Decolonising Crimea (Qirim): where to start?

Crimean Tatar Resource Centre
Decolonising Crimea (Qirim): where to start?

Over the past three centuries, the Crimean Peninsula has undergone large-scale renaming of various geographical names to destroy the historical connection of the indigenous peoples to the Crimea (Qirim) and to create a peninsula with a "Russian way of life".

  • Between 1783 and 1917, the Russian Empire renamed dozens of settlements in Crimea (Qirim) and introduced new names associated with Russian colonisation. Thus, Aqyar became Sevastopol, and Aqmescit became Simferopol.
  • Between 1917 and 1944,  the communist authorities began to create new settlements with communist names. The Bolsheviks, who had just come to power, destroyed ethnic names and replaced them with names in honour of Lenin, Engels or Liebknecht. 
  • Between 1944 and the early 1960s, the Soviet Union renamed 1,444 settlements in Crimea (Qirim). This wave was the most massive and destructive for the toponymy of Crimea (Qirim). The authorities first deported the Crimean Tatars and then tried to destroy everything associated with them. 

Since the occupation of Crimea (Qirim) in 2014, Russia has continued to destroy historical place names on the peninsula and rename streets, squares, and institutions in honour of Russians.

For example, in December 2022, streets in three neighbourhoods in Simferopol (Aqmescit) were named after "heroes of the special military operation". The following streets appeared in the city:

  • Defenders of the Fatherland str;
  • Maksym Dziubin str;
  • Viktor Hudkov str;
  • Vladyslav Dorokhin str;
  • Maksym Starovoitov.

The Crimean Tatar Resource Centre is already calling for the return of historical names in Crimea (Qirim) to:

  • To preserve the history, culture and language of the indigenous peoples of Ukraine with their homeland — Crimea (Qirim);
  • to demonstrate that Crimea (Qirim) is a Ukrainian peninsula because whatever names are on Ukrainian cartography will be on international maps;
  • to get rid of the Russians and to continue the decolonisation, decommunisation and de-Russification of Ukraine as a whole.

But is there a legal framework for restoring historical place names in Crimea (Qirim)?

Yes, Ukraine has already adopted four such bills:

  • The Law of Ukraine "On the Restoration of the Rights of Persons Deported on National Grounds";
  • The Law of Ukraine "On the Condemnation of Communist and National Socialist (Nazi) Totalitarian Regimes in Ukraine and the Prohibition of Propaganda of Their Symbols";
  • The Law of Ukraine "On Indigenous Peoples";
  • The Law of Ukraine "On Condemnation and Prohibition of Propaganda of Russian Imperial Policy in Ukraine and Decolonisation of Place Names". 

Renaming is a tool of empires that allows them to destroy the history and identity of an enslaved people. Both the Russian Empire and Russia today do not hesitate to use it. 

But Simferopol is Aqmescit, Sevastopol is Aqyar, Lokhivka is Mañ Kermen. And Crimea (Qirim) is Ukraine!