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A Study in Crimean Tatar Embroidery
The Asiye-Zeynep Collection

Introduction

After spending nearly half a century in exile, Crimean Tatars returned to their homeland Crimea in the early 1990s. Life in exile, mostly in Uzbekistan, was hard, and their efforts focused on surviving, earning a living and raising a family. There was not enough opportunity or time to devote to decorative arts such as embroidery. For centuries, however, elegantly embroidered textiles had been very much part of their daily lives. In the late 1990s, there was an attempt to revive the traditional art of embroidery in Crimea, with the establishment of Ayshe Osmanova's organization, Marama. The founding of other organizations such as Evdziyar and Chatyrdag in subsequent years and the publication of a number of books on decorative arts now attest to the revival of handcrafts in Crimea, and embroidery once again has become a viable pursuit.

The purpose of this study is to support the revival of the art of embroidery in Crimea by publishing a detailed description of the Asiye-Zeynep Collection, with close-up photographs of embroideries and an analysis of stitches and patterns employed. Asiye and Zeynep were two women of Crimean Tatar descent who lived most or all of their lives in Turkey. They were part of the Crimean Tatar diaspora. Their headscarves, decorated towels and other embroidered textiles may now be considered historical objects worthy of our attention.

Asiye was born in 1884 in Romania but her family emigrated to Turkey, when she was a child. She lived in Eski?ehir, Istanbul as well as in Crimea and died in 1922. Zeynep was born in Bandirma (Turkey) in 1900, where her father's family had moved from Romania in the latter part of the 19th century. Her paternal grandmother Bahtile, probably born around 1850, was married in Romania, and her children were young when the family decided to emigrate. The family's ties to the Crimean Tatar community in Romania must have been strong enough that they chose a bride from Romania, Zeynep's mother. After her marriage, Zeynep lived in Istanbul, where she died in 1971. It is difficult to date precisely the embroidered items presented here, but at least one item in the collection is believed to be from the 1870s (Pouch 02). Some of the pieces may date from the turn of the 20th century, but all are pre-1920.

What makes the Asiye-Zeynep Collection special is that the embroidered textiles were owned, used or cherished by ordinary people. Both Asiye's and Zeynep's families were urban people, engaged in trades. Asiye's father was involved in the grain trade, and Zeynep's family owned a fabric store in Bandirma. This small collection of 30 embroideries is clearly not like the vast holdings of Topkapi Palace or the Museum of Turkish-Islamic Art in Istanbul, or the Textile Museum in Washington, DC. Those museum pieces might have been owned by imperial families or upper classes and represent the work of highly skilled embroiderers. Museum collections are often artificial and reflect different tastes and expertise of the donors and administrative staff. The items in the Asiye-Zeynep Collection, on the other hand, belonged to two families. They might have been embroidered by the owners or their relatives, may have been purchased in stores, received as gifts or heirlooms. We do not know. What is important is that the Asiye-Zeynep Collection reveals the tastes of ordinary people and opens a window into the everyday lives of Crimean Tatar diaspora in Romania and Turkey a century ago.

Inci A. Bowman
Washington, DC

Posted: 10 February 2010


|Contents Page| Definition of Terms | Selected Publications | Acknowlegements |

| Head Scarves I | Head Scarves II | Sashes | Decorated Towels | Pouches and Covers | Comments? |

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