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Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian diaspora groups in Türkiye | Western Asia |

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Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian diaspora groups in Türkiye

Milana Nikolko

/ 12 Minuten zu lesen

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has displaced thousands to Türkiye. New diaspora groups are working with the long-established Crimean Tatar diaspora to attract attention to the situation in Ukraine.

Ukrainians, Turks and Crimean Tatars protest against Russia's war in Ukraine, in Ankara, Turkey, May 21, 2022. (© picture-alliance/AP)

Russia’s war against Ukraine has produced several million refugees from Ukraine. Ukrainians have not only fled to European Union member states but also to other countries with historic ties to their homeland. Among these countries is Türkiye with its long-established Crimean Tatar diaspora and much younger Ukrainian diasporic organizations. Both groups, Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians, are working synchronically to preserve the national history of their country of origin, to help newly arrived and to attract international attention to the war in Ukraine and to the situation in occupied territories. The complicated interplay of ethnic collective traumata, caused by Tsarist Russia, the Soviet Union, and modern Russia, is compelling the diasporas to reassess their separate goals and seek, maybe, even temporary, platforms for cooperation.

History of the Crimean Tatar diaspora in Türkiye

Türkiye hosts the largest Crimean Tatar diaspora in the world. Although there is no available official data from the Turkish authorities related to the Crimean Tatar population living in Türkiye, it is estimated that 1.8 million Crimeans migrated to the Ottoman territories between 1783 and 1922, which give the current estimation of people of Crimean Tatar descent around 3-5 million. But who are the Crimean Tatars and why did do many of them leave their Crimean homeland and establish themselves in the territory of modern Türkiye?

The Tatars are a predominantly Sunni Muslim community of Turkic-speaking peoples whose name appeared on the map in the early 13th century when various groups of these nomadic peoples fought in the armies of the Mongol conqueror Genghis Khan. After Genghis Khan’s death in 1227, the Mongol Empire fell apart. In the late 14th century, the Tatars disintegrated into four independent Tatar khanates; the Crimean Khanate was one of them. While the Russian Empire conquered the three other Tatar khanates in the 16th century, the Crimean Khanate remained independent until the late 18th century. It maintained deep relationships with Anatolia until it was annexed by Russian Tsarina Catherine II in 1783. In the context of this annexation, the first mass migration movement from Crimea occurred in the late eighteenth century. However, the most significant migration wave was seen during and after the Crimean War in 1853-1856, when Czarist Russia tried to expand its influence in territories in the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean that were part of the Ottoman Empire. After the Crimean War alone, an estimated 300,000 Crimean Tatars left their homeland and migrated to the Ottoman lands between 1859 and 1865. After this date, Crimean Tatars became a minority in Crimea for the first time in their history.

Both cultural and intellectual migration of prominent Crimean Tatars to the Ottoman Empire, and the process of russification of the population of Crimea, led to a century (between 1783 and 1883) of no literary production in the Crimean Tatar language. Under these circumstances, Crimean Tatar migration to Ottoman lands aimed at protecting Turkic-Tatar and Muslim culture, together with their way of life in a friendly and welcoming country.

During the Russian Revolution of 1917, Crimean Tatars aspired to establish their independence in the Crimean Peninsula, however, it was terminated by the Bolshevik intervention and the chaos of the Civil War (1918-1922). The war triggered another wave of Tatar emigration as did the Holodomor in 1932/33, a severe famine that resulted from the Soviet regime’s forced collectivization of agriculture and policies punishing the rural population’s resistance against it. The last major Crimean Tatar migration to Türkiye occurred towards the end of WWII, when about one thousand of Crimean Tatars migrated to Türkiye, to avoid imprisoning in the USSR and the forced mass deportation (Sürgün) of May 1944 to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The mass deportation was justified with incidents of collaboration during the German occupation: in October 1941, large parts of the Crimean Peninsula had been invaded by the German Wehrmacht and the Crimean Tatars came under the influence of National Socialism. Numerous Crimean Tatars collaborated with the Germans whom many saw as liberators from the horrors of Stalinist rule. Crimean Tatar nationalists sought support by the Nazi occupation regime to form Muslim committees in the Crimean Peninsula that would allow for some form of autonomy. The German army also created a Crimean Tatar legion in which about 20,000 Crimean Tatars served as soldiers. However, most of the Crimean Tatar men were mobilised and were fighting in the ranks of the Red Army, also a significant number of Crimeans joined the ranks of local guerrillas (partizan movement) to fight German occupation, especially when thousands of Crimean Tatars were forcefully deported to Germany as forced labourers (“Ostarbeiter”). Nevertheless, after Crimea had been reconquered by the Red Army in 1944, Stalin used the incidents of collaboration to justify the mass deportation of Crimean Tatars from the peninsula. The deportation of about 190,000 people cleared Crimea of its entire Tatar population, and it was only in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when Tatars began returning to the peninsula.

To conclude, we want to emphasize, that the Crimean Tatar diaspora in Turkey exemplifies a paradigmatic victim diaspora, characterized by a substantial segment of the ethnic group migrating or being displaced from their homeland due to systemic oppression.

Crimean Tatar activism in Türkiye and Ukraine

Before the 1980s, Crimean Tatar activism in Türkiye was sustained by a closed elite group. In the 1980s, the diaspora elite living in Türkiye decided to enlarge their scope and aimed to strengthen their grassroots-level activism. Due to the increased level of education, mobility, and urbanization, Crimean Tatars perceived a danger of assimilation, during this period many Crimean Tatar diaspora associations and foundations were formed in Türkiye and established the connections between diasporas in other countries and Crimea. These diaspora institutions worked very actively to support the return of the Crimean Tatars from exile to Crimea which became possible only after the dissolution of the USSR. Yet at the same time, Tatar leadership in Crimea realized that the “Crimean Tatar diaspora in Türkiye lacked both the resources and the stomach” to support the radical demand for Crimean Tatar sovereignty in Crimea and focused on collaboration with regional and central authorities in Ukraine. For years, leaders of the Crimean Tatar diaspora had conflictive relations with Ukrainian authorities due to Ukraine’s inability to prevent the suffering of returning Crimean Tatars who were met with resistance by the local population and oppressive policies of Crimean authorities.

Russian occupation and annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in February and March 2014 was a breaking point in the history of the Crimean Tatars and caused new divisions in the diaspora. Before the Russian annexation, the diaspora had concentrated on solving the problems of Tatars returning to Crimea, and strengthening ties with the Mejlis and Kurultai, the two most important self-governing bodies of the Crimean Tatar nation. Following the annexation, around 20,000-30,000 Crimean Tatar activists, including the leaders of Mejlis, fled Crimea to mainland Ukraine, where they reestablished self-government organs within the Ukrainian legal system. Some of the activists in the Crimean Tatar diaspora in Türkiye considered to build connections with newly established Crimean Tatar organizations in annexed Crimea, but the majority of activists in the diaspora supported the Mejlis leaders in Ukraine. As a result, Turkish government aid to Crimean Tatar diaspora activism in Crimea rapidly declined.

Ukrainian diaspora development

There was very limited evidence of Ukrainian migration to Türkiye before the end of the Cold War. However, with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Black Sea region became a new transport, trade, and migration hub for many people from the former Soviet Union republics. The business operations between Türkiye and Ukraine were steady growing, with transborder trade, tourism and cross-border investments becoming substantial economic factors for both countries since the mid-1990s, though the migration processes between the two countries were limited to the exchange of temporary workers, students, and tourists. An exceptional migration stream was marriage migration of Ukrainian women marrying Turkish men. Approximately 20,000 to 30,000 Ukrainian migrants were residing in Turkey in 2020, with a limited number of Ukrainian diaspora organizations, primarily oriented towards local migrant communities, dedicated to the preservation of the Ukrainian language and the promotion of Ukrainian culture. It will be safe to conclude, that Ukrainian diaspora in Turkey emerged primarily as a labor diaspora resulting from cross-border workforce mobility.

The development of a Ukrainian diaspora in Türkiye is a fairly recent phenomenon, whose second generation has just emerged. It gained momentum following the pro-European protests (Euromaidan) in Kyiv. In interviews, Ukrainian diaspora activists characterized the Ukrainian crisis in 2014 as a situation of "awakeness", when the ethnic origin and the destiny of the motherland obtained new value for Ukrainian migrants. Russia’s occupation and annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its military intervention in the Donbas region, resulted in a new wave of volunteering and mobilization in diaspora, it pushed Ukrainians to seek institutional and legitimate recognition of their identity abroad. It is thus not surprising that most of the about 20 Ukrainian diaspora organizations in Türkiye were established after 2014. In many cases their formation and coordination of activities was and continues to be supported by the Ukrainian embassy.

The Ukrainian crisis of 2014 fostered cooperation of Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar diaspora groups. Beside the current issues in annexed Crimea, the memories of the collective traumata of the Holodomor famine and the deportation of Crimean Tatars by the Soviet government from Crimea in 1944, have become identity-forming events for both diaspora groups.

The Ukrainian government officially included the Crimean Tatars as a part of the world Ukrainian diaspora. This inclusion of Crimean Tatars into the Ukrainian diaspora was implemented in a symbolic and institutional move: on April 8, 2017, with the support of the Ukrainian Embassy in Türkiye, Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar associations established a coordination platform to address the most precent issues for both ethnic communities. Participants discussed issues related to the interaction and coordination of Ukrainian communities in Türkiye, the organization and implementation of cultural, educational, and artistic events, as well as events commemorating significant dates and national holidays important to the Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar peoples. Emphasis was placed on joint efforts in preserving and developing national identity, traditions of national culture among Ukrainians, promoting Ukrainian national products, Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar languages, and presenting Ukraine in a contemporary and modern light.

In our interviews we gathered the evidence that both diaspora groups try to attract international attention to Russian occupied Crimea, raise awareness for the forced deportation of Crimean Tatars from Crimea in 1944, or commemorate the Holodomor. With all what was said above, it must be acknowledged that this kind of political orientation is mostly expressed by the leaders of the two diaspora communities in Türkiye. In everyday life, religion, language, and ethnicity are still considered to be divisive markers by a majority of both diaspora groups.

Current situation

Trustworthy data on the exact number of people who initially fled the war to Türkiye is hard to obtain, the range of data varies between 70,000 and 150,000 people.

During the first months of the war, many Ukrainians, predominantly women and children, entered the country using the visa-free traveling regime, which has been existing between the two countries since 2011. This short-term visa-free entrance allowed Ukrainians to stay up to 90 days without applying for a residence permit. Over time, 32,097 Ukrainians were granted short-term residence permits; less than 5,000 of people, who fled the war, applied for asylum. While Ukrainians can easily enter and move around Türkiye, obtaining a longer-term legal status poses many challenges. On the one hand, Ukrainians have the choice of applying for temporary protection in Türkiye, granting them a one-year permission to stay, along with the entitlement to free medical care and the right to work after six months. However, this status restricts Ukrainians from changing their place of residence, including the ability to return to Ukraine if necessary. On the other hand, those without temporary protection in Türkiye face a lack of access to essential public services, including healthcare and education for school-aged children. According to data provided by the UN refugee agency (UNCHR), as of November 2023, 42,875 Ukrainians resided in Türkiye.

Diaspora activities are shaped not only by internal dynamics or relations with the home country but also by the diaspora's positionality and ethnicity-related regulations in host countries. There are two ethnic groups descending from Turkic from Ukraine whose migration is actively navigated by the Turkish government in the framework of Türkiye’s Settlement Law. Since the beginning of the war, 409 Crimean Tatars and 2,395 Meskhetians crossed the Turkish border. For these two groups the government established a specific migration scheme, which provides help with accommodation, healthcare, and education, but most importantly grants the possibility of a long-term residence status. The exclusiveness of the Settlement Law application is dividing the migration streams from Ukraine. Given the limited support for Ukrainians who are not of Turkish origin, as well as the stabilization of the frontline in Ukraine, many Ukrainians have returned to Ukraine or decided to migrate to other countries. By the summer of 2023 the number of Ukrainians in Türkiye had stabilised somewhere under 50,000 people.

Ukrainian associations continue to seek opportunities to enhance the growth of their diasporas and help to meet the most urgent needs of newly arrived people. Recently, many more diaspora groups and online Ukrainian communities (not necessarily formalized organizations) were created to accommodate the need. Through cooperation with the local community, municipalities, and the embassy of Ukraine, they aim to strengthen their institutional capacity and overall effectiveness in the process of preserving the Ukrainian identity and, which is more urgent, in advocating for newly arrived Ukrainians.

The full-scale war in Ukraine, which has now been going on for almost two years, has compelled both diaspora communities to shift their attention towards addressing the urgent needs of Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar people fleeing the war, diverting focus from the tragic past of deportation and the Holodomor. Nevertheless, the intricate tapestry of ethnic collective traumata, stemming through the centuries and continue to unfold today, is remaining to be an identity staple for both diaspora groups.



  1. Milana Nikolko and Fethi Kurtiy Şahin. 2020. “Overcoming the boundaries: strategies of cooperation among Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian diaspora groups in response to the Ukrainian crisis. The comparison of Canada and Turkey.” Euxeinos, Vol. 10, No. 30. Available: Externer Link:

  2. Following Fiona Adamson, we will use the term diaspora to describe “any transnational group that maintains a sense of national or ethnic collective identity by cultivating strong ties with each other and with their real or imagined homeland” (Adamson, Fiona B. 2016. “The Growing Importance of Diaspora Politics.” Current History, Vol. 115, No. 784, p. 292).

  3. Kırımlı, Hakan. 2012. Türkiye’deki Kırım Tatar ve Nogay Köy Yerleşimleri. Ankara: Tarih Vakfı Yurt Yayınları, v-xiii, p. 5-10.

  4. Ibid, pp. 11-12.

  5. In 1883, Gaspıralı İsmail Bey (Ismail Gasprinskii) published the Tercüman (The Interpreter), the dual language Crimean Tatar newspaper.

  6. The Holodomor was a man-made famine in Ukraine in 1932/33, which was caused by the forced collectivization of agriculture by the Soviet regime and measures to punish the resisting rural population. The Holodomor is now recognized by many countries and the EU Parliament (15 December 2022) as genocide of the Ukrainian population.

  7. Geray, Cevat. 1962. Türkiye’den ve Türkiye’ye Göçler ve Göçmenlerin İskânı (1923-1961). Ankara. (cited in Kırımlı, Türkiye’deki Kırım Tatar ve Nogay Köy Yerleşimleri, 13), p. 9.

  8. Williams, Brian G. 2002. “The Hidden Ethnic Cleansing of Muslims in the Soviet Union: The Exile and Repatriation of the Crimean Tatars”. Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 37, No. 3, pp. 323-347.

  9. Şahin, Fethi Kurtiy. 2018. “A Bridge Between Ukraine and Turkey: Crimean Tatar Diaspora.” In 25 Years of Turkey-Ukraine Diplomatic Relations: Regional Developments and Prospects for Enhanced Cooperation (AVİM (Center for Eurasian Studies) Conference Book No. 22), edited by Turgut Kerem Tuncel & Ayşegül Aydıngün. Ankara, pp. 64-65.

  10. Aydin, Filiz Tutku. 2012. “Comparative Cases in Long-Distance Nationalism: Explaining the Émigré, Exile, Diaspora and Transnational Movements of the Crimean Tatars.” PhD Dissertation. University of Toronto, p. 372.

  11. Williams, Brian. G. 2001. The Crimean Tatars: The Diaspora Experience and the Forging of a Nation. Leiden; Boston; Koln: Brill, p. 257.

  12. There is no Turkey present in Crimea nowadays. Interview with Dr. E. Muratova. Externer Link: (accessed: 22-12-2023).

  13. See detailed analysis in Aybak, Tunc. 2017. “Russian speaking diaspora in Turkey: the geopolitics of migration in the Black Sea region”. In Post-Soviet Migration and Diasporas: From Global Perspectives to Everyday Practices. Nikolko, Milana and Carment, David, eds. Migration, Diaspora and Citizenship. Palgrave Macmillan, UK, pp. 127-142; Antonova-Ünlü, Elena; Sağin-Şimşek, Çiğdem; Ateşman, Ender; Lozovska, Anna. 2015. “Russian Immigrant Diaspora in Turkey: Language Use, Preference and Attitudes.” Turkish Studies, Vol. 16, No. 3, pp. 391-410.

  14. Ayla Deniz and E. Murat Özgür. 2022. “The establishment of the Ukrainian diaspora in Turkey through migrant associations: ‘We feel as part of the diaspora from now on.” Southeast European and Black Sea studies, Vol. 22, No. 2, p. 253.

  15. Ukrainian Coordination Council in Turkey, Externer Link:

  16. Şahin. 2018, p.68.

  17. Interviews were conducted in 2019, before the full-scale invasion.

  18. Hasan Basri Bülbül. 2022. “Ukrainians in Turkey: Probable Scenarios Regarding their Legal Statuses.” İstanbul Medipol Üniversitesi Hukuk Fakültesi Dergisi, Vol. 9, No. 2, p.545.

  19. This number includes people, who already were living in Türkiye before the full-scale invasion.

  20. The İskân Kanunu, the Settlement Law No. 5543, 2006.

  21. The Turkic Meskhetians are a minority group that was forcibly deported from their homeland in what is now Georgia to Central Asia in 1944. Today, they live scattered in Central Asia, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine, among other places.

  22. Bülbül, pp. 583, 591.

  23. Deniz and Özgür, p. 259.


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Dr Milana Nikolko is Adjunct Research Professor at the Institute of European, Russian and Eurasian Studies (EURUS), Carleton University, Canada. Her research focuses on post-Soviet diasporas.