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Ukraine picks Crimean Tatar – Tragic tale

In this photo taken on Feb 18, Ukrainian singer Susana Jamaladinova, known as Jamala, performs during a rehearsal for the final of Ukraine’s national selection for the Eurovision song contest, in Kiev, Ukraine. (AP)
In this photo taken on Feb 18, Ukrainian singer Susana Jamaladinova, known as Jamala, performs during a rehearsal for the final of Ukraine’s national selection for the Eurovision song contest, in Kiev, Ukraine. (AP)

KIEV, Feb 22, (AFP): Ukraine has picked Jamala, who belongs to the Muslim Tatar minority of Crimea, to represent the country in the Eurovision contest with a harrowing song about Stalin’s wartime deportation of her people.

The 32-year-old is a well-known jazz singer in Ukraine and beat five other finalists competing to represent the country at Eurovision in Stockholm in May after a vote by the public and a panel of judges.

Dressed in Tatar traditional dress, Jamala could not hold back her tears during her performance at the national final, winning massive applause from the audience, some of whom waved Tatar and Ukrainian flags.

Jamala’s song “1944” is about the tragedy that befell her great-grandmother that year, when Soviet dictator Stalin deported 240,000 Tatars — or nearly the entire community — to barren Central Asia and other far-flung lands.

Memories of that horror have been revived by Russia’s seizure of Crimea, a Black Sea peninsula, in 2014.

Suffering

“This song … is precisely what we are all suffering in Ukraine today,” said one of the judges, the singer Rouslana, who won Eurovision in 2004.

Over a span of three days in May 1944, Stalin accused the Turkic ethnic group of collaborating with the Nazis and deported them thousands of kilometres (miles) to the east, where nearly half the people died of severe living conditions.

Jamala’s great-grandmother was in her mid-20s when she, her four sons and daughter were deported, while her husband fought against the Nazis in the Soviet Army’s ranks.

One of the children died during the journey to Central Asia.

“I needed that song to free myself, to release the memory of my great-grandmother, the memory of that girl who has no grave, the memory of thousands of Crimean Tatars”, who have nothing left, not “even photographs”, Jamala told AFP last week ahead of the vote.

Jamala said she had entered Eurovision because she wanted people to hear a song written “in a state of helplessness” after Russia’s seizure of her land.

“It was hard for me to recall all these memories again and again, but I understand that it is necessary now. Because now the Crimean Tatars are desperate and they need support,” she said.

Crimean Tatars, who began returning to the their ancestral homeland after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, were horrified by Russia’s takeover of the region, with the majority opposing the new authorities.

In the wake of Russia’s annexation, many Tatar activists were arrested or had their homes raided.

The international community has not recognised Russia’s annexation and the United Nations has condemned widespread human rights violations against the Tatar community.

Deportation

Ukrainians have chosen a Crimean Tatar singer and her song about the mass deportation of Tatars under Josef Stalin as the country’s entry for this year’s Eurovision song contest.

Susana Jamaladinova, who performs under the stage name Jamala, was chosen Sunday night by the combined votes of a three-person jury and some 380,000 votes from viewers watching the televised final round.

Her song “1944” refers to the year in which Stalin uprooted Tatars from their homeland and shipped them in badly overcrowded trains to Central Asia; thousands died during the journey or starved to death on the barren steppes after they arrived. They were not allowed to return to Crimea until the 1980s; Jamaladinova was born in Kyrgyzstan.

The song is a peculiar combination of a mid-tempo pop confection and anguished lyrics. “When strangers are coming, they come to your house, they kill you all and say ‘We’re not guilty’,” the song begins.

“That terrible year changed forever the life of one fragile woman, my great-grandmother Nazylkhan. Her life was never the same,” Jamaladinova told The Associated Press before the Sunday broadcast.

The song lyrics do not touch on Russia’s annexation of Crimea two years ago, but entering the singer in the hugely popular song contest could raise the issue by implication. Crimean Tatars, who are a Turkic and mostly Muslim ethnic group, say oppression against them has increased since Russia annexed the peninsula.

“There is no mention there about occupation or other outrages that the occupants are doing in our motherland; nevertheless it touches on the issue of indigenous people who have undergone horrible iniquities,” said Mustafa Jamilev, leader of the Crimean Tatars.

Eurovision rules prohibit songs with lyrics seen as having political content. In 2009, less than a year after Georgia and Russia fought a brief war, the competition disallowed Georgia’s proposed entrant because the group’s song lampooned Russian President Vladimir Putin. Ukraine’s 2005 entrant Green Jolly was told to rework the lyrics of its song “Razom Nas Bahato,” which was an anthem of the previous year’s Orange Revolution protests.

The Eurovision final round with competitors from around the continent takes place in May in Stockholm.

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