The Turkish president, who has always condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine, has more reason to condemn the Russian occupation of Crimea. Relations between Turkey and the peninsula are strong because the Tatars still live there. They had bad experiences with the Russian occupiers and would rather enjoy the autonomy they had under Ukraine.
Since the Russian invasion in 2014, they have been repressed and feel severely restricted in their freedom. Russia is detaining Tatar human rights activists in Crimea on terrorism charges and schools and teaching in their mother tongue, which is very similar to Turkish, have been banned.
The Tatars, mostly Sunni Muslims, are the descendants of the Turkic population that spread across Eurasia several centuries ago. There they formed the Empire of the Golden Horde, which was founded in 1236 and later disintegrated into smaller parts, including the so-called Crimean Khanate. In 1783, Russia annexed the peninsula, but the population remained mainly Crimean Tatars. However, during the Reign of Terror of the communist dictator Stalin, mass deportations occurred because, according to Stalin, the Crimean Tatars cooperated with the Nazis. About 100,000 Crimean Tatars were killed. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, many Tatars returned to Crimea.
Currently, there are more than 250,000 Tatars living on the peninsula. This makes them at least 10% of the population. They want to stay with Ukraine. The Crimean Tatar diaspora everywhere is demonstrating against the Russian occupation, as are the nearly five million Crimean Tatars living in Turkey and the many Crimean Tatars who are now fleeing to Turkey. Because of Turkish kinship, they become more easily eligible for a long-term residence permit.
Erdogan argues that the Crimean Tatars have gone through many horrors throughout history and want to live without the persecution of the Russian occupier.
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