The Historical Background

Crimea has a rich history.  Some archeological findings indicate its first settlers might have had arrived as early as one million years ago. Crimea was first mentioned in written sources three thousand years ago. 

The Crimean steppes (and the bigger part of Ukraine’s Southern regions) were populated by the nomads: the Cimmerians (from the 9th century BC), the Scythians (from the 7th century BC as nomadic and from the 3rd century as settled people), the Sarmats (from the 1st century AD) and Alani (from the 3rd century AD), the Huns and Ancient Turks (from the 4th century AD), the Khazars (from the 7th century AD), the Hungarians (from the 9th century AD), the Pechenegs (9th centry), the Polovetsy (from the 11th century AD), the Mongols (from the 13th century AD) and the Nogai (16th century).

The first autochthonous people – the Tauri or Taurians – settled down in the Crimean Mountains in the 8th century BC. The Goths (and some Alani tribes) settled down here in the 3rd century AD after adopting Christianity, but preserving their native tongue.  

The first Elline town – Panticapaeum – was founded in 610 BC. This oldest town in Eastern Europe still exists and is known today as Kerch. In the following centuries, many other towns were founded along the peninsula’s entire coastline. In 480 BC these Eastern Crimean towns formed the Bosporan Kingdom. Founded between 528 BC and the early 5th century, the town of Tauric Chersonese preserved its republican form of government. 

In the years of 110-46 BC Crimea was part of the Hellenistic Kingdom of Pontus ruled by Mithradates VI Eupator. Later, until the 220s AD it was within the orbit of the Roman Empire. By the year of 534 the city of Chersonese, the South Coast and partly the Kerch Peninsula became part of the Byzantium Empire, with the mountainous peoples of Goths-Alani tribes («The Doros County») as allies. 

In the 11th century the Crimean steppes were conquered by the Polovtsy tribes. The remaining local settlers, primarily the Turks, were slowly assimilated by the new rulers.   

The unique character of the Crimean Polovtsy tribes was explained by the geographic isolation of the peninsula from the other large nomadic peoples of the Dnipro steppe region. As a result of the Mongol invasion, Crimean Turks obtained the ruling dynasty – the ancestors of Genghis Khan (analogous processes took place in the entire Eurasia, particularly in the lands of Rus’). In half a century Islam became the state religion of the Crimean Ulus of the Golden Horde, thus differentiating its inhabitants from their Christian and Pagan neighbors. That is how the nucleus of the new ethic group – later to be known as the Crimean Tatars – was formed.  

Starting from the 1260s the larger part of Crimea’s Southern Coast fell under control of the Republic of Venice and Republic of Genoa. 

At the turn of 14th and 15th centuries the Golden Horde fell into decay. The mountain settlers of Greek, Goth and Alani origin established the Principality of Theodoro. In 1441 the Crimean beys chose Hacı Geray as their ruler, paving the way to the independent Crimean Khanate. In 1475 the Osman Empire seized control of the Crimean territories previously belonging to the Republic of Genoa and the Principality of Theodoro. The Crimean Khans fell under the authority of the Ottoman Sultans, but preserved their sovereign rule over the respective territories.

Due to this development, the peninsula’s other peoples partially converted to Islam, started speaking Crimean Tatar and observing Crimean Tatar traditions. The ancestors of the Theodoro dynasty and many immigrants from Europe and the Caucasus, who settled at the coastline, merged with the new Crimean Tatar people. The long process of the Crimean Tatar ethnic group formation explains why at least three large sub-ethnic groups emerged within one ethno group: the Tats (inhabitants of the mountainous Crimea), the Yaliboylu (inhabitants of the South Coast) and the Noğays (inhabitants of the steppe areas).  

In 1771, after decades of wars, the tsarist Russian army occupied the Crimean Khanate. In 1772 the last Crimean Khan Şahin Giray (alias Shahin Khan Girai) ascended the throne. In 1783 the Tsarist Russia annexed the Khanate territories. In 1802 the Taurida Governorate was established within the Russian Empire.

In 1917 several processes were taking place in Crimea – those of democratic revolution, Ukrainization and the revival of the Crimean Tatar national statehood. In December, the First Kurultai ruled to establish the Crimean Tatar People’s Republic and form the Crimean Tatar national government. However, in January 1918 the Bolshevik army gained control of the peninsula’s territory and launched the Red terror. The Bolsheviks lost control over Crimea in April 1918 as a result of the joint military effort of the Ukrainian army led by Petro Bolbochan, the German army and Crimean Tatar protesters. The Black Sea fleet raised the Ukrainian flag on April 29, 1918. The negotiations about Crimea joining the Ukrainian State continued until the fall of 1918.  In 1919-1920, the peninsula’s territory turned into a battlefield between the Red and White Armies, with the Red Army prevailing in the end. 

In 1921 Crimea was turned into an autonomous administrative unit of Russia.

During World War II from 1941 until 1945 Crimea was under German occupation. Having expelled the Nazi Army, Moscow baselessly accused the Crimean Tatar people of collaborating with the Nazis. Starting from May 18, 1944, the Kremlin deported more than 200,000 people, including newborn children, to Central Asia and other inland Soviet territories. This deportation turned into the Genocide, as during the first years of deportation 20-25% of Crimean Tatars perished. The representatives of other ethnic groups – Germans (since 1941), Italians (since 1942), Bulgarians, Armenians, Greeks and foreign subjects (1944) were also all deportated.

The Soviets started substituting the deported indigenous people of Crimea with population loyal to the Kremlin, primarily from Russia. It changed the peninsula’s ethic structure entirely. The memory about former owners of this land was also destroyed. Almost 80 percent of native Crimean Tatar settlements got new Soviet names. 

The year of 1954 was also important for Crimea’s history, as Moscow decided to transfer it to Ukraine. The decision was logical and based on real needs. Russia could not provide for the normal economic life on the peninsula, as almost all supplies were provided from Ukraine. The Soviet leadership explained its decision by the following logic: «with consideration of economic proximity, territorial proximity and close trade and cultural ties between the Crimean oblast and the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.» 

It should be underscored that the 1954 process of Crimea joining the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was carried out in accordance with all legal norms. The governments and parliaments of the Soviet Union, Russia and Ukraine consequently adopted the necessary legal rulings. The republican constitutions were also amended with the necessary provisions. 

Although the Russian propaganda attempts to convince the entire world community that Crimea was «eternally Russian», this is a false stereotype. The peninsula was part of Russia for a relatively short time period. Crimea was part of the Russian Empire from 1783 until 1917. During the same period Russian emperors gained control of several European countries, some of which are EU and NATO members at the present moment. Crimea was part of Russia (as Russian Soviet Socialist Republic) only from 1921 until 1954 (the 1941-1944 German occupation excluding), that is for about 30 years. Consequently, the myth about the so-called ages-long «Russianness» of Crimea simply does not stand. 

Similarly, the Crimean Tatars made the peninsula’s ethnic majority until the early 20th century. The Russians became the ethnic majority as a result of repressions, persecutions and deportation of Crimea’s indigenous people. 

Although in 1967 the Crimean Tatars were rehabilitated from the «mass betrayal» accusations, they were not allowed to return to their native land. The mass return of Crimean Tatars to Crimea was not possible until 1989. But the country that took upon itself the key role in accommodating the Crimean Tatar repatriates and assisting them in settling down was an independent Ukraine.