November 25th, 2016-Toronto, Ontario
The Russian Congress of Canada appeals to the Canadian Parliament to reject Private Member’s Bill C-306, An Act to establish a Crimean Tatar Deportation (“Sürgünlik”) Memorial Day and to recognize the mass deportation of the Crimean Tatars in 1944 as an act of genocide, introduced by Mr. Kerry Diotte, MP for Edmonton-Griesbach.
In his presentation of this bill, Mr. Diotte said that he has a “clear, irrefutable evidence of a genocide, planned and executed by Stalin’s regime in 1944, one that did not truly end until the Soviet Union collapsed” and further he continues that “we know very well what is happening to Crimean Tatars today in illegally occupied Crimea at the hands of Putin”.
The deportation of Crimean Tatars by the Soviet government was inhumane indeed. However, precedents of a similar nature occurred in Canada and the USA under the war-time legislation. Canada deported ethnic Ukrainians and ethnic Germans into internment camps during World War I. During the Second World War the Canadian government forcibly relocated all Japanese in British Columbia, confiscating all their property but personal possessions. German Canadians and Japanese Canadians were also interned. According to modern research, around 40 internment camps in Canada held an estimated 30,000 to 35,000 prisoners. As recently as 1981 Solicitor General of Canada was authorized to create civilian internment camps during wartime.
While deportation of the Crimean Tatars was undoubtedly a tragedy, it falls in the same line of wartime government-sponsored abuses of ethnic minorities as the internment of Ukrainians in Canada during World War I or the American and Canadian citizens of Japanese descent during World War II. Calling it genocide is a gross misrepresentation, which diminishes and dilutes the meaning of the word, trivializes it, and therefore takes away from genuine genocidal horrors, such as the Holocaust or the decimation of the Armenian minority by the Ottoman Turks.
Genocide is defined in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG) as:
‘Any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group’ (Article 2 CPPCG).
Deportation of Crimean Tatars fits this description in the same way as Canada’s treatment of Aboriginal children if one wants to capitalize on history in pursuit of specific political goals. 150 000 children First Nation, Inuit and Métis children were removed from their communities and forced to attend the Christian schools, where children were taken from their families, forbidden to speak their native languages, and subjected to physical and mental abuses. This forceful assimilation into Christian European values and culture led to the rupture of family and generational links, to the loss of Aboriginal languages and culture. Is it not a genocide, if one wanted to make a case for it? However, this politically and emotionally charged word is not used in the political discourse of the Canadian government when the issue of residential schools is discussed.
Holocaust and Armenian genocides are the two internationally recognized cases of genocide. 6 million Jews, two-thirds of all Jews who had resided in Europe, were killed by Nazis in a deliberate extermination campaign. 1.5 million Armenians were systematically killed by the Ottoman authorities in 1915.
Deportation of Crimean Tatars cannot be compared to these horrible crimes, neither in intention nor in scale. According to research, from the time of deportation in May of 1944 to October 1, 1948, forty-five thousand people died in Uzbekistan and other places. This number includes not only Tatars but also Greeks, Armenians, and other nationalities. They died not in deportation, but in the post-war famine of 1946-1947, and of natural mortality, like all Soviet citizens.
Close to 200,000 Crimean Tatars were deported to Central Asia in 1944. By 1970 the number of Crimean Tatars in the USSR amounted to 833,000 people. Only 250,000 Crimean Tatars chose to return to Crimea by 1996 from their place of residence in the former USSR.
Mass involuntary resettlement of the Crimean Tatars to Central Asia in 1944 undoubtedly represented human rights violation and a form of collective punishment. At the same time, some historians claim that it helped prevent extrajudicial reprisals that soldiers of the advancing Red Army could enact toward the minority whose members actively collaborated with the Nazis. No less than 20,000 Crimean Tatars volunteered to serve in German-led military units. Many of those took part in the extermination of the civilian Russian population on the Nazi-occupied territories. According to German Field Marshall Erich von Manstein “…the majority of the Tatar population of the Crimea was very friendly to us.”
Clearly, not every Crimean Tatar was pro-Nazi. However, the Red Army could not afford to keep a largely sympathetic to the enemy population in its rear at a time when the war was still raging. Calling Crimean Tatars’ forced relocation a “genocide” is about as correct as saying that the temporary internment of the Japanese Americans and Canadians of Japanese descent was genocidal in its intent and execution.
It needs to be taken into consideration that USSR and later Russia made several important steps to recognize the fact of atrocities committed in the times of Joseph Stalin.
In 1967 the Supreme Soviet of the USSR ruled that deportation of certain individuals was unfounded, and allowed Crimean Tatars to return to the peninsula. The Soviet Union also condemned the deportation as “illegal and criminal” in 1989. In 1991, the Supreme Soviet of Russia officially established October 30th as the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Political Repressions which includes the commemoration of nations and ethnic groups that were collectively punished by the Soviet Government for alleged collaboration with the enemy during World War II.
In 2014 the new government of Crimea started a series of commemorative events to remember the 1944 forcible deportation of Crimean Tatars that includes work on a new memorial site worth 400 million rubles (US$6 million) in total.
Incidentally, while it was Mikhail Gorbachev who initiated the process of rehabilitation for Tatars, it was Vladimir Putin who ultimately signed the decree into law in April 2014 after Crimea’s reunification with Russia. Also, Law No. 1107-1 of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic of 26 April 1991 on the rehabilitation of repressed peoples and Law No. 1761-1 of the Russian Federation of 18 October 1991 on the rehabilitation of victims of political repression were extended to the Crimean Tatars in full measure.
The Russian government along with the regional government in Crimea have been working to establish a fully-fledged national and cultural autonomy for the Crimean Tatar people. In 2014 the Crimean Parliament adopted a decree on ‘Guarantee of restoration of rights of the Crimean Tatars and their integration into the Crimean society.’
The Crimean Tatar language was recognized as a State language of the Republic of Crimea alongside Russian and Ukrainian. The Crimean Federal District authorities make arrangements each year for the Crimean Muslims to perform the hajj. It is indicative that the vast majority of the Crimean Tatars, or more than 230,000 people, chose to remain in the Russia-administered Crimea after the reunification with Russia.
The forcible deportation of Crimean Tatars was a terrible crime. It was part of a pattern of sectarian outrages committed under Stalin’s leadership. However, to try to link it to modern politics is completely disingenuous. Russia is not the USSR, just as the USSR was not Russia. Yet even the Stalinist campaign of collective punishment of the Crimean Tatars does not qualify as a campaign “to destroy, in whole or in part, an identifiable national, ethnical, racial, or religious group,” as defined in Article 2 of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
Focusing on the protection of collective rights of the Crimean Tatars in Crimea today, we should equally encourage the Government of Ukraine to stop the war on Ukrainian citizens of ethnic Russian descent in eastern parts of the country. Only the even-handed approach to human rights abuses around the world would help us restore the Canadian moral leadership globally, as well as domestically.
For 25 years, since Ukraine became an independent state, Ukrainian authorities prevented many important problems from being solved, let alone the issue of political rehabilitation of Crimean Tatars.Ukrainian government adopted the law recognizing the deportation of Crimean Tatars as a genocide for purely political reasons. Why did not Ukraine pass such a law during 25 years, since Ukraine became an independent state? This fact clearly does not fit into an idealistic picture of the Ukrainian government, protector of rights of ethnic minorities that Ukrainian politicians promote abroad with the help of Ukrainian Diaspora. Several international organizations noted the Ukrainian state neglect of the needs of Crimean Tatars, such as the absence of a law that would settle ownership disputes between returning Tatars that claimed their property and current owners of that property, or poor housing conditions of Crimean Tatars. The absence of a clear legislation led to interethnic tensions in Crimea. The Ukrainian government did not recognize local self-governing bodies of the Crimean Tatars and did not create mechanisms which would include Tatars in the elected bodies.
What Canada should learn from tragic events like the deportation of Crimean Tatars, is the importance to remember the past and prevent similar acts of terror in the future. But we should do it by using our own history, remembering that Canada’s own First Nations were subject to genocidal policies of the government, including the use of starvation to make way for the Western expansion of European settlers. We should remember and mark the days when Germans, Austrians, Japanese, and Ukrainians were deported to the internment camps run by the Canadian government. Crimean Tatars are not part of the Canadian history.
Crimes of the Soviet past, including the deportation of Crimean Tatars, were properly assessed and condemned by both the Russian Federation and Ukraine. To draw parallels between the 1944 and 2014 and between Stalin’s Soviet Union and the modern Russian Federation is factually erroneous and politically unwarranted. Canada should not give into the lobbying efforts of moral entrepreneurs who distort the history in the name of political gains of the present. History should be a source of lessons to learn how not to repeat atrocities, not to fuel conflicts. The history of any nation, including Canada, has dark pages. We should study it carefully and objectively to understand what happened, not to ignite a new war.
To conclude, we appeal to the Canadian parliament to reject Bill C-306 for the lack of evidence of genocide intent, and treat it as an attempt of political outreach by partisan interests.
President of the Russian Congress of Canada