One up for the Crimean Tatars!

One up for the Crimean Tatars!

This year’s Eurovision song contest in Stockholm proved that proxy wars are not just fought on battlefields. Russians are furious over the victory of “Jamala,” a Crimean Tatar, whose full name is Susana Cemaledinova, and who was competing for Ukraine. 

Their general sentiment is that the contest was “politically fixed” to be blatantly anti-Russian and pro-Ukrainian, and that the cause of the Tatars was used shamelessly by Kyiv for this purpose. 

The fact that Jamala’s song deals with the brutal deportation of the Crimean Tatars from their homeland in 1944 by the Russian-dominated Soviet regime has increased the fury felt in Moscow. 

Given that the predominantly Muslim Tatars are direct relatives of Turks, it was no surprise that Jamala’s victory, with a song that also had stanzas in Turkish, was met joyously in Turkey.

The Eurovision Song Contest, which excites as much nationalist sentiment as an international football match, has always been accused of being open to political manipulation. 

Ironically Turkey – which won in 2003 – withdrew from the contest a few years ago. It argued that winners are determined by manipulation and not on merit. There are calls in Russia now for the contest to be boycotted in the future. 

It is difficult to deny that the political atmosphere of the day casts a shadow over the contest. This year’s Eurovision appears a good case in point. There is no doubt that the current mood in the world is generally pro-Ukrainian and anti-Russian.

That has also been the mood in Turkey since 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea and gradually put a curb on the rights of the Tatars, closing down their parliament, and declaring its speaker, Mustafa Cemil Kirimoglu, a key Tatar activist, persona non grata.

Kirimoglu was among the first to congratulate Jamala in Stockholm and this inevitably led to accusations by Moscow that it was he who had orchestrated her victory, under guidance from Kyiv.

Ankara has refused to recognize the annexation of Crimea by Russia. Meanwhile, ties between Ankara and Moscow remain very strained over the downing of the Russian jet fighter by Turkey last November. 

It is not hard to imagine, therefore, that eyebrows were raised in Moscow after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called Jamala to congratulate her and express the happiness felt in Turkey over her achievement. 

The real winners at this year’s Eurovision contest, though, are Crimean Tatars. This was a golden opportunity for them to present their cause to the world. Whether the Eurovision Song Contest should be a platform to promote political causes is a separate debate.

The Tatars not only aired their past and, by implication, their present grievances against Russia – which have continued even though they were gradually allowed to return to their homeland after the 1980s – but also consolidated their position in Ukraine. 

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kyiv, with encouragement from Ankara, has been trying to do the right thing with regard to the Tatars, but not everyone in Ukraine has been generous or welcoming toward them or their demand for autonomous rights.

Ukraine must nevertheless be complimented for allowing a Muslim singer related to the Turks to represent it in an international competition. Some will argue that this was due to cynical calculation on the part of Kyiv but that does not change the outcome.

Having said all of this, one cannot help but wonder if Turkey – which is so happy about Jamala’s victory – could have displayed the same courage as Ukraine and allowed a singer of Kurdish origin, for example, to represent it at an international music competition by singing a song about the Kurds, and which also includes Kurdish verses?

That, however, is another story altogether…