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Paul Robert Magocsi, University of Toronto


        A leading publisher in Istanbul, Yapi Kredi Yayinlari, has recently released what is probably the first scholarly book about Ukraine in the Turkish language. The book in question is This Blessed Land: Crimea and the Crimean Tatars, by Professor Paul Robert Magocsi, Chair of Ukrainian Studies at the University of Toronto. This Blessed Land, which first appeared in 2014 in three separate English-, Russian-, and Ukrainian-language editions, is now available to readers in Ukraine’s strategically important neighbor to the south—Turkey. What follows is Professor Magocsi’s new preface written specially for the Turkish edition.

        This Blessed Land is a book about Crimea, a territory that for centuries has been closely linked to Turkey, in particular to its historic predecessor, the Ottoman Empire. The book first appeared at a very inauspicious time, the spring of 2014. In February of that year, the Russian Federation headed by President Vladimir Putin forcibly annexed Crimea. Russia’s act, condemned by the international community, was part of a larger policy aimed at destabilizing Ukraine in the hope of bringing it back within Russia’s larger geopolitical sphere that covers much of Eurasia.

        There were, indeed, certain elements in Crimea itself, who were pro-Russian in orientation and who welcomed Putin’s actions. But there were many who were opposed, in particular the region’s Crimean Tatar and ethnic Ukrainian inhabitants. Both those Crimean peoples have paid dearly for their opposition.

        Since February 2014, tens of thousands of ethnic Ukrainians have fled north and now live as refugees in various parts of Ukraine. The region’s Crimean Tatars, who were exiled en masse in 1944 and who struggled so hard to return home in the 1990s, were not about to leave their homeland once again. While most have stayed in Crimea and are trying to accommodate as best they can to the Russian regime, their political and civic leaders have suffered for their beliefs. The Crimean Tatar national assembly (Kurultay) and its executive organ (Mejlis) were forcibly closed, its leading figures including Mustafa Dzhemilev and Refat Chubarov were barred from returning to Crimea, and many of the Crimean Tatar civic and media activists who opposed Russian rule have been arrested. In several cases, they have simply disappeared. Most Crimean Tatar language schools, newspapers, and other media outlets have been shut down by the new Russian authorities.

        President Putin and his government’s spokespersons explained to the world their version of the February 2014 annexation. Crimea “is a historic Russian land” that was only temporarily part of Ukraine until in 2014 it was rightly returned to its original owner—Russia. Perhaps not surprisingly, many world leaders and the international media accepted Russia’s explanation for the annexation. But how valid is that explanation?

        The historic record reveals clearly that Crimea was first annexed in 1783 by what was then the Russian Empire. It was to remain part of that empire and its Soviet successor state until 1954; that is, for a period of 170 years. Since 1954, Crimea has been part of Ukraine; that is for 60 years. But the longest period of rule in Crimea was from the mid-fifteenth to late eighteenth centuries; that is, roughly 330 years, when it was part of the Crimean Khanate. The Crimean Khanate was ruled by the ancestors of the Crimean Tatars as a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire.

        As for the population of Crimea, it was initially never Russian, nor for that matter even Slavic. The age-old farthest extent of Slavic settlement was the Ros River, which is only about 100 kilometers south of Kyiv. This means that the Slavs, including Russians, cannot be considered the indigenous inhabitants of the Ukrainian steppe and certainly not of Crimea. Russians, and to a lesser extent Ukrainians, began to settle in Crimea only from the outset of the nineteenth century. Therefore, pride of place as the population which has lived longest in Crimea goes to the Crimean Tatars. If politicians, journalists, and scholarly commentators must resort to using a sound bite, the appropriate one is: “Crimea—the historic land of the Crimean Tatars.”

        Hopefully, this book will help Turkish readers understand better the context of their own country’s historic geopolitical sphere: the Black Sea and all the lands that surround it. Among the lands in that sphere are not only Crimea but the rest of the country to which Crimea, on geographic and political grounds, most naturally belongs—Ukraine.

        Turkey is home to millions of people whose ancestors trace their Tatar roots to Crimea. For centuries,  Turkey  had  helped Crimean Tatars whenever they were forced by the Russian and Soviet authorities to leave their homeland. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Turkey was able to assist cultural and educational activity among Crimean Tatars in  Crimea itself. All this was possible as long as Crimea was part of Ukraine. Crimean-Turkish relations will surely once again become possible, but only when the  internationally  illegal   Russian occupation comes to an end.






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