Less than 500km from where I sit right now, the soldiers came. At gun point, they were forced from their homes. Allowed to take only what they could carry, they were forced onto buses. The buses took them to rail yards. At the rail yards, they were loaded onto trains. From there, like ashes to the wind, they were scattered.
Their homes were given to new families. Their cemeteries were destroyed. Some of them were paved with concrete to create new shopping areas. While this happened, those trains chugged their way to Asia. Those that died were merely tossed out of the rail cars by soldiers. They were thousands of kilometers away before the journey ended.
While those on the trains had heard no accusations against them, those who lived where they arrived had. They were called “betrayers” by those who greeted them. Some were given clothes suitable for the new climate they inhabited. Some were not. A young teenager fed her family by smuggling potatoes from the collective farm where she worked. Two thousand miles away, a girl less than half her age fed her family by singing on the street. All of them had a new language to learn. Theirs was banned. Books in their language were destroyed. Their ethnicity was removed from government census forms. As a people, the government said the no longer existed.
Some of them resisted. Some protested and were sent away never to return. Some of them began to work the political machine looking for allies. The most important of them protested by keeping their customs alive at home. If someone wanted to cook and share the food with their neighbors on a particular day, what could be done to stop them? If they wanted to tell their children about their homeland, who could interfere?
Almost 50 years later, they were finally able to begin returning home…if they could afford it. Where they arrived to was not the same place as when they were forced to leave, but at least it was home. Some 25 years later, not all the damage has been undone. There are still those that mutter “betrayer” under their breath. There are those that use their ethnic identity as a slur.
Today is the 68th anniversary of the Sürgün — the exile of the Crimean Tatars from their homeland.
A special thanks to those Crimean Tatars who have opened their homes and hearts to me and those that chose to share with me their stories. Some of these stories can be found at www.eastword.org.
I just wrapped up a visit with Dr. Yevhen Fedchenko’s journalism Master’s students at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. Only they know for certain, but I think it went well. I talked about Communication for Development and the ideas behind it, gave some examples of CommDev successes and failures, talked briefly about challenges facing the discipline and talked a great deal about my Master’s project on Crimean Tatar youth and their relationship with their traditional culture.
The students asked a lot of great questions. Many of them hit right at the root of what it means for this to be a CommDev project like “What will you do if you can’t use the footage the participants shoot?”, “How do you get ethnic Russians to watch the film when its finished?” and “What if things come out just showing what an exotic culture the Crimean Tatars have?” These are tougher questions than I got in the proposal defense!
I had answers for all of them, but I could tell these answers didn’t really make the students feel much better. A lot of it just comes down to the project being from a Communication for Development perspective instead of a traditional documentary. I have to give up direct control to empower these young people to tell their story. That *is* a huge risk, and these students recognized that and perhaps think I am a bit crazy to take this chance.
The notion of conflict came up again, as it did in the lead-up to my project defense. I still hold that this project must stay away from hot issues like Crimean Tatar land claims. There is no way for me to address these things in a way that targets my main focus: reducing discrimination/racism.
I was invited back to screen the documentary, so hopefully that means I did alright in addressing the student’s questions and presenting CommDev.
Overall, it was a great experience. My thanks to Dr. Fedchenko and his students for the opportunity and Dr. Don Flournoy at Ohio University for making it possible!