Crimea, a beautiful peninsular in the Black Sea, has been part of many states and empires. The rulers have come and gone, but for seven hundred years the Crimean Tatars have called Crimea home, although they have always shared it with many other nationalities.
The Crimean Tatars are Muslim, and speak a language related to Turkish. They formed a Khanate, or kingdom, in Crimea from the 15th to the 18th century, when the peninsular was conquered by Catherine the Great of Russia.
The Russian empire ceased to exist with the Russian revolution, and in 1921 Crimea became part of the Soviet Union. Initially Soviet policy was to support different ethnic groups, but that soon changed to repression. During the Second World War, the Soviet leader Stalin deported the entire Crimean Tatar population, ostensibly for collaborating with the occupying Nazis. An estimated 8000 Tatars died on the journey; many more (some estimate up to 46 percent of the population) perished in the first year of exile in Central Asia and Siberia.
Although they were banned from returning, the Crimean Tatars never ceased to call Crimea home. In 1986 a political process called perestroika began, which led eventually to the break-up of the Soviet Union. Under perestroika the laws were relaxed, and between 1987 and 1995 over 250,000 Crimean Tatars finally came back to Crimea.
Crimea became part of independent Ukraine in 1991. Ukraine has granted the returning Tatars Ukrainian citizenship, but bitter land disputes are ongoing, Crimean Tatar religious and historical sites are frequently destroyed by building projects or vandalism, and violent clashes between Tatars and Russian nationalist groups are not unusual.
You can find out more about Crimean Tatar history, culture and the current situation in Crimea at these sites:
The following books, which I used while writing Dream Land, also offer an excellent overview:
The Crimean Tatars by Alan W. Fisher
Hoover Institution Press (Stanford University)
The Tatars of Crimea: Return to the Homeland edited by Edward A. Allworth
Duke University Press