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Ismail Otar (1911-2005)

Ismail Otar, a prominent leader of the Crimean Tatar community in Turkey, recently died in Istanbul at the age of 94. He is best remembered for devoting 75 years of his life to Crimean Tatar cause and establishing a private library, where researchers, graduate students and visitors gathered to pursue interests in Crimean Tatar history and culture. Mr. Otar was always there to welcome visitors and share his knowledge with them, and his polite mannerism and intellectual prowess impressed all who came into contact with him. He published widely on Crimean topics, and his eclectic interests included the history of accounting (his profession), calligraphy, antique Turkic carpet designs, and Çibörek, the popular Tatar dish.

Hayrünnisa and Ismail Otar, 1998

Ismail Otar was born in Bursa, Turkey, on 1 October 1911, to Hafiz Ali Otar and his wife Emine. His paternal grandfather had emigrated in 1908 from the village of Otar, near Bahcesaray, Crimea. Hence the family name Otar. Ismail received his early education in Bursa and in 1935 he graduated from the School of Economics and Commerce in Istanbul. He was first employed by the Red Crescent and later by the Turkish Department of Treasury. From 1950 to 1989, he was in private practice, managing his own accountant firm. In 1942, he married Ayse Hayrünnisa Emler, and three children (Bilge, Yavuz and Cemil) were born to this marriage.

In 1930, Ismail Otar met Cafer Seydahmet Kirimer, Crimean Tatar political leader and activist, who had served as minister of war and foreign minister during the short-lived Crimean Tatar republic (1917-1918). This date marked a turning point for him, as he decided to spend the rest of his life to furthering the Crimean Tatar cause. About this time, he became the Turkish representative of Emel, a Crimean Tatar journal that was published in Romania between 1930 and 1940. After a lapse of 20 years, Emel began appearing in Turkey, and Otar assumed the responsibility for the publication (as its publisher) from 1962 to 1977. Emel was more than a journal; it represented the efforts of the Crimean diaspora in Turkey to preserve their culture and traditions when residents of homeland Crimea remained in exile following the brutal deportations in 1944. He was also among the founders of the Emel Foundation in 1986 and served as its first president (1986-1988).

After retirement, Ismail Otar opened a private library in Erenköy (Istanbul) to house the various books, journals and documents relating to Crimean Tatars and the Turkic world that he and his brother Ibrahim had accumulated over the years. In fact, the core collection was his father's library, and from a young age Ismail had started subscribing to journals relating to the Turkic world. He tried to obtain copies of rare items such as maps and monographs relating to Crimean history found at other research libraries. There are also many volumes that were donated by the various authors and individuals who visited the Otar Library, gifts that he carefully recorded and acknowledged.

In January 2001, when he was almost ninety years old, Ismail Otar became an Internet user and a member of Crimea-L, an electronic communications list. During a visit that spring, he told me that it was not easy, at his age, to learn how to use the computer and access the Internet but he felt that it was a "must" if he wanted to maintain contact with Crimea and the diaspora. Occasionally, he participated in discussions on Crimea-L and answered questions, mentioning books that would be pertinent to the topic under consideration.

Ismail Otar published numerous articles in Emel and Kirim, a quarterly diaspora journal also published in Turkey. His book, Bekir Sidki Çobanzade: Kirimli Türk Sair ve Bilgini (1999), includes the poems and stories of Çobanzade, a well-known Crimean Tatar poet and scholar, along with Turkish translations, original texts and a Tatar/Turkish glossary. In 2003, Otar issued with Ömer Özcan the unpublished journals of Kirimer (Cafer Seydahmet Kirimer'in Günlügü, 1954 and 1960). In 2004, he published a Turkish rendering (in Latin alphabet) of Ahmet Özenbasli's famous work on the Crimean Tatar emigrations during the Tsarist rule (Çarlik Hakimiyetinde Kirim Faciasi, yahut Tatar Hicretleri, Simferopol, 1925). In April 2005, six months prior to his death, he brought out an edition and translation of an early 18th century work on the history of the Crimean Khanate, Moscow and the Caucasus region (Tevari h-i Tatar Han ve Dagistan ve Moskov ve Dest-i Kipcak Ülkelerinindir) by Kefeli Ibrahim Efendi, a secretary to the Crimean Khan Fetih Giray II (1736-1737).

Ismail Bey was a rare individual. He touched the lives of many people and inspired many by his example. May he rest in peace.

Inci Bowman
November 2005

Note: Ismail Otar's life and activities formed the topic of a Master's thesis by Sema Demirkan, "Bir Turk Munevveri Ismail Otar Bey: Hayati ve Faaliyetleri," completed at Marmara University (Istanbul) in 1998.


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