Deportation of Crimean Tatars in 1944

The Soviet occupation regime deported people from Ukraine not only based on their economic status (“kulaks”), but also extracted ethnic groups. This article will touch upon the eviction of indigenous people living in Ukraine’s peninsula, Crimea, — Crimean Tatars (qirimli).

The Soviet Union’s deportation processes in Crimea were characterized by the communist regime’s efforts to forcibly change the ethnic landscape of the population. According to the ruling elite of the USSR, qirimli were a “harmful element of society” and should be expelled from their homeland as a punishment for their reluctance to “build a prosperous future of the USSR”. In the 1940-s, on the outbreak of the German-Soviet war, the Nazis occupied the Crimean Peninsula. The Soviet leadership blamed Crimean Tatars for this and accused them of deserting the Soviet army and of collaboration with the Nazi occupation authorities. Besides that, even those qirimli who served in the Soviet army were disgraced, first, based on their ethnicity, then, because of the Soviet military failure.

On April 22, in a report addressed to Lavrentiy Beria, Crimean Tatars were accused of mass desertion [1]. Later, on May 10, Lavrenty Beria repeated the previous accusations in a memo to Stalin, where he used these phrases: “The treasonous actions of the Crimean Tatars against the Soviet people” and even more insulting — “The Crimean Tatars have no desire to live on the outskirts of the Soviet Union [e.i. the Crimean Peninsula]” [2]. In this letter, Beria also formulated a proposal to deport the entire qirimli population to Uzbekistan [3]. Of course, his reasons to justify such a proposal  were a pack of lies aimed to expel as far as possible a whole ethnic group who opposed the communist regime. Ukrainian historians describe the reasons for the deportation of the Crimean Tatars as a massive repressive action against peoples whose individual representatives were accused by the Soviet authorities of collaborating with the German occupiers [4, p. 3].


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    Qirimli themselves describe this as a final result of the eternal irreconcilability between the Crimean Tatars and the Soviet (Russian) authorities. And World War II was the pretext for the final “cleansing” of Crimea from its indigenous people. [5, с. 110].

    On May 11, 1944, the State Defence Committee of the USSR adopted a decree No. 5859 on the deportation of Crimean Tatars from the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic to the Uzbek SSR. The Soviet authorities prepared for the deportation itself prudently. In addition to ideological justification, they involved a huge power resource for this purpose: 5 thousand operatives of the NKVD and NKGB of the USSR arrived in Crimea, while 20 thousand soldiers and officers of the NKVD internal troops were involved in the covert operation [6]. According to other sources, up to 32 thousand Soviet soldiers were involved in the deportation process, including NKVD officers and other security forces [7].



    The deportation process of Crimean Tatars officially began on May 18, 1944, but in some settlements of the peninsula, on the evening of May 17. Dilaver Ennanov, who as a boy was a victim of this forcible deportation, described it this way: “In the evening of May 17, 1944, many trucks appeared in Simferopol. At the same time, many, many soldiers appeared in the city. We, little boys, were running around the streets and counting. We would start and lose count. Could we imagine what they were for? The curfew had not been lifted in the city, so my mother and I went to bed early. Suddenly, in the middle of the night, there was a loud bang at the door. I woke up and saw an officer reading something on paper in an angry voice to my mother, who just opened the door. Two soldiers were standing in front of her. They were rushing and told us that we had 10 minutes to gather our belongings […] We were taken out of the house and into the yard. Our neighbours, also Crimean Tatars, were sitting with their belongings in the rain, surrounded by internal troops. We stayed with them until dawn. Cars came, and we were taken to the outskirts of the city, to the railway station […] I remember we were put in a double carriage No. 44. Tears, moans, screams — and the train started moving. When we crossed the border of Crimea, everyone in the train sang a song. They sang and cried, looking back” [6].


    Crimean Tatars are forcibly loaded into a freight wagon for deportation. Source: Ukrainian Institute of National Memory. https://uinp.gov.ua/ . [7]

    Crimean Tatars in soviet freight wagons preparing for deportation. Photo source: https://zmina.info/. [8]

    Usniye Cholpan, a Crimean Tatar, also recalled the terrible morning of May 18, 1944 in her testimony: “In the early morning, the Soviet soldiers broke into the house: ‘Get ready! You traitors are being evicted.’ Where? Why? Confused, frightened, not understanding what had happened, the little children Urmus, Leniye, Seitjelil, Sundus cried. First, I took the Quran, then the frying pan and jezve. When we were taken out, everyone was crying and screaming around us.” Together with others, they were put into train cars and taken to the Suren station (a railway station in the Bakhchisaray district of Crimea).

    On May 18, 1944, Beria, the People’s Commissar of the NKVD of the USSR, told Stalin and Molotov that 90 thousand Crimean Tatars were ready to be loaded into trains. The next day, a special contingent of 165 thousand people was gathered from all over the peninsula, of whom, 136412 were deported [9, 500].

    The Soviet soldiers forcibly loaded people into railroad trains. Usniye was travelling with her children and nephews. Her grandparents and a small child died on the road, just as many other qirimli. There was no way to bury the dead. During short stops, the children were let out of the cars and ran for water. Finally, qirimli were brought to Uzbekistan. Soon, like many other expellees, they fell ill with malaria and dysentery. Usniye was seriously ill, her family thought she wouldn’t survive [11].


    Usniye Cholpan, archive of Gulnara Bekirova. Source: Radio Liberty.[11]

    On May 20, 1944, Deputy People’s Commissar for Internal Affairs of the USSR I. Serov and Deputy People’s Commissar for State Security of the USSR B. Kobulov summarized the results of the operation in a report to the top party and state leadership: the deportation of Crimean Tatars was completed at 16:00, and 180 thousand people were resettled. Within three days, the punitive authorities sent more than 70 railroad trains from the peninsula, each with 50 cars filled to the brim with qirimli [9, 501]. On May 21 and 29, 1944, additional resolutions were adopted on new resettlements of Crimean Tatars to the Mari Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, Gorky, Ivanovo, Kostroma, Molotov, and Sverdlovsk regions of the RSFSR [6].

    Zera Batalova, a qirimli, described the terrible conditions of deportation, forced placement in freight cars: “On May 18, 1944, my mother Nuriye, her parents Medzhit and Fatma, sisters Biyan and Emina, as well as my mother’s cousin and daughter were deported. My brother Enver was at war at the time. He started looking for his relatives only in 1946… Everyone except my mother’s eldest sister ended up in the Urals, in the Komi Perm Autonomous Okrug.  My mother miraculously ended up with her family. But her sister Biyan was sent to Uzbekistan…

    My mother said that we spent at least three weeks on the road to the Urals. The train made stops only in the forest. Occasionally, we stood still for several days, but people were not allowed to leave the wagons. So, they were on the road for a very long time, lost in the days. When they arrived in the Urals, people were hungry. They were gnawing on tree bark. When they found out that potatoes were planted there last year, they went to those places and looked for them — last year’s frozen potatoes” [12].


    Zera Batalova’s grandfather Medzhit Haniyev, grandmother Fatma, uncle Enver, aunt Biyan and mother Nuriye, 1929. Source: ICTV Facts. [12].

    Deported qirimli were classified as special settlers, evicted for lifetime. The Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Court of the USSR “On Criminal Liability for Escape from Places of Compulsory Permanent Settlement of People Expelled to Remote Areas of the Soviet Union During the Patriotic War” of November 26, 1948, established a severe punishment for escape from a special settlement — 20 years of hard labour [6]. This exactly answers why qirimli didn’t travel back to Crimea.

    The regime of special settlements for the repressed peoples of Crimea was abolished only by the decrees of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet of March 27, 1956 (for Crimean Greeks, Bulgarians, Armenians) and April 28, 1956 (for Crimean Tatars) [13, p. 79]. Although the legislation of the highest governmental organ of the USSR provided for the release of special settlers from Crimea from administrative supervision, they completely deprived them of the right to compensation for property lost during the eviction and prohibited them from returning. This measure was formally in effect until 1974, but in fact until 1989 [6].

    The entire deportation process of Crimean Tatars, the forced mass expulsion of an entire ethnic group, and the subsequent impossibility of returning the survivors of this terror to the territory of Crimea was classified as genocide of qirimli. Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (adopted by UN General Assembly resolution 260 (III) of December 9, 1948) [12] states that an act of genocide is an act committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, any national, ethnic, racial or religious group as such. The Soviet authorities conducted a direct genocide of qirimli in 1944. This shows its criminal methods of submission to the communist dictatorship in one way — either by forcible subjugation or destruction of entire peoples. The demographic consequences of this are still felt until now.

    Vladyslav Havrylov, author
    Oleksii Havryliuk & Maksym Sushchuk, editors


    Sources & References:

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