It only took twenty-three years, a kind of revolution, threat of war, the loss of territorial integrity.
Today the Ukrainian government finally adopted a resolution recognising the Crimean Tatars as the indigenous people of Crimea.
It’s what the Crimean Tatars have been fighting for ever since Ukraine became independent in 1991. It means their rights are protected in Ukraine, their language and culture safeguarded, their governing body (the Mejlis) given legal status. A year ago, it would have opened the door to resolving many land disputes, establishing more Crimean Tatar schools, publishing text books, investigating and halting discrimination and abuse.
Now – it’s a gesture that came too late, and went almost unnoticed.
A month ago, before Russian forces appeared overnight in Crimea to protect, they said, the rights of Russians, Crimean Tatars would have celebrated. But I was in the Crimean Engineering and Pedagogical University in Simferopol today, a largely Crimean Tatar institution, and saw no one celebrating.
Instead I heard students saying they didn’t much want their degree to suddenly become Russian. They didn’t really want to have to get a Russian passport. I heard a teacher say “We’re in despair.” I heard a head of department, close to tears, saying:
“I can’t accept this. As a Crimean Tatar I simply can’t accept it. Like the Soviets came in May 1944 against a peaceful population, now the Russians have come here now and stirred up an unarmed population. They said they came here to protect, but protect from what? A peaceful population who understood each other.”
No one had much time for gestures of the Ukrainian government.
Enver, a Crimean Tatar who speaks beautiful Ukrainian, always did say “I love Ukraine, but Ukraine doesn’t love me.”
Now Ukraine loves the Crimean Tatars. But I’m afraid it’s because Ukraine has already lost the Crimean Tatars.