Datelines and Maps Are the Latest Casualties of Russia’s Crimea Invasion

Though the United States and the European Union refuse to recognize Russia's annexation of Crimea, Russian President Vladimir Putin now firmly directs facts on the ground in the Black Sea peninsula. Crimeans are already receiving shiny new passports and using the Russian ruble as their new official currency. But for Putin, the cherry on top may come not from the streets of Simferopol and Sevastopol, but instead from the headquarters of the Associated Press in New York. The AP, in a semantic victory for the Russian strongman,  announced Wednesday that they would be changing their style to reflect the new reality in Crimea.

"Previously, we wrote ‘SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine (AP).' But Ukraine no longer controls Crimea, and AP datelines should reflect the facts on the ground. Therefore, effective this week, we are using the city name and "Crimea": "SEVASTOPOL, Crimea (AP)," Tom Kent, the deputy managing editor and standards editor for the AP, wrote on their blog. The AP, a non-profit wire service whose articles run in hundreds of publications in the United States and abroad, is an authoritative voice on style for most English-language publications.  

But the organization is not going quite so far as to indicate that Sevastopol is an unquestioned part of Russia with a "SEVASTOPOL, Russia" dateline. "The reason is that Crimea is geographically distinct from Russia; they have no land border. Saying just the city name and ‘Crimea' in the dateline, even in the event of full annexation, would be consistent with how we handle geographically separate parts of other countries," Kent wrote, comparing Crimea's situation with the Italian city of Palermo -- "PALERMO, Sicily (AP)" -- where the second part of the dateline is occupied by the island of Sicily, not the country of Italy.  

The New York Times has also changed its style regarding the disputed region, going from "Ukraine" to simply "Crimea" in its Simferopol datelines.

Crimea's geopolitical situation is a conundrum for international cartographers as well. Google Maps has the region in a red outline -- but as still belonging to Ukraine. Competitors Bing and MapQuest also still list the peninsula as Ukrainian.

The standoff over Ukraine has also played out in the virtual world, where the editors of Wikipedia are at each others' throats. After the the Russian map was repeatedly altered in a heated debate over whether Crimea should be denoted as a Russian territory, the online encyclopedia's administrators locked the page. For now, Crimea has been left a light-green to Russia's darker shade of the green. The lighter shade is supposed to represent a "claimed territory," according to the page's discussion board.

Meanwhile, RT, the pro-Kremlin news outlet, gleefully declared that National Geographic, the world's authoritative map-maker, is firmly on Moscow's side. "We map the world as it is: National Geographic maps Crimea as part of Russia," their headline screamed.

But that isn't quite true. National Geographic has in fact not yet decided how to depict the region on their maps. "We are waiting to see the results of Friday's [Russian] parliamentary vote," Juan Valdes, the geographer of the National Geographic Society told the organization's news outlet. "If it is formally annexed, our policy will dictate that we shade the area gray, signifying that it is a disputed territory." Other disputed areas in the region -- including the breakaway Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia -- are gray on National Geographic maps.

"National Geographic Society's cartographic policy is to portray to the best of our ability current reality. Most political boundaries depicted in our maps and atlases are stable and uncontested. Those that are disputed receive special treatment and are shaded gray as 'Areas of Special Status,' with accompanying explanatory text," the organization said in a statement.

Rand McNally, an American publisher of maps and atlases used in classrooms all around the United States will not be changing their materials. "We take our direction from the State Department," company spokeswoman Amy Krouse told US News.

Not that it really matters: Those maps don't seem to be getting much use. Some Americans just think of Ukraine as "the place where Borat is from."



Sorry, Turkey: You're Not Getting Crimea Back

Russia's annexation of Crimea isn't the first time the country has occupied and annexed the Black Sea peninsula -- the first came in 1783. And according to a creative -- and ill-informed -- Turkish columnist, the legal framework for that centuries-old land grab invalidates Crimea's recent declaration of independence -- and means that the peninsula should technically be given back to Turkish control.

The idea seems to have originated in a column by Ceylan Ozbudak, a Turkish political commentator, published in al-Arabiya, but has gained steam this week after an article on the Ukrainian news site Egalite was translated and posted on Reddit, receiving thousands of upvotes that pushed it up the popular r/worldnews forum.

At issue is an obscure agreement known as the Treaty of Kucuk Kaynarca, which the Ottoman Empire signed with Russia in 1774 to end the Turko-Russian War, one of the dozen wars the two powers fought with one another between the 16th and 20th centuries. But don't go calling Bayezid Osman, heir to the Ottoman sultanate abolished by Ataturk in 1922, to tell him he can have Crimea back quite yet. There are some problems with this claim.

Ozbudak wrote in a column in al-Arabiya that the treaty makes it illegal for Crimea to declare independence and outlaws "its submission to a third party," like, say Vladimir Putin's Russia. "Should any such attempt be made, then Crimea would automatically have to be returned to the sovereignty of Turkey." By declaring independence and rushing into the arms of a waiting Russia, Ozbudak argues, perhaps facetiously, it is violating the terms of the 1774 treaty and should be given back to Turkey.

Ozbudak doesn't seem to have too strong an understanding of 18th century diplomatic arcana, and her theory may be more a matter of "nostalgic neo-Ottomanism" than actual history, historian Virginia Aksan said in an email. Ozbudak writes that Catherine II signed the treaty on April 19, 1783 -- a date that's off by nearly a decade. The Treaty of Kucuk Kaynarca was actually inked on July 21, 1774, ending a six-year-long war over Russian access to the Black Sea. But the problem with her theory goes beyond just confusing dates.

The actual history of the Russo-Turkish War that resulted in Russia's annexation of Crimea is far more, ahem, Byzantine -- and interesting. Halfway through the war, as the Ottoman military struggled to keep its demoralized troops from turning on their officers, Crimea was quietly rebelling against its Ottoman overseers. A large delegation of local Tatar rulers distanced themselves from the Ottomans during the war, setting up an independent shadow government. These Tatar dignitaries held year-long negotiations with Russia that began in November 1771 and concluded with the signing the Treaty of Karasu Bazaar. That treaty "established an 'alliance and eternal friendship' between the newly created Independent Crimean State and the Russian Empire," historian Alan Fisher writes in his book The Crimean Tatars.

The Ottomans tried to hold on to Crimea for another two years, but it was a losing battle. With his troops in defeat and disarray, Ottoman representative Ahmed Resmi ended the war by signing the Treaty of Kucuk Kaynarca in 1774, which did away with Ottoman control of the peninsula and the southern shore of what is today Ukraine and formalized Crimea's independence. Despite their crushing defeat, the Ottomans managed to maintain a right to religious control of Crimea's Muslim population under the terms of the 1774 treaty. Russia was granted certain authorities over the region's Greek Orthodox Christian population and the naval basing rights that have been a point of contention ever since.

The 1774 treaty was superseded by a series of successive declarations and accords. Five years later, the Ottomans ceded their last claim to Crimea in the 1779 Convention of Aynali Kavak. Then, in 1783, after nearly a decade of trying to control Crimea's nominally independent government, Catherine did what her advisors had pressed her to do in 1774 and invaded and annexed Crimea. In a remarkable feat of political doublespeak, she justified the seizure by citing the Treaty of Kucuk Kaynarca, saying the Ottomans had violated their non-intervention agreement by meddling in Crimean politics.

The ensuing centuries of Russian rule have not treated Crimea's Tatars well. The low-point came in 1944, when Stalin deported them, en masse, from the peninsula. Nearly half of the 200,000 exiled Tatars died during the forced relocations to Central Asia. Crimea remained under Russian rule until 1954, when Nikita Khrushchev gifted the peninsula to Ukraine, then a Soviet satellite. It was a purely symbolic move made at a time when the collapse of the Soviet Union -- and Moscow's potential loss of access to the strategic port of Sevastopol, won in 1774 -- seemed unimaginable. Mikhail Gorbachev finally allowed Tatars to resettle in Crimea in 1989, and many of them returned, setting up shantytowns outside of major cities.

Crimea's Tatars now make up 13 percent of the peninsula's population and are not eager to return to Russian rule. Tatar leaders in Crimea called on their community to boycott Sunday's referendum on joining Russia, and they may have clear cause for concern. The Moscow Times reported Thursday that Crimea's new deputy prime minister is now planning on clearing the Tatars once again.

So, history continues to echo in the events in Crimea -- just not the 1774 Treaty of Kucuk Kaynarca.