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|Print version. Published on site Rusnet.NL 8 December 2003
Crimea, peninsula (1991 est. pop. 2,363,000), c.10,000 sq mi (25,900 sq km), extreme south-esatern Ukraine, linked with the mainland by the Perekop Isthmus.
The peninsula is bounded on the South and West by the Black Sea. The eastern tip of the Crimea is the Kerch peninsula, separated from the Taman peninsula (a projection of the mainland) by the Kerch Strait, which connects the Black Sea with the Azov Sea. The peninsula is coterminous with the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, of which Simferopol is the capital. Other major cities include Sevastopol, Kerch, Feodosia, Yalta, and Yevpatoria.
Along the Crimea's Northeast shore are a series of shallow, stagnant, but mineral-rich lagoons, known collectively as the Sivash or Putrid Sea, which are linked to the Azov Sea by the Arabatskaya Strelka. The northern part of the Crimea is a semiarid steppe, drained by a few streams; this region supports fine wheat, corn, and barley crops.
In the south rises the Crimean or Yaila Range, with its extensive meadows and forests. The tallest peak rises to c.5,000 ft (1,520 m). In the Crimean Range is a major astronomical observatory. Protected by steep mountain slopes, the Black Sea littoral, once called the "Soviet Riviera," has a subtropical climate and numerous resorts, notably at Yalta and Sochi.
During the years of Soviet rule, the resorts and dachas of the Crimean coast served as the prime perquisites of the politically loyal. In this region are vineyards and fruit orchards; fishing, mining, and the production of essential oils are also important.
Heavy industry in the Crimea includes plants producing machinery, chemicals, and building materials.
Some 70% of the Crimea's population are ethnic Russians; the rest are mainly Ukrainians. Since 1989 there has also been a movement back to the area of native Tatars who had been exiled to central Asia in the Stalin era. There are also smaller minorities of ethnic Armenians, Greeks, Bulgarians, and Germans.
Known in ancient times as Tauris, the peninsula was the home of the Cimmerian people, called the Tauri. Expelled from the steppe by the Scythians in the 7th centuru BC, they founded the kingdom of Cimmerian Bosporus in the 5th century BC, which later came under Greek influence.
Ionian and Dorian Greeks began to colonise the coast in the 6th century and the peninsula became the major source of wheat for ancient Greece.
In the 1st century BC, the kingdom of Pontus began to rule the Greek part of the peninsula, which became a Roman protectorate in the 1st century AD.
During the next millennium the area was overrun by Ostrogoths, Huns, Khazars, Cumans, and in 1239, by the Mongols of the Golden Horde. Meanwhile, the southern shore was mostly under Byzantine control from the 6th to the 12th century
Trade relations were established (11th-13th centuries) with Kievan Rus, and in the 13th century Genoa founded prosperous coastal commercial settlements. After Timur's destruction of the Golden Horde, the Tatars established (1475) an independent khanate in Northern and Central Crimea.
In the late 15th century both the khanate and the southern coastal towns were conquered by the Ottoman Empire; the Turks called the peninsula Crimea. Although they became Turkish vassals, the Crimean Tatars were powerful rulers who became the scourge of Ukraine and Poland, exacted tribute from the Russian tsars, and raided Moscow as late as 1572.
Russian armies first invaded the Crimea in 1736. Empress Catherine II forced Turkey to recognise the khanate's independence in 1774, and in 1783 she annexed it outright; the annexation was confirmed by the Treaty of Jassy (1792). Many Tatars, with their Muslim religion and Turkic language, emigrated to Turkey, while Russians, Ukrainians, Bulgarians, Germans, Armenians, and Greeks settled in the Crimea. During the Crimean War (1853-56), parts of the remaining Tatar population were resettled in the interior of Russia.
After the Bolshevik Revolution (1917) an independent Crimean republic was proclaimed; but the region was soon occupied by German forces and then became a refuge for the White Army. In 1921 a Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was created; Tatars then constituted about 25% of the population.
During World War II, German invaders took the Crimea after an eight-month siege. Accused by the Soviet government of collaborating with the Germans, the Crimean Tatars were forcibly removed from their homeland after the war and resettled in distant parts of the Asian USSR. The republic itself was dissolved (1945) and made into a region of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic; in 1954 it was transferred to Ukraine. In 1989, some of the Tatars began to return from their exile in Siberia.
In 1991, President Mikhail Gorbachev was vacationing in Crimea at the time of the August Coup. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia and Ukraine engaged in negotiations over the possession of Crimea and the disposition of the former Soviet fleet based in the Black Sea (see Black Sea Fleet).
In 1992 there was an abortive attempt by the Russian-dominated Crimean government to declare independence. Elected Crimea's first president in 1994, Yuri Meshkov called for the re-joining of the Crimea with Russia. In 1995, Crimea's government was placed under national control and Meshkov was ousted, but its assembly was retained.
An accord the same year between Ukraine and Russia called for the division of the Black Sea fleet, and in 1997 it was agreed that Russia would be allowed to base its portion of the fleet there for 20 years.