Thirty years ago, on July 30, 1987, the Soviet government accused United States diplomats of inciting demonstrations by Crimean Tatars calling for the return of their homeland.
In Washington, the State Department responded by stating that such accusations were “absurd.”
Some 500 Crimean Tatars – mostly young people – called for the restoration of their ancestral homeland during a 24-hour protest near Red Square that began on July 25, and which unexpectedly had drawn no police retaliation. The protest culminated in a meeting on July 27 with Soviet President Andrei Gromyko to discuss their demands. One of the demonstrators’ demands was to meet with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
Mr. Gromyko reportedly outlined the composition of a top-level commission to investigate their cause and requested that all 21 members of the delegation explain their complaints. The Tatar delegation expressed dissatisfaction that the authorities had offered no immediate concrete solutions.
Mr. Gromyko told the delegation that the commission needed an atmosphere of calm to study their problem and cautioned them that attempts to put pressure on the authorities would not be in their best interest.
The TASS news agency said the Crimean Tatars’ problem would have to be resolved in the interests of all the peoples of the USSR, particularly the Ukrainians and Russians who have moved into areas where the Tatars lived. Official statements by the authorities in late July of that year indicated that the return of the pre-war Autonomous Tatar Republic was out of the question.
Soviet authorities had moved to suppress the Tatars’ public protests and, according to Crimean Tatar sources, police swept through Moscow, warning non-residents to leave and reminding them that the demonstration planned for July 30 would not be permitted.
The New York Times reported that this signaled a hardening in the official attitude by the Soviets toward several hundred Crimean Tatars who had held several demonstrations in Moscow at the time. “The Crimean Tatars’ activities here have presented the government with a delicate test as it attempts to cope with rising nationalist sentiment among many minorities and seeks to set new boundaries for dissent under Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s policy of openness,” wrote Philip Taubman of The New York Times.
The USSR’s Foreign Affairs Ministry charged that the U.S. Embassy was guilty of improper conduct, accusing a senior political officer of fomenting the Tatar protests. The state news agency TASS reported that the diplomat, identified as Shaun M. Byrnes, had incited “Soviet citizens to commit illegal actions.” U.S. Embassy spokesperson Jaroslav Verner denied the charges of improper diplomatic conduct.
Sources: “Crimean Tatars demand rights” and “USSR says U.S. incites Crimean Tatars,” The Ukrainian Weekly, August 1 and 9, 1987.