Jamala, a popular singer and a Crimean Tatar, is performing a song about the forced deportation of her people during World War II. The song is drawing attention to new repression of the same people.
The song, titled “1944,” tells the powerful story of how Josef Stalin forced the singer-songwriter’s great-grandmother and other Crimean Tatars to leave their homes in 1944. At that time, nearly half of the more than 230,000 men, women and children who were sent to Central Asia and other parts of the Soviet Union died en route to their destinations or shortly after arriving.
The song recently earned Jamala the honor of representing Ukraine in the 2016 Eurovision contest to be held in May in Stockholm.
During the Ukrainian national competition, which qualified Jamala for the Eurovision event, she competed against five other finalists and received the second highest score from the judges and the highest from the public (via text messages).
Jamala — whose given name is Susana Jamaladynova — was born in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, to a Crimean Tatar father and Armenian mother. She started her music career in 2005 and gained acclaim after winning at the New Wave international singing contest in 2009. Jamala writes and sings her own music, which includes jazz, soul, R&B and pop.
For many Ukrainians, the lyrics of “1944” draw parallels to today’s escalating repression of Tatars in Crimea. (Jamala sings, “I couldn’t spend my youth there because you took away my peace.”)
Russian occupation authorities are subjecting the Muslim ethnic minority to interrogations, beatings, arbitrary detentions and police raids on their homes and mosques. More than 10,000 Crimean Tatars have again been forced to flee Crimea since the conflict began.