Cankiri Karatekin University, Department of International Relations, Faculty of Economics and Administrative Science and president of Cankiri Civil Society Association Assoc. Prof. Dr. Sezai OZCELIK has made his commends on and situation of Crimean Tatars analyzing the last developments in the Crimea, Ukraine and Russia for TURKSAM.


Crimean Tatars Struggle in Crimea, Ukraine or Russia:


Crimean Tatars are an ethnic group who live in Crimea since first millennium. On 18th May 1944, Soviet Union leader Stalin forced ethnic Crimeans to migrate from their homeland to Siberia and the Central Asia. The main cover for this incident was the alleged collaboration of the Crimean Tatars with the German Army, Lufthwaffe. However, many Crimean Tatars have fought in the Red Army to free the Soviet Union from the German invasion. The forced migration known as Sürgün by the Crimean Tatars  played a pivotal role in the creation of their ethnic identity and national struggle. The Crimean Tatars started a grassroots nonviolent struggle against the Soviet Union in 1956 after the post-Stalin era. In 1967, Crimea was given as a gift to Ukraine by Khrushchev in order to show the lasting friendship between Ukrainians and Russians. The Crimean Tatars (CT) nonviolent struggle has been supported by the Soviet dissidents such as Andrey Sakharov and Grigorenko. The CT nonviolence during the Soviet time has been personalized with Mr. Mustafa Jemilev. Mr. Jemilev has used hunger strike and other civil disobedience tactics to achieve only purpose: The return of the Crimean Tatars their homeland, the Crimean Peninsula. He has suffered extensively for his nonviolent struggle. He has been arrested and jailed 6 times. He has also been in hunger strike for 303 days in the late 1960s to raise international awareness to the Crimean Tatars cause. Because of the success of the widespread nonviolent resistance of the Crimean Tatars inside the Soviet Union and the outside diaspora support, they have been finally returning to their homeland in 1989. Since 1989, they have continued their cause via nonviolent struggle and civil disobedience. The Crimean Tatars have mostly used a ‘Sharpian’ nonviolent approach to achieve their political objectives and national identity formation. They believe that “bad peace is always better than good war.” Since they are a small nation, the only way to achieve their political objective is the principle of nonviolence. Also, the nonviolence is embedded in the Crimean Tatar popular culture. Next, the historical and close ties to the Soviet dissident movements make the nonviolent resistance obvious choice for the Crimean Tatars. In the last part of the paper, we compare the Crimean Tatar nonviolence strategy to Chechens’ national movement, who also faced forced migration during WW2 but has following the violent means to reach its political ends.




In recent decades, the Crimean Tatars in Crimea, Ukraine and Chechens in Russia have developed unique methods of political expression that are seemingly opposed to each other since their return of historical homeland.  While one is inclined to assert its identity needs against Russian oppression and authoritarian rule through peaceful protest, the Chechens demonstrates a more direct violence approach.  Each of these groups has endured harsh deportation and assimilation policies and prejudicial treatment under the Soviet Communist government, and they have been struggling to maintain their cultural identities since the 1950s.  Although the Chechens have been involved in violent uprisings in the past, the Crimean Tatars have favoured the nonviolent protests, What is the political reality involved here?  Why are the Crimean Tatars more predisposed to nonviolence?  What are the major contributing factors that explain the nonviolence approaches of Crimean Tatars?


By definition, nonviolent and civil resistant protests and violent demonstrations are differentiated by the pre-mediated intentions involved concerning the well-being of innocent civilians and political opponents.  On the one hand, nonviolent and civil resistant protests attempt to voice political grievances and gain public support with methods that are intended to bring no harm to other people.  In this regard, the Crimean Tatar practices of nonviolence have used involved only one person act such as the Mustafa Jemilev’s long hunger strikes during the Soviet time. This kind of self – sacrifice acts may still be considered nonviolent protest—the only person at risk is the one performing the act.  In addition, Crimean Tatars have attempted mass nonviolent and civil resistant protest that aims to address grievances and gain public support through direct actions that are meant to bring no physical harm to other people.  The example of this was the Crimean Tatars demonstration at the Red Square in 1989 during the Soviet Union time.


There are very few studies that attempt to explain nonviolent political behaviours at the Muslim societies such as the Crimean Tatars. Most of studies do are not also concerned with causal factors that inspire a group of people to choose nonviolent and civil resistant techniques.  Most of the time, the scholars have explained the use of violence as a necessary evil to attain those things which peaceful protest has failed to accomplish. While this explanation offers a valid understanding of the subject, it fails to address the fundamental issues that inspire nonviolent and civil resistant  resistance movements as collective social models for group behaviours.  A better understanding of the structural and cultural factors involved in these cases may shed light on specific indicators that inspire nonviolent protests against an authoritarian state. This study argues that factors like psychological chosen traumas, national cohesion, inter-religious disputes between ethnic groups, and international support may provide the needed insight to understand why a minority group such as the Crimean Tatars may choose nonviolence instead of violence. First, it hopes to outline the Crimean Tatars forced deportation (sürgün) as social group identity maker have inspired the Crimean Tatar national movement. Then, it highlights how and why the Crimean Tatars national movement have evolved toward nonviolence and civil resistant during the Soviet time. The personality of the Crimean Tatars leader, Mustafa Jemilev, has been important force and factor in nonviolent resistance. He has been used nonviolence as a main political tool for the Crimean Tatars to gain their rights especially rights to return their homeland, Crimea, Ukraine. Finally, it assesses important variations in cultural and structural factors that have had an impact on Crimean Tatars and Chechens resistance movements. 


It has been argued that ethnic conflicts in multi-national states are generally a reflection of intense issues regarding social, economic, identity and security. The conflict resolution field emphasizes the satisfaction of basic human needs. If two basic human needs – identity and security – are not satisfied for the conflicting ethnic groups, the deep-rooted and protracted violent conflicts are inevitable in international relations. The identity needs of the Crimean Tatars are rooted in the forced deportation of them on 18th May 1944 by Stalin. The incident known as sürgün is labelled as chosen trauma. Chosen traumas for ethnic groups are another important source of the ethnic group identity creation and maintain. The fundamental source of the Crimean Tatar resistance, therefore, is the policy of assimilation by the Soviet Communist Party, which requires conformity to authoritarian government that denies the existence of any distinct cultural identities.  This is accompanied by issues of prejudice, economic inequality, and persecution through unlawful imprisonment, torture, and constant surveillance of daily activities during the forced deportation (sürgün) years under the Soviet rule. The Soviet and Russian governments have had an intense interest in the Crimea region since 1700s. The Crimean Peninsula still is very important for jeopolitically and jeostrategically not only for Russia but also for all countries in the Black Sea region.  


Until the demise of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the Crimean Tatar resistance has followed a similar cyclical pattern, which involved periods of peaceful protest, forceful repression, extreme government regulation, and eased tensions.  The Crimean Tatars’ discontent toward Soviet and later Russian policies has manifested itself through a wide range of mechanism that demonstrates restraint in the use of violence to react to harsh assimilation policies. Also, protests have been strikingly using political nonviolence, meaning the Sharpian nonviolence. The leader of the Crimean Tatar, Mustafa Jemilev, has adopted the Western ideals of democracy and human rights in his rhetoric, thus opposing the central ideology of the Communist party.


National Identity and Chosen Trauma


The Crimean Tatar national identity is closely linked to the incident of forced deportation (sürgün) occurred during the World War II. Because the Crimean Tatars have a national unity that emerged from the collective punishment of the Soviet authorities, they have become more prone to nonviolence. The strength of the unified Crimean Tatar community has inspired a spirit of restrain and nonviolence.


The Crimean Tatars are a Turkic ethnic group, whose culture, language, and religion make them entirely dissimilar to the native Russian population in Crimea, Ukraine or Russia. Because their unique group character, this group of people has been able to formulate a distinct cohesive identity to counter the suppressive policies of the Soviet regimes. Every Tatar firmly believes that Crimea is the historical homeland of their ancestors. The Crimean Tatar national narrative was also adopted by the other Soviet dissidents, namely Andrey Sakharov and Grigorenko. Because the story was unique to the Crimean Tatar ethnicity, it has had much power to motivate a more unified, and possibly nonviolent and peaceful front against the Soviet Communist party.


All Crimean Tatars felt—and still feel— a strong sense of belonging to this distinct national community because they all bonded a common chosen trauma. The Crimean Tatars are all suffered from the forced deportation. The political nature of this identity has been significantly strengthened over the course of Soviet Communist rule. The Soviet authorities have attempted to diminish the effect of Crimean Tatar identity by continuing to demonize and dehumanize the Crimean Tatars in Central Asia. The counter pressure of the Soviet authorities resulted in the assertion of the Crimean Tatar nationhood through acts of protest against the central government and its various mechanisms of social control with nonviolent tools and strategies. It is safe to say that The Crimean Tatar national narrative is a product of Crimean Tatar hands, making it a more profound driver of national unity.


Structural and International Influences


The Crimean Tatar national resistance movement has been influenced by structural and international factors that have contributed to the development of nonviolent strategies. The strength of the Crimean Tatar national governmental body (Kurultay), its support in the Crimean Tatars diasporas in Turkey, the United States and Europe, and the positive image of its resistance have contributed to a situation of  legitimacy and confidence that make peaceful protest a more appealing method of political expression. The vast support networks and strong centralized organization of the Crimean Tatar national governmental body have promoted sentiments of hope and legitimacy among the population in Crimean Tatars.  This has made peaceful protest a more desirable method of resistance, especially as a demonstration of innocence to the international community. This highly developed and democratic structure of the Crimean Tatar political institutions have strengthened the power and influence of the Crimean Tatar government, allowing it to have a significant voice in the international community.


Unlike the Chechen resistance movement in Russia, there do not seem to be any significant extremist groups among Crimean Tatars that aim to cause harm to other people. 




            The condition of a resistance movement to adopt either violent or nonviolent methods is a related to the effects of national cohesion, confidence, and legitimacy. Because of united national identity and culture of Crimean Tatars that promotes the strength and durability of a resistance movement, it makes less likely to splinter into factional groups and less desperate to attempt to use violence. Moreover, the existence of a strong, centralized Crimean Tatar government, along with the support of influential and resourceful diaspora communities around the world legitimizes the methodology of nonviolent and peaceful protests and enhances the confidence of the minority group that political reform is an achievable objective.  The incident of the forced migration (sürgün) has played an intricate role in defining the strategic use of nonviolence as means of political expression.  


The recent developments in Crimea, in my opinion, will make little changes in the Crimean Tatars overall strategy of the nonviolent resistance. The nonviolence is and has been the main independence strategy for the Crimean Tatars since the Soviet Union times. For the most Crimean Tatars, especially for young generation, violence may seem a viable option. Many international relations specialists have analyzed the Crimean Crisis in terms of geopolitics, geostrategy, and geoeconomy. However, the Crimean Crisis has psycho-historical and psycho-analytical roots both for Russians and the Crimean Tatars. Both of them have chosen traumas dating back 1989 and 1944. Russians have never dealt with their lost of the Soviet Union. Similarly, the Crimean Tatars have been deported from their homeland (Yeşil Ada) and experienced ethnic cleansing. The Crimean Crisis has made surface the past wounds. Also, both of them have claimed that Russians and the Crimean Tatars are both victims. The egoism of victimization, a Freudian concept, is used by not only for the Crimean Tatars but also Russians.


Nonviolence resistance may seem useless against Russia for the Crimean Tatars since Russia is very powerful and undemocratic state.  The best good examples of nonviolence resistance are the Mahatma Gandhi’s India against the Britain, the Nelson Mandela’s movement against the South Africa apartheid regime, the Martin Luther King’s civil right movement against the United States, etc. There are other examples especially in the Muslim world such as the Palestinian intifada against Israel, the Pashtun leader Ghaffar Khan against the British occupation, the Kosovo Albanians against Serbia, etc. The Crimean Tatars nonviolence resistance is another good and relatively successful example during the former Soviet Union period and behind. The annexation of Crimea without any major violence made the Crimean Tatars felt hopeless and desperate. But there is still great hope to re-energize the Crimean Tatars movement. Although there are some religious groups who may have link to outside powers and incline to provoking violence in Crimea, the core of the Crimean Tatars national movement still follow nonviolence. Nonviolence was and still is only viable option for future of the Crimean Tatars people.


We should analyze Turkey and the Crimean Tatars diaspora in Turkey in terms of the Crimean Tatars situation in Crimea. Unfortunately, Turkey has been in an election period during the Crimea Crisis. Also, Turkey has relatively more important foreign policy priorities, namely the Syria Crisis. Although the Crimean Tatars diaspora in Turkey have been actively initiated some public opinion campaigns, including demonstrations, internet campaigns, conferences, TVs appearance, newspaper articles, etc. Also, there was new birth of micro-nationalism among the Crimean Tatars in Turkey. But it is not enough to pressure Turkey to follow more proactive policy not only in the region but also in global scale. Turkey’s Crimea policy has the full of failures and shortcomings. With the help of the Crimean Tatars diaspora, it is possible to energize civil society in Turkey about Crimea. The universities and think tanks such as TURKSAM have a duty to put the Crimean Tatars national movement into the Turkish public opinion and media. Unfortunately, we have watched morning news speakers in the Turkish mainstream channel stating that the referendum in Crimea is good for the Crimean Tatars people because they thought that the Crimean Tatars are majority in Crimea. In short, there is a great lack of knowledge about the Crimean Tatars in Turkey. One of the positive results of the Crimean Crisis is the Crimean Tatars diaspora all over the world are energized and come together for the sake of their close relatives in Crimea. It is at least a good sign that more Crimean Tatars in Turkey have started voice their opinions about this issue.