HomeBEYOND TURKEYBalkans & Eastern EuropeCrimean problem from history to present

Crimean problem from history to present

Prof. Dr. Süleyman Kızıltoprak / Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University
6.03.2022  Facebook  twitter

Tsarina II. Saying “The best pearl in Russia’s crown is the Crimea”, Katerina established a naval base in the Ottoman port city of Akyar and named it Sevastopol. Thus, the territory began to become a symbol of the Russian Empire. During the Russian Tsarist period, the Crimean peninsula was more under the pressure of the Russification policy than any other part of Russia. Tatars, who were encouraged to leave the Crimea for different reasons during war and peacetime, continued to migrate to the Ottoman lands intensively. While this situation caused the demographics to change in favor of the Russians, it disrupted the economic structure of Crimea, especially agriculture and animal husbandry.

Located in the north of the Black Sea with an area of ​​26,140 square kilometers, Crimea is a peninsula integrated with the Azov Sea with its eastern borders. Historical cities such as Bahçesaray, Akmescit and Karasubazar were established in the river basins on the northern slopes of the mountains extending from the southwest to the northeast. The coastal part between Kefe and Akyar is highly developed.

In addition to maritime and trade, the relatively favorable climate attracted the peoples of Asia and the Mediterranean region. Cimmerians, Ancient Greeks, Scythians, Goths, Huns, Khazars, Kievan Rus, Byzantium, Bulgars, Kipchaks, Mongols, Golden Horde Tatars, Crimean Khanate, Ottomans and Russians kept the island under their sovereignty.  At the end of the XI.century, even after the Khazars left the area of ​​domination, there was a Turkish state called Khazarya, which included the Azov basin in Crimea.

Venice  and Genoese sovereignty was valid in some of the coastal cities of Crimea in XIII. and XIV. century. Meanwhile, during the reign of Alaeddin Keykubat (1220-1237), the most important commercial city of Crimea, Suğdak, was captured. When the Mongol army under the leadership of Batu Khan captured the Crimea in 1239, it was the Kipchaks, Bulgars, Bashkirs and Aslar who opposed it. After that, the Golden Horde domination began.

Ethnic Crimean identity strengthened during this time and Islam became widespread. Crimean Tatars as an ethnic group, They come from the mixture of Turkic peoples who settled in Crimea since VIII.th century.   Sultan Baybars Mosque was built in Solhat, in  19th century, one of the central cities of Crimea, as a sign of trade between the Mamluk State of Egypt and the Crimea. Later, works such as Özbek Han Mosque, Hacı Mehmed Mosque, Hacı Ömer Mosque were built. In addition, Tatar Khan Mosque, Cuma Mosque and Nureddin Sultan Mosque, which are attributed to Mimar Sinan, were built.

Sultan Baybars Mosque was built in Solhat, one of the central cities of Crimea, as a sign of trade between the Mamluk State of Egypt and the Crimea. Later, works such as Özbek Han Mosque, Hacı Mehmed Mosque, Hacı Ömer Mosque were built. In addition, Tatar Khan Mosque, Cuma Mosque and Nureddin Sultan Mosque, which are attributed to Mimar Sinan, were built. Sultan Baybars Mosque was built in Solhat, one of the central cities of Crimea, as a sign of trade between the Mamluk State of Egypt and the Crimea. Later, works such as Özbek Han Mosque, Hacı Mehmed Mosque, Hacı Ömer Mosque were built. In addition, Tatar Khan Mosque, Cuma Mosque and Nureddin Sultan Mosque, which are attributed to Mimar Sinan, were built.

To overcome the power vacuum created after Timur’s destruction of the Mongol Golden Horde army in 1395, the Crimean Tatars established the Crimean Khanate in 1441, led by Haji Giray Khan, a descendant of Genghis Khan. Through their trading towns on the Crimean coast, the Genoese posed serious threats to both the Ottomans and the Crimeans. In 1475, during the reign of Fatih, Gedik Ahmed Pasha took control of Kefe and other commercial towns on the coast.

From this period onwards, the Crimean Khanate accepted the sovereignty of the Ottomans in the Crimea. The close relations of the Crimean Tatars and the Ottoman Empire can be explained by two main factors: The first is geopolitical necessity, and the second is ethnic origin, language and religion, etc., which form a similar political view. are common features. Mengli Giray’ During the third reign of the Ottoman Empire (1478-1514), the relations between the Ottoman Empire and the Crimean Khanate became very important. So much so that when Yavuz Sultan Selim ascended the Ottoman throne in 1512, he received the military support of his father-in-law, Mengli Giray.

During the three centuries (1475-1774) when the Crimean Khanate was included in the Ottoman Empire, a common defense policy was followed against power centers such as Poland-Lithuania and Moscow, which were trying to land on the Black Sea coast. The Crimean Tatars made a serious contribution to the Ottoman Empire with the troops they sent during the military campaigns. As in the wars of the Ottomans with Austria and Iran, the Crimean forces provided great support to the Ottoman army in the campaigns of the northern wing of the state against the enemy attacks. On the other hand, one of the supply centers of grain, meat and dairy products that Istanbul needs is the Khanate of Crimea.

While the Ottomans lost power in Europe, Russia gained power. The expansion of Russia was against the Turks and Crimeans. While Russia, as the victorious state, signed the Treaty of Karlowitz with the Ottoman Empire in Istanbul in 1700, not paying tribute to the Crimean Khanate was one of the conditions of the agreement. In addition, Russia, which captured the Azov fortress, landed in the Black Sea. Besides, internal instability in Crimea weakened the Khanate. The loss of the 1768-1774 Ottoman-Russian war separated Crimea from Istanbul. As a matter of fact, in 1783, Russia invaded the peninsula and connected the Khans to Moscow.

The best pearl in the crown Crimea

Tsarina II. Saying “The best pearl in Russia’s crown is the Crimea”, Katerina established a naval base in the Ottoman port city of Akyar and named it Sevastopol. Thus, the territory began to become a symbol of the Russian Empire. The 1853-1856 Crimean War turned into a war between Russia and Europe with the diplomatic success of the Ottoman Empire. The war ostensibly broke out due to the uncompromising attitude of France, the protector of the Catholics, and Russia, which claimed to be the protector of the Orthodox, within the framework of the problems that arose in the places considered sacred by the Christian sects in Jerusalem.

When Russia could not get what they wanted from the Ottoman Empire, they declared war. France and England joined the war on the Ottoman side. However, the war was mismanaged by both sides, and in 1856, Russia’s Ottoman Empire. It ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris, which demanded that he give back the lands he had taken. The agreement also eliminated the Russian naval and military presence in the Black Sea region for 20 years. Despite this, the presence of the Crimean Tatars in the peninsula continued to be seen as a threat.

During the Russian Tsarist period, the Crimean peninsula was more under the pressure of the Russification policy than any other part of Russia. Tatars, who were encouraged to leave the Crimea for different reasons during war and peacetime, continued to migrate to the Ottoman lands intensively. While this situation caused the demographics to change in favor of the Russians, it disrupted the economic structure of Crimea, especially agriculture and animal husbandry.

The impact of Crimea on the Turkish world

The reform policies implemented in Moscow at the end of the 19th century had positive reflections on the Crimea as well. When the Russians came to 1883, they largely dominated the geography of Turkestan. They put their plans to deploy their armies on Afghanistan, which is a part of Southern Turkestan. They needed sympathetic approaches in order to get rid of the unsavory adjectives attributed to them without entering into a struggle for dominance with the British in Afghan lands.

In this political environment, he paved the way for softening policies towards the Turks. In this process, Crimean intellectuals were also hopeful. In 1883, İsmail Bey Gaspıralı (1851-1914) started publishing the newspaper “Tercüman” in Bahçesaray. In its first copy, it invited Muslim Turks living in Russia to be open to innovations, modernization of Islam

The status of Crimea was heavily debated during the founding and dissolution of the USSR. In other words, when Tsarism collapsed and the USSR dissolved, there were three options for Crimea: independence of Crimea, autonomy of Crimea within a Ukrainian state, and joining Russia. The first chic was by no means accepted by Moscow and Kyiv. The second and third options were put on the agenda one after the other. Crimea was occupied by the Nazis from 1941 to 1944, and as in other German-occupied territories, a policy of provoking national division and ethnic conflicts was implemented. Crimean Tatars suffered greatly in this process. One totalitarian regime accused Tatars of treason and collaboration with another totalitarian regime.

Exile 1944

When Crimea came under Soviet control on May 12, 1944, Stalin sentenced the Crimean Tatars and other minorities to mass punishment and exiled them on charges of collaborating with the Nazis. According to official figures, 188,000 Crimean Tatars were first deported. Then, in June 1944, Greeks (14 thousand), Armenians (11 thousand) and Bulgarians (12 thousand) in the peninsula were deported. According to the official figures of Russia, 32 thousand 107 people died in exile between 1945-1950. Russians dispatched from Russia and Ukraine were placed in their place

The Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of Crimea was abolished in June 1945 and was reduced to the status of an Oblast (province) of the Socialist Republic of the Russian Soviet Federation (RSFSR), directly attached to Moscow. In 1954, there was a surprising turn in the status of Crimea. On February 19, 1954, the decision to transfer Crimea from the RSFSR to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was announced. It was made as a friendly gesture celebrating the 300th Anniversary of the 1654 treaty of Pereislav uniting Russia and Ukraine.

There were some who first explained the reason for this gesture as rewarding the nation that he came from, attributing the USSR leader Khrushchev to his Ukrainian origin. Secondly, there were those who interpreted it as repairing the post-Stalin system and licking the wounds caused by the unjust and cruel policies of the past.

After the collapse of the USSR in 1991, the atmosphere in Crimea was complicated, many pro-Russian and separatist movements emerged and began to spread the independence of Crimea or its integration with Russia.

The first real tension between Moscow and Kyiv occurred in 1992 due to unresolved problems of the Black Sea Fleet. Simultaneously, a movement to change the status of the peninsula emerged in the Crimea. Some Russian politicians debated the amendment of the Law on the Transition of Crimea to Ukraine of 1954.

The focus of the discussions between 1992-1995 was the fear that Ukraine would disintegrate, the establishment of a hostile regime against Russia in Kiev, and even the fear that Crimea would get out of hand and become independent. On the other hand, the Ukrainian administration showed that they are aware of the Russian government’s fears. They declared that they attach importance to harmony with Russia in order to ensure stability and integrity in the country. After that, Yeltsin began to actively support the authorities in Ukraine. In Moscow, comments were made that friendly relations with Ukraine are more advantageous than having the Crimea region.

In the talks between Yeltsin and the Ukrainian leader Kravchuk, an agreement was reached on the Crimea and the Black Sea Fleet. The Black Sea Fleet was shared between the two countries, while Crimea remained in Ukraine. In October 1992, an agreement was signed in Yalta for joint control of the fleet for three years. Another issue that preoccupied the Ukrainian government was the Crimean Tatars, who began to return to their homeland.

According to the 1987 census, there were only 17,400 Crimean Tatars among the peninsula’s population, just over 2 million. Since the Crimean Tatars received the right to return from exile, their population suddenly increased to 135 thousand people. Ukrainian policy favored the return of the Crimean Tatars, but the government failed to properly manage the problems that have arisen since the Crimean Tatars. Tatars had difficulty in settling in their ancestral lands and finding jobs, and therefore their living conditions were not good at all. Despite everything, Kyiv saw the Tatars on its side against the pro-Russian movements.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea

In the 1994-1996 Chechen war, Russia could not achieve the desired results. He then concluded that it was necessary to take measures against possible separatist movements. Putin, who took Chechnya under control in 2003, focused on the Crimea and Ukraine policy. However, the turning point in Ukrainian-Russian relations was the Orange Revolution that took place in Ukraine in 2004. The color orange was symbolic of the opposition movement of Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko against Russia, pro-EU and NATO. The victory of pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych’s presidential election in November 2004 sparked public protests in the capital and other parts of Ukraine, known as the Orange revolution. The country has continued to experience instability since then, due to the uncompromising stances of the pro-Western and pro-Russian parties.

Power began to change hands between the two main currents. When the orange revolutionaries came to power, their rhetoric such as “reaching the standard of freedom and Western democracy” did not bring any change in the Crimean politics and the life of the Crimean Tatars. The President of the Crimean Tatar National Assembly Mustafa Cemiloğlu decided to stand by Yushchenko because of his negative memories of Russia. The Crimean Tatars wanted the representation of Tatars in the local government and the official status of the Crimean Tatar language in Crimea. Even after Mustafa Cemiloğlu’s meeting with Yushchenko in 2005, there was no progress on this issue. Such statements did not bring any change in the Crimean politics and the life of the Crimean Tatars.

After Yanukovych, who regained power by winning the 2012 elections, started close relations with Russia, the opposition started demonstrations. Indeed, when pro-Western Petro Poroshenko won the 2014 elections, Moscow openly declared its security concerns. Russia landed troops in Crimea, first occupied it, and then announced its annexation decision on March 18, 2014.

Uncomfortable with the pro-Western attitude of the Ukrainian leaders, Russia started to have security concerns again when Volodymyr Zelensky was elected president in May 2019. As a matter of fact, on February 24, 2022, the Moscow administration, which expressed the claim that the Russians and Ukrainians are one nation, started a three-way war to occupy Kiev. The war between the brothers is dangerous enough to create new fault lines in the region. Moreover, it is clear that it will not yield results in favor of Ukraine and Crimean Tatars. Ukrainians should not be partners in the unfortunate story of the Crimean Tatars. Today is the day to be on the side of peace and to embrace those who fled war, regardless of ethnicity…

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