Thursday, February 25, 2016

Jamala's Song

Jamala sings 1944 at Ukraine Eurovision Song Contest, and wins!
Yahoo image. 
Jamala's song, 1944, supposedly "contentious" because Putin's Russia doesn't like it, is a simple song about the loss of the Crimean Tatar's homeland.  It's about heartache and hope. It tells a real story, about Stalin's purge of the Tatars in 1944, expresses a real dream, hauntingly revived after the Russian takeover of Crimea in 2014. Jamala was chosen to represent Ukraine at the 2016 Eurovision music contest, which will be held in Stockholm in May.

I hope Jamala wins lots of prizes for putting the spotlight on Crimea and helping to keep it on the world's freedom agenda.  How many people know the significance of the year 1944 in Tatar history? Not many.  But Jamala remembers a family story of how her great-grandmother died enroute to southern Russia, and was then tossed off a wagon "like she was garbage," while Jamala's mother watched in horror, weak from starvation, helpless. You never forget those memories.  Every Tatar family has them.  At least half of  the Tatars who were forced to make this hazardous journey died. How many people know this story?

The New York Times reported that an estimated 120 million viewers are expected to watch this 59th annual Eurovision Song Contest.  I hope so.

Tragedy etched in Dzhemilev's face and in his heart.
For the same reason, I hope the Crimean Tatar freedom-fighter Mustafa Dzhemilev is nominated for the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize. Like Jamala's family, he was among the more than 300,000 Tatars, just a young boy, deported from Crimea by Stalin's 1944 orders. When Stalin forced the Tatar people out, en masse, he sent in thousands of Russians to replace them and ensure Russian hegemony over the Tatar's indigenous homeland. This is the history of oppression, enforced Russification, and murder we must remember, like we remember the Holocaust.

Dzhemilev grew up in Uzbekistan and returned to his homeland in 1989 along with thousands of other Tatars, to rebuild their homes, their communities, their social and cultural institutions. It remains a heroic effort, now cut short.  I witnessed it when I visited Crimea as a Peace Corps Volunteer in 2009-11. Beautiful people, brilliant, talented, hard-working, tolerant, international in outlook, rebuilding their historic community on a beautiful land.

Imagine their horror at Putin's takeover of Crimea in 2014, by stealth, violence, and a pumped-up propaganda campaign, a shocking reminder of 1944.  The pain is etched on the Tatars' faces.  A nightmare beyond words.

Seventy years after their enforced deportation, the Tatar are once again under an oppressive Russian rule on the land of their ancestors. Their homes; their governing body, the Majlis; the famed Kapinksy Library, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that preserved the Tatar language, literature and culture; Tatar media outlets; all destroyed or taken over by Russian occupiers.

Putin taking a bite out of Ukraine,
invading Crimea.
Human rights abuses are rampant. Thousands of Tartar have "disappeared," been jailed or killed. Over 3,000 have been forced to flee their homes. Mustafa Dzhemilev is banned from returning to Crimea, a rerun of the Stalinist era.

Putin has "swallowed the souls" of a peace-loving people. as Jamala sings.  I wonder how the ethnic Russian population, who supposedly welcomed Russian rule, feel about what's happening to the Tatar. They were friends and neighbors, living in harmony. How can they condone it? How can they accept it? How can they go along with what's happening to Crimea, being Stalinized, militarized, exploited, their communities in shambles, businesses gone, tourism gone. It's incomprehensible to me.

Meanwhile, although it seldom makes the news headlines, resistance to Putin's illegal takeover of Crimea continues.  A new Deoccupy Crimea movement is on a roll.  It will go on until the Crimean Tatar, the indigenous people, are masters of their homeland.  The world must not forget Crimea, must not abandon the Tatar, must stop Putin's criminal aggression.

"We can build a future, where people are free..."  This is the song of Jamala.  This is the dream of Mustafa Dzhemilev.

When strangers are coming...
They come to your house,
They kill you all
and say,
We’re not guilty
not guilty.
Where is your mind?
Humanity cries.
You think you are gods.
But everyone dies.
Don't swallow my soul.
Our souls
We could build a future
Where people are free
to live and love.
The happiest time.
Where is your heart?
Humanity rise.
You think you are gods
But everyone dies.
Don't swallow my soul.
Our soul.

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