Crimea, Great Patriotic War, Russia, USSR

Why does the truth about the war still cause us to quarrel with the Crimean Tatars? Part 1

Original: Komsomolskaya Pravda
Translated by Alexander Fedotov


The KP [Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda – trans.] commentator Galina Sapozhnikova {GS} went to the Crimea to see why the premiere of the film about Stalin’s deportations turned into a political scandal in Simferopol.

He was thin and terribly laconic – this, compressed like a spring, man in a suit and a tie, behind whom loomed the Russian flag.

His desk was almost empty – only a pile of papers, left for the late working hours, and a pair of plastic toy soldiers as amulets. But they have not brought good luck to him – the Consul General of the Russian Federation in Crimea, Vladimir Andreev was departing after a scandal and, therefore, refused to be interviewed.

He allowed to record exactly three sentences: “My grandfather, Ivan Terentievich Batygin,was an air force general killed at Lutsk. My grandmother, an air force captain, also used to fly, and was one of the “Night Witches”. It is a taboo for my generation to make peace with someone in my lifetime”.

It sounded like a death sentence.

That was a sentence to the policy of silencing all uncomfortable questions we have inherited from the USSR. The policy that turned out to be a mine that could blow up the situation even after a few decades.

Tatar gambit

Recall the essence: at the end of May [2013 – trans.] Simferopol hosted a magnificent premiere of the film about deportation of the Crimean Tatars. The story is quite tragic because of the fact that one-tenth of the Crimean Tatar people were convicted of collaboration with the German occupiers. Stalin and Beria decided to punish them all. 18 May 1944 194,410 people (from existing 220 thousand at the time), including the families of those who did not betray anyone but rather served in the Red Army, were loaded into freight wagons and sent to Uzbekistan. Was it a crime? Of course! It was repeatedly recognised even by the Soviet power in 1967 and 1991.


When the country began to completely fall apart, the Crimean Tatars were pulled back to their homeland. But, in contrast to the Baltic countries, no one was thinking to return houses to their former owners. Looking ahead, I will say that the issue with the land Crimean Tatars somehow sorted out themselves. They captured lots of land in some places and built houses with their own money. And now there are more of them in the Crimea than it was before the war – 270 thousand. The famous poem of the poet Boris Chichibabin (“How unseemly Crimea is without Tatars!”) is no longer relevant. The Tatars came back and brought a special flavour to the Crimean life, filling it with forgotten aroma of chebureks [Crimean Tatar’s dumplings – trans.] and thin arrows of minarets. Local residents initially treated this with caution, but then found that there is nothing tragic in the return of one of the Crimean indigenous peoples to their ancestral lands. Tatars are hard-working and hospitable. It is nice to be friends with them and to deal with. All people follow that. They eat at their cafes, ride on their minibuses, buy their vegetables, without ever mentioning mass collaboration in which they were once accused.

In war as in war

And now, 69 years since the deportation, Crimean Tatar TV channel ATR produced and released the first widescreen film Haytarma (translated as Return), the main character of which was Amet-khan Sultan, who was awarded twice Hero of the Soviet Union. Yes! He was a person of incredible scale! He was a test pilot and air adventurer who shot down 49 German airplanes. He had his own special style. He threw himself at the enemy from above, as if they were prey. Because of it, the Air Force commander of the South-Western Front, Air Force Colonel General Timofey Khriukin even allowed him to draw an eagle on the side of his plane.


18 May 1944 Amet-khan Sultan arrived on a vacation for a few days at his parents’ home in Alupka [a small town in the Crimea – trans.] and witnessed the mass deportation. He managed to save his family: parents and the sister, but not the whole nation. How could he then continue fighting and reach Berlin is the question…

Imprinting the name of such a man into the history is a noble cause. That is what the Crimean Tatars did, having produced the film with the money from the Russian businessman Lenur Islyamov, a native Tatar. Advertising was provided. “They were expelled from the Crimea. We remember …”, a tragic voice breaks into the frivolous Crimean life. Disciples and colleagues of Amet-khan Sultan were invited to the premiere from Moscow. After the war he worked in Zhukovsky as a test pilot. A few respectable people, generals wearing pants with stripes, arrived, sincerely thinking they were going to continue celebrating the Victory Day. In a couple of hours before the premiere the Russian Consul Vladimir Andreev invited them to his office and said literally the following (I quote the words of the director of the Amet-khan Sultan museum Mustafa Mustafayev, who was also present at the meeting – GS): “Do you know that the people you’ve come to, all without exception sided with the fascist regime, and that the Crimean Tartar battalions were brutally killing our parents? The film is nationalistic. It distorted the history of the Second World War”.

The guests took a look at the invitations and saw what was actually written in them: “The first film in the history of the Crimean Tatar people about the deportation”. Four of the eight invited, made excuses and refused to go to the premiere.

The next day the Consul gave television channel ATR an interview that exploded Crimean information space:

” Russia could not be represented at the premiere of the film distorting the truth about the Great Patriotic War. If it was a serial film, in which 17 of 20 series were about the feat of the Soviet people and the Soviet soldiers, the legendary pilots, 2 series were about the collaboration of the Crimean Tatars with the fascist invaders and the last one was about the deportation, the tragedy and the state crime committed by the Soviet leadership, I would have come and watched all 20 episodes… Write it down and show it to any Crimean Tatar”. So a journalist did by compiling the acid concentrate from his most severe sentences. In war as in war. Perhaps, everyone in her place would have done the same. But … do you know, in which form, I found how the interview was retold among the people? Here it is: “the Consul said, that the right thing was done when the Tatars were evicted. He supported Stalin …”


Crimean Tatar rally yelling “Andreev – fascist” gathered at the Consulate General. A poster, on which the Consul was depicted alongside Stalin and Beria, was publicly burned. The result was a bright TV screenshot. Ratings of both the film and TV channel had increased a lot. The situation was resolved unexpectedly: Russian Foreign Ministry recalled the Consul to Moscow and issued a statement in which they noted Andreev’s wording as incorrect. The outcome: Crimean Tatars celebrate the victory, the Crimean Russians evasively say: ”To be honest, we think in the same way as the Consul, but will not stand up for him because he is a very much disputed person”. The film is being successfully demonstrated all over the Crimea. The reaction of people was identical: all came out of the session with moist eyes. Asking them, if this deportation affected their families in particular, was silly because it affected all without exceptions.


“Thank you for watching the film”, politely thanked me Tatar boy about ten years old. There were really not much Russians in the cinema hall.

I came to watch it for the second time to check the perception I felt after the first time.

So, here is the story. On one hand, there are absolutely harmless Tatars. They dance, sing, cry and nobly do not leave the old grandmother, although the soldiers shouted them: “You’d be better off taking the food!”.

Excellent work of the cameraman. Mountains, over which, like a bumblebee, aircraft is circling. The dance. A girl’s skirt is like a spinning top. Excellent performance of the main character (Amet-khan Sultan was played by the film’s director Ahtem Seytablaev). The crowd is another story. The producers invited for the roles of the exiled those who were in fact exiled! And thousands of people were patiently coming to be filmed every night. It would be hard even for young people to withstand such a test again. However, the old men did! One frame touched me to tears. In the general confusion an old man drags a sewing machine on his shoulder. It turned out it was the one, which his mother managed to grab at the last moment and which saved them from starvation in Uzbekistan! “Crimean Tatars! Traitors and accomplices of the fascist invaders”, NKVD [The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs was a law enforcement agency of the Soviet Union – trans.] officer is shouting into a megaphone.  …Tatars are humbly crying.

They are beautiful, innocent, generous and naive people, who a few hours before the future expulsion raised their glasses for “the father of all people”. There is really not a word in the film about the fact that 20 thousand of Crimean Tatars (it is the fact, despite how many people may try to challenge it, ascertained via German documents – GS) were serving in the Wehrmacht and fought against the partisans. It tells a different story as one wonderful girl, for example, baked bread for partisans and another girl heroically led a herd of horses to the mountains and saved them.

And in contrast to all this spiritual beauty there is a detachment of rabid paranoiacs of the NKVD with twitching eyes who every now and then make ” bang-bang”, because their happiness is in shooting more people and crossing out a cardboard folder with the red pencil as if they performed piecework. For example, the elders come to the officer and say: “We will not go anywhere, you will have to kill us here”. “You ought to know where it is the best”, he responds almost laughing. Bang-bang… There is no sympathy even towards the only normal NKVD officer, who eventually saved the family of Amet-khan. You are dreaming, soaking in the general mood of hall, for him to vanish quickly.

Spiritual propaganda

Now about the things that got me personally. Not hackneyed clichés of the movie “Wag the Dog”: sad children’s eyes in the window, soaked by the rain, or a girl who has lost her mother, or the chorus of women, children and the elderly, who in response to the violence sing a sad folk song. Everyone has read Gene Sharp, the theorist of “colour” revolutions. Thank God, the director had the sense not to force the deported to give any flowers to the soldiers. Otherwise, that would be an exact copy of any Taksim (Taksim Square is the place in Istanbul, where in May 2013 bloody clashes happened between protesters and Turkish police – trans.) or Maidan. A hint can be read without any decoding. Another frame: SMERSH [(acronym of “death to spies” in Russian) counter-intelligence agencies in the Red Army formed in late 1942 – trans.] officer grabs and drags somewhere a sheep. That is a cliché from another time – from August, 2008. Remember Georgian stories that Russian soldiers allegedly were stealing “strategic lavatories” in Gori and Poti… And that was what did wind me up: a row of machine gunners stand legs wide apart and set a shepherd dog on a girl. It was also a cliché… from my childhood. That was how SS was represented in Soviet films…

I tested myself once again. For a few days I recorded folk stories about the deportation. I almost cried. I went back to the cinema to look at the screen through the eyes of others. The effect was the same, it did not even vanish after the absolutely shrill finale. Amet-khan Sultan hastens up to the empty railway station in the hope of pulling out of the wagon his beloved, but he is too late. He kneels down and freezes on the ground like a stump… The film-makers said exactly what they wanted to say.

The audience in the hall do not get up for a long time while reading the captions: “More than 30 thousand Crimean Tatars participated in the Great Patriotic War, defending the homeland. Seven of them were awarded the title of the Hero of the Soviet Union. During the raid 18 – 20 May entire population of the Crimean Tatar people were expelled from Crimea to Central Asia, Siberia and the Urals – 194,110 people according to the official figures”. And then people at the exit buy badges and magnets “I am a Crimean Tatar man!” and “I am a Crimean Tatar woman!” and stickers for mobile phones with now clearly understood by every Crimean word “Haytarma”. If a party or movement had been created, “Haytarma” would have been a password. As a proclamation. As a signal. So wait for an order…

So what? There are plenty cinematic distortions in Russia too. In the landscape of classic films about the Great Patriotic War a couple drops of tar like “Bastards” [Сволочи] and “Penal military unit” [Штрафбат] does not make any difference. In this case it turns out to be a distortion as there is only one film, which, by definition, is destined to become a cult classic. But, on the other hand, who cares what is going on in the minds of one of the former USSR nation representatives.

That is, of course, propaganda, but spiritual propaganda, and seeing how the Stalin deportation looked in reality is useful to all. In the end, it is real absurdity to evict the whole nation in one night by the standards of any age: either of that time or today. Even though the example was given by Americans who drove 120 thousand Japanese [including 80000 of Americans of Japanese ancestry – trans.] from the West coast during World War II. The US Supreme Court, by the way, confirmed then the constitutionality of the action, stating: “A restriction of the civil rights of a racial group is permissible if required by a “public necessity”.

Public necessity of the XXI century requires that any injustice is called genocide and any nation, who suffered from it, is a victim. Let’s try to understand why?


“I, personally, liked the film. It was not the most important to show a hero or a heroism of an individual who fought for the Soviet power, but to see the meanness of this power, its position and attitude towards their own citizens or towards one of the nations living in the country”, says Ilmi Umerov, the chairman of Bakhchisaray district administration. And he adds: “I do not think that this film could injure any representatives of other nations. Only those who are nostalgic for that regime may be offended,” he said as he struck with a whip. By his logic, it turns out that we with the actor and director Vladimir Kosov are sitting at the cafe and missing Beria and Stalin, because our senses are still affected. Vladimir was too offered to act in this film as many Crimean actors, but he refused, even though the role was an “honorable” one – to play a German. He was lucky as one of his friends would urinate from the freight wagon on the heads of people who were being put in them … It seems that no people wishing to make an acting career in such a way were found in the Crimea, because there is no such a scene in this film. Though it definitely was in the script.

“Thank God I did not participated”, Vladimir says now: “In Crimea, we are taught to be tolerant towards deported peoples and it is unethical to recall how the Tatars cleansed Sevastopol and passed the whereabouts of guerrilla bases to the Germans. That is what we do. I would like to see the authors of this film to also switch on their tolerance. At the time we shot a series of documentaries about the Crimean partisans, and one of the characters, the commissar of the partisan detachment Nikolai Dementyev, told, for example, the story that they had been ordered to evacuate the family of Amet-khan Sultan as the Soviet leadership feared of their persecution by the Nazis. The guerrillas moved to Alupka, found the correct house, agreed with relatives to meet on the outskirts of the village, but, sensing something was wrong, they created an ambush. At night at the venue instead of relatives the Tatar Polizei came…

During the trip, I heard this story several times. Each time there was a different version of it. The Russian version also told about the younger Amet-khan’s brother Imran, who allegedly served in the police, for this he was later convicted by a military tribunal. The Tatar version hotly and categorically contested this nuance. There is not a word about it in the film. Is it important to us? Yes, considering that the producers set the task to show the fate of the nation through the fate of a particular person. In the same scenario, it turns out that the fate of Amet-khan was retouched for a different purpose, though no less noble one.

To be continued in part 2 of the article

The movie can be watched here (in Russian): Художественный фильм “Хайтарма”


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