SIMFEROPOL, Ukraine -- The 20th anniversary of a referendum that restored the Crimean Peninsula's autonomous status was marked in Ukraine today, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reports.
On January 20, 1991 -- shortly before the dissolution of the Soviet Union -- 93 percent of voters chose to restore the Crimea's status as an autonomous republic, a designation it had lost nearly 50 years ago.
The Crimean parliament held a special session today to mark the anniversary.
Meanwhile, a pro-Russian group called the Sevastopol-Crimea-Russia National Front staged a protest in Crimea's capital, Simferopol.
The movement's leader, Valery Podyachy, told RFE/RL the 1991 referendum was really about the Republic of Crimea becoming a union republic within the Soviet Union, not within Ukraine. He argued that since the Soviet Union existed when the referendum was held, Crimea should have become a part of Russia, not Ukraine, when the Soviet Union collapsed.
The Crimea was officially transferred from Russia to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954.
Refat Chubarov, a Crimean Tatar community leader, told RFE/RL that the Crimea's current autonomous status does not guarantee the development of the Crimean Tatars' language, culture, or education. He said the languages spoken in Crimea do not all have equal status.
The Crimean Tatars were deported from Crimea to Central Asia by Soviet leader Josef Stalin in 1944. In 1945, Crimea lost its autonomous status within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and was renamed the Crimean Oblast of Russia.
After the USSR dissolved in 1991, Crimean Tatars started returning en masse to Crimea from Central Asia and demanding their land and property back.
Crimean Tatars currently account for about 13 percent of Crimea's 2 million residents, of whom about 60 percent are Russians.
Many Crimean Tatars boycotted the 1991 referendum, saying that their vision of Crimea's autonomy was different.Read in Ukrainian here