Andrew Wilson writes: Russia may be tightening its grip on Crimea, with little resistance to date, but they have yet to face the Crimean Tatar factor.
There are 266,000 Crimean Tatars in Crimea, over 13% of the local population. They are Sunni Muslim, traditionally pro-Ukrainian, and much better organised than the local Ukrainians, who make up 23% of the population.
A quick look at history tells you why: Stalin deported the Crimean Tatars en masse to Central Asia in 1944, and half of them died during or after the journey. They were only able to return after 1989; by which time their homes had gone and their culture had been erased.
The Crimean Tatars are still economically marginalised, with constant tensions over land-squatting and ‘irregular constructions’ (shanty towns).
But Crimea is their only home. Turkey hosts a large diaspora; but the peninsula was home to the Crimean Tatar Khanate from 1441 to 1783. The roots of Christianity in Crimea go back more than a thousand years; but the idea of Crimea as an ancient outpost of Orthodox Christianity is really only 160 years old, dating back to a programme of church-building to replace local mosques after the Crimean war of 1853-56. [Continue reading…]