By Maria Traspaderne
Odesa, Ukraine, Mar 30 (EFE).- Throughout their history, Tatars, an ethnic minority native to the Ukrainian Crimean peninsula, have been suffering expulsions and deportations in a grappling conflict with their Russian rulers.
The most recent chapter of the Tatars’ history witnessed the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, while those living in mainland Ukraine are currently dealing with their share of the Russian aggression that started nearly five weeks ago.
Tatars are generally Muslim Turkic people, who have their own language that they used to write in Cyrillic before switching to Latin.
Despite having their own distinct culture, language and religion, Tatars share the same type of disdain toward Russian aggression as Ukrainians.
Tatars settled in Crimea somewhere around the 15th century before the Russian Empire annexed the peninsula in 1783 under the rule of Empress Catherine the Great, forcing the Tatars to flee their homes.
Despite their return, they suffered deportation at the hands of the Soviets in 1944, when the USSR State Defense Committee ordered their full expulsion to other areas of the Soviet Union, primarily to modern-day Uzbekistan.
The Russian occupation of Crimea in 2014 drove out many Tatars who were trying to avoid alleged abuses that have been denounced by the European Parliament and the United Nations.
According to the last census dating back to 1996, there were about 250,000 Tatars living in Crimea, a figure that has predictably increased in the following years but was significantly reduced after Russia invaded the strategic Black Sea peninsula.
Although many Tatars have already fled their peninsula to other parts of Ukraine, others are still clinging to their heritage, and both groups are set for a standoff with the Russian troops.
“I spent 20 years of my life wrestling. If they come, we are prepared for them,” Fevzi Mamutov, a European wrestling champion and leader of the Tatar community in Odesa, tells Efe.
Mamutov, who fled Crimea in 2014, says his parents named him Fevzi after his uncle, who died as a six-month-old infant in a train wagon during the Soviet deportations to Uzbekistan.
Mamutov was born in 1991 upon his family’s return to Crimea, while he works now in Odesa at a community center, weaving camouflage nets and cooking food for Ukrainian soldiers.
Denouncing the invasion, he said that Russian troops are holding Crimean Tatars as hostages in their homes while being searched; a behavior which he believes generates a destructive spiral of hate.
“Many Tatar children are suffering not only from feelings of fear but also hate. We know that hate is not a creative feeling, but a destructive one,” Mamutov explains, adding that the Russian presence in Crimea is creating future generations growing up with hate.
Before the onslaught, there were about 1,500 Tatars living in Odesa and about 20,000 in other parts of Ukraine, excluding Crimea.
However, Mamutov is not quite sure how many have left the country, but he is certain that many have decided to stay to fight.
“Many years ago, the Crimean Tatars already believed that Russia is a bubble created with lies,” Mamutov stresses, believing that Ukraine’s ceding the Crimean peninsula to Russia via an agreement is unreasonable.EFE