A cultural heritage site in the shadow of war

The Crimean Tatar Khan’s Palace in Bakhchisaray is in danger

The Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) is worried about damage to the Crimean Tatar Khan’s Palace in Bakhchisaray. According to local media, the Russian administration in Crimea is planning to gradually dismantle the UNESCO World Heritage site in the course of alleged renovation work. “In the shadow of the war, the Russian occupiers are willfully destroying cultural monuments of the indigenous Crimean Tatars, as a means to – wrongfully – emphasize that Crimea always belonged to Russia,” stated Sarah Reinke, STP expert on Eastern Europe and Russia. Today, the STP sent an urgent letter to the UNESCO Commission in Paris, demanding that a delegation should inspect the building and verify the serious allegations made by Crimean Tatar experts.

The former director of the historical-cultural ensemble in Bakhchisaray, Elmira Abljalimova, criticized the destruction of the Khan’s Palace and the looting of the local museum. In her opinion, Russia is instrumentalizing museums and historic monuments and buildings for political reasons. The Crimean Tatars don’t fit Russia’s cultural imperialist narrative. Thus, the Russian occupiers of Crimea are doing everything to manipulate the history of the Crimean Tatars and to destroy evidence of their existence. “First, it will be necessary to ensure that Crimean Tatar experts are able to access the site and inspect the building complex together with UNESCO envoys,” Reinke demanded. “The Khan’s Palace is of unique value. It represents the history and culture of the Crimean Tatars, who have been suffering from systematic persecution since Russia invaded the Crimean peninsula in 2014.”

The oldest parts of the Khan’s Pace were built in the 16th century. The palace was supposed to be the ancestral seat of the monarchs of the Crimean Khanate, the political, religious, and cultural center of the Crimean Tatars. The Crimean Khanate ended with the Russian conquest of Crimea in 1783. Following the deportation of the Crimean Tatars under Stalin in 1944, most of the cultural sites, buildings, cemeteries, and mosques of the Crimean Tatars were destroyed. In 2003, the Khan’s Palace became a UNESCO World Heritage site. Under the guise of renovation work, Russian contractors are now destroying the historic buildings. Vibrations due to the use of heavy construction machinery have caused cracks, and historic wall paintings have been partially of completely destroyed. Oak piles from the roof structure of the large mosque and other parts of the building are said to have been sold as firewood. So far, Crimean Tatar and Ukrainian experts have not been allowed to access the site.