Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decree to return ethnic minorities deported from Crimea under Joseph Stalin has revived homecoming-hopes among the peninsula's ethnic Armenian community.
“We hope that, based on the decree and a subsequent federal program, we can bring back at least 20,000 Crimean Armenians,” Vagarshak Melkonian, the leader of the Crimean Armenian Society, told RIA Novosti.
Running his empire as a strategy game, Stalin used to copy and paste entire ethnic groups from one place to another for tactical considerations; a process that is believed to have left millions uprooted or dead. Melkonian estimates that anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 ethnic Armenians were forced out of Crimea in the 1940s, when their and other minorities’ loyalty to the Soviet state was questioned.
Yet, rather than correcting past injustices, Putin’s move on this matter is largely seen as an attempt to consolidate his de-facto control of Crimea against opposition from Ukraine and the West.
The April 21 measure is primarily meant to court the Tatar minority, which bore the brunt of the Soviet-era deportations and is now wary of Moscow's takeover of the region.
The Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Jemilev has blasted the decree as Putin’s attempt to “ingratiate” himself with the Tatar population.
But Putin said that other minorities, such as “Armenian population, Germans, Greeks,” would also be rehabilitated.
Few people might be tempted to move to Crimea now, with Ukraine and Russia on the brink of war, but Melkonian believes Armenians will return gradually.