Friday, July 9, 2010
Who is Ismail Gasprinskiy?
For the last 17 years, there has been an annual International Library Conference in the seaside town of Sudak in Crimea. Sponsored by the governments and libraries of Russia and Ukraine, the conference brings over 2000 participants from all over the world to discuss issues of contemporary libraries. At the conference, the Gasprinskiy Library traditionally has sponsored a roundtable for libraries from the Turkic speaking world. This year the theme of the roundtable was the writings and legacy of Ismail Gasprinskiy. The library asked me to do a short presentation on the works by and about Gasprinskiy available in English. I have been reading about Ismail Gasprinskiy since coming to the library including his one full length book translated into English, and was glad to have the opportunity to talk about this interesting and forward thinking individual.
Ismail Gasprinskiy (there are several different spellings of his last name—I chose to use the Crimean Tatar spelling for this blog) was a Crimean Tatar writer, educator, and activist who lived at the turn of the 20th century (1851-1914) and is generally considered to be the foremost modern thinker in the Muslim world of the Russian empire at that time.
Among his many accomplishments, Gasprinskiy was responsible for instituting a new system of Muslim education that revolutionized the traditional Islamic schools. By the time of his death, more than 5000 of these schools with a modern curriculum based on literacy and contemporary knowledge had been established across the Russian empire.
In addition to his work to modernize Muslim education, in 1883 Gasprinskiy started the first newspaper in Crimean Tatar history, called Tercuman (the Translator) which continued publication until four years after his death. In this paper, he espoused his modernist thinking, opening the minds of his Muslim readers to the broader world. He also used the paper as a vehicle to talk about women’s rights, an issue he believed fervently in. The only book length translation of his writings is the French and African Letters (annotated and translated by University of Southern California scholar Azade-Ayse Rorlich), a fictional travelogue that Gasprinskiy serialized in his newspaper.
In one of the episodes in the Letters, the protagonist and his traveling companions encounter a group of “Amazons” (the mythical women warriors) while traveling across the African desert. Gasprinskiy uses this episode to expound on his views of women:
“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 this 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.” Letter #20, French and African Letters.
Ismail Gasprinskiy was truly a remarkable individual, who was responsible for affecting the culture of his people in a way that opened their lives to the modern world. For this, he is considered the founding father of the modern Crimean Tatar nation.