A Crimean Story – Who is writing it?

My goal is not to discuss the reasons for the throw-over in Kiev or the situation during the Maidan-Protests or the honest motivation of the annexation of Crimea to the Russian Federation. All these questions would require a deep and broad look at the events and motives of all parties. So I will ignore all these events and focus on a phrase by Vladimir Putin referring to Crimea because of history as an “inseparabale part of Russia”. Ignoring the motivation and the policy of the last years I would like to find out if Crimea is historically and demographically really that tied to Russia as the Russian president is stating.

krim greographisch besser

A Crimean story

Crimea is a peninsula in the north of the Black Sea. The only connection with the rest of the land can be found in the north, while in the east the strait of kerch is diving the main land of Russia from the Crimean peninsula. The Crimea itself is divided by a mountain chain in two different climatic regions. While the north shows a rather moderate climate and is similar to the northern steppe region, the southern coast region is dominated by a Mediterranean climate. Eventually several cities were founded by the ancient Greeks, which gave the peninsula the name Tauris. The most popular example is Chersonesos, which ancient relics can be found today next to Sevastopol.


Picture 2: The old greek ruins of Chersonesos

However, the Greeks were at this time a culturally high-developed community which depended highly crops from their colonial cities. Goths, Huns, Chasars, Kumans, Tatars and Bulgars tribes invaded the Crimea and established several short-time living empires. During the medieval times the Crimea was divided between the Kievan Rus, which gained control of the northern part and the Byzantine Empire in the south. Across the Crimea the Byzantine Empire was able to establish a trading route via Kievan Rus towards Novgorod, Baltics and Scandinavian Vikings. This trading route collapsed first when the Mongolian Invasion crushed the Kievan Rus and in finally in 1425 the Ottoman Invasion limited the Byzantine power under the regin of the principality of Theorore in the Crimea so only fortifications and cities remained in their realm. This development became even stronger when Genouse founded settlements in the Crimea to expand their power into the Black Sea. It was at the end of the 15th century that another player entered the game of power on the Crimea – the Tatars.

Crimea map_Medieval time

Picture 3: The Crimean Peninsula in medieval times

The tatars were a turkish tribe which lived since ancient times in the steppes of the Crimea. With growing confidence they upraised against the Mongolians ruler in the north and against the Byzantines and Genouse in the south. Soon the Crimean Khanate was established which asked the Ottoman Sultan for help to defeat Genoese and Byzantines. From 1475 till 1783 the Crimean Khanate ruled as a vassal of the Ottoman Empire the whole Crimean peninsula. Soon the Tatars became well known for their brutal raids into the Polish and Ukrainian mainland. The Ottoman Empire developed a huge demand for slaves, which was mainly appeased through the Crimea. The political situation changed when the Kremlin’s new geopolitical ambition led to the Russo-Turkish War in which the tsaristic Russia conquered the coast and established the new province “New Russia”. The Kremlin started to invest people and money in the newly conquered regions. Russian, German, Ukrainian, Jewish, Bulgarian and Belarusian settlers were sent to cultivate the country. In rural areas the Tatars remained nevertheless the majority. The Crimea stayed under Russian control and this status didn’t even change after the fall of the Russian monarchy. After the establishment of the Soviet Union the Crimea, however, a part of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, was granted with autonomous Rights. Unfortunately this status came with suppression of Greeks and Tatars. In the Second World War the Crimea was conquered by German forces, which were later again defeated by Soviet Forces. Afterwards the Soviet Union deported more than 230.000 people of which the biggest part consisted of Tatars. They were accused of collaboration with Nazi Germany. To gain the trust back and the support of the Ukrainian Socialist Republic the Crimea was given 1954 by a Decree of Nikita Khrushchev, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, to the Ukrainian socialist republic. After the end of the Soviet Union the Crimea stayed a part of Ukraine in which it remained as an autonomous republic until 2014. The events and the situation of the annexations are not the topic of the article.

sign of tatars

Picture 4: Sign of the Crimean Tatars

But the conclusion shows that many empires, nations, cities and ethnicities have controlled the Crimea. It’s impossible and wouldn’t lead to much success to count the years of control. But the peninsula was always a desired and wanted territory which seemed to exist out of the geopolitical rules. The Greek colonies were the opposite to the wild Scythian and Tauric tribes, the Genoese towns showed the same cultural and economic difference to the Kievan Rus like the Byzantine Empire. And even the Tataric Khanate showed strong differences to the rest of the continent, as it was used as a merchant for slaves during a time when slavery was abolished in Europe and also the religious divide between Christian world and Islamic world was at the border of the Crimean Khanate. And finally the tsaristic efforts to settle more Russians at the Crimea and in the East of Ukraine underline this observation.

The demography of the peninsula

While history is not able to tell to whom the Crimea is really belonging to, the demography shows a quite different story. A look at the population numbers through the times shows that the Tatars lost their majority due to the Russian colonization. Especially the deportation of Tatars in 1944 to Siberia and Uzbekistan has destroyed their roots. After the end of the Soviet Union the Tatar community has recovered lightly. This shows us, that indeed the Russian population is by far higher than of the rest, though it needs to be mentioned that this development was a goal and therefore created by the Russian and Soviet leaders in Moscow and St. Petersburg.















33,11% 42,2% 49,6% 66,9% 60,4% 65,3%


11,84% 10,6% 13,7% 25,1% 24,0% 15,7%

Crimean Tatars

35,55% 25,1% 19,4% 0,2% 10,8% 12,2%

What stays?

The reality indeed seems to indicate that the Crimea is tied to the Russian history and even the demography shows that the Crimea belongs rather to Russia. But this point of view ignores some relevant points why the reality shows us exactly this picture. The cruel deportation of the Tatars and the targeted colonization of the Crimea were not a result of a passive development. The Soviet leaders had exactly this in mind when they sent settlers to the Crimea. All these developments and plans nevertheless were questioned by giving the Crimea to the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic. The Russian Socialist Soviet Republic signed the contract in which the Crimea was given to another Republic. By signing such a contract the political leaders cut all ties between the Russian mainland and the Crimean peninsula. This contract was with the Annexation of the Crimea not just reversed, but ignored. Which sends a strong signal to the neighbouring countries, its message is that Russia is accepting not all parts of the history, but just picks the one, that seemed to be useful in the recent situation. Which contracts will Russia in the future hold? Which one will it break because it “sees” a historical responsibility or connection? This evidence might tell a lot about the Russian identity and even more stating the fact that neither the Russian people nor the Russian Elite seem to understand the reaction of the rest of Europe or the USA. This might tell a lot about the Russian identity, which always seemed to be able to ignore unwanted lessons from the own history. The claim that the Crimea belongs historically to Russia is nevertheless a weak one that is hurting international contracts. The Crimea and its inhabitants would have rather deserved to choose its own destiny free from the greedy arms of other powers.


Black-Sea Crimea: History

Brian Glyn Williams: The Sultan’s Raiders

Der Spiegel: Ohr ab

Institute of Demography at the National Research University ‘Higher School of Economics’

Institute of Demography at the National Research University ‘Higher School of Economics’

Institute of Demography at the National Research University ‘Higher School of Economics’

John F. Richards: The Unending Frontier: An Environmental History of the Early Modern World

Max Weber Stiftung: „Die Verwandtschaft zwischen den Krimtataren und den Türken der Türkei ist besonders eng.“

President of Russian Federation:Addres by President of the Russian Federation

State Statistics Committee of Ukraine

Ukraine-Nachrichten: Der tatarische Hetman

Washington Post: To understand Crimea, take a look back at its complicated history

Sources of pictures:

Geographical map of the Black Sea

Map of the medieval Crimea

Ruins of Chersonesos

Sign of the Crimean Tatars


One thought on “A Crimean Story – Who is writing it?

  1. Pingback: No Alternatives To Optimism | Pieneņpūkas

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