This essay traces the history of the Crimean peninsula, a region of considerable economic and political significance, and of the Crimean Tatars, the ethnic group native to the region. It begins with a discussion of the peninsula’s midthirteenth century conquest by a grandson of Genghis Khan, and its subsequent incorporation into the Golden Horde. Two centuries later, after many internecine struggles, it became the independent Khanate of Crimea. Conflicts with Genoese traders based on the peninsula led to an alliance between the Khanate and the Ottoman Empire, and to the establishment of the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire over the Khanate of Crimea. Conflicts with Muscovy, particularly for Kazan and Astrakhan, led to cycles of wining, claiming and losing control of those regions for two centuries. By 1654, Russia had become a power to be reckoned with in East Europe, but Russians only indirectly challenged Ottoman power in the Crimean regions until after its defeat in the second siege of Vienna. The Russians continued to pressure the Khanate, especially regarding independence from the Ottoman Empire, into the early decades of the eighteenth century. Subsequent revolts of the Crimean Tatars against the Russian-supported Khan provided a pretext for the Russians to annex the Crimea. An outcome of this action was the flight of tens of thousands of Tatars, as they were subjected to policies designed to systematically dispossess them, and force their migration in favor of non-Muslims. As a result of the migrations after the Crimean War, Tatars were reduced to a minority in their own homeland. For much of the next century, Tatars and the markers of their ethnic identity endured a period of slight acceptance and promises of rehabilitation, followed by ever-harsher restrictions, forced exile, and efforts to eradicate all traces of the Tatar Muslim heritage from the peninsula. This process culminated in the forcible deportation of all the Tatars on the peninsula in May 1944, on the pretext of their collaboration with the Germans. This was an operation that led to the death of a hundred thousand Tatars, almost half of those deported. The Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR), founded in the 1920s, was reduced to an oblast in 1946 and joined to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954. The severe restrictions imposed on the mobility of the Tatars in exile were lessened two years later, but permission to return to the Crimea remained difficult or impossible to obtain, even after a new national movement among the Tatars compelled the Soviet authorities to rehabilitate them. The Tatars began returning to the Crimea during the Gorbachev era of glasnost, but local authorities continued to hinder repatriation. The collapse of the Soviet Union saw the establishment of an Autonomous Republic of Crimea, but this government also excluded returning Tatars from its ranks of government. Following demonstrations by pro-Russian and pro-EU groups in early 2014, the pro-Russian parliament of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea declared its independence on 11 March 2014. Five days later, with a referendum largely boycotted by the Tatars, the Crimea joined the Russian Federation.
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Yazar M. Akif Kireçci