5 Key Facts About Crimea: Page 2

4. The Crimean War

If you're looking for a time when the geopolitical scene in Crimea was stable, you won't have much luck. The peninsula has, throughout its long history, been occupied by ancient Greeks, Romans, Goths, Huns, Ottomans, Mongols, Venetians and Nazi Germans. [In Photos: Amazing Ruins of the Ancient World]

From 1853 to 1856, the Crimean War roiled the area, as France, England and the Ottoman Empire fought the Russians for control of Crimea and the Black Sea. Russia eventually lost and ceded its claim to the peninsula, but not before the cities and villages of Crimea were ravaged.

Despite its devastation, the Crimean War was noteworthy for several advances: Florence Nightingale and Russian surgeons introduced modern methods of nursing and battlefield care that are still in use today; the Russians soon abolished their medieval system of serfdom (in which peasants were bound to serve landowners, even as soldiers); and the use of photography and the telegraph gave the war a distinctly modern cast.

Ukraine Uprising: Russian Rhetoric via History's Lens

5. Crimean Tatars wield influence

For proof that the past is never really gone, you need look no further than Crimea, home to an ancient ethnic group known as the Tatars, who still wield considerable influence.

Primarily Muslim, the Tatars of Crimea were instrumental in making the peninsula one of the centers of Islamic culture. They were also known as slave traders who raided lands as far north as modern-day Poland.

The Tatars didn't fare well in the Crimean War or in later conflicts, and many fled the region. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin may have dealt the Tatars their cruelest blow: By shipping food out of Crimea to central Russia in the 1920s, Stalin starved hundreds of thousands of Tatars.

During World War II, Crimean Tatars were deported by the thousands to serve as laborers and other menial workers in Russia under inhuman conditions — about half the Tatar population reportedly died as a result. [Video - World War II Underwater Graveyard Discovered]

After the fall of the Soviet empire, Tatars began to return to their ancestral Crimean homeland, where they now number about 250,000 — roughly 12 percent of the Crimean population.

For obvious reasons, the Crimean Tatars take a dim view of renewed Russian incursions into their homeland, and are likely to put up some resistance. "If there is a conflict, as the minority, we will be the first to suffer," Crimean Tatar Usein Sarano told Reuters. "We are scared for our families, for our children."

They may be outnumbered, however: While much of western Ukraine favors a greater political, economic and cultural alliance with Western Europe and the United States, the majority of those in eastern Ukraine and Crimea — where many residents are ethnic Russians — look to Moscow for leadership and support.

Original article on Live Science.

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