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--
Information for this post was also taken from Alan Fischer’s book, The Crimean Tatars (Hoover Institution Press, 1978)