By Satuk Bugra Kutlugun
Turkey on Friday remembered the deportation and ethnic cleansing of Crimean Tatars 74 years ago by the Soviet Union.
In a written statement, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hami Aksoy said that some 250,000 Crimean Tatar Turks were exiled thousands of kilometers away from their homeland on the night of May 17-18, 1944.
"Unfortunately, tens of thousands of Crimean Tatar Turks perished under the inhumane circumstances of this deportation," Aksoy said. "Many of them passed away in exile under harsh conditions. Today more than 100,000 Crimean Tatar Turks still live far from their homeland."
"On this occasion, we commemorate those who lost their lives during this exile and respectfully bow before their memory," Aksoy said.
He also marked the date of May 21, 1864, which is commemorated as the anniversary of the “Circassian Exile” tragedy.
"During the invasion of the Caucasus by Czarist Russia, hundreds of thousands of Caucasian people lost their lives. Many survivors were exiled from their homeland and had to take shelter in Anatolia. The pain of this tragedy is still alive," he said.
On May 18, 1944, tens of thousands of Crimean Tatars were deported to Central Asia by Joseph Stalin’s Soviet regime, which accused them of collaborating with occupying Nazi forces.
The Crimean Tatars were deported to various regions within Soviet territory, in particular Siberia and Uzbekistan. Almost half of the exiles, who endured long months of dire living conditions, are thought to have died of starvation and disease.
The exile continued until 1987, when the Soviet government allowed 2,300 Crimean Tatars to return to their homeland. Another 19,300 people followed in 1988.
Nearly 1.5 million Circassians were expelled from the region to the east of the Black Sea when it was overrun by Russia in 1864. Some 400,000-500,000 are believed to have died.
Most of the Circassian exiles were absorbed into the Ottoman Empire, settling as far away as present-day Jordan.