J. Otto Pohl Assistant Professor, Department of Social Sciences, American University of Iraq, Sulaiman, Iraq
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Stalinist ethnic cleansing of the Crimean Tatars from their homeland. On 18-20 May 1944, the Soviet NKVD (People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs) loaded up almost the entire Crimean Tatar population including old men, women, children, and even loyal communists and shipped them on unsanitary trains to Uzbekistan and the Urals. They then proceeded to erase the evidence of the several centuries the Crimean Tatars lived there from the Crimean peninsula. The Crimean Tatars themselves suffered incredible demographic losses as a result of a massive increase in premature deaths due to material deprivation in their new areas of settlement. In a few short years they lost over a fifth of their population. This series of actions meets all of the requirements set forth to constitute a case of genocide under the original definition of the term set forth by Raphael Lemkin and the subsequent 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide even if only a hand full of scholars currently use the term to describe what happened to the Crimean Tatars. But, regardless of the technical legal term used to characterize the deportation of the Crimean Tatars to Uzbekistan, it cannot be denied that the experience of removal, transport, and initial life in exile constituted a horrific infliction of suffering upon them by the Soviet government. This short article will provide a short narrative description of the 1944 deportation of the Crimean Tatars and its immediate consequences based upon archival documents from the State Archives of the Russian Federation (GARF). These documents obviously provide an official view of the deportation and the conditions suffered by the Crimean Tatars. Nevertheless, these documents provide significant important information on the subject. They cannot completely hide or whitewash the reality of the deportation and its horrific consequences. Thus while flawed these sources are very useful building blocks in constructing a clearer and more accurate narrative of recent Crimean Tatar history.