second World War.

Charged for collaboration with the Nazis they left, but vowed to return. When the Soviet Union broke apart, the Tatars started their long trip back, but the demography of the Crimea had already changed. The land was taken up by ethnic Russians and Ukrainians who also lived here for the last two centuries.

Like nomads, Tatars move around the Crimea. They pick a field they like and settle there. There are land plots occupied several years ago. People living there have no official permit to build. They say God permitted.    

Just down the road, a Russian town is no competitor to the Tatar village. They also need water and gas. Some old ladies refused to show their face on Russia Today’s camera in fear of being killed by the Tatars.

The issue of land has set the two communities apart.

“They are mean to us. Our people have to travel all over the Crimea for work. And they conspire against us by blocking the roads,” Galina, ethnic Ukrainian, said.

Some people remember the horrors of the Tatar deportation, but they say that taking revenge on the local Russians and Ukrainians is unfair.

“The tatars are well connected with the Turks. They say they can stick a knife into us for their land. They are of one faith,” an ethnic Russian woman said.

The Communist party in the Crimea introduced a law imposing criminal responsibility for the seizure of land. They claim that Tatars occupy prime spots only to sell them later.

And law-enforcement agencies seem to ignore the practice.

“The Ukrainian President wants to destabilize the situation in the region. By giving amnesty to the Tatars guilty of land seizure, they set a precedent. They are rubbing salt into old Russian wounds because the Crimea was their territory since the 18th century,” Aleksandr Korobeynikov from the Yalta Communist Party commented.

Edae Rasimova’s family denies the accusations. They claim they waited for 10 years to be given a plot to build, but then realised it may never happen.

“The land of the Crimea was sold out as we were waiting for a piece. If you want to buy ten hectares you just need to go to any of the real estate agencies here and do it. While my mother since 2000 has no home and no land,” Tatar Fatime Pligos, complained.

Their relationship with the Slavic people is not easy. Violently deported in the forties, the Tatars say they don’t want to play back the history, but the deluxe mansions springing up on the coast could have been their home.