While Moscow claims to be protecting ethnic Russians in the Ukraine, the minority of Tatars fear they will suffer as they did in 1944 when hundreds of thousands were deported by Stalin.
The Soviet leader claimed the Tatars, who have lived in the area since 1441, had cooperated with Nazis.
They were put on trains, just like Jews headed to the Holocaust, and sent deep into Russia. Many died on the trip, only a small fraction ever made it back to Crimea, the New Yorker reported.
It has taken seven decades for them to trickle back to the Crimea. Sounds like a Hollywood movie in the making.
The 70th anniversary of the deportation is in May, and it is on the minds of the estimated 300,000 Tatars who live in Crimea now. That forced exodus began with Stalin’s secret police tagging their homes.
Some in the Crimea claim it is happening again, even before the area becomes part of Russia, which seems inevitable. Houses of the mostly Sunni Muslims have been marked by unidentified masked men.
“Just as we thought we finally had a future. How could anyone do this in the 21st Century,” asked Ava Memtova.
Where will they go, in world tired of Muslims, if the worst occurs? Turkey, where other Tatars live, is overwhelmed by refugees from Syria.
Many are already trying to leave.
It won’t be easy to trample on their rights; they do make up 15 percent of the population. They have created their own representative body, the Qurultay, the Guardian wrote.
They were strong opponents of ousted President Yanukovych, chanting “Glory to the Ukraine” at protest rallies and were seen as Ukrainian patriots.
A Tatar organization, the Mejlis, briefly blocked pro-Russian forces from entering the regional parliament.
Russian delegations have met with them, but were unable to gain their trust. Reports have reached the area of the “Rustification” occurring in Muslim communities in Russia, where the Tartar language is being undermined, and Muslims are considered terrorists, Al Jazeera reports.
The Crimean Tatars know there are Quislings just across the border, ready to cooperate. The pro-Russian Tatars are known as the Kazany, and they claim to be treated well in the Russian Republic of Tatarstan.
There are millions of Muslims in Russia, and it would seem stupid for Russian President Putin to further ignite Sunni unrest.
Yet Putin has been willing to risk it, and has used overwhelming force to try to end it. Biographer Masha Gessen writes that the only thing post-Soviet rulers have had to offer Russia is to restore its standing as a super power. Efforts to raise their standard of living to Western standards, such as exist in the European Union, have largely failed. But they have succeeded enough to give them a taste of the good life.