Brandon Martinez / Non-Aligned Media
Putin is resurrecting Stalin’s notorious policy of repression against Crimea’s Tatar minority group, banning their organizations, closing down their media outlets and arresting their leaders in a brutal crackdown which began in earnest since the peninsula’s annexation by Russia in 2014.
210,000 Tatars [were] deported from Crimea in the penultimate year of the Second World War. In the space of three days from 18 May 1944, every last Tatar – man, woman and child – was rounded up in towns and villages across Crimea and herded onto sealed trains, which transported them for 2,000 miles to the barren steppe of Uzbekistan.
Scholar Christina M. Paschyn contends that Russia is, once again, attempting to wipe out the Tatars and erase them from Crimea’s history. She recalled a bit more of the history:
The Crimean Tatars have always been easy scapegoats for Russia. Joseph Stalin’s justification for deporting them was that they had sided with Germany in World War II. It’s true that some did, historians say, either because they were forced to by the invading army or because they believed the Germans would liberate them from the Soviet Union. But records show that just as many Crimean Tatars, if not more, did not defect during the war. Many fought valiantly for the Red Army.
Brian Glyn Williams, a historian at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, posits that Stalin’s true motivation wasn’t revenge but instead plans to launch a war against Turkey to retake land that Russia had lost during World War I. Stalin wanted to neutralize potential collaborators; the Crimean Tatars, a Muslim Turkic people, were prime suspects.
The Crimean Tatars’ suffering goes as far back as 1783, when Russia first conquered and annexed the peninsula and began forcing them out. For hundreds of years before Russia took control, the Crimean Tatars had their own state, the Crimean Khanate.
Crimean Tatars still refuse to submit to Russian occupation. Most opposed the 2014 annexation, and their leadership continues to demand Crimea’s reunification with Ukraine.
Russia has not taken kindly to this dissent. Russian authorities have shut down Crimean Tatar media. Russian forces have raided homes and mosques, and harassed and imprisoned Crimean Tatar activists, some of whom have disappeared or been killed. Russia has tried to block the Crimean Tatars from publicly commemorating the deportation and has even re-exiled Mustafa Dzhemilev, the Crimean Tatars’ political leader.
According to Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry, about 20,000 Crimean Tatars have fled the peninsula since the annexation. This is devastating for a people who spent 45 years banished from their homeland. Many thought they were done with Russia once and for all when the Soviet Union disintegrated and Crimea belonged to Ukraine. Few predicted that their nightmare would begin anew in 2014.
The Tatars are a Muslim people with historic ties to Turkey. Descendants of the exiled Tatars from Stalin’s era were allowed to filtrate back to their ancestral Crimean homeland in 1989, and have since reclaimed their cultural roots in the peninsula. But when Putin annexed Crimea in 2014, the Tatars (alongside Ukrainians) were the most vocal opponents of the move, hence why they are now being singled out for retribution by Russia’s puppet authorities.
Russia under Putin is a repressive police state. Political protests are virtually banned, free speech is non-existent, most major media is controlled by the state, the Internet is monitored and censored, NSA-style mass surveillance of citizens is standard procedure (which even Edward Snowden criticized), and vocal dissidents are demonized as ‘national traitors’ and intimidated.
It has become so bad that in 2015 a Moscow-based library specializing in Ukrainian literature was raided, its books confiscated and its 58-year-old proprietor arrested and charged with disseminating “anti-Russian propaganda” – in other words, simply possessing history books that reflect badly on Russia or that merely uphold the existence of a Ukrainian national identity is now a “Russophobic” hate crime in the Federation.
Under the pretext of combatting “extremism” and “terrorism,” Putin has obliterated most opposition to his nearly two decades of consecutive iron-fisted rule, with only a phony veneer of controlled opposition able to voice mild but inconsequential criticism of the regime.
On the economic front, Putin’s policies have led to extreme wealth inequality with 110 billionaires controlling 35% of Russia’s wealth, one of the worst in the world.