Post date: Jun 15, 2020 10:0:16 PM

Because the Crimean Tatar people couldn’t also breathe… I don’t mean to shift our focus. I don’t mean to add another “Tatar lives also matter” slogan. I like to explain what I try to mean.

Last week a good high school friend of mine invited me to share 7 travel pictures, one every day on Facebook and each day invite another victim to do the same. Usually, as many Facebook users, I would be reluctant to go along, moreover with pandemic all over the world, and with social tensions in this country at the highest level, the exercise felt more futile than usual but this invitation was coming from a dear friend, I felt I had to comply. And without much thought, I shared pictures from my 2013 trip to Crimea.

As a photography enthusiast, I must also add in 2013, I was just resuming picture taking in the digital format. I was using a little, compact but very decent Canon G12 camera, which I, unfortunately, hadn’t learned how to properly operate. Despite the photographic short-comings of these pictures, it felt these were the right pictures to share. Maybe because Crimea, my ancestral place is a special place, not only for me but for all social-justice minded people.

According to my uneducated historical information, but also first-hand observations, since its first annexation to the Russian Empire in the XIX. century, the people who are considered to be indigenous to the peninsula, Crimean Tatars have suffered waves of repression one after another. To quote a few: Their fledgling independent state, Crimean People’s Republic was destroyed by the emerging Soviet Bolsheviks, the territory was invaded by the German army during the second war, after the war, Stalin had deported them almost overnight with high costs to human lives from, they were not well received in their destinations, in Uzbekistan, in Siberia… even in Turkey, where they seem to have integrated well; but even there a well-educated first-generation immigrant couldn’t get a job because he spoke the language with a “strange" accent. After the collapse of the Soviets, Crimean Tatars returning to their homeland had to live in enclosures resembling outhouses rather than homes. And then the second annexation by Putin...

I remember an incident from our trip in 2013: Our car being stopped by a Ukrainian police officer, because our guide, our driver, was going slightly over the speed limit. I remember them walking to the side and being for a long while behind the bushes. I remember how our guide was shaking on his return. I am sure no one would have had a pleasant experience with a police officer trying to extract some bribe to supplement his meager post-Soviet income, but I am also sure the level of terror wouldn’t be the same if the driver was Russian or Ukrainian rather than a Crimean Tatar. Now after listening to black voices from the States, I understand the impact of that encounter much better.

Since I am in the business of remembering, let me also relay what I remember from 1960, a spring Saturday, returning home from my boarding high-school in a streetcar and seeing the police charging on their horses toward the university students protesting the anti-democratic regime of the time. Still, I cannot decide what I remember seeing from the window of the streetcar is a real memory or not. I still wonder whether it was a scene from a war movie I must have seen early in my childhood. In 1970’s being in an intercity bus in Anatolia, and the bus being stopped in the middle of nowhere, and heavily armed military police searching through the vehicle and asking id’s of the young people and in particular of those having a certain kind of Maoist looking mustache. I was young in that bus and I had that kind of mustache. These are just two among many others I could retrieve from my years in my country of origin. Oh, not to forget Germany, where I was interviewed over the phone by the police to check whether I was one of the most-wanted members of the Baader-Meinhof terrorist organization. Apparently I had too heavy of an accent to be one of them.

I keep thinking: the history of mankind has been nothing but the story of people, of minorities who couldn’t breathe - black people, Jewish people, Muslim people after 9/11, Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor, young people, working people, poor people, transgender people, gay people, Tatar people of Crimea, Rohingya people in Myanmar… and the list goes on. My point is not to say that black people are just another link in the never-ending chain of repression. We should not resign to the idea that this just part of the human condition, the never-ending story of humanity. Whichever repressed group we may belong, whenever we get to a point we can breathe, we shouldn’t forget those who are fighting for some air. We should turn around and help them to win a battle we might have won.

You can see the rest of my Crimea pictures on this Google Album: https://photos.app.goo.gl/zzCBWSA8gYHWRJg98

You can sample some of my poems related to Crimea on my WEB site: http://www.afterallpoetry.org/

And you may know this miserable tourist standing next to the Fountain of Tears, a monument celebrated by Pushkin in his poem The Fountain of Bakhchisaray.