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Crimean Tatars Mark Deportation By Stalin

Crimean Tatars rally in Simferopol to mark the anniversary of their deportation (RFE/RL) May 18, 2006 -- Crimean Tatars are today marking the 62th anniversary of their deportation by Soviet leader Josef Stalin by laying wreathes in ceremonies in the Crimea and in Kyiv.

In a statement, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko reiterated his government's pledges to help reintegrate Tatars, who say they still face difficulties in obtaining citizenship, finding jobs, or getting back their land.

More than 250,000 Tatars have returned to the Crimea since 1989, when they were allowed to return from exile.

Mustafa Djemilev, the head of the Crimean Tatar Mejlis, the main body representing the community, highlighted the difficulty that Crimean Tatars face in maintaining their culture and language, saying that "ninety percent of our children do not have the opportunity to be educated in their native language."

Djemilev believes that "an assimilation policy of Russification continues here," and told RFE/RL that "no conditions have been created in this country for Crimean Tatars to preserve their ethnic identity."

Some 200,000 were deported to Central Asia on Stalin's orders in 1944, who accused them of collaborating with the Nazis. Nearly half died on their way there or during the first years of exile.

Some 100,000 Tatars still live abroad.

(UNIAN, Interfax-Ukraine, AP)

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