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The Autonomous Republic of Crimea is the southernmost region of Ukraine, Europe’s largest country.
It stretches across the Crimean Peninsula, surrounded by the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.
Located at the crossroads of civilizations, Crimea was colonized by the Greeks and the Romans, by Gothic tribes, Kyivan Rus, and the Byzantine Empire. The Golden Horde also incorporated Crimea within its territories.
In the mid-fourteenth century, Crimea’s melting pot of cultures gave birth to its own native people, the Crimean Tatars.
This ethnic entity was formed in the era of the Crimean Khanate. Influenced by Islamic culture, it blended its Turkic roots with those of the early mountainous Crimean inhabitants.
The Crimean Khanate was a sovereign state with its own free hand in international relations but often under the protection of the Ottoman Empire.
During the sixteen and seventeen hundreds, the Crimean Tatars often raided the neighboring Ukrainian lands, where Ukrainian Kozaks successfully stood up to the them.
Over time, hostility changed to military alliances against greater military powers.
In 1648, the Ukrainian Kozak leader Bohdan Khmelnytskyi allied his army with the Crimean Khanate to liberate Ukraine from Poland.
Fearing the rise of the Ukrainian Kozak state, Crimean Tatars withdrew their support and sided with Poland.
This was one of the reasons that forced Khmelnytskyi to seek support from Moscow in 1654.
In the late 1700s, Russia signed a friendship alliance with the Crimean Khanate, recognizing its independence. But in 1783, Russia broke its promises and eliminated the Crimean Khanate, annexing Crimea.
In the 19th century, Crimea, and especially its port city of Sevastopol, gained strategic importance for the expansionist Russian empire.
Crimean Tatars, native to the peninsula, were seen as an obstacle for Russia’s imperial ambitions and were suppressed culturally and economically. Many were forced to emigrate after the Crimean War in the 1850s.
After the collapse of the Russian empire in 1917, the Crimean Tatars instituted their own national governing assembly, the Qurultai, and established the Crimean People’s Republic, the first Turkic and Muslim democratic republic in the world.
At the same time, Bolsheviks launched a military offensive in Crimea. Sevastopol was captured in early 1918, and by the end of 1920, Bolsheviks controlled the rest of the peninsula.
After Crimea became an autonomous republic within the Russian Federation in 1921, Bolshevik terror engulfed the peninsula. Over 100,000 of its residents, most of whom were Crimean Tatars, perished in famine.
In the 1930s, Russification was enforced on the peninsula.
The Crimean Peninsula was the scene of some of the bloodiest battles of WWII. After it was liberated from the Nazis, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin ordered mass deportation of Crimean Tatars.
Between May 18 and May 20, 1944, hundreds of thousands of Crimean Tatars were put into cattle trains and moved several thousand kilometers away to Uzbekistan and other Soviet Republics.
Tens of thousands died during deportation.
To rebuild Crimea’s war-torn economy, in 1954 Soviet government decided to transfer Crimea’s administrative jurisdiction to Soviet Ukraine.
Ukraine’s natural resources and infrastructure revived Crimea.
In 1991, Crimea became an autonomy within Ukraine. Crimean Tatars were returning home.
In 2013, Ukraine’s pro-Russian president Yanukovych refused to sign the EU Association Agreement.
While pro-western protests were breaking out in Kyiv, Russia began executing its long-planned operation to annex Crimea.
In February 2014, Russia instigated protests in Sevastopol, claiming Crimea’s desire to be a part of Russia.
Crimean Tatars tried to prevent Russian Hysteria in the Crimean parliament, but it was too late.
On February 27, 2014, masked Russian troops without military insignia seized the Crimean parliament.
Other strategic sites across Crimea were quickly occupied, and a Russian puppet government took over.
Within less than three weeks, an illegal referendum on the status of Crimea was held on the peninsula. In March 2014, Russia formally incorporated Crimea as its federal subject.
Crimea has become Russia’s militarized zone, a peninsula of fear, where human rights of Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians are systematically violated.
Over 100 Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians have become political prisoners in Russia. Many have disappeared.