Ukraine’s Crimea

Peter Goldring for New Pathway, Edmonton.

Certainly Ukraine’s Crimean people have suffered greatly under many past regimes of Russia and then Nazi Germany and continue to suffer today once again under invader Russia’s Totalitarian military rule. It is difficult to pick out one particular horrendous event out of the many over hundreds of years as being more sinister that the other.

Return of Soviet Russian rule of Crimea for the third time in the previous 200 years came with the Russian revolution of 1917. In 1920, some 50,000 to 100,000 real or suspected Crimean opponents to Soviet rule were murdered, many in brutal fashion of decapitation and quartering.

In 1928-1929, collectivization of land by the Soviets understandably produced dissenters who wanted to keep their land and possessions. The Soviet solution was a process known as dekulakization where between 35,000 to 40,000 Crimean farmers were deported to Soviet Central Asia.

By 1941/42 the now Nazi occupiers of Crimea had deported 85,000 Crimeans to German territory as forced slave laborers and outright murdered another 130,000 Crimeans, both Slav and Tatars.

On May 18, 1944, one week after the Soviet Russians retook Crimea, they began a 3 day period of deporting 185,000 Crimean Tartars to Soviet Union. In June 1944, the Soviet Russians further deported 10,000 Crimean Armenians, 13,000 Crimean Bulgarians, 16,000 Crimean Greeks to Soviet Kazakhstan.

In total, some 300,000 Crimeans were deported in 1944 effectively ethnically cleansing Crimea, but, was it a genocidal act as was the Holocaust and the Holodomor where tens of millions were exterminated-killed-murdered?

Tatars gather in great numbers with Ukraine’s religious leaders and other concerned citizens once a year on May 18 to remember the tyranny of past historical totalitarianism, to remember the victims, at monuments throughout Ukraine.

In 2006, as Chair of the Canada-Ukraine Committee consisting that year of 145 MP’s and Senators, I hosted the visit of Crimean Tartar Member of Parliament Mustafa Dzhemilev. We discussed, as an all Party Committee, his community’s challenges in the Crimea of Ukraine. While having many concerns, recognizing the Crimean Tatar deportation as genocide was not one of them.

In mid-December 2013, I travelled to Ukraine on my own nickel to see for myself the “Euromaidan”. I was impressed by the unity of Ukraine demonstrated by the languages spoken – Ukrainian and Russian – in Independence Square and by the many flags both Ukrainian and the tri-color of Crimea being flown.

While in Kherson for 30 days in May 2014, I met several times with Tatar businessman and community leader, Mr. Ibragim Sureymanov, who very clearly detailed his community’s concerns but never mentioned genocide. He invited me to attend a solemn ceremony on May 18 at the Totalitarian Monument dedicated to the Victims of Totalitarianism, a commemoration of the totalitarian Nazi tyranny deportations and occupation and the Totalitarian Soviet Union deportations.

While the Tatars are majority Muslim in faith in Ukraine’s Crimea, there also is a significant religious faction of Ukrainian Orthodoxy, both Moscow Patriarch and Kyivan Patriarch. All faiths religious leaders – Muslim, Orthodox, Catholic, Jewish, along with hundreds of Ukrainians were in attendance at the memorial event in Kherson on May 18.

While in Istanbul, Turkey in January 2015, I met with Mr. Celal Icten, community leader of Tartars in Turkey. He put numbers to the population at some 240,000 Tatars living in Crimea, 180,000 Tatars still living in Uzbekistan and upwards of 3,000,000 Tatars living in Turkey.

While he, as spokesperson for the Turkish Tatar community, had many concerns for the occupation of Crimea by the Russians, he did not refer to the deportations over the years as genocide.

Perhaps because genocidal inferences by Parliament and Assemblies are sometimes difficult to assess correctness of labelling such as in the turn of the 19th century conflict between Turkey and Armenia. Perhaps Turkish citizenry, Tatar and otherwise, are right in their hesitancy to label unclear tragedies.

The other side of the issue of genocidal recognition should be of great concern for Ukraine. It took years and years for Canada to ever accept the reality that the Holodmor, the famine in Ukraine, was a genocide.

Even my own speaking out in Parliament calling the forced famine in Ukraine a genocide, which is on permanent record in Hansard, first in 1999 and repeating 3-4 times was hopefully a part of the impetus to finally having a Bill passed for full recognition by the Government of Canada as a genocide in 2008. In fact, I was the first Member of Parliament in the Parliament of Canada to call Holodomor a genocide in a Standing Order statement I made in the House of Commons in 1999.

But internationally it still was being debated. In 2008 I was in Kazakhstan at the OSCE Annual Meeting of 56 countries including Russia. Russia attacked Ukraine’s resolution declaring the Holodomor a genocide. I stood on my chair, defending Ukraine’s resolution with the growing backing of many other countries. We defeated Russia’s attempts to water Ukraine’s resolution to that of a failure of nature. Ukraine’s resolution passed in its entirety. There is still much more stand up still to be done on this issue nationally and internationally.

Genocide – is defined in dictionaries as the mass extermination of human beings especially of a particular race.

Certainly the Holodomor more than qualifies as a Genocide.

The Holodomor, the Genocide in Ukraine resulted in some 8 million people murdered by Stalin through forced starvation on land so fertility rich for crop growing it was considered the Breadbasket of Europe. In my visit to Poltava, I saw the deep rich soil, which I commented to locals as similar to Northern Alberta’s Smoky Lake region, rich soil impossible to have failed crops causing local starvation.

I believe that rather than recognizing the Tatar deportations from Crimea as a genocide, in keeping with the Tatar’s recognition of the act itself, we should reinforce their commitment and resolve to remember the act as a very solemn gathering annually at the monument to the Victims of Totalitarianism and join with them as I have in our collective resolve of “Never Again”.

As an aside of some note, the planned Monument in Ottawa for the Victims of Communism might better be renamed the Monument to the Victims of Totalitarianism in keeping with Ukraine’s monuments for a very good reason – Russia is no longer considered to be Communist.

The Holodomor – the Genocide in Ukraine by Russia’s Stalin must be the very clear expedience for Ukrainians supported by all caring people as it is not yet universally recognized because forces against prevail and our own education system in Canada demure in textbook inclusion. While we certainly will remember the atrocities against Crimea’s Tatars, not just in 1944 but over hundreds of years before, we must not lose our focus on expounding upon the Holodomor Genocide by Stalin in Ukraine.

Peter Goldring is a former MP (Edmonton East), 1997-2015