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You Say Crimea, They Say Taurida

  • Tom Balmforth

MOSCOW -- Crimea Is Ours has been a popular patriotic rallying cry for Russians since the annexation of the peninsula from Ukraine 10 months ago.

But now some Russian officials are claiming that Crimea isn't even really Crimea -- it's Taurida.

The idea of renaming Crimea was first floated by the bombastic nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who noted in an interview with the pro-Kremlin website LifeNews on January 1 that the peninsula's original Greek name was Taurida and was later changed to the Turkic Crimea.

"The first given names should be used everywhere!” Zhirinovsky said, noting that the Crimean cities of Sevastopol, Feodosiya, Kerch, and Yevpatoria all have Greek names.

Zhirinovsky is often used as a stalking horse by the Kremlin, making outrageous statements that later become official policy. And the idea of renaming Crimea appears to be picking up momentum.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky: "The first given names should be used everywhere!”

Vladimir Zhirinovsky: "The first given names should be used everywhere!”

Sergei Tsekov, who represents Crimea in the Federation Council, the upper house of Russia's parliament, said the idea was worth considering

"I don’t think we can get away from the word ‘Crimea.’ I don’t rule out that it could be Crimea-Taurida or Taurida-Crimea," Tsekov said, according to media reports.

Tsekov noted that the idea "could stir up a certain amount of fire," adding that he was "prepared to discuss this issue, but not to fiercely advocate it."

The ancient Greeks set up settlements along the coast of Crimea in the 6th and 7th centuries and named the region Taurica after the Tauri people who lived there.

The peninsula changed hands various times, falling under the Crimean Khanate, a Turko-Mongol vassal state of the Ottoman Empire from 1441 until 1783, when it was annexed by the Russian Empire under Catherine the Great. The name was Russified as the Taurida Oblast, a territory that also included parts of what are today southern Ukraine.

The name Crimea gradually came into colloquial usage in the 18th and 19th centuries.

In the chaos following the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and subsequent civil war in Russia, the ethnic Tatar government on the peninsula briefly established the Crimean People's Republic on December 13, 1917. But it was overrun by the Bolsheviks in January 1918 and changed hands between the Red and White forces several times in the civil war.

The peninsula was finally incorporated into the Soviet Union as the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic in 1921.

Many Russian place names have Turkic roots due to the Mongol-Tatar rule from the 13th to the 15th centuries. The Russian word for Kremlin -- Kreml -- is widely believed to come from the Turkic word for "fortress." It is the same as the Turkic root for the Russian word for Crimea, Krym.

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