Mr. Speaker, as vice-chair of the international human rights subcommittee, I rise on behalf of my caucus in support of this motion and to speak to its intent.
Determining which historical events should be considered genocide, rather than, say, a crime against humanity or a war crime, is not a clear-cut matter, and no agreed upon formal process exists. For atrocities that are committed during the present time, we have recourse to international courts and tribunals, but these bodies typically do not involve themselves in distant historical matters.
To prosecute present day crimes, investigators amass evidence, build cases against individuals, make formal charges, and interview potential witnesses. In effect, the formal machinery of justice is set in motion. Sadly, no such machinery exists for genocides that may have occurred in the past. The process in fact is entirely political.
As we know, when accusations of genocide are made, the details are often hotly disputed, particularly when dealing with an event in the distant past. Over time, partisans emerge, and wield oftentimes radically different versions of facts.
Parliaments get involved, bills are passed, and resolutions are supported, declaring a particular event to be a genocide. Curiously, this is often done without investigations being conducted or reports being tabled, or even without first establishing an agreed upon definition of genocide. What one needs to do is secure a vote. It is a curious process, when we think about it, yet genocide is a profoundly serious matter.
When we seek to designate a particular event as a genocide, we are compelled to exhaustively research the subject. We should consult the very best legal and historical experts available. We should carefully weigh all available evidence and testimony.
Genocides are such a grave matter that we, all of us, have a responsibility to the past and to the future to get it right. We have an obligation to the truth that should transcend present political considerations. One thing a debate about genocide should never be is a cynical political outreach tool by partisan interests to woo important demographics within someone's country.
Genocide is defined in article 2 of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”
We are debating the bill today due in large part to motivation on the part of the Parliament of Ukraine. In November of last year, the Ukrainian parliament recognized the mass deportation of the Crimean Tatars by the Soviet regime in1944 as a genocide, and established May 18 as an official day of commemoration. Subsequently, Kiev has been urging the parliaments of allied nations to adopt a similar official day of recognition. Here we are today.
While researching the bill, I noted that among mainstream independent historians, consensus does not exist at this time as to whether the events of 1944 constitute genocide. Let me be clear that what was done to the Tatars in Crimea in 1944 is a crime of abominable dimensions. Certainly the NDP will be supporting the bill.
My remarks should be interpreted more as a lament about process. It's a lament that we, the international community, do not have a less politicized way of determining what is and is not a genocide with respect to historical events. Parliaments are not the ideal places to determine such matters. This was in fact noted by Canada's current Minister of Foreign Affairs during another debate about genocide in this chamber last spring.
One curious thing I noted while reading the text of the bill is that it spends almost as much time enumerating the alleged crimes of the present day Russian Federation as it does those committed in 1944. In fact, much of the bill reads like an indictment of Vladimir Putin instead of Joseph Stalin, and this is unfortunate.
The scale of the forced expulsion of the Tatars of Crimea in 1944 was horrific, horrific enough to merit its own debate here. We should resist the urge to use a debate about a possible genocide that occurred in history as a pretext for a narrative against a regime we dislike in the present, no matter how awful that regime may be. The victims of 1944 deserve better. Their descendants deserve better. So let us take a moment and look at the history.
In April of 1944, Soviet forces regained control of Crimea from its German occupiers, who had controlled it for two and a half years. The re-conquest was hardly completed when the Crimean Tatars were deported en masse on the largely false accusation of having collectively collaborated with the Nazis. In a matter of three days, approximately 180,014 Crimean Tatars were deported from the peninsula. Adjusting for natural deaths, historian Michael Rywkin calculates that roughly 42,000 Crimean Tatars perished by May of 1949 as a result of the deportation. Other historians place the number considerably higher.
Social anthropologist, Greta Uehling, has stated this about Stalin's actions:
The systematic erasure of the Crimean Tatars was holistic in nature. Crimean Tatar place names were changed to Soviet ones; mosques were turned into movie theatres (or worse); homes, livestock and gardens were given away; and mention of Crimean Tatars was deleted or abbreviated in reference works. Crimean Tatars were not allowed to reside in, or speak of, their homeland. It wasn’t even possible to preserve a Crimean Tatar identity in personal documents.
Due to the sweeping nature of this ethnic cleansing, the remnants of the dispersed population are not considered a diaspora, but a population in exile.
In fact, the term sürgün is used by the Crimean Tatars to refer to the deportation. It means “expulsion” as well as “exil” in Turkish. By extension, sürgün refers to violent expulsion and the prolonged exile. Since 1944, the sürgün is at the centre of the Crimean Tatar's collective life and, consequently, central to their identity as Crimean Tatars.
In more recent times, the Tatars of the Crimea have almost uniformly opposed the Russian Federation's annexation of the Crimea in 2014. Since this time, according to Amnesty International, Crimean Tatars have faced repressive measures, from media outlets being shuttered, to activists being arrested, and disappeared. Tatars have not been allowed to publicly commemorate the day of remembrance of the deportation.
In April of this year, and confirmed by their court in September, Russia banned the Mejlis, the Crimean Tatar assembly, accusing it of extremism. As a result, anyone involved in one of the more than 250 local mejlis across Crimea risks arrest.
For Tatars, these circumstances are understandably associated with the events of 1944. Indeed, in the minds of Tatars of Crimea, a straight line can be drawn from today, all the way back to Catherine the Great's takeover of the peninsula in 1783.
Sadly, relations between the Crimean Tatars and the rest of Ukraine have been less than ideal through the years. One could even describe them as tense. It is striking to me that though the Ukraine was an independent state for 23 years prior to Russia's annexation of the Crimea in 2014, it made no effort over this time to formally recognize the 1944 ethnic cleansing as a genocide.
Better late than never, I suppose, because politics is politics.
To conclude, let me clearly stress once again: USSR dictator Joseph Stalin's forced expulsion of the Crimean Tatars in 1944 was one of the more heinous criminal acts committed during a century brimming with such crimes.
By my reading of article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, this—