Writers, librarians and intellectuals were supposed to be gathering in Simferopol today for an annual conference dedicated to Crimean Tatar poet Bekir Coban-Zade. The  author of a book published in Lithuania about Crimean Tatar history, newly arrived from Moscow, was expecting to receive a literary prize.

Instead the Crimean Ministry of Culture decided the conference had to be cancelled, because of the May 16 decree from head of the Russian-backed Crimean government Sergei Aksyonov banning all mass public events until June 6.

The reason Aksyonov gave was the current unrest in South-east Ukraine, and fear of ‘provocation’, that favourite Crimean word of the last 3 months.

Aksyonov’s (and presumably Russia’s) government clearly considers the Crimean Tatars very provoking indeed, since it banned not only today’s conference but 70th anniversary commemorations of the deportation of the Crimean Tatars on Sunday 18th. It even bussed in hundreds of Russian OMON (riot police) to make sure the ban was enforced on Sunday.

Meanwhile today an international festival of Cossack culture in Crimea is going ahead despite the ban. With all respect to the Ukrainian Zaporizhya Cossacks, I can hardly believe the Crimean culture ministry that a celebration of a culture developed for war, and (in the form of Cossacks from Krasnodar) behind the ‘self-defence brigades’ that have been harrassing Crimeans they consider disloyal to Russia since March, can be called non-provocative.

The Cossack festival is not affected by the ban, says the culture ministry, because all events will be held inside buildings. The ministry is unable to explain how the building in which the conference was to be held somehow differs in its level of provocation.

Oh, and if anyone was wondering why Aksyonov’s ban on public events lasts until June 6 – it’s because after this a festival celebrating the Russian word is due to begin in Crimea.

I find I cannot leave the last word with the ‘Russian word’. Instead I will leave it with Bekir Coban-Zade, Crimean Tatar poet, professor and linguist, executed in 1937 by Soviet authorities for alleged nationalist and terrorist activities. I expect that word ‘provocation’ featured heavily in the accusations against him.

Hey, swallow, swallow! Spread your wings wide!
If you get caught by the enemy on the ground,
You may be deprived of a homeland, like the Tatar!
Sorrowful people, great people! People with stunted lungs!
 I was born amidst you, I am one of you. I am a weed in your                                                                                                              garden,
I am a weed in your garden.

From Kollar Demir, Bas Emen, Budapest, 1919



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A novel about the Crimean Tatars' return to their homeland

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