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Crimean Tatars Mark Deportation Anniversary

Crimea's Tatars mark Deportation Day in Simferapol.

Crimea's Tatars mark Deportation Day in Simferapol.

SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine -- Ukraine's Crimean Tatar minority has marked the 66th anniversary of their deportation, RFE/RL's Ukrainian and Tatar-Bashkir services report.

On May 18, 1944, Soviet Army and Interior Ministry troops deported the entire Tatar population of Crimea -- some 180,000 people -- to Siberia and Central Asia on the orders of Soviet leader Josef Stalin.

Thousands of people died along the journey.

In 1991, the Crimean Tatars received official permission to return to Crimea. They currently make up more than 12 percent of the Crimean Peninsula's population of some 2.1 million.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych issued a decree last week calling on the authorities "to provide all necessary conditions for marking the 66th anniversary of the deportation at the appropriate level."

Crimean Tatar leaders and activists have been holding commemorative gatherings and mourning ceremonies in Crimea since May 16.

Mustafa Dzhemilev, the leader of the Crimean Tatar parliament, or Mejlis, said on May 17 that the gatherings are not protest actions but acts of mourning.

The Day to Commemorate the Victims of the Deportation has been marked every year in Crimea since 1993.