Thursday, February 21, 2013

International Mother Language Day 2013

Today is International Mother Language Day, a worldwide observance to promote awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity. It was  announced by UNESCO in 1999 and has been observed since February 2000. The date represents the day in 1952 when students in what is now Bangladesh where killed by police while demonstrating for recognition of their language, Bengali, as one of the two national languages of what was then Pakistan.

In honor of the day, as they do every year, the Gasprinskiy Library had a gathering of Crimean Tatar scholars, writers, artists, intellectuals, and the general public to celebrate the Crimean Tatar language and discuss its endangered status.

I would like to reprint here the beautiful poem by the famous Crimean Tatar scholar and poet Bekir Sitki Cobanzade (1893-1937), “Native Tongue,” in which he eloquently writes about his native language. The original poem, “Tuvgan Til” was translated into English by Mubeyyin B. Altan and published by the International Committee on Crimea (


I discovered you in Crimea, in Kazan,
Found you when my heart was ebullient, overflowing.

Walking sadly and hurt in far away lands,
Walking with diminished hopes and dreams,
Telling you my sorrow, I embraced you,
Then your dazzling word rejuvenated me.

Without your songs, and your poems,
If the word "motherland" did not fill a heart,
How can I  wander around in far away lands,
In far away streets, not knowing anything, not knowing anyone.

Whatever you call yourself, a Turk or a Tatar,
You are sweet as your taste is from God.
Turk or Tatar, they are your words,
They are like a pair of gleaming eyes.

At the gates of Vienna, in Kazakh land,
We sang together in India and in China..
Once the enemy understands you,  he'll fall in love,
A single melancholic word of yours will melt his heart.

I want to hear you everywhere,
Everywhere I want to knit epics from your pearls,
If I teach you to birds and to wolves,
You will be the darling of the orphans.

If you penetrate into mosques, mihrabs and palaces,
Once you reach the oceans and the edges of deserts,
With you I will write decrees to the enemy,
With your flashy words I will  excavate his soul.

When the angels interrogate me in my grave,
When the angel of death slices my tongue a thousand times,
"Speak to me in my native tongue!" I'll say,
Singing in my native tongue I'll pass away.

While anxieties nibble my soul away,
And the endless stars strike my people,
Oh, native tongue, no one else comes to my mind,
Not even the enemy knows, you are the grand secret of mine.

Bekir Sitki Cobanzade,
June 1, 1918

Translated from Crimean Tatar into English
by Mubeyyin Batu Altan
New York
February 9, 2013

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Return the Kadiaskerskie Books to Crimea

Back in December of 2010, I wrote about the Kadiaskerskie Books and their importance to our library (see 

To recap from that blog post, the Kadiaskerskie Books are the court records of the “chief judges” (the Kadi Asker) of the Crimean Khanate, which was the ruling body of Crimea from 1440-1783. They contain the most comprehensive historical record of Crimean Tatar life on the peninsula, including records of civil and criminal court proceedings, spiritual testimonies, the execution of wills, and the costs of public works and buildings.

Many of them were destroyed in a 1738 fire in the Khan’s palace, but a number survived and were eventually transferred to the National Library of Russia (NLR) in St. Petersburg. In 1926, the National Library of Russia gave a copy of the Kadiaskerskie Books to the Crimean History Museum in Crimea. Eventually, those too were partially destroyed after the Crimean Tatar Deportation by a zealous museum guard looking for stove fuel. But half of the original copies were saved and eventually transferred to the Gasprinskiy Library after it was established in 1991. Because of the tremendous value of the Kadiaskerskie Books in reconstructing Crimean Tatar daily life under the Crimean Khanate, the Gasprinsky Library has long sought to complete their collection of copies of the Books.

As I wrote in the original blog, purchasing copies of the missing Kadiaskerskie Books from the NLR was one of the original goals of our Partnership grant. However, my many inquiries to the NLR about the possibility of obtaining copies and their cost went unanswered. Eventually, we chose to focus the grant on obtaining copies of Ismail Gasprinskiy’s Terdjiman newspaper (see 

We asked our friend Renat Abibulaev, who helped us obtain the copies of Terdjiman, to inquire at the NLR about the cost of copies of the Kadiaskerskie Books. Recently he told us the answer he received from the NLR: $46,000! An astronomical sum to a library such as Gasprinksy and most likely, never obtainable.

Which begs the question, why doesn’t the National Library of Russia give a copy of the needed Kadiaskerskie Books to the Gasprinskiy Library?  At some point in its history, the NLR did give a copy of all of the Kadiaskerskie Books to Crimea, their rightful home, but ignorance and prejudice led to the partial destruction of those copies. Surely a library with an annual budget in excess of $23 million could make an effort to remedy this situation? The Crimean Tatars have returned to Crimea, they have re-established their home here and begun to collect their literature and history scattered across the world. The Kadiaskerskie Books are crucial to that history and having a complete collection of copies of the Books is essential to the establishment of the Gasprinskiy Crimean Tatar Library as the true home of the Crimean Tatar culture.

If you are interested in supporting this proposal, please consider sending a letter to the Director General of the National Library of Russia, Anton Likhomanov,