Some of you will recognise the name of Lily Hyde, because she reads this blog and comments occasionally. What you might not know, is that she is an author and a journalist. Lily emailed me last week, telling me she’s in Crimea, ‘reporting for the media, and for Amnesty International, on the referendum’ and how horrified she is by the ‘misinformation being spread both here and abroad about the situation in general and about the Crimean Tatars – their history, their claim to Crimea, their role in the second world war… it’s really provoking a lot of hatred and prejudice and potential violence.’
Naturally, I asked if she’d tell me – and you – a bit more, because it’s not every day you have someone in the middle of such a conflict, able to tell you about something which I am ashamed to admit I know virtually nothing about. Over to Lily:
‘I sat with Ayder Aga in Bakhchisaray, Crimea, three days ago, looking at photos taken there last summer. They are for the Ukrainian translation of Dream Land, my novel about the Crimean Tatars.
The photos are black and white and shimmering; they show a town of peaceful sunlight and grapevines, coffee pots and roses and minarets. They show Ayder Aga at his workbench, strewn with curls of silver filigree which he makes into traditional Crimean Tatar jewellery.
They are like images from the memories of the grandfather character in Dream Land, who recalls a long-lost Bakhchisaray before 1944 when the entire Crimean Tatar population was rounded up and deported on Stalin’s orders.
My grandfather character was based quite a lot on Ayder Aga and his own memories of Crimea before 1944, and afterwards in exile in Central Asia before he and around three hundred thousand other Crimean Tatars finally returned home after 1991. I’d been looking forward to showing him the photos. I could never have dreamed we’d be looking at them in snatches, in-between staring at the TV like frightened rabbits for news of Russian troop movements, or Russian president Putin’s latest statement on annexing Crimea. Ayder’s daughter Elmira and granddaughter Evelina sat with us; Evelina hasn’t been attending her university for two weeks, ever since Russian troops (or ‘little green men’ as everyone calls them) appeared overnight in Crimea. There are some just up the road from Ayder’s house, heavily armed and in balaclavas. Evelina doesn’t know whether her degree is going to be finished in a Ukrainian or Russian university – or finished at all. Elmira is worried about water and electricity, both supplied to the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine. If Russia annexes Crimea, will the supply stop?
We’re all in a state of total shock and disbelief. “I keep thinking I’m going to wake up and find this is all a bad dream,” my friend Ayshe said to me earlier.
I feel like everyone in Crimea is in a kind of dream right now. The people who want to break away from Ukraine and join Russia are enjoying a dream of a perfectly happy future where salaries are high and they live in a great Empire and there will be ice-cream for tea every day. The ones who don’t want that, like the Crimean Tatars, are struggling to wake up from a nightmare; from their greatest collective nightmare; of losing their homes and their country all over again.
“Now you’ll be able to write a new book about the Crimean Tatars losing their homeland,” Lutfi, another friend in Bakhchisaray, said to me. “Only this time you get to witness it happening first-hand.”
I guess my dream is that this does not turn out to be true.’
Thank you, Lily. I sincerely hope Lutfi is wrong.