QHA reproduces below the text of presentation CELEBRATING THE 25 YEARS OF TURKISH-UKRAINIANS RELATIONS by Ph.D. in Political Science Filiz Tutku Aydin:

Distinguished Guests

Thank you for this opportunity for speaking here in front of the distinguished statesmen and diplomats, and academicians, and in this merry occasion of celebrating the 25 years of post-Cold War Turkish-Ukrainian relations, which in fact must be at least 400 years of these relations, as these relations go far back. My major field of study is ethnicity, nationalism, minorities and diasporas in a post-Soviet comparative politics context, and in particular on the Crimean Tatars, therefore today in order to contribute to the topic of the conference, I will ask the question what has been the role of Crimea and the Crimean Tatars for the Turkish-Ukrainian relations in the last 25 years. I will particularly focus on the recent occupation of Crimea, which has a significance for international relations because it overthrew established norms of international law and order. But, how did the occupation of Crimea change the security environment for Turkey and Ukraine, and for the Black Sea region in general?

And, how does the current tragic situation of the Crimean Tatars, who have been intermediaries of Turkish-Ukrainian relations for centuries, factor into Turkish-Ukrainian relations

I argue that Crimea is the most significant issue Turkish and Ukrainian interests overlap. Turkey must strongly support the return of Crimea to Ukraine both for strategic reasons-Crimea is key to the security of both countries and for humanitarian reasons-both countries owe to assist the Crimean Tatars, who have been faithful and dedicated citizens of both countries to bring a halt their tragic fate. For Turkey, not only Crimean Tatars were Ottoman citizens, but  the Crimean Tatar diaspora is currently a few millions, and is a highly educated community, serving in all sectors of state and society. For Ukraine, Crimean Tatars defended Ukrainian unity in the referendum immediately after the Cold War, in 1995 referendum, supported Orange and Euromaidan revolutions, and have been the only significant force still resisting the Russian occupation of Crimea."

In this presentation,  the post-Cold War Turkish-Ukrainian relations are traced with a focus on Crimea from the late 1980s until today. Firstly, in the 1990s, Turkey initiated the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC), to aid transition into market economy in the region and to increase regional trade. It also sought to foster multilateralism, and to overcome Cold-War rivalries. In this era, Crimean attempts for separation was resolved.  The CTs returned and attained Ukrainian citizenship. Mejlis emerged as a significant de facto political power as Crimean Tatars demanded to be recognized as indigenous people of Crimea, which would provide them internal self-determination so that they will be able to maintain their identity.  Turkey, under the influence of romantic pan-Turkism wanted to support the Crimean Tatars, but Turkey’s economic and political power was quite limited in this era.

In the 2000s, Turkey greatly transformed as the ‘Muslim Democrat’ Justice and Development Party (AKP) formed a majoritarian government, and army’s tutelage on politics ended. This was reflected on an independent foreign policy, balancing Western and Russian interests in the Black Sea, and increasing economic relations between a growing Turkish economy and resource-rich Russia. In this decade Ukraine also transformed after the Kuchmagate, Gongadze affair, and Orange Revolution. Ukraine offered license for the Crimean Tatars to maintain their identity but with the strong opposition of Russians in Ukraine, without significant compensation of losses of deportation, and without providing the legal status of indigenous people, the Crimean Tatars were nowhere near to assure their future existence as a nation. The Crimean Tatars supported the Orange Revolution, but it did not fulfill hopes of the Crimean Tatars, nor the rest of Ukraine. 

The Georgian war in 2008 set the tone of regional politics in the 2010s. Russia re-asserted its hegemony in the former Soviet territory. The Black sea regionalism subsided as great power rivalry emerged in the Black Sea. EU emerged as a Black Sea power as well as the US.  Russian neo-colonial attitude paved the way for the Euromaidan Revolution, which became a pretext for the occupation of Crimea. The Euromaidan is slowly transforming Ukrainian politics and Ukraine recognized the indigenous status of the Crimean Tatars. Turkey protested the occupation of Crimea, and defended the territorial integrity of Ukraine in this process but tried to follow a policy that balanced its commitment to Ukraine, the West and the Crimean Tatars with its increasing trade relations and energy dependency to Russia.

Ukraine also has a growing need for security as Crimea and Eastern Ukraine is still occupied. European Union fell short of providing this security, and it is hard to guess what the US and NATO will do. Turkey was the second big loser after the occupation of Crimea. Turkey’s one of the closest kin, the Crimean Tatars are in a humanitarian crisis. What could be the options here?

  • The 1990s

As you probably know, the Crimean Tatars were deported from their homeland on 18 May, 1944 by Stalin’s order. In1989, the Crimean Tatars initiated a collective return movement to their homeland and between 1989 and 2000, approximately 270,000 Crimean Tatars returned their homeland. The returnees were not compensated in terms of places to live, or properties stolen from them by the state, nor were they given their fair share in the land privatization. This caused the Crimean Tatars to squatter on the vacant government land, followed by some bloody clashes between vigilantes, skinheads or Berkut. The repatriates were not generally welcomed by the local population, who believed in the Soviet mythology about the collective guilt of the Crimean Tatars for collaborating with the Nazis. This of course was groundless, as the male population of the Crimean Tatars were serving in the Soviet army, and when Nazis occupied Crimea, it was women and children who lived in Crimea. Many women also supported Soviet partisans in Crimean mountains. There were only a small number of nationalists who in the beginning hoped that Nazis could help them re-establish their national state, after decades of Soviet rule who purged the intellectual class of the Crimean Tatars and created suffering through collectivization and famine in the earlier decades. Nazis also burned many Crimean Tatar villages, accusing them for their support of partisans, and deported Tatar teenagers to Germany and occupied territory to utilize them as war workers. In short, Crimean Tatars were harmed greatly both by the Soviet and Nazi regimes, but ultimate de-tatarization of Crimea took place after Crimea was re-taken from the Nazis on 9 May, 1944.

The Crimean Tatars were deported in animal carts to Central Asia and Siberia along 22 days, and were thrown in the cold taiga of Siberia, or extremely hot Central Asian desert, without accommodation. The Crimean Tatars lost almost half of their population because of famine, extreme weather conditions they were not used to and disease. They were not permitted to leave their places of settlement for ten years, thus the family members could not come together for years. Despite genocide, after Stalin died, the Crimean Tatars were able to organize a very long-term, non-violent social movement, the most populated dissident movement in the Soviet Union, in which literally all members of the nation participated. The Crimean Tatar activists tried to return many times to Crimea, but each time they were re-deported. Finally in 1989, the Crimean Tatars decided to return collectively under the leadership of OKND, and Mustafa Jemilev, the legendary Crimean Tatar leader, who spent 15 years in Soviet gulag, and fell to 30 kg because of his hunger strike.

Mustafa Cemilev (Jemilev) and OKND  (Organization of Crimean Tatar National Movement) convened the second Crimean Tatar Qurultay (National Congress), the first being in 1917, and established the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, a democratic parliament with local councils exemplary among indigenous peoples of the world. In the meantime Ukraine declared independence and Crimea voted to stay within Ukraine in a referendum, in which Crimean Tatar vote proved pivotal. Separation movement in Crimea was resolved in 1998, until Ukraine recognized the autonomous status of Crimea. The Crimean autonomy turned into a de facto Russian autonomy as all the representative and bureaucratic organs were dominated by Russians or Russian-speaking Ukrainians. The Crimean Tatar quota in the local parliament was abolished in 1998.

This was a period of emotional pan-Turkism for Turkey, during which Turkey promised large economic aid and leadership in transiting into market economy to Turkic republics and communities, which it could not in fact have the economic power to fulfill. President Demirel promised 1000 houses for the returning Crimean Tatars, but this was realized quite slowly due to rising prices and slow transfer of money from Turkey. TIKA however undertook several development and restoration projects in Crimea along with several EU agencies and NGOs.

  • The 2000s

Turkey’s Black Sea policy immediately after the end of Cold War era was strengthening Black Sea regionalism, but the pursuit of this goal subsided in this decade as Russia proclaimed to re-establish its hegemony over the former Soviet territory. Turkey, however, grew tremendously economically in this era, and began to follow a foreign policy, more independent from the West. This made Turkey a Black Sea power, having a potential of both conflicting and cooperating relationship with Russia. Conflicting in the sense that Turkey, with its control of Straits, Turkey has key to the Black Sea, and could  possibly hamper Russian access to the Mediterrenean, and it could enable NATO ships in the Black Sea. The relations were cooperating in the sense that Turkey, as a growing economy, had great energy needs, and was in need of a trade partner for growing construction, tourism and agricultural sectors.

Turkey, in this era, put regionalism behind as it did not work because of regional conflicts and lack of security mechanism. Instead, Turkey established bilateral relations with Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Central Asian Republics. Under the leadership of Davutoglu, the Crimean Tatars emerged as an asset for the improvement of Turkish-Ukrainian relations.  Davutoglu believed that Turkey must be true to its civilizational self and re-claim its historical links with the Middle East and Eurasia along with Europe, particularly with the Muslim communities in these territories. With the support from the West, Turkey, and the Crimean Tatar diaspora, and of course with compliance of Kiev, the Crimean Tatars began to establish several national institutions such as Crimean Tatar schools, university, library, mosques, museums, NGOs, theatre, music and dance ensembles, and Crimean Tatar archival documents and traditional arts were rediscovered and national culture, language and literature revived. The large Crimean Tatar diaspora in Turkey as well as in other countries supported this process enthusiastically. 

We must note that Turkey’s attention to the Crimean Tatars and Ukraine was not and still is not sufficient. Since the 2000s, Turkey paid greater attention to the Middle East than the Black Sea. Both Ukraine and Turkey could not foresee the increase of Russian belligerence even though the Georgian War was an early warning, and both states did not appreciate the significance of Crimea and the Crimean Tatars. Jemilev and Chubarov, the two  Crimean Tatars, were elected to the Ukrainian parliament, and they pushed for the recognition of the status of indigenous people for the Crimean Tatars, which would ensure internal self-determination, and their cultural rights. But this was not recognized by the Ukrainian parliament. If this was done, the Crimean Tatars would be on a stronger foot vis-à-vis the Russian aggression towards the Crimea.

  • The 2010s

As president Putin later revealed, he planned the occupation of Crimea at least a year ahead, but the Euromaidan Revolution became a pretext for it.  Crimea was occupied through a covert FSB  operation, trough organizing a coup and illegal referendum. The Russian Presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights published on their website that the turnout was not more than 30-50 percent and that only half of those who actually turned out voted for secession. It was of course taken down from the website quickly. Surveys before the referendum showed that at most 41 percent of the Crimean population would have opted for joining Russia. (Ostapchuk et al., 2014) The actual annexation of Crimea by Russia after the referendum violated international law as it represented an abuse of the right of territorial self-determination.

By occupying Crimea, Russia significantly harmed the Turkish interests in the region, practically controlling the Black Sea. Turkey lost enormous ground strategically especially with the occupation of Crimea in the Black Sea. Nuclear warheads are located in the peninsula (“Dzhemilev: Russia brought six nuclear warheads to the Crimea”, 2016). The Russian fleet is planned to grow to the level of Turkey’s fleet by 2020,  and even the Iskender missiles which are asserted to be already located in Crimea are in a position to threaten Turkish Black Sea coast. (“Kırım’da korkutan nükleer hareketlilik”, 2016) Russian jets continue violating the Turkish airspace in the Black Sea in addition to Middle East to test the Turkish capabilities. (“Havada ‘Türkiye Rusya’ gerilimi!”, 2015)

While Davutoglu was the prime minister, Turkey was quick in defending the territorial integrity of Ukraine and opposing the Russian “annexation” of Crimea. Davutoglu immediately visited Ukrainian government after the Euromaidan Revolution. (“Davutoğlu, Kiev'de muhalif lider Kliçko ile görüştü”, 2014) Turkey also protested the human rights violations of the Crimean Tatars and sent an unofficial monitoring mission to Crimea. (Aydıngün, 2015)  

The Crimean Tatar national assembly, the Qurultay, and its representative-executive body, the Meclis, categorically condemned the Russian annexation and boycotted the referendum. Despite their initial promises that “measures will be taken to solve all the social and legal problems of Crimean Tatars that went unsolved by the Ukrainian authorities for many years,” perhaps to lure Turkey, Russia has been treating the Crimean Tatars, the closest kin of Turks, in an abysmal way. The Meclis (read Mejlis), the democratic parliament of the Crimean Tatars, was banned. The legendary Crimean Tatar leader and human rights activist Mustafa Cemilev (Jemilev) and Meclis leaders were prohibited to enter Crimea. The Crimean Tatar mejlis is shut down after the Crimean Tatar boycotted the local elections as well. The Russian authorities also prohibited the commemoration the deportation on 18 May. Many Crimean Tatars were kidnapped, murdered, tortured, and prosecuted unjustly. Russian security forces wearing masks and carrying machine guns raided mosques, Crimean Tatar schools, the homes of 30-40 prominent activists as well as ordinary people, and libraries, claiming they were searching for extremist literature. The list of extremist literature includes 2000 books related to Islam, the Meclis, and Jemilev, all of which Ukraine had previously allowed. The Crimean Tatar population – most of whom have kept their Ukrainian passports – were coerced to take Russian citizenship those Crimeans who do not have Russian passports were not given residency permits that allow them to stay, work, and receive education.  The Crimean Tatar media was shut down, and people are scared of speaking Crimean Tatar on the street. (Ostapchuk et al., 2014)

In mainland Ukraine, a remarkable development took place. The Crimean Tatars were finally recognized as the indigenous people of Ukraine. The Crimean Tatar leaders were made chief advisors responsible for Crimea regain strategy. Ukraine also now sponsors the settlement of Crimean Tatar refugees in a compact manner  in Kherson region and supports the establishment of their cultural institutions there. Ukraine applied to the Eurpean and International Courts of Justice on behalf of the Crimean Tatars and raised the plight of the Crimean Tatars in occupied Crimea in several international platforms. A Crimean Tatar regiment was formed to fight against the separatists in Eastern Ukraine. The exiled leaders of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis are not locate in the embassies district of Kiev, and Crimean Tatar diaspora in Kiev recently organized the Second World Crimean Tatar Congress, as a way of propagating their cause to the world public, and rallying the Crimean Tatar diaspora communities. The Crimean Tatar news agency (QHA) and the Crimean tatar tv (ATR) is relocated to Kiev.  The Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian society came together because of their common problem. Recently the Crimean Tatars singer received large votes from Ukrainians to represent Ukraine in Eurovision with a political song. Euromaidan and Krym sos websites and many Ukrainian organization in the country or across the world disseminate information about the Crimean Tatar human rights violations in Crimea. These all point to an emergence of a multiculturalist policies an dsociety. 

I would like to add a few notes from my recent fieldwork in Ukraine. As you know, Ukraine finally recognized the Crimean Tatars as indigenous people of Crimea. But, there is a serious need to turn this declaration into a law about their indigenous status so that Crimean Tatars. Mejlis will have legal functions and the community will be provided material and societal support for their cultural programs.(For instance, with the recognition of Crimean Tatar as official language, it will be used in matters concerning the Crimean Tatars.) The Crimean Tatars in Ukraine are presently divided into two communities: One in occupied Crimea and the other one in mainland Ukraine. One third of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis members are in Ukraine, but the rest of them are in Crimea, where they cannot function. There are new Crimean Tatar communities growing in Genichesk, Vinnitsa, Lviv, and Kiev. It is vital to support the cultural development of these communities in mainland Ukraine so that they will maintain their identity. For that, a Crimean Tatar Muftiate in mainland Ukraine is needed as the Crimean Mufti seems to act under heavy Russian pressure. Inter-cultural dialogue programs for the orthodox Crimean Tatar Muslims (Hizbuttahrir)  and Lviv local community is needed. The Crimean Tatar refugees have many economic, legal and integration problems for which the Ukrainian state must develop immediate policies. On the one hand, Ukraine wants to discourage its Crimean citizens from utilizing Russian law, Russian banks, Russian citizenship, Russian money rightly because Ukraine does not want the status quo to stick, but on the other hand, Crimean citizens have to continue their lives, they have to send their kids to school, obey the laws in order not to be deprived of their freedom, and earn a living. They feel psychologically isolated from the rest of the world. A clear strategy for the return of Crimea to Ukraine must be defined, the role of Crimean citizens in this strategic plan must be clarified, the role of Crimean Tatars in mainland Ukraine and Crimean Tatar diaspora must be determined, and Turkey must actively support the return of Crimea to Ukraine by also utilizing untapped resource of large Crimean Tatar diaspora in Turkey. In conclusion, it is important to develop  multiculturalist policies which recognizes the difference of ethnic and religious identities, both for Ukraine and Turkey. Ethnic identities are richness and assets for both Ukraine and Turkey, they are not liabilities.


Since Crimea is an overlapping point of interest for Turkey and Ukraine, what are the options in the current situation? A neo-Soviet option is clearly refuted by Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey in the Black Sea region. Recent progress of Ukraine towards integration into European economic and legal structures is welcome, but EU is very clear that neither Ukraine nor Turkey will become a member in the foreseeable future. EU’s own future is questioned now, and EU does not have hard power to bring security to the region. We do not know what the US and NATO will do under this current president. A new option is needed.
The Crimean occupation in a larger perspective is a consequence of great power rivalry not in the Black Sea region but concerning the Middle East and globally. A better, though not very easy option is not to be a part of one great power design but start own regional security framework. None of great powers, neither US, NATO, or EU, nor Russia will bring security to the region, and none did in history , if regional powers such as Turkey, and Ukraine cannot come together and show the leadership to create a regional security framework in the Black Sea, and Eastern Europe. This security framework must include human security. The rights of indigenous peoples and minorities of all former Soviet nationalities must be recognized, frozen national conflicts must be diplomatically resolved within a regional structure, rather than being a pretext for great power intervention.

In this regional security framework, strong foreign policies can only be supported by strong domestic policies. Turkey and Ukraine must be examples of democracy, and rule of law. Even though EU is currently not interested in including Turkey or Ukraine, it is the European standards of democracy, human rights, and rule of law that matters. It is important to separate economic relations with dictatorial states from strategic partnership because dictatorial states are not trustworthy, and peaceful because of their domestic inconsistencies and problems.

Turkey and Ukraine along with other Black Sea states needed to work more on creating a regional security framework and mechanisms for the Black Sea, needed to work on diplomatic initiatives to resolve the frozen conflicts in the region, needed to develop regional economic and societal relations in a myriad of ways in the future.