Hundreds of Crimean Tatars gathered Saturday in Turkey’s capital to commemorate the 72nd anniversary of their deportation by the Soviet Union and the second anniversary of Crimea’s occupation.
The ‘mourning rally’ held in Anadolu Square in Ankara was called by the Crimean Tatars Organization Platform.
Spokesman Tuncer Kalkay said: “Today, Russia is repeating in the region the repression and persecution carried out 72 years before.”
On 18 May 1944, tens of thousands of Crimean Tatars were deported to Central Asia by Joseph Stalin’s Soviet regime, which accused them of having collaborated with occupying Nazi forces.
Around 180,000 people were deported to various regions within the Soviet territory, in particular Siberia and Uzbekistan. Almost half of the exiles, who endured long months of dire living conditions, are thought to have died of starvation and disease.
This 30-year exile continued until 1987, when the Soviet government allowed 2,300 Crimean Tatars to return to their homeland. Another 19,300 people followed in 1988.
Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in March 2014. Since then, the region’s Tatar minority has complained of repression, including arbitrary arrests and detentions.
The Crimean Tatar Mejlis was banned by the Supreme Court of Crimea in April as an “extremist organization” following a prosecution application lodged in February.
Kalkay vowed that Crimean Tatars would “continue to fight” against what he called “unjustified invasion” of Ukraine.
Ukrainian ambassador to Turkey, Sergiy Korsunsky, told the crowd he was still ashamed today “that we couldn’t prevent Crimea’s occupation”.
“But”, he continued, “the days when we will be together and end the occupation are close”.
Posters comparing Russian President Vladimir Putin to Adolf Hitler were seen at the mourning meeting in Ankara.
Messages from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu were also read out.
Various events are being held this week in Turkey and Ukraine in remembrance of the deportations.