seizure of land by
russian settlers

Spiral № 3. Divestment of land:

One of the main factors differentiating between indigenous peoples and colonialist settlers is that the former have historical ties to land, while the latter are interested in land perhaps solely as a space for resource extraction . The deportation of Crimean Tatars and Russian settlement in their place drew ecological catastrophe nearer to Crimea: “first-generation Crimeans” did not know how to cultivate the soil without destroying the ecosystem. The deportation of more than 200000 Crimean Tatars, with their unique skills in growing grapes and tobacco, has caused considerable harm to the region, comparable as to its destructive power to the consequences of the forced exodus of Crimean Tatars during the Crimean War from 1853 to 1856. Immediately after the capture of Crimea in 1783, count Potemkin gave giant masses of land belonging to Crimean Tatars, especially on the Southern shore and in the mountainous parts of Crimea, to favourites of Catherine II for “dachas”.

Dispossessing Crimean Tatars of their land coincide with a typical practice of enlightening colonialism: in that very same period, Catherine II had instructed Carl von Hablitz to make a record of all the flora and fauna of the peninsula and write a scientific study – an encyclopedia of Crimean nature. The scientific practices of recording the so-called “nature” coincided with its destruction, as well as with the genocide of indigenous peoples. Serfs, brought to Crimea by Russian landowners, did not know how to work in unfamiliar conditions, so ploughland was dispersed, forests were indiscriminately cut for the construction of military ships and sources of water, previously irrigating the steppes, were degraded. The serfs fled back to Russia, and Crimean Tatars were forced to rent lands which formerly belonged to them in order to work on them. Soon, Crimean Tatars were forced to abandon their native lands due to a threat of famine. A second migration took place for similar reasons – after the war of 1853-1856. Famine had begun in Crimea and Crimean Tatars were forced to leave the peninsula, but its population tripled due to Russian settlers.

In 1890s, waqf land allotments were given to the administration of the governorate, i.e. to the state. Waqfs were plots of land, previously granted to mosques, mektebs, medreses, fountains, bridges and other administrative buildings, for purposes of upkeep. According to Sharia laws, they are considered inalienable and indivisible, which nevertheless did not stop the authorities and Russian landowners. Referring to the law of waqf transference, they began ploughing the land belonging to Tatar farmers without any additional warrants.

The resettlement policy, built around deporting Crimean Tatars or dispossessing them of land, and hence on dooming them to hunger with subsequently settling their lands with Russians, repeated itself in the second half of XX century. 90% of Russian-speaking population in Crimea arrived after the deportation of Crimean Tatars in 1944.
The large-scale return of Crimean Tatars to Crimea began in 1987, but their problems did not cease. Russian colonial powers have refused to return coastal lands, as they were an important source of revenue, thus obstructing the fulfilment of a decade-old dream of returning to their places of residence – to their kuçuk vatan (lesser motherland). The political limitations were masked by statements like: for lack of “unoccupied land for individual housing development”. After their return, Crimean Tatars had to construct all their infrastructure (lay down the water supply pipelines, electricity and other service lines) reclaimed plots of land , as they have received no land in Crimea.

Furthermore, many Crimean Tatars, returning after 1991, were deprived of the right to own land due to the Ukranian land reform, which entailed privatising agricultural land in favour of, largely, former sovkhoz workers or kolkhoz members. Administrative “difficulties” had a political decision behind them: questions of land distribution were solved with preference to colonial settlers.