Letter to the editor,
It was with great interest that I read an article entitled "Building a new Crimea" written by Maria Beat and published in your newspaper. Needless to say that knowing this charming lady in person I have the pleasure of being an admirer of her comments and columns which, in general, largely correspond to my own views and thoughts. Nevertheless, I find it necessary to elaborate in more detail and clarity upon some highly delicate historic problems raised in the article.
Let me start by saying that I more than welcome your newspaper's finding a way to present to your readers the achievements of the "new Crimea." Indeed, Maria's article is quite explicit about facts and figures – i.e. on what the Crimean Tatars did not have before 2014 and what they have got now, such as the registration of property rights, legalization of illegal dwellings, use and teaching of their language, construction of mosques, etc. This is really something your readers have the full right to know as the other side of the "occupation" story if they insist on using this term (we in Russia prefer the word "return" – in analogy of Hatay returning to Turkey in 1939).
Yes, there are often two sides of the story ("two sides of a myth," as I called it a year ago in an article graciously published in your newspaper). And in most cases it is very important to know them both – just to stay objective. But staying objective and fair means knowing what really happened better than it is presented, going far beyond myths and legends.
So when we decide to write about painful episodes of our common history (and the deportation of Crimean Tatars in 1944 is definitely one of them), we should be very accurate with facts and figures, double checking all the data we come across. Sometimes when the figures don't match or we don't know them for sure, wouldn't it be better to provide naked data from both sides and let the reader make conclusions?
I mean precisely the following. I wonder how speculations about "423,000 Crimean Tatars expelled" which were widely spread in the last few days in Turkish media correlate with the results of the general census of 1939 according to which only 218,179 Crimean Tatars lived on the peninsula at that time? And how can we explain the figures submitted to Stalin by the NKVD (in those days the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the USSR) on the total number of deported Crimean Tatars being 180,014? The same report cites weapons confiscated: 49 mortars, 622 machine guns, 724 submachine guns and 9888 riffles. Peaceful and bona fide citizens?
Okay, the NKVD were bad guys but their calculations were based on the transportation and food needs of the deportees and thereby should be taken into account. And, by the way, lying to Stalin was a rather dangerous thing. So, while giving the number of those unable to bear the transportation as several thousands wouldn't it be appropriate to mention the official data presented by the NKVD stating that only 191 persons died during transportation to Central Asia? To what extent this number is objective we don't know. However, if we give other numbers wouldn't it be fair to provide the official statistics as well?
And another thing: Being attentive to the sufferings of our kin, we must always remember the pain of others. Crying for Myanmar, we cry for Raqqa, al-Hawl and Rukban. Expressing our solidarity with the victims of Auschwitz, Sobibor and Treblinka, we cannot forget the children of Deir Yassin, Sabra and Shatila. This is our common past (and sometimes present) and common pain. So depicting what happened to the Crimean Tatars in exile and in Stalin's camps, we must remember that they were there together with thousands and thousands of their brothers-in-sorrow from other nationalities – Russians, Uzbeks, Jews and many, many others. They were all victims of the regime which existed in this part of the world. And deploring the children who fell victims to deportation we should keep in our minds the tens of thousands of women and children of Russia, Lithuania, Poland and other nations of Eastern Europe who were taken prisoners in the 17th-18th centuries by the ancestors of the nowadays Crimean Tatars and met a terrible death on the way to the slave markets of Caffa and other ports of Crimea.
Another painful issue in Maria's article: Crimean Tatars collaborating with the Nazis. It is not about "a regular salary and food ration, grapes and tobacco," it is about cruelty of the SS Battalion 152, largely consisting of Crimean Tatar staff which was directly involved in the torture and mass slaughter of the thousands of non-Crimean Tatar population and Red Army soldiers in the concentration camp "Krasny," near the city of Simferopol.
By the way, while deliberating on deportation wouldn't it be "politically correct" to make a casual remark that it was not Stalin's "know-how" and recall the deportation of tens of thousands of Japanese in the U.S. in reaction to the Pearl Harbor tragedy during World War II? These are confirmed historical facts and it would be appropriate at least to mention them – just out of objectivity.
Maria is right: "Not every page of Russian history is glorious." Most regretfully, the same can be said in relation to any other country, any other nation. Various countries and peoples of these countries do really have their own horrible pages of history that are impossible to be proud of. As a proverb says, "The one who shoots inside the history with a gun, gets back a cannonball." So forgetting about objectivity and rubbing salt on other's wounds is actually the same as living in a glass house, throwing stones into the dark depth of centuries and carelessly not expecting to get back a cannonball from the past.
And one more proverb, an old Russian one: "Let bygones be bygones" or "Dwell on the past and lose one eye, forget the past and lose both eyes." The meaning is evident: We all must remember our past whatever it be, we all must take lessons from it, and do it well. But we should not exploit the painful pages of history to satisfy present-day conjectural needs and narrow-minded political calculations.
All this being spelled out, I largely count on your assistance, dear Mr. Altay, in bringing these modest considerations of mine to the kind attention of your newspaper's readers.
Looking forward to our future close cooperation,
Aleksei Erkhov, Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the Republic of Turkey