Who Are The Tatars?

Oxana Shevel puts the pro-Ukrainian minority in context:

The new Ukrainian government leaders have called for calm, the far right Right Sector said it will not be sending its men to Crimea, and in a conciliatory gesture to Russian-speakers, acting president Turchynov today vetoed the law the Ukrainian parliament adopted several days earlier repealing the 2012 law elevating the status of the Russian language. With the Security Council in session to discuss events in Crimea and Western leaders urging restraint and warning Russia that violations of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity are unacceptable, there is hope that a diplomatic solution to the crisis could be found.

But even if diplomacy fails and the Russian military seizes Crimean territory with the intention of controlling it permanently, it will be much harder for Russia to establish control of Crimea than it was in South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria. The main reason for this is the Crimean Tatars.

The Tatars — a Muslim group that was deported en masse from Crimea by Stalin in 1944 and that for decades has waged a peaceful struggle for the right to return — have been coming back in droves since 1989. According to the latest Ukrainian census, from 2001, 243,433 Crimean Tatars account for 12.1 percent of the Crimean population of 2,033,700. They represent a highly mobilized and unified constituency that has consistently been pro-Ukrainian and opposed to pro-Russian separatism on the peninsula. Going back to the 1991 independence referendum, the narrow vote in favor of Ukrainian state independence in Crimea may have been thanks to the vote of the Crimean Tatars.  Since then, the Crimean Tatars and their representative organ, the Mejlis, have cooperated with the pro-Ukrainian political parties.  …

There has been no comparable local mobilized group opposed to Russian takeover in any other of the breakaway regions.

And they would likely fight to the finish:

Analyst Semivolos says the Crimean Tatars, as a nation, have a “post-genocidal mentality.” “Crimean Tatars in many ways are still living through the experience of genocide to the present day. For them, in many ways, it isn’t over, the process of returning, in many ways it is continuing,” he explains. “That is why there is this perception of threats, of existential threats, threats to their lives, their physical existence. And they view all sorts of actions, even ones that Russians themselves consider defensive, but for Crimean Tatars, they are attacks.”

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