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Susana Jamaladinova (Qt — Susana Camaladinova), better known as Jamala, is a Ukrainian singer with Crimean Tatar roots. In 2016, Jamala won the Eurovision Song Contest with the song “1944”, dedicated to the tragedy of the deportation of the Crimean Tatars from Crimea.

Like many residents of the peninsula, Jamala has not been to Crimea — occupied by the Russian Federation since February 2014 — for years. Unlike some (such as Mustafa Jemilev) she is not banned from entering the peninsula. However, for security reasons, she no longer goes there.

Russia occupied the Crimean peninsula as a result of its armed aggression against Ukraine, which continues to this day. Most countries and international organisations do not recognise this violent and illegal cleaving away of a part of Ukraine, nor its unlawful incorporation into the Russian Federation.

In the series “We are Crimea”, created in collaboration with the Ukrainian Institute, our guests revisit Crimea through a VR headset, and share their thoughts and stories about the peninsula they call home.

Photo by Yevhen Lisovyi.


Jamala was born in 1983 in the city of Osh (Kir — Oş) in Kyrgyzstan, but she considers her real home to be Kuchuk Ozen (Qt — Küçük Özen, called Malorichenske since 1945), near the village where her father, Alim Jamaladinov, is from. Her father’s family, like the rest of the Crimean Tatars, was deported to Central Asia on May 18, 1944. In Kyrgyzstan, Alim met his future wife and Jamala’s mother, Galina Tumasova.

During the Soviet era, deported Crimean Tatars were forbidden to live in Crimea or buy property there, yet throughout these years the Jamaladin family hoped to return to the peninsula. Eventually, they settled in the village of Kuchuk Ozen.

Jamala last visited Crimea in 2014 to see her sister Evelina and her family. She also really wanted to see her grandfather, who was ill at the time.

— We all got together on the shore, made pilav (a rice dish — ed.), and talked. I’m so happy we were able to see each other. It was the time when direct trains from Odesa hadn’t yet been cancelled, and those two borders didn’t exist yet. We met up and had a great time, although everyone was already in a bad mood. Nobody knew how long it would last, or how serious it would be.

In May 2017, Jamala’s grandfather Ayar Jamaladinov died in Crimea. Jamala was unable to attend the funeral.

— In the Muslim tradition, the dead are buried very quickly. So I didn’t even think I’d be able to get to my grandfather’s funeral in time. Then my aunt died. Then I also realised it didn’t matter to them anymore. It was me who needed to say goodbye, more than the person who had died.

Jamala’s parents still live on the peninsula. Every day they use the internet to talk to their daughter and see their grandchildren. Jamala believes she did not have the opportunity to choose whether to return to Crimea or not. It was the circumstances that decided everything.

— That’s the limit of my freedom. I didn’t decide not to go there: the decision was made for me. Now I feel caged and helpless. If I was able to decide for myself, I would go. It’s Ukraine, it’s my homeland, there are so many things happening there that are so important to me, but I can’t go there. I don’t know when I’ll get my freedom back.

Photo by Serhii Korovajnyj.

Every week, Jamala, her sons, her husband Seit-Bekir Suleymanov and his parents get together for a family dinner. They cook traditional Crimean Tatar dishes and speak their native language so that their children see this as a part of their lives, and maintain a connection with Crimea.

— It’s very important for my sons to know that their homeland is Ukraine, Crimea. Yes, they were born in Kyiv, but their roots are still Crimean.

Jamala points out that there is not much discussion about Crimea in the Ukrainian information space. This might be explained by the human ability to adapt to any situation: for example, the borders that were established with the peninsula, or the violations of the rights of its inhabitants. How can this be changed? By talking about it and remembering that Crimea and Donbas will return to Ukraine, and that the people who live there are just like us.

— We’ve had enough of talking about the war, about the occupation. We’re tired of it. But how did the Crimean Tatars get back after the deportation in 1944? How many years was it before they finally got back? If they’d been tired of talking about it, I wouldn’t have known anything about Crimea. And we’re already tired of it after five years? Seriously? I have no words for the people who say they’re tired. To win, we have to be united. There is no victory without unity, in my opinion.

Music and grapes. Kuchuk Ozen

The village of Kuchuk Ozen is a resort on the southern coast of Crimea, 25 kilometres northeast of Alushta. The Jamaladin family moved there in the late 1980s.

Jamala grew up in a musical family (her father was a professional conductor and her mother taught piano at a music school), so she loved music and singing from an early age. In the village, at the end of Vynohradna Street, where the vineyards and mountains began, the young Jamala would take the sheep to graze, pick grapes and grape leaves for her mother, and sing.

— Then, I think I felt total freedom; I realised nobody could hear me. And if the rams heard, they wouldn’t tell anyone. But once my mother and I were waiting for the minibus to Alushta, a car stopped nearby, and the man said: “Get in, singer!” My mum asked: “How do you know she sings?” And he answered: “How? I have a house near the vineyard, and I know that she comes sometime after two o’clock. I sit and listen to her sing…”.

Jamala standing on the terrace of the Jamaladin family cafe, Kuchuk Ozen (Malorichenske), 2000

Vynohradna Street passes through the entire village; at the other end, it continues to the coast, the jetty and the pier. Next to the jetty, the family had a cafe where Jamala and her older sister Evelina helped their parents and earned their first wages.

— That’s my shore, my pier. I learned to swim there, and we had this little cafe. I washed the dishes and chopped the salad, my father made pilav or kebabs. On good days there was grilled trout, on bad days there was only pilav and lamb kebabs. My mum made manty (a kind of dumpling — ed.) and brought them to the seaside. We sold them by the portion, and every day quite a lot of people would come for lunch.

Jamala did not recognise her music school at first: the building has been repaired and repainted, and now looks “more like a sanatorium”. It was here that Jamala studied piano, at first with her mother Galina Tumasova. But it didn’t last long:

— Do you know what happens when you study with your parents? My mother would try to put me last on the schedule, so that we could go home together. And I’d go: “Mum, there’s a series starting on TV, let’s go home! We can practice at home!” When we got home, the housework began, and we never got around to the piano lessons.

The music school is located in an old Crimean Tatar two-storey building. When Jamala was still a student, she saw people who had been deported from this house, coming with ownership documents.

— At that time, having a huge house — like this one, which became a music school — was a sign of wealth. These people had come from Central Asia. They had the documents for the house, but they were told, “Sorry, this is a music school now. Find yourselves a new place”. As a kid, I remember finding it a bit weird, that they were just sent away, as if it was normal. They didn’t seem to mind it becoming a music school, but it raised another question: give us a new place to live. That’s a really powerful memory from my childhood.

Jamala (centre) near the Jamaladin family home. Alim Jamaladinov, Jamala’s father, is on the left. Kuchuk Ozen (Malorichenske), 2000

Grandpa’s figs. Kuru Ozen

Kuru Ozen (Qt — Quru Özen), or Soniachnohirske (its name since 1945) is a village on Crimea’s Black Sea coast, next to modern-day Malorichenske. In this village is a fig orchard planted by Jamala’s grandfather, Ayar Jamaladinov. The figs are harvested twice a year. These days, Jamala’s father looks after the garden. He collects the figs and takes them to the market.

— I love our figs: they’re special because they are collected with love. Dad doesn’t trust anyone. For a long time, we’ve been telling him to hire someone to help him with the figs. He’ll only collect them himself, he puts each fig in a box himself. Cool! So I’ve visited my home. It’s a shame that it’s not possible to go there right now. But it’s so amazing, such a beautiful place. It’s not just any old fig orchard. For me, it’s like a place of strength; I hope it will remain that way for my children, and be passed down from generation to generation.

Ayar Jamaladinov spent a lot of time in the orchard and put a lot of effort into caring for the trees. Jamala remembers that when her grandfather stayed in the orchard instead of coming to say goodbye to her before she left for school, she sometimes took offence, thinking he cared about his trees more than his granddaughter. However, over time, she changed her mind.

— I believe he felt that freedom among the trees, just like I did when I sang with the sheep. I think this is key for everyone. To feel calm and free — whether it’s with sheep, the sea, or trees. I miss that a lot right now. I really want my children to go home, see my places, my sea, the way I see it. I want them to have their own memories, to feel free and find their freedom too, because I believe it’s important for everyone to find their place of harmony.

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