Canada, Ukraine Commemorate Tatar Deportation

Crimean Tatars gather in Symferopil on May 18 to commemorate the victims of the deportation. krym.org, RFE/RL

NP-UN National Affairs Desk/RFE/RL.

Canada’s Government and Opposition joined Ukraine in commemorating the 74th anniversary of the forced deportation of Crimean Tatars by Soviet authorities in 1944, May 18.

“On this day, we remember the tragic loss of life and tremendous suffering endured by the hundreds of thousands of children, women and men who were displaced from their ancestral homeland. Canada will never forget the tragedies of the past and will continue to speak out in defence of human rights and a rules-based order in Crimea and elsewhere,” dais Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland in a statement.

“In December 2017, I attended the 24th Ministerial Council of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe in Vienna, Austria, where I met with Ilmi Umerov and Akhtem Chiygoz, deputy chairmen of the Mejlis — the governing body of the Crimean Tatars — to discuss what Canada can do to better support their community. They conveyed the heartbreaking stories — but also the remarkable courage and resilience — of the Crimean Tatar people who continue to speak out in support of a free and democratic Ukraine.

“We are unreserved in our condemnation of Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and are concerned by the deteriorating human rights in the Crimean peninsula under continued Russian occupation. Canada denounces the banning of the Mejlis, and expects Russia to reverse this illegal and immoral decision.

“Canada will continue to work closely with the Crimean Tatar community to find concrete ways to support and protect their human rights, and to address all ongoing human rights issues in Crimea,” she added.

James Bezan, Member of Parliament for Selkirk-Interlake-Eastman and Shadow Minister of National Defence, released the following statement regarding the 74th anniversary of the deportation of the Crimean Tatars:

“May 18 is a tragic day for all Crimean Tatar families. Seventy four years ago today, over 200,000 innocent people – the entire Crimean Tatar nation – were forcibly deported from their homes in Crimea to Central Asia and Siberia. Orchestrated by Joseph Stalin, this horrific act of genocide deprived the Crimean Tatars of their homeland, and sent them into exile for decades.

“Intentionally left without food, water or shelter by the Soviets, thousands perished due to severe malnutrition, disease and lack of medical assistance. The brutal Soviet regime banned survivors from speaking their language and passing their culture to their children. Despite this brutal oppression, the Crimean Tatars persevered in exile and resisted the Soviet regime long enough to see a return to Crimea, welcomed back by newly independent Ukraine.

“But once again, the Crimean Tatars face peril in their homeland. Today, the indigenous people of Crimea, together with Ukrainians and other ethnic groups face persecution and repression at the hands of Crimea’s illegal Russian occupiers. The Putin regime’s illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014 again presents a dire threat to the survival of the Crimean Tatars, who are once again denied their human rights and are targeted for their culture, religion and language.

“Canada’s Conservatives have always supported the Crimean Tatar people, as part of our principled stand in support of Ukraine. In 2016, Conservative M.P. Kerry Diotte introduced Bill C-306, which would have recognized the Crimean Tatar deportations as genocide. Sadly, the Trudeau Liberal government opposed recognizing the facts of this brutal chapter of history and voted against the bill.

“On behalf of the Official Opposition and Canada’s Conservatives, we stand united with Crimean Tatars against Russia’s persecution and illegal occupation. We remember alongside Crimean Tatars the survivors and descendants of those who were deported in 1944. We will never forget the victims of this horrible act of genocide. May their memory be eternal.”

In Ukraine a minute of silence was observed at noon on May 18 across the country – except in Crimea, which Russia seized in March 2014 after sending in troops and staging a referendum boycotted by many Crimean Tatars.

An RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Crimean capital, Symferopil, that the Russian-imposed police briefly detained dozens of Crimean Tatars who tried to commemorate victims of the deportation early in the morning.

Later in the day, several dozen Crimean Tatars held another commemoration event next to a stone erected in a park in Simferopol to honor the deportation victims. Dozens of riot police officers monitored the event.

In Kyiv, by contrast, bells at Orthodox Christian churches tolled for a minute to pay tribute to the victims of the deportation.

“The pain of the Crimean Tatar people is our common pain. It is the pain of tens of thousands of Crimean Tatars who never made it back to their native Crimea,” President Petro Poroshenko wrote on Facebook.

“We will never forget the cynical crime of the Soviet regime, the crime against an entire ethnic group, against humanity,” he wrote. “I am confident that these days’ criminals will also face punishment for occupation of the Crimean Peninsula, and the Ukrainian Crimea will be free again.”