Mr. Speaker, Crimea's seductive beauty has enchanted visitors over the centuries. It is also the ancestral home of the Crimean Tatars. As blessed as Crimea is in natural beauty, tragic has been the history of its indigenous peoples, the Crimean Tatars.
The Crimean Tatars evolved from an amalgam of tribes who have lived in Crimea since time immemorial. The indigenous people of the peninsula came to be known as Tats, a term to describe converts to Islam not of pure Turkic descent. The Tats were the dominant demographic grouping of the peninsula, and along with the neighbouring Nogai Steppe Tatars, they evolved into the ethnicity of the Crimean Tatars.
A Crimean Tatar polity emerged on the maps of Europe as a formal state in 1449, the Crimean Tatar Khanate. Why these ethnographical and historical facts are of such importance is that President Putin's justification for the most recent Russian military invasion and annexation of Crimea is based on a false narrative that Crimea is historically Russian.
The correct historical narrative is that once again Crimean Tatars are suffering ethnically targeted arbitrary arrests, torture, and disappearances as a consequence of Kremlin imperialism. The current repression of Crimean Tatars has been documented by numerous international human rights organizations, such as the Crimean Human Rights Group and the Human Rights Information Centre in their joint report "Peninsula of Fear."
How did Putin's Kremlin arrive at its false narrative that Crimea is historically Russian land with Crimean Tatars an inconvenient reality, a reality to be dealt with by policies that echo Tsarist and Soviet policy?
In 1449 when the indigenous peoples of Crimea formed their state, the Crimean Tatar Khanate, the borders of Russia's predecessor state, the Principality of Muscovy, were over 1,000 kilometres distant. In 1783, 340 years later, the Russian empire invaded and annexed Crimea for the first time. So began Russian occupation of Crimea, which continued for 160 years until 1954. Notably, Crimean Tatars formed 80% of the peninsula's population during the first 100 years of occupation. Russia's 160-year occupation was a period of multiple ethnic cleansings, culminating with the Qara Kün, the Black Day of 1944.
Following the annexation of Crimea, among other atrocities, Catherine the Great deported all of the Christian Crimean Tatars to die in the frozen steppes. This was followed by mass deportations of Muslim Crimean Tatars to Turkey in 1812, 1855, the 1860s, the 1880s, and in 1918. Notwithstanding those deportations, at the beginning of the 20th century, the Crimean Tatars continued to constitute the largest ethnicity of Crimea.
Towards the conclusion of World War II, Stalin, a sequential practitioner of genocide, decided to eliminate the Crimean Tatars once and for all. It was a time when the infamous phrase net naroda, net problema, or “no man, no problem", was frequently invoked.
A number of nations have a self-image defined by genocidal horror: the Armenians by the Meds Yeghern, the Ukrainians by the Holodomor, the Jews by the Shoah, and the Crimean Tatars by the Sürgünlik.
Soon after midnight in the early hours of May 18, 1944, the terror began throughout Crimea. Units of the 32,000 strong NKVD special force rounded up the deportees. They were loaded onto truck convoys, taken to Simferopol and Bakhchysaray and then reloaded onto cattle cars for transport to the Central Asian steppes.
Crimean Tatars who lived in mountainous regions inaccessible to NKVD trucks were found and shot. The inhabitants of the Arabat Spit, a group of inaccessible fishing villages, were herded onto a barge that was then sailed into the Azov Sea and scuttled. A nearby boat with Soviet machine gunners made sure that no one survived.
Within three days, there were no more Crimean Tatars, or as Communist officials in Moscow stated at the time, they had "created a new Crimea according to Russian order." Crimean Tatar books were burned. All Crimean Tatar towns and villages were given Russian names, Muslim cemeteries and mosques razed. Even the Great Soviet Encyclopedia removed and erased the Crimean Tatars from history.
Crimea was cleansed of over 200,000 Tatars. Over the next four weeks, a procession of lingering death of thousands of railway cars crammed with people travelled 4,000 kilometres across the scorching steppes of Central Asia. The Crimeans called them “crematoria on wheels”. They died of suffocation, hunger, and thirst. Along the railroad tracks, a trail of decomposing bodies. Close to 30,000 of the human cargo perished. Approximately half subsequently died in the Central Asian steppe due to hunger and disease, far from the prying eyes of the world.
As he had with the genocidal famine of Ukrainian peasants in 1932-33, Stalin created the physical preconditions for the elimination of a people.
I will now turn my attention to determining whether the Sürgünlik constitutes genocide.
Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jew born in eastern Europe in the epicentre of the 20th century's blood lands, coined the word genocide based on its study of and exposure to the horrors of the Armenian genocide, the Holodomor, and the Holocaust. He dedicated his life's work to seeing the passage of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide on January 12, 1951.
Not only did Lemkin coin the term, he defined it, and the definition became article 2 of the convention. The convention's intent is clear from its title, structure, and articles. It is not meant to make legal findings of genocide; it is meant to prevent and punish.
It should be underscored that Lemkin was part of the American team that prepared the Nuremberg trials where the term “genocide”, although not a legal term, was included as a condemnation in the indictment against the Nazi leadership. Determinations of genocide can be made by tribunals, parliaments, and governments based upon Lemkin's definition. Courts, on the other hand, can make legal findings of personal guilt of the crime of genocide.
The Sürgünlik matched Lemkin's definition. It could not be clearer. The article reads “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such “(a) Killing members of the group”. One needs only to record the scuttling of the boat with the villagers of the Arabat Spit on board, or the hunting down of Crimean Tatar shepherds in the mountains. The article continues, “(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group”. One needs only to note the mass confiscation of property and deportation. Finally, “(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”.
Let us break clause (c) into its component parts. Was Stalin's action deliberate? It was, in fact, a special operation that was premeditated, meticulously planned, and executed by specially assembled forces of his NKVD. Were the conditions calculated to bring about the physical destruction, in whole or in part, of the Crimean Tatars? One need only to recite the recollections of Russian eyewitnesses and the horrific statistics of death both in raw numbers and percentages. Ninety thousand died, which was almost 50% of the population.
According to Lemkin's definition, a determination of genocide needs only one of the article's determinants of genocide to be met. The Sürgünlik meets not one but three of Lemkin's determinants. In fact, it was not only a plan for the destruction of the Crimean Tatars as a people, it was meant to erase that they had ever existed in Crimea: Genocide as well as historical ethnocide, which brings us to the present day.
Putin's military invasion and annexation of Crimea on the basis of false claims of ethnic Russian grievances and false historic land claims has broken the fundamental international principle of the sanctity of borders. We have not seen such actions in Europe since the 1930s.
Today in occupied Crimea, the oppressed and targeted Crimean Tatars, the victims of a Stalinist genocide, see large Stalin portraits officially on parade during Kremlin holidays. Putin has embarked on a policy of imperial expansion into neighbouring countries and the rehabilitation of the cult of Stalin. Seductively beautiful Crimea has truly become a “Peninsula of Fear” for the indigenous people of this “Blessed Land”.
I firmly support our government's policy of engagement. However, we must be vigilant to ensure that diplomacy does not slip into policies of appeasement. Engagement requires speaking truth to malevolent power and not fearing to speak the truth about the Kremlin's current international crimes against humanity.
We must not deny the Kremlin's past crimes against humanity. Speaking the truth of the past strengthens us in confronting current evil, which brings us to the legislation before us.
Genocide was committed against the Crimean Tatars. We must not deny it.
[Member spoke Ukrainian]
Slava Krymskym Tataram. Slava Ukraini.