About Crimean Tatars
Crimean Tatars are indigenous inhabitants of Crimea, the Eastern European Turkic people historically formed in the Crimean Peninsula.
The ethnic history of the Crimean Tatar people over the millennia was formed in Crimea. Under the influence of many factors, specific features of the anthropological type, race, language, character, traditions, religion and everyday life of the indigenous people have appeared. It was a difficult process. It was influenced by many peoples and tribal unions, at different times inhabiting the Northern Black Sea region and the Crimean peninsula. Taurians, Cimmerians, Scythians, Sarmatians, Alans, Hellenes, Goths, Huns, Khazars, Pechenegs, Kypchaks, Italians, Mongolic and Turkic tribes and many others were direct ancestors of modern Crimean Tatars. It cannot be said that someone more, and someone less had an impact on the Crimeans, they all made their significant genetic contribution and laid the foundation for a future nation, which in the 15th century would create its own independent state.
Despite the monolithic nature of the Crimean Tatar nation, today it is divided into three main sub-ethnic groups: mountain and foothill – Tatlar, steppe – Noğaylar and south-coastal – Yalıboylular. Among themselves, representatives of these three groups are distinguished by types, features of the dialect, and some features in customs. An important factor was the habitat of each of the three sub-ethnic groups.
Highlanders – Tatlar
Mountain and foothill Crimean Tatars call themselves Orta Yolak, which literally means the “middle lane” of the Crimean Peninsula. And these are the territories of the Main and Inner Ridges of the Crimean Mountains and the adjacent foothill areas, that is, the transition zone from Steppe to Mountain Crimea. Traditionally, they were settled in the area of Sevastopol, Bakhchisaray, Simferopol, Karasubazar, Old Crimea, Feodosia. Despite the complex ethnogenetic process of this region, we can say for sure: it was attended by Taurians, Scythians, Sarmatians, Alans, Goths, Hellenes, Bulgars, Khazars, Pechenegs, Kypchaks and locally Circassians. However, the data presented are, to some extent, a generalization, since the population of almost every village in mountain and foothill Crimea had their own characteristics before deportation, in which the influence of one or another people was found. It is believed that the Goths, Hellenes and Kipchaks played an important role in the formation of the subethnos of the inhabitants of the Orta Yolak. Language was inherited from the Kipchaks, material culture and anthropological Caucasoid traits were inherited from the Hellenes and Goths. Gothic influence was mainly manifested among the population of the western part of the Crimean Mountains – this is the Bakhchisaray district.
Steppe inhabitants – Noğaylar
Steppe Crimean Tatars belong to the subethnic group of Noğaylar. Their habitat is Chol Taraf (literally “steppe side”). It includes the steppe, flat part of Crimea and the Kerch Peninsula. It is believed that the main role in the ethnogenesis of the inhabitants of Chol Taraf was played by the Kypchaks and the Horde. This was reflected in the dialect of the region, on the material culture and on the genotype of the Noğaylar, who have Caucasoid features with elements (up to 10%) of Mongoloidity. The Noğaylar dialect belongs to the Kypchak group of Turkic languages and is divided into three main dialects: Tarkhankut-Kezlev (western), Perekop-Dzhankoy (northern) and Kerch (eastern).
South coast inhabitants – Yalıboylular
South-coastal Crimean Tatars belong to a conditional sub-ethnic group known as Yalıboylular – literally “south-coastal” or “coastal”. Accordingly, representatives of Yalıboylular live along the Crimean coast – from Faros in the west to Feodosia in the east. According to the statements of ethnographers, this subethnos formed a little later than the Tatlar and Noğaylar and is considered the youngest. Representatives of the subethnos of Yalıboylular occupy the southern slopes and upland plateau of the Main Ridge of the Crimean Mountains. In different eras, the southern coast was inhabited by Taurians, Scythians, Alans, Goths, Hellenes, Pechenegs, Kypchaks, Italians. The Seljuks partially left their mark here. All of them took part in the formation of the ethnogenesis of the southern coastal Crimeans. The Yalıboylular dialect belongs to the Kypchak group of Turkic languages, however, the Oguz-Seljuk subgroup prevails here, which in turn is divided into three main dialects – Balaklava, Yalta and Sudak. As for the latter, a number of researchers believe that the Sudak dialect formally refers to the southern coastal dialect and differs from it not only phonetically, but also lexically. In racial terms, the anthropological type of Crimeans of the South Coast is Caucasian, there are no signs of Mongoloidity.
The Crimean Khanate was a multinational, multi-confessional entity, and in the modern concept, a tolerant state. Here lived: Crimean Tatars, Karaites, Krymchaks, Urums (descendants of the Hellenes), descendants of the Goths, Armenians, Crimean Romani (or Urmancheli). All of them – subjects of the Crimean Khan, lived in peace and harmony, in accordance with the law and conscience. Thanks to the wise policies of the Crimean rulers, a unique system of balance, synthesis and tolerance was created, which contributed to the emergence of an original Crimean society. The religious and ethnic policies of the Crimean Khanate were based on the principles of Islam.
In the Crimean Khanate, the modern concept of a nation did not exist. Religion played a major role, and it determined the organization of society. In other words, there was a system of “millet”, or “religious nation”. Jews, Christians and representatives of some other faiths were included in one or another “millet” – an autonomous religious community within the Islamic state. The “People of the Scripture,” that is, the Torah and the Bible, were guaranteed complete inviolability of their property, freedom of trade, craft and business activities of any scale.
The ruling dynasty in Crimea was House of Giray (Guirey), founded by the first khan Hacı I Giray.
The era of the Crimean Khanate was the heyday of the Crimean Tatar culture, art and literature. The classic of Crimean Tatar poetry of that time was Ashık Ümer. Among other poets, Mahmud Qırımlı and khan Ğazı II Giray Bora are well-known. The main of the preserved monuments of that time is the Khan’s Palace in Bakhchisaray ( the capital of the medieval Crimea).
In 18th century the Crimean Khanate became a “bargaining chip” in a fierce geopolitical game between Turkey and Russia, and at the end of the century it fell in the Russian zone of influence.
In 1783, as a result of Russia’s victory over the Ottoman Empire, Crimea was first occupied and later annexed by Russia. This marked the beginning of a new era in the history of the Crimean Tatars, which they themselves called “the Black Century”.
Russian conquering policy towards the Crimean Khanate, with the invasion of Russian troops in Crimea as its climax, was a direct violation of the Peace Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca. The annexation of Crimea was accompanied by numerous violations of the rights and freedoms of the local population. In fact, it was an occupation of a sovereign and independent state of the Crimean Tatars under the rule of Şahin Giray.
Catherine’s annexation of Crimea turned into a disaster for the Crimean Tatars. The Crimean Khanate completely lost the remnants of independence. Traditions of the Crimean Tatars, their cultural and spiritual life, psychology, economy suffered the first colossal and devastating blow.
Russian landowners were driving Tatars from their land, seizing the territories, including the lands that were in possession of mosques. Moreover, the Russians turned the free Crimean farmers into serfs. This caused hundreds of thousands of Crimean Tatars to flee and seek refuge in the Ottoman Empire. There was declared, so to speak, a cultural war against the Crimean Tatars: the mosques and the ancient cemeteries were being demolished on the order of the imperial authorities, the muezzins who were summoning Muslims to prayer were being shot.
The Crimean Tatars have become a minority in their homeland. The Russian and Ukrainian settlers were coming to Crimea. The ancient culture was subjected to harassment as a result of Russian colonial policy. But in the late 19th century a reformatory movement has emerged, leaded by the Crimean Tatar intellectuals – first of all, by Ismail Gaspirali (Gasprinski), a teacher, writer and journalist who was publishing the newspaper Terciman (Translator).
Crimean Tatar Revival
The Crimean Tatar Revival is closely connected to the name of the prominent cultural figure of educator Ismail Gasprinsky (1851 – 1914). He made great efforts for the revival and survival of the Crimean people. He urged his compatriots not to leave Crimea. He used his newspaper Terciman (the first Crimean Tatar newspaper) to explain to the Crimean Tatars that they were a nation with the roots in the Crimean earth, a nation whose history was reaching ancient times. The emphasis was placed on the fact that they were a secular nation possessing full right to their Homeland.
Historically, Gasprinsky, being a democrat and a politician, acted as an educator of all the East, and was appealing to solve its urgent problems independently. He put forward the motto Dilde, işte, fikirde birlik (Unity in language, actions and thoughts).
The newspaper Terciman was published in Bakhchisaray (Crimea) from 1883 to 1918. It was a national organ of the Russian Muslims, the symbol of unity of the Russian Ummah. The first article in the newspaper stated that “Terciman (Translator) would serve, to the best of its ability, as a guide for clear and useful cultural information to the Muslim community and vice versa, in order to introduce their way of life, points of view and needs to the Russian environment,.” This newspaper was the main source of information for the Russian Ummah.
The language of Terciman was one of the main reasons of its success. Gasprinsky was an advocate of a single pan-Turkic language. The newspaper he was publishing was understendable to all Turks, and the whole Turkic world could read it freely. In this regard, Terciman was a unique newspaper, as the papers that followed were all published in the local languages, and therefore could not have such a pan-Turkic value.
The subscription to Terciman was not expensive. Also, Gasprinsky was also attracting the readers by sending annually the books published in his Bakhchisaray printing house to his subscribers for free.
In addition, Terciman differed in a quality manner. Professor Ismail Kerimov, who was studying the newspaper in Moscow and St. Petersburg libraries for many years, points to the high quality of the photos that were published in it and the fonts by which the text was typed. In his opinion, many later editions could not achieve such level of quality.
Civil war in Russia had very serious consequences for the Crimean Tatars. In 1917, after the February revolution, the first Qurultay (Congress) of the Crimean Tatar People was called. The course on the establishment of an independent multi-ethnic People’s Republic of Crimea was proclaimed. Noman Çelebicihan, the Crimean Tatar politician and public figure, joined the commission that was in charge of drafting the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Crimea. The Qurultay approved the draft of the Constitution submitted by the Commission and proclaimed establishment of the Crimean Tatar Republic. Noman Çelebicihan was elected the President of the Directorate (national government) and the Minister of Justice at the same time. The program report of the created government published in Millet and Voice of the Tartars newspapers stated:
“The Crimean Tatar national government serves not only to ensure the happiness and normal life of the indigenous people, but also to protect all the fellow countrymen, inhabitants of the peninsula from usurpation, anarchy and rebellion, to protect their lives and honor, and considers this its sacred duty.”
Noman Çelebicihan advocated for the equality of all peoples living in Crimea.
“Our task – he said, – is the creation of a nation like Switzerland. The peoples of Crimea are a beautiful bunch, and equal rights and conditions are necessary for each people, for we have to go hand in hand.”
However, the October Revolution in Russia, and the Bolsheviks who came to power and did not recognize the Crimean Tatar government, threatened the existence of the young People’s Republic of Crimea. On January 26, 1918 the Bolshevik armed forces in Sevastopol switched to active hostilities. The Crimean Tatar government was overthrown, and the control over Crimea temporarily moved to the Bolsheviks. The Head of the Crimean Tatar government Noman Çelebicihan was arrested by the Bolsheviks and detained for 27 days in a Sevastopol prison. On February 23, 1918 he was executed by a firing squad and his body was thrown into the Black Sea.
During the war the needs of the Crimean Tatars did not disturb neither the Whites, nor the Reds. As a result of the famine of 1921-1923, about 15% of the Crimeans died.
In 1921 the Crimean Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was formed within the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. The official languages ​​of the former were Russian and Crimean Tatar, and top officials were mainly Crimean Tatars. But after a short rise of national life with an establishment of the republic (e.g. opening of the national schools, theaters, publications of newspapers), Stalin’s repressions followed in 1937. A majority of the Crimean Tatar intellectuals were repressed, including well-known statesman Veli Ibraimov and scientist Bekir Chobanzade. According to the 1939 census, there were 218 179 Crimean Tatars in Crimea, i.e. 19.4% of the total population of the peninsula.
In 1944, Stalin gave the order to deport the entire Crimean Tatar people (more than 191 thousand people, 47 000 families) to Central Asia. The morning of May 18, 1944 was the date of start of the operation of deportation of peoples accused of collaboration with the German invaders to Uzbekistan and adjacent areas of Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. The Crimean Tatars were accused of collaboration, too. In total, 193 865 Crimean Tatars were deported, including 151 136 to the Uzbek SSR, 8 597 to the Mari ASSR, 4 286 to the Kazakh SSR, and the rest to other regions of the Russian SFSR.
On the way from Crimea to the places of exile 7889 persons died. In the places of special settlement, under a special regime of supervision, – accompanied by famine, pestilences, national and civil rightlessness, violence and tyranny – after one and a half years only in Uzbekistan 46.2% of the deportees died. There, out of 112 thousand families, 2.1 thousands were completely eradicated, and the mortality rate in the first year of exile was 30.8%, which was 1.5 times higher than the mean annual mortality rate of the Great Patriotic War.
Thus, about 44 thousand Crimean Tatars died because of deportation. It seemed that this inevitably led to total assimilation and eradication of the people. But that did not happen. On the contrary, a new generation with a highly developed national consciousness, dreaming of returning to their homeland grew in exile. An excerpt of a letter to the Central Committee of the Soviet Union Communist Party on visit of Crimea by the Crimean Tatars (November 12, 1965) notes the following: “We will be coming back either all or none”.
In the second half of the 1950s the national movement for restoration of rights of the Crimean Tatar people starts to emerge in the areas of exile. Since 1967, through organized resettlement to Crimea the first families of the Crimean Tatars began to return. This process was slow and inconsistent. From 1967 to 1977, only 577 Crimean Tatar families moved to Crimea. Between the censuses of 1979 and 1989 the number of the Crimean Tatar population in Crimea has increased by 33 thousand, and reached 38.4 thousand people. During 1989 about 30 000 more people returned, in 1990 – more than 40 000, so that by the end of 1990 more than 100 000 Crimean Tatars have already settled in Crimea. Repatriation peaked in 1990-1991, when the factual core of the existing USSR Crimean Tatar ethnic community moved to Crimea. As of June 1991, 130 000 Crimean Tatars lived in Crimea, and at the end of 1991 they were more than 150 000. It is worth noting that 73 981 Crimean Tatars who were already registered in Crimea automatically became citizens of Ukraine with the entry into force of the Ukrainian law “On Citizenship of Ukraine” on November 13, 1991.
In 1989, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR created a special commission on the problems of the Crimean Tatar people. In November 1989, it adopted the declaration “On recognition of illegal and criminal repressive acts against the peoples who were forcibly displaced, and on ensuring of their rights” and the decree “On the problems of Soviet Germans and Crimean Tatars.” In July 1990, the USSR Council of Ministers adopted the decree “On urgent measures to address the issues related to the return of the Crimean Tatars to the Crimean region.” Since then, the mass return of the Crimean Tatars to Crimea began.
“But there was no one waiting for them in Crimea. In many cities the tent camps were established, the manifestations were organized with claims to recognize their right to live in their homeland. Incessant meetings were held in front of the government building in Simferopol. Under the pretext that Crimea is overpopulated, the authorities refused to allocate lands to the Crimean Tatars. Those who managed to buy some housing were not given permission for residence. Police authorities were constantly carrying out punitive actions. But the Crimean Tatars showed surprising resilience. After pogrom and rout on the site of the old manifestation a new one would appear the very next day” – Rifkhat Yakupov, a member of the Union of Journalists of Tatarstan, recalls.
In 1991 the second Qurultay was called up, and a system of national self-government of the Crimean Tatars was established. Every five years elections are held for a new Qurultay (national parliament). Qurultay forms its executive body, the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People. For a long time Mustafa Dzhemilev was the Head of the Mejlis. Since November 2013 Refat Chubarov is his successor.
The Crimean Tatars have always supported the territorial integrity of Ukraine, as opposed to the pro-Russian separatist movement in Crimea. Despite this, in March 2014 Russia occupied Crimea. The rejection of inclusion of Crimea into Russia by the majority of the Crimean Tatars led to a sharp conflict of the community and its leaders with new Crimean and Moscow authorities. Since the beginning of March 2014 the Crimean Tatars are subjected to constant repressions and discrimination on the part of so-called “new government”.