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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Crimean Tatars in Ukraine

View Group Chronology

Ukraine Facts
Area:    603,700 sq. km.
Capital:    Kiev
Total Population:    52,000,000 (source: unknown, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

Crimean Tatars exhibit four of the five factors that encourage rebellion: persistent protest; territorial concentration; high levels of group organization and cohesion; and recent regime instability during the Orange Revolution of November 2004 - January 2005. Crimean Tatar protest will likely remain at fairly high levels because key political and economic grievances are not being addressed by the regional or central government. While most returnees from Central Asia have now received citizenship, contention remains concerning issues such as provision of land, housing, and jobs. The political contest between Crimean Russians and Crimean Tatars over who controls the governance of the peninsula is also likely to continue through the coming years.

The highest risk for violence in Crimea is between ethnic Russian and Tatar groups. Limited incidents of violence between these groups have occurred sporadically in recent years. With the increase of the Tatar population, these incidences are likely to increase, barring more vigorous intervention by the central government or other actors.


Analytic Summary

Concentrated on the Crimean Peninsula (GROUPCON = 3), the Crimean Tatars differ from the majority Ukrainians racially, religiously, and linguistically. The Crimean Tatars are a Turkic people, whereas the majority Ukrainians are primarily a Slavic people (RACE = 1). Additionally, Crimean Tatars are predominantly Sunni Muslims, while Ukrainians are primarily Orthodox Christian (BELIEF = 2). Though group members speak primarily Crimean Tatar, many Crimean Tatars also likely speak Russian given its status as the main language of communication, business, and education in Crimea (LANG = 1).

The ancestors of today’s Crimean Tatars began settling the northern plains of the peninsula in the mid-13th century. These settlers were Seljuk and Orguz Turkish clans who remained behind after the Mongol invasions of the steppes. The Crimea formed an independent state for the first time in the 1440s under Haci Giray Khan. Shortly after this (in the 1470s), the Ottomans invaded and brought the peninsula into the Ottoman domain. The sultans set Crimea up as an autonomous state under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire; the amount of autonomy exercised by the Crimean Tatars during this period is a matter of debate. Throughout the 10th to 17th centuries, Crimean Tatars raided Polish, Ukrainian, and Russian towns.

By the end of the 17th century, Russia had come to the forefront of major powers in the region and began to challenge the Ottomans for control of the Black Sea region. In the spring of 1771, Russia began what would end up being a long, bloody path to the eventual annexation of Crimea in 1783. From 1772 to 1783 (when Russian conquest of the peninsula was completed), Crimea was again an independent state, though dependent on a major power for its security (AUTLOST = 1).

This period saw the beginnings of Russian and non-Russian Slavic colonization of the peninsula. While the colonization was small-scale, soon the population balance would begin to shift significantly due to other forces. From 1783 to 1854, there were small-scale Tatar emigrations to parts of the Ottoman Empire. However, following the Crimean War of 1854-1855, Russian policy was designed to encourage Tatars to leave. The Crimean Tatars were accused of having collaborated with the English and French during the war. Fear of Russian anger over their loss in the war and economic deprivation caused a major exodus of Tatars. The pre-war population of Tatars was estimated at 150,000; by 1860 there are estimated to have been fewer than 100,000 remaining. At that point they were still a majority, and the 1926 census counts 186,024 persons speaking the Tatar language. In 1944, Stalin expelled Crimean Tatar populations to Central Asia, as punishment for supposed Tatar collaboration with the Germans. These expulsions decimated Tatar populations; the 1989 census counted only 89,600 Tatars in the Ukraine.

Prior to the deportation, Crimean Tatars primarily resided in the southern resort areas and in urban centers. Small-scale resettlement began after 1967, but because of the high demand on the resort areas of the Crimea, the Crimean Tatars were forced to settle mainly in the steppe regions. Crimean Tatar protests in the USSR also began in this period, as they began agitating for the right to return to the Crimea (PROT60X = 1; PROT65X = 3). Crimean Tatar protests continued throughout the duration of Soviet rule (PROT70X, PROT80X = 2; PROT85X = 3) and have remained at a consistently high level since Ukrainian independence (PROT 90X, PROT98X = 3; PROT99-00 = 4; PROT01-03 = 3; PROT04-06 = 4).

The return of the Crimean Tatars has created many problems. A massive influx of Crimean Tatars from Uzbekistan has led to an overcrowding of limited housing and greater pressure on formerly Tatar lands that are now occupied by other groups. Further, poor health relative to other groups in Ukraine continues to plague the Crimean Tatars. The economic situation of Crimea and Ukraine has had difficulty supporting this influx, and sufficient funds have not been made available for effective resettlement. In 2006, only 90% of Tatar settlements had electricity, 70% water, and 25% paved roads. However, in May of that year, the Cabinet of Ministers approved a five-year, $130 million assistance program for returning Tatars (ECDIS04-06 = 1). On the political front, the 1997 amendment to the Citizenship Law waived some of the usual residence and language requirements for returning deportees, thus expediting the acquisition of citizenship by Crimean Tatars. Specifically, it allows deported Crimean Tatars to acquire citizenship without the mandatory 5-year term of residence in Ukraine and without proficiency in the Ukrainian language. The Citizenship Law was further amended in 1999 to allow deportees and their descendents who have lived in Ukraine for at least 5 years to acquire citizenship automatically without having to renounce any foreign citizenship (POLDIS04-06 = 1).

Ethnic Russians in Crimea have consistently raised concerns about the returning Crimean Tatars, objecting to privileges such as special access to housing or quotas for political representation. One result has been violence between the two groups. Intercommunal conflict between these two groups has remained largely at the level of political agitation, though in recent years sporadic violence has occurred (INTERCON04-06 = 1). Specifically, during January-May 2004 and July-August 2006, hundreds of Crimean Tatars and Crimean Russians clashed over land issues, leaving several injured and at least one Russian man dead.

The organization that primarily represents Crimean Tatar demands is Majilis, the self-styled parliament of the Crimean Tatars (GOJPA04-06 = 2). In terms of grievances, Crimean Tatar leaders continued to call for changes in electoral laws that would enable them to achieve greater representation in the Crimean parliament, while some elements of the Crimean Tatar community call for national Crimean Tatar autonomy (POLGR04-06 = 3). In the economic domain, Crimean Tatar leaders continued to complain that Tatars returning from exile receive inadequate assistance for resettlement from the national government (ECGR = 2). Crimean Tatar leaders also continued to demand that the Crimean Tatar language be given equal status to Russian in Crimea (CULGR04-06 = 1).

In the long run, the situation of the Crimean Tatars in Ukraine will depend to a large degree on the economic situation in the country, so that economic funds can be freed up to better their living conditions without taking resources away from Russians and Ukrainians, and on the political leadership in Kiev and Simferopol.



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Information current as of December 31, 2006