Tuesday, June 25, 2013

My Peace Corps Service at the Gasprinskiy Library comes to an end

Last Thursday (June 20th) was my final day at the Gasprinskiy Library after serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer for four years. The usual Peace Corps service is for two years, but I extended twice for a total of four years, the maximum amount of time a Volunteer can serve at one site. Needless to say, I loved working at the Gasprinskiy Library and didn’t want to leave!

Inci Bowman from International Committee for Crimea (ICC) asked that I do an interview for the ICC website (iccrimea.com) about my experiences working as a Peace Corps Volunteer at the Gasprinskiy Library. I am very happy to do the interview, as it will give me an opportunity to reflect on my time here. I will publish the interview on my blog to share my thoughts with you dear readers. Now I am preparing to leave for Kyiv and my final day in the Peace Corps at the Ukraine headquarters, and then I am off to Georgia for a three-week hiking trip in the Caucasus with another Peace Corps Volunteer. 

Here are some photos from the lovely farewell celebration the library had for me on Thursday:
With Alie, Director of Window on America Center, who helped me with translating.

Gulnara, Director of the library, gives me a present of Crimean Tatar needlework.

And flowers too!

Natalia, Director of the Orlovka Children's Library, gives me a I Love Crimea bag.

Watching the powerpoint I prepared on my library memories.

Refreshments on the porch of the library (which I missed because of a TV interview).
Young Crimean Tatar girls give a performance of traditional dance.

With Nadije and Leonad, Director of the NGO KrimTiz that we partnered with on our last SPA project.
And lots of posing with the Library staff:


Monday, June 10, 2013

Lily Hyde's Dream Land translated into Crimean Tatar

Lily on a hike to the beach at Balaklava

I have had the delightful experience these last few weeks of getting to know Lily Hyde, the British author of Dream Land, the young adult novel published in 2008 about the Crimean Tatar return to their homeland, as seen through the eyes of a young Crimean Tatar girl.  It is the only novel about the Crimean Tatars available in English, and I have long recommended it to any English speaker interested in knowing more about Crimean Tatar history and culture. For several years, copies of Dream Land have been circulating amongst Peace Corps Volunteers here, and it has become the must-read for any Volunteer assigned to Crimea. 
French edition, 2011

UK edition, 2008
A French translation was published in 2011, and last year, Leilya Seitkalilova, English and Crimean Tatar teacher at the Crimean Engineering and Pedagogical University in Simferopol (commonly known as the Crimean Tatar University), took on the task of translating Dream Land into Crimean Tatar. The finished edition came from the publisher just in time for the annual Deportation Day memorial gathering in Simferopol on May 18th, and the book was launched at a large event at the University on May 21st

Lily and I both have a passionate love of Crimea and the Crimean Tatar people and have shared many hikes and discussions these past few weeks. I congratulate her on her wonderful achievement of taking the Crimean Tatar stories she learned from numerous interviews and bringing them to life through the tale of a young girl returning to her homeland. And now the publication of Dream Land in Crimean Tatar will give Crimean Tatar speakers a chance to read this important book in their native language. Lily—and many of her fans--hope that the availability of Dream Land will continue to grow through future translations in Turkish, Russian, and Romania, the languages of the vast Crimean Tatar diasporas.
Crimean Tatar edition, 2013

For more information about Lily and her books, check out her website www.lilyhyde.com.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Ismail Gasprinskiy--a feminist

Ismail Gasprinskiy in his office in Bakchiseray.

Recently, as they do every year, the library celebrated the anniversary of the birth of Ismail Gasprinskiy (March 21, 1851). The day began with a ceremony of tributes at the Gasprinskiy monument located on the Salgir River in the center of Simferopol. A two-hour seminar on Gasprinskiy’s life and work was held at the Franco Library, and on the following day, a celebration was held in the nearby city of Bakchiseray, where Gasprinskiy lived for most of his life and where he is buried.

The festivities made me think once again about this remarkable man and how so little is known of him in the western world. And perhaps because I am currently showing the recent PBS special on the history of the American women’s movement to students at the Window on America Center in Simferopol, I also thought about Gasprinskiy’s views on women and how he truly is someone we would call a “feminist.” 

At a time when women were almost universally seen as inferior to men, particularly in the Muslim world, Gasprinskiy had the courage to speak out, demanding to be heard on the importance of changing the attitude towards and treatment of women. In the pages of his newspaper Terdjiman which he published from 1887 until his death in 1914, Gasprinskiy criticized the practice of polygamy and arranged marriages and divorce being a prerogative for men only. Edward Lazzerini, the foremost western scholar on Ismail Gasprinskiy, writes that “Gasprinskii insisted that ‘evolution in the marriage laws’ had become a necessity” and Gasprinskii felt that “what was needed…was a regularization of the laws so that men would no longer be able to repudiate their wives arbitrarily, and women would be permitted to divorce their husband for just cause.”

His own marriage to Bibi-Zuhre hanim Akchurina seemed to have been a partnership in the modern sense: “the union of two determined young people who valued the role education could play in the enlightenment of the Muslims of the Russian empire and who were ready to dedicate their energies to achieve this goal,” writes  Azade-Ayse Rorlich, translator and editor of the only book of Gasprinskiy’s writings available in English.  Zuhre hanim played a vital role in the publication of Ismail Gasprinskiy’s renowned newspaper, Terdjiman, according to Rorlich:   “Even though her name did not appear in the paper… Terjuman would have neither become a reality, nor endured, had it not been for the material and moral support of his wife Zuhre, as well as for her very real contribution to running the paper.”

Perhaps what Gasprinskiy is most known for is his belief in the importance of the education of Muslim women. In his words: “Whoever loves his own people and wishes it a great future, must concern himself with the enlightenment and education for women, restore freedom and independence to them, and give wide scope to the development of their mind and capabilities.”

He was quick to publicize any evidence of attempts to improve education for Muslim women, such as the opening of schools especially for girls. In Bakchiseray, his sister opened the first school for girls of the new method schools (Gasprinskiy’s modernization of Muslim education which was widespread across the Russian empire). With his daughter Sefika, Gasprinskiy started the first magazine devoted to Muslim women. And in his fiction writings, he often created strong women characters that embodied his ideas of modern women, in the belief that his writings would “inspire the real-life Muslim woman to utilize fully her capabilities as a human being, and real-life Muslim society to permit her the opportunity to do so.” (Lazzerini)

It was in such writing that I came to see how well Gasprinskiy understood the role of society in keeping women oppressed. French and American Letters, the only collection of Gasprinskiy’s writings available in an English translation, are excerpts from a fictional travelogue that he serialized in Terdjiman. It follows the adventures of a Muslim man from Central Asia and his travels to France and Africa, and at least some of the writing is loosely based on Gasprinskiy’s own life.

But the last letters are pure fantasy and recount his and his travelling companions’ capture by a band of “Amazons” in Africa. In this Amazon society, gender roles are reversed—men are sexual slaves, women are rulers and warriors. There is much discussion among the men about this reversal of roles and titillating humor when one of the captured men is summoned into the “harem” of the Amazon sultana. In the end, the men escape but not before doing fierce battle with the Amazons. Gasprinskiy writes:
“The amazons flew toward our improvised fortification with extraordinary speed and courage…the Frenchmen…marveled at the spirit and courage of these desert riders.  The life and courage of these amazons… clearly proved that education and world views could endow women with much courage, strength, and fortitude…It became clear that in other countries women were fearful, weak, had a delicate nature, frail nerves and no will of their own, not because that is how it should be, but because their education, world view, and those life conditions which had shaped them over time, had made them what they were. “

Truly, Ismail Gasprinskiy was a man far ahead of his time. His radical view that women are equal to men and it is society that is holding them back would resonate today and earn him the label of “feminist.”

The information for this blog post came from these sources:
Gasprali, Ismail. French and African Letters, Annotated Translation and Introduction by Azade-Ayse Rorlich, Istanbul: The Isis Press. 2008
Lazzerini, Edward. “Ismail Bey Gasprinskii and Muslim Modernism in Russia, 1871-1914,” unpublished dissertation, University of Washington, 1973.
Fisher, Alan. "A Model Leader for Asia. Ismail Gaspirali."  In The Tatars of Crimea: Return to the Homeland, ed. Edward A. Allworth, Duke University Press, 1998.

Note: There are many different spellings of Gasprinskiy, based on the translation of the original language—Turkish, Russian, Crimean Tatar. I use the Crimean Tatar translation.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Noman Chelebidjikan 1885-1918 A Crimean Tatar Martyr

Recently the library marked the anniversary of the tragic death of the famous Crimean Tatar politician, writer and poet, Noman Chelebidjikan. He was the first president of the Crimean People’s Republic which existed in Crimea from December 1917 to January 1918 and was executed by the Bolsheviks on February 23, 1918.

Noman Chelebidjikan (also spelled Çelebicihan) was unknown to me, as he most likely is to most people outside the Crimean Tatar world. But after reading about his life, I wanted to write a short blog post about this individual in Crimean Tatar history who sacrificed so much for the Crimean Tatar people.

Chelebidjikan was born in a village in the Congar region of Crimea in 1885. He studied at the local school and then, with the help of relatives, went on to study at one of the well -known madrassas of that time. In 1908 he went to Istanbul to continue his studies, eventually graduating from law school. While attending the university, he founded the Young Tatar Writers’ Association and published his first literary works. He was also one of the original founders of the Crimean Tatar Student Association and also the organization “Vatan” (Homeland) which became the seed for the political organization Milliy Firqa of the independence movement in Crimea.

After graduating from law school, Chelebidjikan returned to Crimea and continued his involvement in the independence movement. He was elected as a representative to the first Crimean Tatar Congress, known as the Qurultay, and on November 26, 1917, was elected president of the newly established Crimean People’s Republic. The Crimean People’s Republic was the first attempt in the Muslim world to establish a nation that was both democratic and secular.

However, the Republic was short lived.  A month after its founding in November of 1917, the Bolshevik forces invaded Crimea, capturing Sevastopol, and a month later, disbanded the newly formed Crimean government. Most of the leaders of the government fled to Turkey or hid in the mountains, but Chelebidjikan elected to remain in Simferopol to try and negotiate with the Bolsheviks in the hopes of their developing an understanding of the interests of the Tatars. But realizing the necessity to erase all traces of Tatar national leadership, the Bolsheviks ordered Chelebidjikan arrested and put into prison in Sevastopol.  A few days later, on February 23, 1918, at the age of 33, Chelebidjikan was executed without trial, his body cut into pieces and thrown into the sea.

But Chelebidjikan and the sacrifice he made has never been forgotten by the Crimean Tatar people. His presence lives on in the poems and writings he left behind, and one of his more famous poems,  Ant Etkemen (I Pledged), has become the national anthem of the Crimean Tatar people.  Every year, events and publications mark the anniversary of his death and keep alive his memory.

The story of Chelebidjikan’s life along with translations of some of his poems can be found in this excellent article by Mubeyyin Batu Altan on the International Committee for Crimea website-- http://www.iccrimea.org/literature/celebicihan.html
Information for this post was also taken from Alan Fischer’s book, The Crimean Tatars (Hoover Institution Press, 1978)