Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure and an honour to rise today to speak to Bill C-306. I have to thank my colleague, the member for Edmonton Griesbach for his hard work and research on the bill, and for the hard work that he has done with the Tatar community across Canada, and indeed even in Crimea.
It is unfortunate that these horrific events have occurred in history, but I think it is the responsibility of us as parliamentarians today to recognize these human rights abuses, to recognize these genocides, and to commit ourselves as parliamentarians to making sure that we are on the record in condemning those actions.
One of the greatest speakers to ever grace a Westminster parliament was Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who said that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
What we are doing in Bill C-306 today is looking at the atrocities that were committed and perpetrated by Joseph Stalin, NKVD, the Soviet Union, and all of their thugs in orchestrating this genocide against the Crimean people, but also relating it to how history is repeating itself today in the Crimean peninsula under the leadership of Vladimir Putin as he tries to systematically degrade and reduce the ethnicity of the indigenous people of Crimea, the Tatars.
I have had many opportunities to travel to Ukraine. I have had many opportunities to meet these great people, here in Canada and in Ukraine. The Tatars are just some of the gentlest, most beautiful people members could ever speak to. They represent no threat to anyone. They cherish what they have, yet through history, especially under Russian and Soviet rule, have been targeted and murdered through various acts carried out by Russia or the Soviet Union.
If we just want to look at what happened under Joseph Stalin and his Communist regime, it does not only include what happened in 1944. Shortly after the Bolshevik revolution, the Soviets denounced and refused to recognize the independent Republic of Crimea, of the Tatars. They then went out of their way to start using food as a weapon.
I am quite proud of the fact that this Parliament unanimously supported my private member's bill in 2008 to recognize the famine of 1932-33 in Ukraine and other areas of the Soviet Union, the Holodomor, as a genocide, and that we would have the last Saturday of every November as the national Holodomor Memorial Day.
It is very important that we recognize the fact that there was more than just the famine of 1932-33. There was the famine of 1920-21, 1932-33, and there was another one that was conducted around 1954. In the first two cases, the Holodomor of 1920-21 and 1932-33, the Crimean Tatars were targeted. They suffered greatly. In the Holodomor of 1932-33, where we saw roughly seven million people in and around Ukraine starve to death in about 15 months, what we witnessed on the peninsula and what has been clearly documented is that half the Crimean Tatar population were starved to death.
Their homes were raided and invaded. All their food stocks, all their farming livestock, all their produce that they had, anything that they had canned or put into storage was taken out of their homes, out of their villages, and they were forced to starve to death. It was a forced famine.
Let us move on to where we are today, looking at what happened in 1944. The mass deportation occurred in a time span of two days, when 32,000 NKVD agents of the Soviet Union loaded up every man, woman, and child and confiscated all their property. They put them into cattle cars, onto trains, and onto barges and deported them to gulags in Uzbekistan. More than 100,000 of them, almost 50%, starved on that journey. The rest were forced to work in forced labour camps in the gulags in Uzbekistan.
By every definition, that constitutes a genocide. Historians have written about this as being ethnic cleansing. This was targeted against the indigenous people of Crimea. They were targeted based on their religion. As was already noted in speeches today, the Russians took over their mosques and converted them into theatres. They took all their homes and handed them over to those who were faithful to the Bolsheviks and the Communist empire. Ultimately, what we have is a genocide.
Raphael Lemkin, the individual who coined the term “genocide”, lived through and witnessed the Holocaust, where he lost 49 of his own family. He witnessed the Holodomor and spoke about the Holodomor at great length and the Russification of the Ukrainian people, which was exactly what was happening in Crimea. That helped inform his opinion on what constitutes a genocide.
Raphael Lemkin, who was a Russian subject before the Holocaust, got out of Poland and with some family members in Lithuania was able to get to Sweden, and ultimately to America.
In article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 1948, as authored by Lemkin, it says genocide is “killing”. There are different ways to look at it. It is being targeted because of one's “national, ethnical, racial, or religious group”.
We are talking about the Tatars. Their religion is Muslim. They were very much a minority based on their religion. Their ethnicity, being the indigenous people, was Tatar, and again, they were the minority in the region.
There are five main things.
Killing members of the group;
Well, they killed half of them.
Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
Picking up everybody, throwing them onto trains and barges, and moving them to Uzbekistan is causing mental and physical harm, especially when they were starved along way and their physical conditions were greatly diminished.
Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
That definitely was done by the Soviet Union.
There are two other parts, but as long as one of those five sections is met, and in this case, three out of the five are met, no one should question whether this was a genocide perpetrated by the Soviet Union.
We have to recognize the fact that history is repeating itself today in Crimea. What we see from Vladimir Putin and the Russian regime is a little more sensibility, as they have not gone out and just started shooting Tatars on the street, but many of them have actually had to leave the country, and as was mentioned, the leader of the Crimean people, Mustafa Dzhemilev, who is a member of parliament in Ukraine and who has been the president of the organization for the Crimeans there, has been forced into exile. We have seen that, also, with Refat Chubarov and other Crimean leaders.
The Russians went in and the first thing they did was shut down freedom of the press by shutting down the papers and radio stations. Then they shut down their political ability to work together at the Meijles, their parliament. That was closed. Then the Russians made sure that they could no longer even go to their mosques to gather.
There is no freedom of association, no freedom of political affiliation, and no freedom of religion.
We need to recognize that Vladimir Putin is trying, again, to repeat history. As Winston Churchill said, we have to make sure that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. This is our opportunity to take a stand and make sure that we keep Russia in check and do not appease them. We have to stand up for the people of Crimea and the people of Ukraine.