International Committee for Crimea

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WHAT WE REMEMBER ABOUT OUR CRIMEAN TRIP: From A to Z

Inci Bowman and Fevzi Alimoglu participated in an organized tour of Crimea, April 5-12, 1998. Limited to 40 people, the tour was arranged by a travel agent in Istanbul on the occasion of Kurban Bayrami (Holiday of Sacrifice). The group stayed in Akmescit (Simferopol) and made daily excursions to various cities in Crimea. Here is their report at last!


Airport. All of us were very relieved when our chartered propeller plane touched down safely at the Simferopol (Akmescit) Airport after a two-hour flight from Istanbul. Ordinarily, this flight over the Black Sea should last only one hour on a regular airline jet. The Crimean Air hostess, a blond with a sweet smile, served mineral water and hard candy to ease the anxiety felt by some passengers. Some of us could not adjust our seats comfortably, and the flight to our ancestral land--KIRIM ever seemed endless.

Bahçesaray (Bakhchisarai). About 25 miles from Akmescit, this scenic city served as the capital of the Crimean Khanate from the early 16th century to 1783. Even after the annexation of Crimea by the Russians, it remained a Tatar city well into the 20th century. The Han Saray (Khan's Palace), with its famous Fountain of Tears, is located in Bahçesaray. The well-known leader of Crimean Tatars, Ismail Bey Gaspirali was born not too far from Bahçesaray and lived most of his life here. See below Han Saray and Gaspirali, Ismail Bey.

Chufut-Kale. This well-known historic Karaim community is located outside of Bahçesaray. Our tour bus left four of us (Fevzi, Inci, Yanki and Gulnur) at the bottom of the hill, and the rest of our fellow travellers went to a chi-borek restaurant. The climb to Chufut-Kale is fairly steep (would be ranked as moderately difficult by US hikers) and only those who are fit and wearing appropriate shoes should try it. First we climbed to the Greek Orthodox Monastery and then to Chufut-Kale, located on a high limestone plateau. The fortress on top of the plateau dates from the 10th century, and the town within the fortress once consisted of as many as 5,000 people. The walls and cobble-stone pathways are in good shape, but only a few buildings left standing such as the Kenesa (praying house). The Karaims began leaving Chufut-Kale at the end of the 18th century, and it is now uninhabited. We met the daughter of the local Karaim leader while visiting Chufut-Kale, and she showed us the path to the old cemetery in a wooded area sloping downhill--Balta Timez.

Diyanet İşleri (Religious Affairs). Our first encounter with the members of the Muslim clergy in Crimea was, as expected, on the first day of Kurban Bayrami, when we visited the Borçohrah (Borchohrah) Mosque south of Akmescit. The mosque is located in a Tatar neighborhood and also serves as the community center. We met the former Imam (priest) of the mosque, a representative from the Turkish Department of Religious Affairs (Diyanet İşleri). He is now in charge of the Imam training program in Crimea. Twelve young Tatars are now enrolled, and we met some of them. We also heard that mosques are being built in various communities mostly by private funds from Turkey.

Eski Kirim (Stary Krim). About two hours by car from Akmescit, on route to Kefe (Feodosia), Eski Kirim (or Solhat) was an important medieval city and commercial center. It was also the early capital of the Crimean Khanate until the early 16th century. By the time Evliya Çelebi visited Kirim around 1680, it had lost its vitality. The oldest example of Islamic architecture in the Crimea is located here. See Ozbek Han Mosque below.

Feodosia (Kefe). Our stopover in Kefe was brief, just to see the house where the painter Ivan Aivazovsky lived and the harbor nearby. The museum now includes his paintings and is one of the tourist attractions in Ukraine. There was no opportunity to see the older parts of the town, which would have been of even greater interest to us. Kefe was under the rule of the Genoese who began paying taxes to the Golden Horde in the 13th century. The city was captured by the Ottomans during the reign of Fatih Sultan Mehmet (Mehmet the Conqueror) in 1475 and remained under Turkish rule until 1783. There were mosques, mausoleums, public baths and fountains, but reportedly not much of Turkish architecture remains in Kefe today.

Fried Fish for breakfast. See Tavriya Hotel below.

Gaspirali. No report about Crimea would be complete without a mention of Ismail Bey Gaspirali (or Gasprinskii), a writer, publisher and social reformer. The house where he worked in Bahçesaray still stands, but is occupied by five Russian families. The Crimean Tatar Library in Akmescit is appropriately named for this remarkable leader. For more information about Gaspirali's contributions, see the Web site, "Celebrating the Life of Ismail Bey Gaspirali" at http://www.iccrimea.org/gaspirali/

Gözleve (Yevpatoria). Built in the 15th century by the Turks, the city is located on the southwestern coast of Crimea. We have visited the Han Mosque, one of the very few Tatar monuments that were not destroyed by communist authorities. The mosque was designed by the Ottoman architect Sinan and built in the early 1550s. It was used as a museum by the Russians but taken over by the Tatars in 1990. It is now restored and functions as a mosque. Within the grounds of the mosque lie the remains of the members of the famous Celebi family. The symbolic grave of Numan Çelebi Cihan is also here.

Han Saray (Khan's Palace). This magnificent complex of buildings and courtyards in Bahçesaray served as the residence of the Crimean rulers from the early 16th century to the Russian annexation in 1783. The complex includes reception halls, administrative and living quarters, the Harem, gardens, two mosques, mausoleums and a cemetery for the Giray family. While the oldest structure is the Iron Gate, bearing a date of 1503, most of the buildings in the complex were rebuilt in the 1740s, following the destruction of the Palace by invading Russian troops in 1736. The famous Fountain of Tears, immortalized by the Russian poet Pushkin, is in an enclosed courtyard outside the main reception hall.

İnci Hatun Medresesi. See Ozbek Han Mosque below.

Jemilev, Mustafa, or better known as Mustafa Abdulcemil Kirimoglu. We felt honored to meet Kirimoglu upon our arrival at the Simferopol Airport. He and his wife Safinar Hanim had come to welcome our group to Crimea. Kirimoglu also came to the airport to bid us farewell a week later. We were impressed with his calm and modest disposition and his willingness to listen to our projects and hopes for Crimea.

Kefe. See Feodosia above.

Kerch. The Kerch peninsula is located at the eastern end of Crimea. We crossed the peninsula, stopping to visit several villages and to drop off gifts. (A number of people in our group had come specifically to contribute to charity on the occasion of Kurban Bayrami.) One of the villages we visited was a former Kolhoz, with tree-lined roads and one-story houses, a mixed community of Tatars and Russians. Everything seemed peaceful and contrary to what one normally hears about the political and social pressures imposed on the Tatar population. Elsewhere we saw many village houses in construction and the difficult conditions under which our fellow Tatars live. Our bus was stopped outside of the city of Kerch at a police check point, and because of a technicality we were not allowed to enter Kerch.

Lividia Palace. This is the famous site where the Yalta Conference took place in February 1944. The large estate where the Palace is located was purchased by the Tsar's family in 1860. Also known as Great or White Palace, the Livadia was built in 1910-11 as the summer residence for the Tsar. We visited the Dining Hall where the actual conference took place, the rooms where President Roosevelt stayed, and the courtyard where Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt were photographed. (Remember the well-known photo?)

Medrese (Muslim school). See Inci Hatun and Zincirli Medrese.

Numan Çelebi Cihan. We must pay our due respect to this famous Crimean martyr, who was killed by Bolshevik troops in 1918 at the age of 32, and his body was thrown into the Black Sea. He was the first president of the Republic of Crimea as well as an accomplished poet. Fevzi visited the symbolic grave of Çelebi Cihan on the grounds of the Han Mosque in Gözleve. For more information on Çelebi Cihan, see SOTA's Web site at http://www.euronet.nl/users/sota/celebicihan.htm

Ozbek Han Mosque. If you are truly interested in things historic, a visit to Eski Kirim (Stary Krim) is a must. This is the oldest mosque in Crimea, built by Ozbek Han in 1314. Recently restored, it is now functioning as a place of worship. Unfortunately, the group's scheduled trip Eski Kirim was cancelled, and Inci asked one of her relatives (now living in Simferopol) to drive her there. Behind the Mosque, the ruined walls of the medrese built by Inci Hatun in 1332 are still visible.

Passport Control. The passport control at the Simferopol Airport was very slow. One of us (Inci) had travelled to Crimea via Kiev last year, and could not remember any delays at the Kiev Airport. We are still wondering whether the diligence of the officers at Simferopol who carried out their duty with utmost care slowed us down, or whether it was the abundance of Turkish passports within our group.

Qrim Tatar Tesibusi (Crimean Tatar Initiative). A public organization quite successful in raising funds from international organizations such as UN and Soros Foundation by submitting project proposals. One of the important projects under way involves the building of the Internet infrastructure to connect Crimean Tatar schools and NGOs. Fevzi had an opportunity to visit the office of the Crimean Tatar Initiative in Akmescit and saw their computer facilities.

Restaurants (Ayse, Eskisehir, and Marakand). First day in Crimea, we dined at Ayse (Ayshe), one of the only two traditional Tatar restaurants in Simferopol. The other one is called Eskisehir, which means Old City in Turkish/Tatar. Here we enjoyed live music, performances of one of the best violinists of Crimea (as our guide said) and his children. They are "Tatar Gypsies." Meals were the very traditional kasikborek, sarma, lagman, fried chicken, fish and salad. Marakand is also owned by a Tatar, but they serve Uzbek meals made of mutton and rice--quite fatty (yagli)-- and manti. Inci decided that Crimea is no heaven for a vegetarian, and she actually lost a few pounds during the trip!

Sevastopol (Akyar). Our tour bus took us to Sevastopol, but our visit was brief -- just to say that we have been there! The city was closed to foreign tourists until 1996, and we felt lucky to see at a distance a part of the Black Sea Fleet, still maintained by the Russians. (What we saw, however, was mostly rusty submarines.) The tour included a stop at the Panorama, a wonderful exhibition that provides an overview of battle scenes on a given day in the Crimean War--6 June 1853 (or 1854?). On that particular day, the Russians were fighting with the English and the French in Sevastopol. (No Turks were in sight then!)

Sudak. On the Eastern coast of the Black Sea, Sudak is famous for the Genoese fortress built in the 14th century. The fortress walls appear to have been restored and surround a large area, which once contained living quarters, public buildings and streets. Sudak was captured by the Ottomans in 1475, and a mosque (with no minaret) close to the top of the fortress can be seen from below.

Tavriya Hotel. This is one of the two best hotels in Simferopol, the other being the Moscow Hotel, we were told. The setting of the Tavriya is attractive, a complex of buildings surrounded by trees. The Hotel has no elevator, and both of us stayed on the 4th floor. In this case, carrying two small suitcases up would have been clearly easier than one big suitcase! Next time, we'll plan better. The rooms were not any better or worse than other post-Soviet hotels we have seen. The bed was comfortable, linens clean but worn and torn in places. If you are particular, don't forget to bring your own toilet paper. The breakfasts were the best part of staying at the Tavriya. The Ukrainian bread and cheese are excellent. The main dish served at breakfast is either meat or fried fish. One morning, we were even served pork chops! There was always tea--sweet and strong--and occasionally pastries.

Uzbek. What can one say about the Uzbek connection? Every Crimean Tatar/Turk we met in Crimea arrived from Uzbekistan.

Vorontsov Palace. Built in the 1830s by Prince Mikhail Vorontsov, the Palace is located at one of the most scenic spots on the Crimean coastline in Alupka. It now houses a magnificent collection of art, but we did not have time to visit the galleries. The English-educated Russian aristocrat, Vorontsov served as the governor for the Crimea and Caucasus. He was good to the Tatar population, we were told by a fellow Tatar. Vorontsov had a Tatar shepherd whom he visited once a year, had a cup of coffee with him, and left with the shepherd a pouch of gold coins, his yearly salary.

Water. We were advised not to drink the tap water and carried our own bottles (or cokes, sprites, etc.) during the bus trips. Bottled spring water was hard to find, but mineral water readily available. We had enough mineral water to last us for a while!

Yevpatoria. See Gözleve above.

Zincirli Medrese. Built early in the 16th century, this well-known Tatar institution of learning is in the outskirts of Bahçesaray. We were not able to visit it, however, because it is within the compound of a mental hospital. The lost grave of Ismail Bey Gaspirali also within this compound is represented by a symbolic grave marker, we were told. The Medrese takes its name from the large chain (zincir) that used to hang over the entrance door. -- END

Written by Inci Bowman, with creative input from Fevzi Alimoglu.
All photographs are by Inci Bowman, unless noted.


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