France, Poland, and the Crimean Tatars' Struggle for Independence
Primary Sources: 1918-1937


Compiled by Salavat M. Iskhakov

The history of Crimea and its indigenous population, the Crimean Tatars, has yet to be sufficiently studied, despite an abundance of scholarly literature being produced in various countries. A lack of reliable sources relating to important aspects of this history, including the political biographies of key players, has left significant gaps. The historical record has lately been corrected in important ways, although even now, some of what is being written reflects one or another agenda.

To help fill in the gaps and correct the historical record, we have assembled a selection of documents from the archives of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris and the Russian State Military Archive in Moscow. These documents range from 1918 to 1937 but also include information relating to the distant past. Written by European diplomats and military officers, often using officialese, they shed light on various aspects of the Crimean Tatars' rich history. Overall, the collection contains many details about life in Crimea and the peninsula's relations with other nations previously unknown even to experts.

During 1917-1920, when the question of Crimean independence was being decided, French envoys to various countries sent to Paris coded telegrams, letters, and memoranda about the situation in Crimea. These envoys were in touch with Crimean Tatars who offered their own perspective on events that took place in Crimea under the tsars and during the revolution and Civil War. What upset the Tatars most under Russian rule was interference in their religious life. Although the central authorities variously proclaimed respect for the local religion and culture, in practice, Tatar rights were regularly violated. Cafer Seydamet, a prominent Crimean Tatar leader, appealed repeatedly to the League of Nations and the French for recognition of Crimean Tatars' legal interests and right to independence.

Another group of documents in the collection comprises information gathered by the Polish General Staff's Second Department, which handled military intelligence and counterintelligence. Dating from 1929 to 1937, these documents fell into Soviet hands after World War II and were declassified during perestroika. They included not just intelligence about Crimean Tatars inside and outside Crimea, but also letters written by Crimean political emigrants. Seydamet, for example, was in contact with the Polish military and received financial support for an information campaign against Soviet nationalities and religious policies in Crimea and for assistance to Crimean Tatars living in abroad, primarily in Romania. Many of these documents were written by Crimean Tatars or their representatives and contain information about both the past and unfolding political developments.

These archival documents significantly expand our understanding of the history of Crimea and the Crimean Tatars, their relationship with Islam, their piety (which the evidence shows to be much stronger than among other peoples of the former Russian Empire), their strong devotion to both confessional and national traditions, their rich culture, and the outstanding figures who fought for the interests of Crimean Tatars, both those remaining in their native land and those forced to emigrate after the Soviet takeover.

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  • Salavat Iskhakov