Sorrows of the Sürgünlik

By Ambassador Callista L. Gingrich

For nearly two months, Russia’s war on Ukraine has taken the lives of thousands of innocent victims, upended the livelihoods of millions, and placed the nation’s sovereignty at dire risk. Reports of mass grave sites, unspeakable violence against civilians, and the emergence of so-called “filtration camps” evoke brutality reminiscent of the Stalin era.

The Ukrainian people have waged a defiant and remarkable resistance, which President Vladimir Putin was not expecting. As Ukraine wages an existential struggle for its survival, the Crimean Tatars, an indigenous Muslim ethnic group who are no strangers to Russian oppression and brutality, have pledged their support for Ukraine.

The formation and emergence of the Crimean Tatars as a unique people took place over the course of four centuries, beginning with the arrival of the Kipchaks in the 11th century and followed by the Mongol conquest of Crimea in the 13th century. The Mongol Golden Horde, or Kipchak Khanate, was established by the grandson of Genghis Khan and included Crimea and Russia. After its disintegration in the 15th century, the Crimean Khanate was established and ruled by the Tatars of the Crimea.

More than 300 years later, in 1783—the same year that America formally won its independence from the British—the Russian Empire annexed Crimea. In the period following the invasion between 1784 and 1790, nearly 300,000 Crimean Tatars, about one-third of their population, fled for the Ottoman Empire.