Saturday, May 17, 2008

Window on Eurasia: The Continuing Shadows of 1944’s ‘Black Day’ in Crimea

Paul Goble

Baku, May 18 – Today marks the 64th anniversary of Stalin’s expulsion of 180,000 Crimean Tatars to the wilds of Central Asia, a brutal action which members of that community still refer to as the “kara gun,” the “black day” as a result of which so many suffered and died and when the nation as a whole was subjected to an unprecedented campaign of slander.
No one should ever be allowed to forget any of this lest it be repeated, but there is another and equally compelling reason for not allowing this day to pass without recollection: Moscow is keeping this “dark day” in the history of the Crimean Tatars very much alive, not to repent or help that community but to weaken Ukraine and project Russian power.
Not only did Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov suggest this week that it should be under Russian control and not only have Russian nationalists there adopted a divide-and-rule strategy, but now, a Moscow journalist has revived all the Stalin-era charges against the Crimean Tatars and even suggested that their transfer to Central Asia was justified and “comfortable.”
In “Komsomol’skaya Pravda,” Mikhail Smolin argues that the Soviet government behaved appropriately when it deported the Crimean Tatars to Central Asia, that it treated them as humanely as possible, and that post-Stalinist leaders have mishandled their situation ({259AB665-B8C7-45C4-9C83-AB170E61FFC7}).
Smolin begins by suggesting that the Soviet government should never have given the Crimean Tatars an autonomous republic because they formed such a small share of the population in which he characterizes as a Russian region, and then he argues that newly declassified documents prove that Stalin and even Beria acted reasonably.
Tatar nationalists abroad cooperated with Hitler before and after the German invasion of the Soviet Union, and 20,000 Crimean Tatars deserted from the Red Army, “the overwhelming majority of those drafted.” And many of them fought on the side of the Germans in a special Tatar Division.
“No one intends to justify either Stalin or Beria,” Smolin continues, “nor in general the methods of Soviet power. But,” he says,” under the conditions of war, the authorities of the United States forcibly assembled all Japanese living in America and settled them in concentration camps during the war.”
Consequently, the Soviet decision to do what the “Komsomolskaya Pravda” writer suggests was something similar with the Crimea Tatars was entirely reasonable. And then he goes on to make an additional argument which few post-Soviet writers have been willing to put forward with a straight face.
According to Smolin, he was “surprised” by how “soft (of course, by Stalinist standards) the resettlement” of the Crimean Tatars in Central Asia was carried out. Every Crimean Tatar family was allowed to take up to 500 kilograms of personal possessions and food. Every train carrying them had a doctor and two nurses, and the Soviet government provided food and water.
Moreover, he says the documents show that the Crimean Tatars were treated well on their arrival in Uzbekistan. Indeed, he suggests, not “many residents of the USSR during that hungry war period ate better” and “as far as political prisoners” are concerned, Smolin says, “I am simply certain that they did not.”
Smolin acknowledges that the real situation on the ground may not have been quite as the documents say, but that admission does not keep him from relying on them or “Komsomolskaya Pravda” from reproducing them via a link within his article -- See the various photographs of these documents at
But a more useful and authoritative comment is provided in the words of Idil P. Noyan-Izmirli, the president of the International Committee for the Crimea (ICC) on the Crimea-L list today. In it, she writes that on this “black day,” “I will remember the babies and the elderly who died on the cattle trains.”
“I will remember how their bodies were thrown out of the wagons and were immediately eaten by the hungry wolves scavenging along the train rails. I will remember the ones who died from drinking contaminated dirty waters to quench their thirsts after surviving weeks of long train rides.”
“I will remember the ones who were ridiculed for being Tatars and were called “traitors” by the local populations when they first arrived in their exile locations. I will remember how the dry heat impacted the Crimean Tatars, for they were not used to such environmental conditions in Crimea.”
“I will remember the ones who were sent to Soviet GULAGs; I will remember those who spent years in prisons because of their desire to return to their homeland. I will also remember the survivors and their sacrifices. I will remember the mothers who went hungry for days on special settlement camps so that their children had one more slice of bread to eat.”
“I will remember the youth who were a part of the forced-labor in coal mines of Tula, Siberia, and the Urals. [And]I will remember the fathers who returned from the front and did not know where their families were. I will remember the family members who never found each other again.”

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