Crimean Tatars' protest brings Soviet promise of meeting with President
A two-day demonstration in central Moscow by a group of Crimean Tatars ended yesterday afternoon when the demonstrators were promised a meeting this morning with Soviet President Andrei Gromyko. The group was demanding the return of their Crimean homeland, from which they were expelled in 1944. Throughout the demonstration, the Soviet authorities showed what was for them unusual tolerance.
The main group of demonstrators was encircled by police and blocked in by buses on the edge of Red Square, and onlookers were kept about 50 yards from them.
But the police had apparently allowed one Tatar activist to stand among the bystanders. His discussions with a crowds of passersby took the form of a series of disjointed, usually unfinished debates.
``Why don't you get a job?'' one of the bystanders shouted. ``Stupid question,'' muttered a plainly dressed middle-aged man at the back of the crowd. The Tatar pointed out that it was Sunday, and he did have a job.
Another onlooker said in a thick Ukrainian accent that one of his fellow workers, ``a great guy,'' was a Tatar. ``He's seems happy where he is, he's not out here making trouble.'' Perhaps he's lost his roots, the Tatar replied.
A younger man started to recite the history of the Crimean area. He started by stressing that the Tatars themselves had originally seized the area by force of arms. He seemed to be building up to the point that the expulsion of the Tatars from the Crimea by Joseph Stalin was a vagary of history, and should be accepted as such. But he was interrupted. ``You're all Nazis,'' a bystander shouted. The middle-aged man responded, ``Do you want to talk or just bad-mouth people?''
The Tatars began their demonstration Saturday, and had vowed to maintain it until they were received by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. In a departure from previous practice, the official news agency Tass reported the demonstration. Tass described them as ``extremist-minded'' people who wanted to solve ``this complicated problem immediately.''
Late last week the government announced that a special commission had been set up under Mr. Gromyko to assess the status of the Tatars. The government announcement accused some Tatars of collaborating with the Nazis during World War II, but conceded that the decision by Stalin to deport them all had been an overreaction.
Most Crimean Tatars, estimated to number 200,000 to 300,000, live in Soviet Central Asia. Crimean Tatars are descendants of the Tatars who left the Golden Horde in 1443 to form an independent khanate in the Crimea. The khanate was absorbed into the Russian empire in 1783.