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Crimea: Myths and Memories

With the Brown Revolution running into a war of Russian resistance in the Crimea, the pleasant Peninsula, forgotten for two decades after the fall of the Soviet Union is all of the sudden at the top of all media headlines and is being discussed by talking heads on both sides of the Atlantic. As to be expected, the level of discourse ranges from thoughtless repetitions of "Crimea is an integral part of the Ukraine" to more nuanced pro-Maidan (read: anti-Russia) sentiments. 

The latter usually consist of sly observations that even though ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers make up an overwhelming majority of Crimea's citizens, the "indigenous" population of the Peninsula are Crimean Tatars. Many, if not most, Crimean Tatars, support either the Brown Revolution, or at least, Crimea's continued existence as part of Ukraine. Therefore, the pro-Maidan commentariat argues that Crimea should never be part of Russia. After all, the "indigenous" population wants to stay in Ukraine, so how dare do the Russian-speakers try to secede? 

The fact that in 1944, the Crimean Tatars were deported to Uzbekistan by Stalin (at the same time as the Chechens), also makes these "indigenous" Crimeans appealing to the West. And finally, the fact that they are Muslim, serves as a cherry on top of this politically-correct cake. Here is the perfect anti-Putin trump card: a Muslim people, previously victimized by Stalin (read: the Russians), who are "indigenous" to the Crimea, and many of whom support Ukrainian rule.

In reality, the Crimean Tatars are far from the indigenous population of Crimea.  They are relative newcomers to Crimea. The Peninsula was first conquered, ruled, and settled by the Cimmerians, Scythians, Greeks, Sarmatians, Huns (in that rough chronological order). Then, it became part of the Byzantine Empire and Justinian the Great built numerous fortresses on the Black Sea shores of the Peninsula. Later, Crimea switched hands between the Khazars and the Byzantines before the Khazar holdings were seized by new, rising Kievan Rus in the 10th Century. It was in Crimea, in Chersonesos (Korsun), that Vladimir the Great was baptized. That was centuries before any Tatar or Muslim presence in the Peninsula. Therefore, it can be convincingly argued that Pontic Greeks and Slavs, along with Karaite and Krymchak Jews (the communities that have its roots in Byzantine and Khazar times) are the real indigenous population of Crimea, not the Tatars. There was also a large Genoese presence (in Caffa for instance) years before the rise of the Crimean Tatars.

In fact, the Crimean Tatars only became a distinct nation in the middle of the 15th century on the ruins of the Golden Horde. After the collapse of the Horde's dominion over Crimea, the remnants of the Tatars became Turkicized and established the Crimean Khanate that was a protectorate of the Ottoman Empire. 

The Khanate was a slave market and trading outpost for the Ottomans, an aggressive entity that engaged in warfare against the surrounding Christians. From the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, the Crimean Khanate exported almost 2 million slaves from Russia and Poland-Lithuania. According to modern historians, in the sixteenth century, Poland alone lost about 20,000 people a year to Crimean Tatar slave raiders and "Both female and male slaves were often used for sexual purposes". 

But do not expect the mainstream media to bring up these uncomfortable facts when talking about the Crimean Tatars. Neither will they mention the Crimean Tatars' widespread collaboration with the Nazis, their current support for the jihad in Syria, and the de facto establishment of sharia law in some Crimean Tatar villages.

Eugene Girin

Eugene Girin is a New York-based attorney and commentator.

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